Considered in General, together with some Specific Suggestions for the Mid-Years.
Without desiring to be impertinently suggestive to those who know their duty, it would perhaps be a good thing as the mid-years approach, to draw up a list of the different characteristics of that season that seem to need a remedy. There will be no use grumbling after the occasion has passed, and the best time for mentioning the subject is just before the preparations are made by the authorities.
In the first place, the examination rooms have been cold. I do not think this can be remedied merely by making a fire and opening the registers at six o'clock in the morning. I am not a sexton, but I know that in well-regulated churches the sexton starts the furnace fire on Saturday, and often on Friday. In this way not only is the room sure to be warm, but the heat by that time can be adjusted to the right temperature. In buildings like Massachusetts and University, rarely used until examination time, this previsional care is almost absolutely necessary.
Secondly, let the proctors keep still, if they can, and let them discard squeaky boots. Common sense alone ought to keep them from walking about, except to answer inquiries, and they can watch us just as well from one end or one side of the room, or from the middle, if they will only stay there. A proctor ought to know before he comes to an examination whether his boots creak or not; if they do, he can get a pair of felt slippers for sixty-five cents. Or if he sits down, as he ought to, he can do all his necessary walking in stocking-feet.
Thirdly, if the professor cannot remain during the examination, let him coach a proctor on the questions of the paper; or else let us have a proctor whose specialty lies in the subject of the paper. Not that his function would be treacherously assistive, but conservatively explicative. I remember how at the admission examination they gave me Pierce's table of logarithms, which was entirely different from old six-place table I had used. I could do nothing with it, and so I asked a proctor to explain it. I was very much shocked when he explained to me that he knew no more about it than I did. Now we often find in the papers ambiguities and difficulties which we did not perceive while the professor was present, and it would be extremely appropriate to appoint a scientific graduate, for instance, to an examination in natural science, and so on for the other subjects; so that the proctor would be able to understand and to decide in case of ambiguities. There is one other reason, too, which a proctor has suggested to me, and that is, that if this plan is adopted, the proctor can amuse himself by reading over the paper and finding out how much he has forgotten.
As regards that frequent subject of agitation, the entire abolition of proctors, there is this much to be aid. First, notwithstanding the cry that their surveillance is an unjust imputation on our honor, it is nevertheless true, as experience also has proved, that there are some few students who, if they were not watched, would not be able to resist the temptation to fill out their examination books by some unlawful assistance; and taking into consideration the deturs, scholarships, commencement rank, membership of the Phi Beta Kappa, - all of which depend primarily upon the marks at examinations - it is only fair to the others that such students should be effectually prevented from receiving more than they deserve. The presence of the proctor is no insult to our honor. It is a maxim of general application that "the law was not made for the many, but for the few."
There is also another reason that should cause our proctors to be retained, and that is this: their presence at examinations, however superfluous it may seem to some, at least harms nobody, while the proctorships offer to deserving graduates an easy way of earning money that does not come amiss to most of them. Let us bear in mind that proctors are mortals like ourselves. A good many people are under the same hallucination that Phyllis was in "Iolanthe," until she found out with surprise that the fairy, Iolanthe, "kisses just like other people." Proctors, on close inspection, are found to be surprisingly like other students. Although there is need of some reform in regard to the performance of their duties, yet, on the whole, the institution deserves to exist, if for no other reason, merely because it spends the money of the university in a meritorious way.
At another time it will perhaps be well to appeal more directly to the faculty with respect to that other grievance, which gives us Wednesday as the vacant day of an examination week, instead of Monday, the proper day. But this matter cannot be remedied until the faculty fix the schedule for the annuals.