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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
DISCIPLINE IN AMERICAN COLLEGES.
BY PRESIDENT BARTLETT OF DARTMOUTH, PRESIDENT ANGELL
OF MICHIGAN, PROFESSOR SHALER OF HARVARD, PRESIDENT
How far should a university control its students ? The
The American university is a very different affair. The name
Our universities being predominantly colleges, and the great majority of their students being under-graduates or college students, I propose to direct my suggestions to the question of controlling college students, with reference to whom primarily and almost exclusively it has been publicly raised. The proposition that the university student should choose his own studies and govern himself was originally applied to a body of young men the majority of whom were not properly university students.
It may be admitted that professional students are to some degree in different circumstances from college students. They are older and more mature; mostly men in years and experience. They have gone through an invaluable previous training, have a wider horizon of knowledge, and are held and urged by the near prospects of their life-work and the impending necessity of a livelihood. They should require much less of external guidance and control. Yet they are not left to themselves. Professional schools of all kinds firmly hold their students to certain prescribed courses of lectures, reading, examinations, and attendance, which are accepted by all parties as wise and necessary, and on which no further remark is here called for.
Students enter college mostly in the transition period from boyhood to manhood. Perhaps the average age in this country is not far from eighteen years. Some, indeed, are men, but very many are still boys. As a body they are at an age when, during nearly three-quarters of their college course, they are, by the wise laws of the land, under parental government. This patent fact alone would seem to furnish a valid basis for the answer to the question. I have heard it affirmed by a high college official that the notion of a college faculty standing in loco parentis is an exploded notion. If so, the more the pity. But there certainly are colleges, not a few, where it is not exploded or obsolete. By what right shall the parent, when he sends his son into new difficulties and temptations, consent to the withdrawal of all that guardian watch and care which the public polity and the wisdom of ages require of him while the son is at home? And by what right shall the institution to which the young man in his minority is entrusted by the parent assume that not only direct parental guardianship, but all substitute for it, is abrogated by the trust? I have heard it asserted, in a similar strain, that the whole duty of a college professor is discharged and ended in the lecture-room.
If these two maxims were settled principles in all our colleges, judicious parents might well hesitate, and even refuse, to send their sons to such places of irresponsibility. Better place them in any kind of apprenticeship, for then they would be held to duty and responsibility. But such views do not universally prevail. In many of our best institutions the personal influence of the instructors is even more efficient outside of the lecture-room than within it; and most institutions feel the obligation, so far as practicable, to supply the parent's moral influence, while furnishing the intellectual influences which he could not personally bestow. Otherwise the transition from the well-regulated home to the heartless institution would be the saddest of orphanages.
Furthermore, the clear underlying principle of the student's position carries with it the condition of control. He goes to college to be equipped for the thinking and acting of manhood. He goes unformed, inexperienced, susceptible, exposed, comparatively crude in judgments, and often abounding in juvenile tendencies to irregularity and excess. Now, are such young men to be coolly left to themselves, unaided by external supports ? Or are they to be actively and positively helped in every available mode by the men to whom they have come for help,—by their knowledge, their experience, their riper judgment, their advice, and, so far as is needed, their wise and firm control ? To ask the question is to answer it. To fail in the use of all such available influences is clearly a dereliction of duty and a breach of faith to the pupil. If the student is able to educate himself, why put himself under instructors and methods at all ? For to choose one's studies and govern himself meanwhile, taken strictly, comprises the whole matter and method of education.
Let us apply these principles a little in detail. Clearly there should be a somewhat firm control of the attendance. Requirements of this nature, such as are insisted on in professional schools, are still more indispensable in the college. To form and fix habits of systematic, steady application is one of the prime benefits of a public school. The value of this one element of a right college training can hardly be overestimated. Few young men are so well established as to dispense with such regulations; the majority greatly need them; not a few would be life-long failures without them. And these regulations should require not only presence at the institution, but habitual attendance on its stated
exercises, with allowance, of course, for reasonable excuses. Regular attendance is even easier than irregular, while the difference in the permanent effect on the individual is beyond computation. For this reason nothing is gained and much is lost by an excessive allowance of “cuts "; and protracted absences from the lecture-room are never compensated for by cramming for examination. One great institution, which had allowed unwonted latitude in this respect, has already found it necessary to begin a retreat.
Equally legitimate is a general prescription of the course or courses of study. A full discussion of this subject cannot be entered upon here. But so long as some professional schools find it needful rigidly to require the main part of professional education, objections to a similar procedure in the college fall to the ground. From the fact that he has not been over the field, the youth is incompetent to judge what is the best drill and culture for him. And while diversity of ultimate aim may modify the latter part of the basal education, specialism comes soon enough when the special training begins. And those institutions seem to me wisest which reserve their electives till the last half of the college course, then introduce them sparingly, and not miscellaneously, but by coherent courses. A general and predominant introduction of electives is fruitful of evils. It perplexes the faithful student in his inexperience. It tempts and helps the average student to turn away from the studies which, by reason of his deficiencies, he most needs. It gives opportunity to the lazy student to indulge his indolence in the selection of “soft” electives. Striking and even ludicrous illustrations of these last two influences could readily be furnished, did the space permit. Other undesirable influences of the premature multiplication of electives, affecting the students as a body, have already been apprehended by some who strongly favored the system—in regard to which we may await further developments.
Regulations governing the conduct and deportment of the young men in their relations as students are also indispensable. No considerable company can get on without well-settled rules adapted to their special circumstances. To attempt it is confusion. The well-disposed majority need them for guidance, the ill-disposed minority for restraint, and all for comfort and protection, College codes have properly been made simpler than formerly, when English precedents prevailed. But firm codes are