One of the superstitions of the public is that college professors lead sheltered, if not monastic lives. This is one of the great weaknesses of our educational system today; it is so arranged that its scholars cannot help giving an impression of aloofness from the troubles of the outside world. A number of able professors in the political science department at Columbia have recently made an attempt to show that they are not disconnected from actualities. They have drawn up an effective and sound criticism of the war debts settlements, hoping in doing this to attract the attention of the administration and the people to some of the errors of the present arrangement. Their criticism is constructive. They are not merely abstract thinkers trying to bring their principles before the public eye. But in spite of all this it is exceedingly doubtful whether the statement which they have made will have any effect on the whole problem of international debts.
Very obviously this is an unfortunate and almost tragic state of affairs. That the words of intelligent men, thinkers of real insight and some practical ability, should be unable to reach the ears of the powers that be is due largely to those two superstitions of our political leaders, silence and economy. Senators and other party leaders will perhaps read the report of the Columbia specialists, but what effect will their words have on the settlement of the debts? Almost certainly they will have none. The debts have come to have a bitter, almost raucous note in conversation. Forty-two Columbia professors, even with academic reticence, constitute an almost noisy chorus. And although Mr. Coolidge may be accused of paying only lip-service to economy, one can hardly doubt his sincere and heart-felt love of silence.
One might easily assume that because of the lack of action which will inevitably result from the publication of this criticism, the Columbia professors are doing no good to anyone in making it public. They are, however, doing one great service. They are showing the people of America that scholars are not necessarily metaphysically minded thinkers. The more often college teachers can show themselves to be interested in practical problems the better it will be for the cause of education, and it need be no foregone conclusion that politics would suffer by it.