James Russell Lowell in jest once referred to Harvard as "the Muses' factory"; in a recent article Professor Grant Showerman of the University of Wisconsin laments that the term is no longer a joke. The American university of today "turns out" several hundred graduates annually, each guaranteed at so many credits and properly tagged with a sheepskin label. State efficiency experts formulate results upon the basis of the unit-hour,--defined as one hour of instruction for one semester by one professor to one student oblivious of the fact that the only unit in intellectual life is the man.
Harvard itself is not untainted by the curse of so-called scientific education. The Harvard man is presented with a degree as soon as he has passed some seventeen courses, selected with due regard to standard rules of concentration and distribution. In pursuing the prescribed aim, he is liable to lose sight of the fundamental reason for his being here. The ideal of systematized education too often replaces all thought of character and culture.
The methods of education employed at this institution a century ago have been frankly recognized as loose,--from the modern point of view; yet the college of those days graduated men who all their lives reflected its culture, because there was then close connection both between instructors and students, and among the undergraduates themselves. Critics of the output of later decades find no parallel with the many eminent graduates of early years. The Technically efficient methods of the last three-quarters of a century have done much to develop the youth of inferior and average capacity; on the whole, they have apparently failed to call forth the full powers of the keener intellect.
Although the vast difference between the times and the altered character of the student body are doubtless primarily responsible, the fact remains that the veneer of general education has in many cases failed to penetrate. The world is not slow in distinguishing between the mere graduate and the man who has absorbed the tradition and all that goes with it to make the higher education. We must cultivate the university spirit by initiating a fuller undergraduate life, and by fostering the human touch in teaching.
There are signs, indeed, that the reform has already begun. The more flexible rules for distribution, the tutorial system, the appearance in Phi Beta Kappa of names associated with undergraduate activities, all point that way. We want no more standardized product,--we want men. Realization of this end rests ultimately with the undergraduate.