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Metzger, The Age of the University, 1955

Walter P. Metzger, “The Age of the University,” in The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States, ed. Walter P. Metzger and Richard Hofstadter (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 275–506, http://archive.org/details/developmentofaca00hofs.

VIII. The German Influence

… More than nine thousand Americans studies at German universities in the nineteenth century. … [367]

… It must be assumed, therefore, that the increase in the number of Americans going to Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century — the figures are roughly 200 before 1850 and go up to 2,000 in the peak decade of the 1880s — tell us much about he pace of indigenous change as about the growth of our cultural debt. … [368]

… The conception of a university as a research institution was in large part a German contribution. … [369]

… Under the long-reigning scholastic system, to philosophize had meant to explain dogma, to deduce its consequences, and to demonstrate its validity: searching, within this confine, was an act of ratiocination.  To philosophize, according to the philosophical rationalists, was to submit all belief, even the very conditions of knowledge, to the verification of reason: with them, searching became an act of intellectual criticism.  With the rise of German idealism, searching was defined as a positive act of creation: to philosophize, in Fichtean terms, was to find [371] the content of reality through the very activity of thought. … [372]

… The German university undertook to train as well as to maintain its scientists and scholars. The lecture, through which the results of new research was transmitted, replaced the old medieval praelectio, the exposition of canonical texts. The seminar, which once had been the means for training acolytes in the art of disputation, became, along with the laboratory, a workshop of scientific practice. Working in the vineyard of knowledge side by side with his master, the student learned the methods of his discipline and undertook his own investigations.  …

Not pastors [373] but theologians, not lawyers but jurists, not practitioners but medical scientists, were the desired products. …

… To these radiant ideals and great accomplishments, many Americans reacted enviously, and with contempt for their own institutions. “What has heretofore been the idea of an University with us?” wrote the young Henry Wadsroth Longfellow while a student at Göttingen in 1829.  “The answer is a simple one: Two or three large brick buildings, with a chapel, and a President to pray in it!”  How inferior was this to the Göttingen idea “of collecting together professors in whom the spirit moved — who were well enough known to attract students to themselves, and … capable of teaching them something they did not know before.” …

… compared the German Gelehrte with the [374] American professor, and found the native product to be “a nondescript, a jack of all trades, equally ready to teach surveying and Latin eloquence, and thankful if his quarter’s salary is not docked to white wash the college fence.”  Almost all of those destined to become presidents of the great new universities compared the frowsiness of Alma Mater with the charms of the foreign Lorelei.  Andrew Dickson White, as a student at the University of Berlin, saw his “ideal of a university not only realized, but extended and glorified,” and resolved to “do something” for American education. … it”left an ineffaceable impression of what scholarship meant, of what a university was and of what a long road higher education in America had to travel before it could hope to reach a place of equal elevation.” … [375]

… In the centennial year of the nation’s independence, Johns Hopkins University, the first university in America based on the German model, opened its doors. The aim of this university, said Daniel Coit Gilman when he assumed the duties of the presidency, was “the encouragement of research; the promotion of young men; and the advancement of individual scholars, who by their excellence will advance the science they pursue, and the society where they dwell.” … assembled a small but remarkable group of graduate students, giving them incentives for scholarly work; and the names of these men — …Josiah Royce, Thorstein Veblen, Woodrow Wilson, Richard T. Ely, John Dewey — are the best testimonials to his success.  Aptly was this university called the Gottingen at Baltimore. Of fifty-three professors and lecturers on the roster in 1884, nearly all had studied at German universities, and thirteen had been awarded the doctoral degree.  John Hopkins adopted the lecture, the seminar, and the laboratory, and brought teachers and student together in close and congenial association.  What it called the graduate school was the equivalent of the Germany faculty of philosophy — broad in its range of specialties, non-utilitarian in its objectives, devoted to the task of research. …

Inspired by Johns Hopkins, fifteen major graduate schools or departments were established by the end of the nineteenth century.  Decade by [377] decade, the output of American degrees of doctor of philosophy increased almost geometrically.  Before 1861 not a single doctorate had been awarded by an American institution; in 1890, 164 such degrees were conferred; in 1900, more than twice that numbers.  In 1871, the total number of postgraduate students in American institutions was 198; by 1808, the number had rise to 2,872. Whatever these figures reveal as to the crowding of the graduate schools and the lowering of standards and results, their chief import is the evidence they give of the thorough domestication of the ideal of academic research. …

… In the one view, research was an activity to be initiated and directed from within the university. The searcher was to be independent, not only with respect to his conclusions, but to his choice of an area of work. To fill the gaps in knowledge that continuing inquiry revealed, to conduct investigations as the logic of a discipline directed — these were to be the functions of academic inquiry.  Practical results may be forthcoming, but inquiry should be allowed to push against any of the frontiers of knowledge, and not merely along that border where material benefits were promised.  Fundamentally, this was the graduate school’s conception of research. Adopting the methods of the German seminar and laboratory, it favored an unremitting quest ofr facts, a strenuous objectivity, the reconstruction of past events “as they actually happened.” … [381]

Lehrfreiheit and lernfreihet

All through the nineteenth century, but particularly after the establishment of the Empire, German scholars boasted of their academic freedom and brought it to the attention of the scholarly world. And the scholarly world, in the habit of paying homage to the German universities, agreed that freedom was triumphant there, the proof and cause of their superiority. In recent times, it is worth noting, the reality of this vaunted freedom has been sharply questioned. With the recent capitulation of the German universities to pseudo-science and the totalitarian state, doubt has arisen as to whether, at any time in the pre-Hitler period, they had ever truly been free. It is pointed out that professors as civil servants had been subject to a special disciplinary code; that under the Kaisers, Social Democrats, Jews, and other minorities had been discriminated against in appointments; that on most questions of national honor and interest (witness the performance of the German professors during the First World War), the academic corps had docilely taken its place in the chauvinistic chorus.  it is also pointed out that the German universities were state universities in an undemocratic state, [383] dependent upon the uncertain good will of the ministers of education and on a dynasty far more autocratic than the constitutional forms reveal. Granting all this to be true, however, there remains the question of what was the basis of the boast that the German universities were free.

… The first is the greater independence enjoyed by the universities under the Empire than at any time before. …Likewise punitive action by the state became comparatively rare after unification.  The German states lost much of their cameralistic urge to regulate everything directly. … [384]

… The provision in the Prussian Constitution of 1850 that “science and its teaching shall be free” epitomized the more permissive attitude of the new order. …

The German system of control allowed the universities considerable corporate autonomy.  The states drew up the budgets, created new chairs, appointed professors, and framed the general scheme of instruction.  But the election of academic officials, the appointment of lecturers or Privatdocenten, and the nomination of professors were powers enjoyed by the faculty. No lay board of control was interposed between [385] the ultimate authority of the state and the plenary powers of the professors.  No elaborate administrative structure was required; no office of the president was established. Each faculty was presided over by a dean elected by and chosen from that faculty; each university was represented by a rector chosen from and elected by the whole professorial corps. The German universities were state institutions but the combination of government restraint, cultural isolation, limited professorial co-option, and elected administrators gave them the appearance of self-governing bodies. …

By Lernfreihet he meant the absence of administrative coercion in the learning situation. He referred to the fact that German students were free to roam from place to place, sampling academic wares; that wherever they lighted, they were free to determine the choice and sequence of courses, and were responsible to no one for regular attendance; that they were exempted from all tests save the final examination; that they lived in private quarters and controlled their private lives.  This freedom was deemed essential to the main purpose of the German university: to forward research and to train researchers.  By Lehrfreihet, the German educator meant tow things.  He meant that the university professor was free to examine bodies of evidence and to report his findings in lecture or pub- [386] lished form — that he enjoyed the freedom of teaching and freedom of inquiry.  This, too, was thought to follow from the searching function, from the presumption that knowledge was not fixed or final, from the belief, as Paulsen put it, that Wissenschaft knew no “statute of limitation,” no authoritative “law of prescription,” no “absolute property rights.”  This freedom was not, as the German conceived it, an inalienable endowment of all men, nor was it a superadded attraction of certain universities and not of others; rather, it was the distinctive prerogative of the academic profession, and the essential condition of all universities. Without it, no institution had the right to call itself a “university.” In addition, Lehrfreihet, like Lernfreihet, also denoted the paucity of administrative rules within the teaching situation: the absence of a prescribed syllabus, the freedom from tutorial duties, the opportunity to lecture on any subject according to the teacher’s interest.  Thus, academic freedom , as the German defined it, was not simply the right of professors to speak without fear or favor, but the atmosphere of consent that surrounded the whole process of research and instruction. …

… To the university student, coming from the strict and formal Gymnasium, Lernfreihet was a precious privilege, a recognition of his arrival at man’s estate. To the university professor, extremely sensitive to considerations of social esteem, Lehrfreihet was a dispensation that set him apart from the ordinary civil servant. In a nation still aristocratic and feudalistic in its mores, caste considerations thus underlay the loyalty to academic freedom. In addition, Lern– and Lehrfreihet had patriotic associations.  They were identified with the national revival. The renewal of student peregrinations in the eighteenth century symbolized the breakdown of territorial exclusiveness and the growth of national consciousness. The University fo Berlin, dedicated to academic freedom, was a phoenix that had arisen from the ashes of military defeat. The denial of academic freedom in the Metternich era had been the work of Catholic dogmatism, Protestant particularism, petty absolutism — all enemies of a united Reich. Moreover, after unification, academic free- [387] dom was thought to atone for the lack of political freedoms and to prove the special virtue of the Fatherland. The romantic nineteenth century was given to equating freedom and nationality, but it was a peculiarity of German thought that it made academic freedom one of the major terms in this equation.

The German conception of academic freedom, reflecting the philosophical temper of German academic thought, distinguished sharply between freedom within and freedom outside the university. Within the walls of academe, a wide latitude of utterance was allowed, even expected.  … In the normative sciences particularly, “professing” in Germany tended to be the presentation with aggressive finality of deep subjective convictions. Among certain professors, to be sure, there were proponents of a more restrained and cautious conception. In 1877, in the heat of the Darwinian controversy, Rudolph Virchow, the great German pathologist, argued that unproved hypotheses should never be taught as true, that professors should stay within their spheres of competence, that they should consult the consensus gentium before expressing possible dangerous ideas. But in a  famous reply to Virchow, Ernst Haeckel, the biologist, contended that no line between objective and subjective knowledge could or ought to be drawn, that science advances only through the open clash of wrong and correct opinion, that the obligation of the professor to adhere to indubitable facts or to defer to existing opinions would relinquish the field of education to the religious infallibilists. … [388]

… the only alternative to the presentation of personal convictions was the prescription of authoritative dogma, that the only alternative to polemical controversy was the stoppage of academic inquiry. Recognizing that there were dangers in subjective and polemical teaching, they thought there were adequate safeguards in the freedom and maturity of the student, who was neither captive nor unprimed. As Paulsen put it:

The content of instruction is not prescribed for the academic teacher; he is, as searcher as well as teacher, attached to no authority; he himself answers for his own instruction and is responsible to no one else. Opposite him is his student with complete freedom to accept or to reject; he is not a pupil but has the privilege of the critic or the improver. There is only one aim for both: the truth, only one yardstick; the agreement of thought with reality and with no other outside authority.

.. But outside the university, the same degree of freedom was not condoned.  … [389]

… Ticknor wrote from Gottingen:

No matter what a man thinks, he may teach it and print it; not only without molestation from the government but also without molestation from public opinion. … The same freedom in France produced the revolution and the same freedom in England would now shake the deep foundations of the British throne — but here it passes as a  matter of course. … If truth is to be attained by freedom of inquiry, as I doubt not it is, the German professors and literati are certainly on the high road, and have the way quietly open before them. … [391]

“To the German mind,” wrote James Morgan Hart, “if either freedom of teaching or freedom of learning is wanting, that institution, no matter how richly endowed, no matter how numerous its students, no matter how imposing its buildings, is not .. a University.” If one were to single out the chief German contribution to the American conception of academic freedom, it would be the assumption that academic freedom, like academic searching, defined the true university. ... [393]

… Nevertheless, the idea that academic freedom was part of the definition of a university was new and consequential. It was a norm from which the distance to practice could be measured. It was a belief which, in entering the ambit of good from, more easily won advocates and an audience. It was an ideal that elevated academic freedom from an undefined and unconscious yearning to a conscious and declared necessity of academic existence. [395]

IX. Academic freedom and big business

X. Organization, loyalty and war

… The crisis of 1917 plunged the academic profession into vast and unheralded new difficulties. A mob fanaticism arose that put every freedom in jeopardy. The American university, always vulnerable to the opinions of the community, could not escape its coercive spirit. Indeed, professors, being by trade and usually by disposition somewhat more detached from mass obsessions, became the particular targets of the country’s enthusiasm and anxiety. All over the nation, patriotic zealots on boards of trustees, in the community, and on the faculties themselves, harassed those college teachers whose passion for fighting the war was somewhat less flaming [495] than their own. Suddenly, the gains for academic freedom that had painfully and gradually been won — the greater acceptance of the principle, the beginnings of a regime of academic law — were swept aside. With frightening quickness, the hard-to-learn manners of tolerance yielded to crude tribal instincts of taboo. the academic profession and its young Association confronted the almost total collapse of the moral and institutional safeguards that had been wrought in the slowness of time. … [496]


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