"To the Alumni of the University of California"
by
"Some Friends of the University"
July 1899


TO THE ALUMNI OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

THERE are indications that our University is drifting, and drifting at a somewhat perilous time, and not altogether in the right direction.

The Regents have elected a President, and their choice may prove a happy one; but if reports are correct, their selection was not made with the kind of intelligence and application to the matter its importance demanded. Not being teachers, nor holding clear ideals of the higher education, the Regents could not discover, or, in the true sense, select the man. They were compelled to rely upon the general reputation of candidates; and perhaps they did as well as they could under the circumstances; but some of us--friends of the University--are moved by this, and other recent occurrences, to reflect upon the whole matter of the administration of the University.

The appearance is that the Regents themselves are feeling their disqualification for administering the institution on its educational side, and that they are becoming impatient under their sense of disqualification, and are seeking relief by throwing the burden upon the President. The example of the neighboring University, with its simple autocracy and the efficiency that always accompanies centralization of power, is certainly having great weight with our Board, and we believe undue weight. Such centralization is being tried at Stanford on a scale that only a singly and completely endowed or privately sustained institution could try it. Let the sister University try it; and let the best fruits of the system be hers. But it is not yet tried, and for us, because of our peculiar relation to the community, it is impossible.

Some of us are thankful that it is impossible, and for these reasons. An institution so governed is undemocratic; it is in conflict with the ideals of our national life, and with the true university spirit; and it could hardly be protected from intolerable despotism. Broad and discerning as its head might be, he would have the limitations of the man, and the institution would inevitably reflect those limitations. The subordinates--members of the faculty--must be acceptable to him; they could not be independent men and retain their positions. The head might think that he liked and encouraged independence. He might like and encourage it, but within the limits of his individual intelligence and temper. Now we know that upon the freedom of the teacher largely depend the vitality and efficacy of his teaching; and while there must be limitations to that freedom to secure the mutual freedom of the group of teachers, and the unity of the institution, would the teachers of a university be freer--in the enjoyment of a just independence--in subordination to a single man without appeal, or to a properly constituted deliberative body?

As to what would be a properly constituted deliberative body of a university, in which the members of the faculty would have the justest freedom, it would not, we believe, be any substitute for what we now have, but such a combination of regents, president, and faculty as should give to the faculty, in the first place, all that could properly be done by it deliberatively and administratively. And as to what could be done by the faculty: Let the regents ask themselves what they feel disqualified for, especially in judging teachers' work. Let the president, in view of his own experience as teacher, ask himself what support he, as teacher, felt the need of from his president, and what of his present power he could relinquish without lessening his real headship and efficiency. And let the members of the faculty ask themselves how their freedom can best be preserved, and whence come the greatest encouragement for their best efforts, and the most wholesome restraint in their relations with each other.

The central requirement in the government of an institution of learning is the competency to judge of the teaching. Now this does not reside in the board of regents. It does reside, with the individual's limitations, in the president. But it resides in the highest degree in the faculty or body of teachers. To say that they cannot judge each other's work is to say that the members of a profession cannot judge each other; and yet we know that they alone are competent; that they alone can protect the public against unfit practitioners. It may be said that it would tend to break up the body of teachers into parties and cliques. We believe it would do the reverse, especially if the president were a man of judicial mind. The dependence upon a board of regents--a body separate and unqualified to judge--does encourage jealousies and antagonisms among the teachers and between the departments; but free deliberation with each other with sense of responsibility for the good of the university would shame such division, would suggest self-imposed limits to their freedom, and consolidate the teaching-body, and would, more than anything else, cultivate the university-spirit,--the love of the university as a whole and for its high use. It would draw to the university and its teachers the respectful regard instead of the raillery of the community.

We believe that not upon the President, but upon the Faculty, the burden should be thrown by the Regents of our University; and that the best President for us is not he who has the most towering personality, but he who can inspire the Faculty with seriousness and sense of responsibility to the University and the community. The Regents must consider that in relinquishing power to the President they are conferring upon him power over the Faculty. They may be moved to this by an apparent want of concord in the Faculty, but we believe that the present discord among its members is more apparent than real, and is due not to unwillingness to work together, but to their false position,--that of subordination to a body too remote from their work and its aims and efforts; and that to give the President new power over them would change but not correct the falseness of their position. It would be to elevate one--presumably not their superior in character or ability--to a position of despotic power. The President cannot be given more power except at the expense of the Faculty's life. It might bring quiet, but it would be the quiet of subservience, which is death; it would certainly lower the teachers' self-respect, their power of initiative, and all that goes toward the making of a live, leading institution,--a true University.

We believe that the great democratic principle of coming together for deliberation, where each subordinates his personal views, not to the personal views of others, but to the truth, has not fairly been tried where indeed it ought to begin,--at the fountainhead of our educational system,--and that if it were in operation there our youth would get from it a lesson in self-restraint and true democracy that would do more than anything else in their education to make of them good citizens. We believe that there is a great reserve of effective power--the greatest available to the University and as yet almost wholly undeveloped--in the Faculty so empowered, or led up to its duty.

As to the practical working of the new order there must remain much to consider, and perhaps much to learn from experience. It might be well to have an inner smaller council, and an outer larger one in the Faculty, both to be presided over by the President; the smaller consisting of the heads of departments, in which, ordinarily, movements would originate by suggestion of the President or of one of its members, its proceedings being communicated by the President to the larger council,--consisting of the whole Faculty,--the results of the deliberations of both councils being conveyed by the President to the Board of Regents when the action of the Board is needed.

Some subjects would remain exclusively the province of the Board of Regents both for deliberation and for action.

SOME FRIENDS OF THE UNIVERSITY.

 

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