In the current discussion aroused by President Eliot's speech at the Nineteenth Century Club, President Webb of New York University, and Pres. White of Cornell represented the extreme elements in the two wings of the party which is opposed to President Eliot's radical views. How little unanimity exists between the two wings is shown by the following quotations from the two Presidents.
President Webb says: "The graduates and men instructed at my own college are well known to have been so signally successful in the civil service as to be placed in a distinct class. They lead with ease in the law school, and in the medical college. They are not afraid of competition with the graduates of any college. Every attempt to give to seniors, or to juniors election in their studies has proved to be contrary to the system which has produced the results of which we are justly proud. Everything of this nature appears to us to be a simple bid for popularity-injurious and demoralizing to the young men who may be misled by its attractiveness.
The young men of to-day, and especially the young men in large cities, are not, by nature and example, fitted for tests of this kind. They are seldom, if ever ready to work for the mere love of work. Instead of being taught how to gloss over an education, received as it is in an unwilling spirit, and carried on during a season of balls, operas, and theatres, skating rinks, etc., in a perfunctory manner, it is the duty of educators to speak out plainly, and to denounce everything that tends to render diplomas worthless, and bring colleges into contempt.
The president of Harvard says that "every youth of eighteen is an infinitetely complex and solitary organization." Next "correct education has for its aim the correct development of each student's gifts." I do not grant the first statement, and the second is not true. Do you, in physical education, take for your aim to strengthen the parts that are weak, or do you seek to develop more the parts already strong? Is the public ready for a steatopygean education. They like it in Africa. Is a man complete if he be a superior mathematician and that be the limit of his knowledge?
But are boys of eighteen fitted to judge of their strong or their own weak points? Can they select for themselves out of this enormous bill of fare (425 hours per week offered by Harvard) the 12 hours most conducive to their mental growth? I have not met such young men among the undergraduates of any college, nor do I expect to meet them. If experienced men who devote a lifetime to the study of the special question of election in studies in colleges, differ as widely as do President Eliot and President McCosh, how can a poor, green youth of eighteen, without any knowledge whatsover of the nature and advantage of studies between which he is told to choose, make anything like a selection?
From my seat in this college I am asked by experienced fathers, men of business, to try to determine whether a youth of eighteen shall be directed to take a course of ancient or modern languages. And I do think that I overstate the matter when I say that over sixty per cent. of the parents and nearly all of the students are utterly unable to determine for what profession the youth is best fitted."
While President Webb finds that seniors and juniors, and much more freshmen, cannot use the privilege of election to advantage, Prest. White's experience has been in just the opposite direction. He bases his opposition to President Eliot's views on quite other grounds. He says:
"In this matter of elective studies I stand midway between the two extremes as represented by Dr. McCosh and President Eliot. I cannot indorse the elective system as President Eliot expounds and defends it, for his position seems to me open to many of the objections which Dr. McCosh urged at the recent meeting of the Nineteenth Century Club. For instance, it is true that under a system of complete election, a student may get a degree for the study of music, the French drama similar dilettante branches, although it is, perhaps, true that a student who pursues this course would get about as much good from these studies as he would get from any others. Now there are two kinds of modified election which I indorse. I believe that it is a good plan to give students a choice between a number of different courses each made up of studies which he is obliged to follow when he selects that course; and secondly, I believe in a fixed curriculum of required studies, to which a student may add a certain number of studies of his own choice. The idea of a curriculum without any election does not seem to me wise. A young man of sixteen or seventeen is certainly capable of choosing two or three elective branches. In this country most young men at that age are called upon to decide for themselves far more weighty questions. They are obliged to choose their calling for the whole of their after lives, to decide what professions they will study and where they will study them, whom they will associate with them in business, and other matters equally important. If they are capable of doing this intelligently, they can certainly decide whether they will supplement the college curriculum with Greek or mathematics, or whether they will choose an academic or a scientific course.