Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
1056 of 1105



UNIVERSITIES. Purport of this Article. In Europe the university has its definite character, well understood by educated men, although it is not easy to define its functions within the limits of a single sentence. In the United States, on the contrary, the word is used carelessly, as if it were quite unimportant to remember its real significance. Sometimes it is applied to a strong institution which combines the four traditional faculties; and sometimes to schools of a very low grade, or to those which promote but a single department of knowledge. There are indications in many parts of this country that the true idea is hereafter to be more clearly recognized; generous gifts for such purposes have been made by states and individuals; and legislation has been sought in order that the university may hereafter be developed on a proper basis. In this epoch of munificent foundations, it is of the utmost importance that correct ideas should prevail among us; for, otherwise, the United States will remain behind the other countries of christendom in the highest department of education.


Meaning of the Word. Something may be gained by retrospect. The word university, which, in these days and in all the modern languages of Europe, has an educational meaning, was primarily a word of wider use. In its Latin origin it signified the entirety, the whole, the unit made up of individuals; thus universitas incolarum oppidi meant the community—universitas canonicorum, the company of canons. It was nearly equivalent to our word society or corporation. Gradually it was restricted to a society of teachers and scholars, and more especially a society in which several faculties were combined. Hence it came to signify an association in which all branches of knowledge were taught, especially the highest educational body in a city or country—the supreme "high school." Sometimes universitas pointed to the governing authority of the corporation, while in contrast studium generale indicated its teaching function. Societas magistrorum et discipulorum was early employed as an almost synonymous phrase. In modern times the buildings, libraries, museums and other possessions of the corporation are often spoken of as the university. But in all legitimate uses of the word the idea has never been lost sight of, that the university is an organization for advanced instruction in the chief departments of knowledge; it is a high school in which the principal arts and sciences are taught. An essential element in its plan is comprehensiveness, or breadth; it is a unit made up of many constituents; a confederation under a sovereignty.


To be distinguished from other Words. Hence it is acknowledged by the best authorities, that a single faculty, whether of law, medicine, theology or philosophy, does not constitute a university. Such a faculty, however far its instructions may be carried, is too narrow to claim legitimately the title which belongs to a different and broader organization. Universities must also be distinguished from learned societies (like the Royal society, the French institute, the American academy, etc.), in which no instruction is offered; and they should never be confounded, as they often are in this country, with colleges (corresponding to the German gymnasia, or the French lycees), in which youth are trained by well-known methods for the higher work of more advanced students. The university (like Oxford and Cambridge) may well include one or more colleges in its organization, as the greater includes the less, but the higher authority of the greater should always be recognized—as it is, for example, by such titles as these: Trinity college in the university of Dublin; the university of McGill college in Montreal; the college of agriculture in the university of California; and Adelbert college in the Western Reserve university at Cleveland.


—In every true university, all departments of learning should find a congenial home as members of one family governed by one authority. Within their precincts, pupils trained for freedom by preparatory discipline should be encouraged to go forward in the pursuit of science, as deep as they will, as far as they can. The dangerous effects upon the mind of an individual, of his devotion to a single subject, will be counteracted by living among men who attach equal, if not superior, value to very different studies. With occasional exceptions, it may be stated, as a rule, that the self-taught man suffers from disadvantages which the society of other scholars tends to remove. Association in studies of a superior character, under some recognized combining and coordinating authority, is the most efficient method which is known for the development of talents, and also for the promotion of knowledge. Hence, under all phases of organization, the purpose of the university has remained the same; namely, to collect, weigh, perpetuate and disseminate systematic knowledge on important subjects, by the employment of eminent scholars in the instruction of properly qualified youth.


Origin of Universities. It is commonly said that universities had their origin in the thirteenth century, but this date can not be considered exact, nor can any one foundation claim unquestioned priority. The faculty of philosophy can be traced as far back as the sixth century when its courses included the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric), and the quadrivium (music, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy), the seven liberal arts, of which a liberally educated man should be the master (artium magister). A mnemonic hexameter*150 thus recalls the sequence:

GRAMM. loquitur; DIA vera docet; RHET. verba colorat;
MUS. camt; AR. numerat; GEO. ponderat; AST. colit astra.


In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the dawn of better things began to follow the mediæval darkness, schools of law grew up (as at Bologna), and of medicine (as at Salerno), and of theology in the monastic foundations. The first clear indications of the general study of philosophy are seen in Paris, where at length the four faculties began to co-operate in the government of students, and where, in 1209, the word university was employed in connection with the affair of Amaury de Chartres.*151 It is found in use, a few years later, at Oxford, where an aggregation of colleges had been growing up for many years, perhaps (though not certainly, nor even probably) since the days of King Alfred. The university of Paris early exerted an influence upon the organization of other high schools. Its methods, its regulations, its usages, were adopted in distant countries, and may now be traced in the history of English, Scotch, German and American foundations.


Modern Notions of the University. From this retrospect, let us turn to some of the modern statements of the proper scope of a university. Discussions on this subject have been rife in Germany, France and Italy, but for our purposes citations will only be drawn from British writers: for it is on the basis of English educational experience that American high schools have been organized.


—In an article which was published in October, 1837, by Sir William Hamilton, the Scotch philosopher, the following remark is found: "We shall find no difficulty in proving that university, in its proper and original meaning, denotes simply the whole members of a body (generally incorporated) of persons teaching and learning one or more departments of knowledge;*152 and not an institution privileged to reach a determinative circle of sciences, and to grant certificates of proficiency (degrees) in any fixed and certain departments of that circle (faculties)."


—In his efforts for the foundation of a Catholic university in Ireland, John Henry Newman, now cardinal, published, in 1852, a series of "Discourses on the Idea of a University," which begin with this sentence: "The view taken of a university in these discourses is the following: That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a university should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science."


—In 1868, during the discussions which related to the reorganization of Oxford, Goldwin Smith, then about to withdraw from his connection with that university, wrote as follows: "Experience seems to show that the best way in which the university can promote learning and advance science is by allowing its teachers, and especially the holders of its great professorial chairs, a liberal margin for private study; by this, by keeping its libraries and scientific apparatus in full efficiency and opening them as liberally as possible, by assisting, through its press, in the publication of learned works which an ordinary publisher would not undertake, and by making the best use of its power of conferring literary and scientific honors."


—While the proposal was under consideration to establish the Victoria university in Manchester (in 1882), Professor A. W. Ward brought forward some interesting evidence from the German renascence, saying, among other things: "The renascence age was in its way singularly alive to the uses of associated study; and if I may speak of different times, I may say in passing that there is no side of modern university life better worth not only preserving, but developing, than that of combination in study. Between teachers and learners, the laboratory and the seminary; among learners, their own associations connected with the studies of their academical life—are the real and necessary supplements of the lecture room." And again: "A well-organized system of university education should carefully lead from a common basis of sound general training to the several main branches of study, and in these again leave room for the closer pursuit of special lines of research."


—In a consideration of the "Future of English Universities," Professor James Bryce (1883) urges that these foundations should aim to attract and educate the whole nation [meaning all classes of the nation]. Secondly, he argues that "it is their business to offer to all comers the best possible teaching on every subject—that is, to attract the most learned, skillful and energetic men, give them a platform to speak from, set them to teach, both by public oral instruction and by showing pupils how to study, and give them every motive of honor and interest for doing their best as teachers." Thirdly, he speaks of what can be done for the advancement of letters and sciences; and finally, he calls attention to the importance of "bearing a part in movements for improving the education and raising the culture of those who can not come to the university as students."


—This modern conception of the university is most completely worked out in the German empire and in Austria, where, under the control of each state (Austria, Prussia, Baden, Saxony, etc.), the system of public instruction is crowned by one or more universities. Those Germans only can gain access to the lecture rooms who bring the certificates of thorough preparatory discipline, though foreigners are welcomed on terms less rigid. The ultimate authority is the government, which is bound to supply the requisite financial support, has the appointment of professors, and prescribes the general regulations. But within these limitations the professors are free to give such instruction and by such methods as they think wise, and their wishes are usually, if not always, considered by the sovereign authority in the state. In fact, the professorships make the university. As a rule, the universities have four faculties—philosophy, law, medicine and theology. Sometimes there are two divisions—Catholic and Protestant—in the faculty last named; and, in a very few instances, the faculty of philosophy has been subdivided, but the general sentiment at the present time is adverse to such sections.


—The universities of Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Russia, etc., are largely influenced by the example of Germany and Austria. The development of universities in England has been quite different. Oxford and Cambridge have perpetuated the idea of collegiate discipline under university control; but, whatever may be the nominal rule, actually the colleges control the university. The Scotch universities have other peculiarities. Ireland has still a different system. France, again, has an organization of its own. Until 1875 (when a law was passed making university education free), there was but one university in France, and that had control, under the government of the state, of all the faculties. It has lost its exclusive powers, but is still an administrative, teaching and examining authority, with jurisdiction over the public foundations, not alone in Paris, but throughout the state.


The Essentials of a University. Gathering up the experience of the past, and comparing it with what is now in progress, it is safe to say that these are the essentials of a university which shall be worthy of its noble name. The first requisite is a superior staff of teachers—men gifted with unusual powers, proficient in particular departments of learning, trained to habits of exact inquiry, and skilled in the art of presenting what they know. It is the business of such men to inspire as well as to inform their pupils; to show the right method of study, as well as to bring forth ascertained results. This function is best exercised by meeting students face to face. A library can never take the place of an assembly of living teachers, though books are made efficient by the teacher's presence. Even in the advancement of knowledge, experience has shown that the most successful agents are superior teachers engaged in the tuition of superior scholars. The university must therefore, in the second place, bring together a company of pupils qualified to profit by the guidance of the professors. For both, in the third place, books, collections, instruments and buildings must be liberally provided. Fourthly, examinations must be held, in order to ascertain what progress has been made in study. The bestowal of academic degrees and prizes should be made to stimulate intellectual exertion, and to protect the public against pretentious ignorance. In the fifth place, universities may be called upon to pronounce opinions for the benefit of the public upon important matters in dispute. Sixthly, universities should promote the publication of learned treatises which would not otherwise see the light, either by the maintenance of a printing press, or by giving their corporate sanction to works of unusual importance.


University Education in America. The condition of university education in America can not be understood without reference to our history. The earliest settlers in New England and in Virginia brought with them the idea of a liberal education as it was provided at the beginning of the seventeenth century by the English universities. At least ninety university men had immigrated to New England prior to 1648, about three-fourths of them being from Cambridge, and one-fourth from Oxford.*153 At that period in England college life completely overshadowed university life. Residence within academic walls, tutorial discipline, ecclesiastical obligations, were much more important elements in the system than the bringing together of eminent professors and requiring attendance upon their lectures. Harvard, Yale, and William and Mary, the three foundations of the seventeenth century, were colleges in the definite and restricted English sense, though they exercised the right to confer degrees, even in faculties where no instruction was provided. Their younger sisters, in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and other states, were planned upon the New England model. Down to the close of the revolutionary war the highest schools of the colonies were colleges, and nothing but colleges. The year of the peace, 1783, was marked by the foundation of a medical faculty in connection with Harvard college, but it was more than thirty years before the faculties of law and theology were added. In New Haven, also, the medical faculty was the first addition to the college faculty, in 1813, and several years later came the faculties of theology and law. Gradually the college faculties of Harvard and Yale have been greatly expanded, and now correspond closely with the German faculties of philosophy, although engaged in the instruction both of graduate and undergraduate students. It thus appears that the two foundations which have become at the present time the most completely organized universities in this country, include a group of faculties grafted upon a college stock. The same mode of development is in progress elsewhere, with more or less success. For want of a better name, this type may be called "the collegiate university." As the foundations were laid in the interests of the church, the term ecclesiastical university might be thought more appropriate. It is still the form of development preferred by many of those who have watched the steady and successful growth of the older institutions.


—But it is not the only type. As early as 1812, the state of Maryland authorized the college of medicine (incorporated four years before) to annex to itself "the other three" colleges or faculties, viz., law, divinity, and arts and sciences. Of these faculties two have continued until now. Upon a similar plan, in 1826, the university of Virginia was organized by Thomas Jefferson, who disregarded the historic foundation of William and Mary for an institution of much broader scope. He brought out the continental notion of a university as quite distinct from the college. He did not favor the ecclesiastical organization which prevailed in the original American establishments; but induced the state, as a purely civil government, to give name, funds and authority to the university of Virginia. The success of this institution had much influence, especially in the new states, where, however, the traditions of New England were still powerful. Thus the second type, "the state university," has been developed in Michigan, Wisconsin, California and many other parts of the Union. The bestowal of public lands for university education has greatly helped this class of institutions, but for a long time to come there is likely to be friendly rivalry between the advocates of colleges under ecclesiastical or denominational control and the friends of freer and more comprehensive universities under legislative control.


—A third type of university organization is beginning to appear, quite distinct from the historic collegiate or the modern state universities. Individuals are giving large sums of money to endow universities, organized under special acts of incorporation more or less private in their character. The gift of Rich, in Boston; of Cornell, in Ithaca; of Packer, in Bethlehem; of Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore; and recently of Tulane, in New Orleans, are examples of this tendency. The large funds thus bestowed, at a period when the country is awakening to the need of university work as distinguished from collegiate, are very significant. This type may be called "the privately endowed."


—Mention should also be made of a fourth form of university organization, of which the chief example is the university of the state of New York, wherein, with the authority of the state, a supervision is exercised, of a very gentle but definite nature, over the colleges and seminaries of the state. No instruction is given by this university, and the only degrees conferred are honorary. This is "the supervisory type."*154


—The embodiment of authority in a university is a problem of much difficulty in this country, where the decentralization of civil government is so complete. European precedents have but little value here. The governing bodies of Harvard and Yale are close corporations, having exclusive responsibility for their proceedings under their charters. For the state universities, trustees or regents are sometimes elected by popular vote, and are sometimes appointed by the governor or the legislature; they have even been considered civil officers (as in California), liable to be removed or superseded at the pleasure of the legislature. Gradually the usage is coming into vogue of allowing the graduates of an institution to have a voice in the election of the trustees. In some places the president is the head of the legal corporation, as well as of all the faculties. He is the lineal descendant of the ancient rector, or chancellor, and has corresponding powers. In other institutions he is a member of the corporation, but not its head. Elsewhere he has a seat among the trustees, but has no vote. In some places he is precluded from listening to their deliberations, and is only an agent or executive officer. Consequently his functions vary, from those of a king in council to those of a servant in livery. Usually the professorial responsibility is limited to the instruction and government of the students, and does not extend to the selection of their colleagues, the management of funds, or the construction of buildings—functions retained by the trustees. In consequence of these uncertainties, the educational growth of new foundations has generally been less steady than it should be; a wavering policy has been followed. It has been found difficult to retain the services of good men, particularly in the executive or administrative office; and probably for a long while to come, with now and then an exception, our institutions, especially those of the second type—state universities—will suffer from this fact. Stability is of incalculable value in a seat of learning; instability will sooner or later result in the casting off or slipping away of valuable teachers. In the long run the success of universities will be promoted by entrusting the chief powers to the professorate, with supervision and support from a body of educated trustees.


—University degrees have varied very much in their significance and value. Originally, they were steps in the academic life. The bachelor had attained to one rank; the master or doctor, to a higher. The right to bear these titles was also the right to enjoy certain corresponding privileges; and it was carefully guarded by examinations, certificates and regulations, like other social positions. This dignity of academic titles has diminished in modern times, partly because they have been distributed almost haphazard, as bonbons are thrown to a carnival crowd; partly because they have been conferred by some universities in Germany in absentia, and for pecuniary returns; partly because of the extravagant distribution of honorary distinctions, especially in this country, where the height of absurdity has been reached; and partly because so many variations of the academic titles have also been introduced in this country, that their meaning is lost sight of. Fortunately, signs of reaction against these bad usages are visible, and possibly degrees may yet be restored to their former significance.


—From this brief review, it is apparent that the American universities are likely to be the outgrowth of our own free institutions, ecclesiastical and civil, and of the outpouring of private generosity. They are not likely to be based upon English, German or French models, but are to be benefited by the experience of all existing foundations. They are to be truly American, in the sense of being adapted to our schools, our history, our laws, our ways, our land. It may be long before they equal in magnitude and renown the historic foundations of the old world; but if they succeed in enlisting and retaining illustrious and powerful teachers, their success will be assured.


Notes for this chapter

Quoted by Hallam, Lit. Eur., i., 26.
The disciples of this philosopher were condemned for heresy by a council held in Paris in 1209.
The fault of this definition is that it might include a kindergarten, or a school of Choctaw.
So ascertained by Prof. F. B. Dexter.
It is proper to add, that two or three instances of fraudulent universities have been detected and crushed. They were simply scandalous ventures of unscrupulous persons to entrap the unwary into purchasing diplomas—and would not here be mentioned were it not that foreigners have sometimes been misled by announcements which to every educated American are obvious frauds. These sporadic appearances are counterfeit, not entitled to any nomenclature.

Footnotes for USURY

End of Notes

1056 of 1105

Return to top