Coincident with the prodigious growth of American universities in the last half-century, there has arisen a curious animosity to the methods of the large institutions, resulting in frequent attacks. The latest of these comes from Dean MacKenzie of the Detroit Junior College. "University classes are so large and the professors so indifferent, the students do not receive the opportunity for education they find in the junior college. The big universities are taking money under false, pretences," he says. The University professor "in merely filling his position in order to earn his living so that he can go on accumulating knowledge. He has no human interest in his students. He is an intellectual miser, not a teacher."
In spite of all the protest which these statements must occasion, there is doubtless some small grain of truth in what Dean MacKenzie has to say. It is true, as he points out, that universities have classes of 400 students and that the professor sees them only two or three times a week as a group. It is inevitable that, unless special measures be taken, students must become "mere automatons". The question of individual attention is being met at Harvard in so far as is possible by the appointment of assistants and tutors. Most professors endeavor to add a "human touch" to their work. But in any case, the big universities are hardly taking money under false pretenses.
The large university, in general, can secure for its faculty "bigger" men than the smaller institutions can afford to maintain. The youth in quest of higher education is supposed to have outgrown his preparatory-school days; in entering the large university he finds himself in a man's college. He finds large classes there because the professor of high intellectual capacity is in great demand. He gains from the instruction offered him just so much as he thinks worth while. The large university has never claimed to train scholars as schoolboys are taught. It makes no pretensions now to teach its students in spite of themselves. It leaves to the individual undergraduate the free play of the discrimination which belongs' to him as a man. And that, after all, is the only true criterion of the University spirit.