In the dispute just now raging between college professors and presidents as to what constitutes a liberal education and what latitude should be allowed a student in making his choice of studies, President Eliot of Harvard takes decidedly advanced ground. He insists that a university of liberal arts and sciences should give a student three things: Freedom in choice of studies, opportunity to win academic distinction in single subjects or special lines of study, and a discipline which imposes upon each individual responsibility of forming his own habits and guiding his own conduct. In support of this position he cites the example of European universities, which received students as young on the average as the freshmen of American colleges, and which have had exceptional success by the adoption of the very theory which Pres. Eliot now so earnestly advocates. If a boy's school training has been tolerably comprehensive. President Eliot thinks he should be prepared at the age of 18 to enter a university where the choice of studies is free. He holds that a boy has then passed the age when compulsory discipline is valuable, and he can no longer be driven to any useful exercise of his mind, and that he can select for himself a better course of study than any college faculty can possibly select for him.
President McCosh of Princeton takes issue somewhat with this view of the case. He does not hold to the old idea of twenty years ago, which prescribed a cast-iron curriculum for the entire college course, to which all alike must conform without any latitude of choice. Neither does he believe that the average boy of 18 years is mature and discreet enough to be allowed to come and go as he pleases, or to select his own course of subjects at the very beginning of his term out of a great multitude presented to his uninformed judgment from which to choose. Harvard has 200 courses of study, from which the student must choose a limited number in order to obtain a degree, and many of these are, in the opinion of Dr. McCosh, dilettante. "I should prefer," he says, "a young man who has been trained in an old-fashioned college in rhetoric, philosophy, Latin, Greek and mathematics to one who had frittered away four years in studying a French drama of the eighteenth century, a little music and similar branches." Dr. Warren of the Boston University takes a hand in the dispute, siding with Dr. McCosh in favor of a certain amount of Greek and Latin as required, although Boston University cannot be said to have acquired a reptation for great strength in the Greek and Latin classics. The only way of settling a controversy like this is by actual experiment, continued long enough to show positive results. The experience of other countries will not serve us, for in every case there will be found governmental oversight of universities or some condition which does not obtain in the United States. The discretion which President Eliot thinks a youth is able to exercise at 18 is not recognized in law as suitable for him until he is 21. In the preparatory schools a choice of studies is not allowed him. Should he, after graduation, enter a school of law, medicine or theology, he will find that he is not suffered to study what he pleases in order to obtain a degree, but the studies which the experience of those who have been over the ground long before agree in prescribing for him, and, as a rule, he follows the line marked out without question. There is probably still room for reform in the curriculum of American colleges, but it is not impossible that President Eliot is going a little fast and is a little too enthusiastic, and we do not believe any considerable number of American parents will agree with him in his conclusion that the average youth of eighteen possesses sufficient judgment and stability of character to think and choose for himself without the exercise of any restrictive influence.- Springfield Republican.