In Victor Hugo's novel Ninety-Three a cannon breaks loose on the gun deck of a French corvette under full sail, becoming "suddenly some indescribably supernatural beast . . . a monster . . . [that] rolls with the rolling, pitches with the pitching, goes, comes, pauses, seems to meditate, resumes its course, rushes from end to end along the ship like an arrow, circles about, springs aside, evades, roars, breaks, kills, exterminates. . . . In what way can one attack it? You can make a mastiff hear reason, astonish a bull, fascinate a boa, frighten a tiger, soften a lion; there is no resource with that monster, a cannon let loose. It continued its work of destroying the ship." ("We know our responsibilities as trustees," Board Chairman Harold H. Swift of the University of Chicago wrote in a form letter to complaining alumni in 1944. "We are working hard for the University, and we are working constantly for its continued advancement. I don't believe we will wreck it—nor let it be wrecked. . . . I am not sure that there is much I can say to you which will seem convincing. For the most part people either like Mr. Hutchins' educational philosophy, or they don't. . . . I know Mr. Hutchins pretty well. While he has strong opinions, I believe his desire is to make the strongest possible university in every field, and I see no evidence that he is sacrificing any division of the University.")
The quick winter evening of January 12, 1944, came in with a beatific glitter over the South Shore Country Club. The occasion was the university's annual gala, for which the club's grand ballroom was always rented: the trustees' dinner to the faculties. The preprandial bar at the club was laden with the best free drinks. The main course was the finest steak that money (or ration coupons) could buy. Board Chairman Harold H. Swift always presided at the trustees' dinner and always introduced the speaker of the evening, who was always the president. The faculty always ap-
plauded roundly when the president was introduced; it did not always applaud so roundly at the conclusion of his remarks, which were sometimes disturbing. It was, indeed, his wont to use the great dinner as a staging area for one or two awful assaults, on the ground, presumably, that his audience would not be able, when he moved the assault to the faculty senate chamber, to claim that they were taken by Draconian surprise.
There was nothing untoward to be anticipated this evening. The campus war plant was running smoothly and, as far as anyone could make out, successfully on every front. Whatever Hutchins would say, he would say it with that delicious laconic wit. And there was no real reason for any slashing, on this glittering evening when Hutchins would surely be entertaining.
And so he was, for the whole of five minutes. Observing that this was his fifteenth appearance at this annual festivity and comparing himself to the champion flagpole sitter whose distinction lay not in what he had done but in his having done it so long. Then he jollied them some more at, as usual, his own expense: "The fact is that as a university president proceeds up to and beyond the fifteenth year mark, his loss of knowledge, accompanied by the loss of health, hair, teeth, appetite, character, figure, and friends, becomes nothing short of sensational. Tonight, after fifteen years, I have only one point, and a very little one, to make."
And then he suddenly stopped jollying:
"My little point is that nothing has been done here in the last fifteen years. . . . We have been engaged in pushing over pushovers. And since some of them have been large, as well as old, their collapse has caused a good deal of noise. . . . We abandon the most archaic and irrelevant of academic irrelevancies, intercollegiate football, and congratulate ourselves on having slain the giant. The giant was dead on his feet before we pushed him over. Although nobody has ventured to say a good word for the credit, or adding machine, system of education in fifty years, we like to think that we pioneered when we made certain gestures toward overthrowing it. The excesses of the departmental system having been unanimously condemned for a generation, we did something about them in the reorganization of 1930, with a flourish out of all proportion as to what we did. Since we had contended that academic freedom was indispensable to the existence of a university, we can not take much pride in the fact that we defended it when it was under attack in 1935." As to the most recent "stirring action of ours," the award of the bachelor's degree at the end of the conventional sophomore year, it had been advocated by one of his predecessors thirty years before.
Whence, then, the University of Chicago's great reputation for pioneering on the frontiers of education and research? It was due chiefly to the terrible state of American education. "A turtle, if it is in motion at all, will seem to whizz by a stationary object; and if the stationary object ceases to be stationary and starts slowly sagging downhill, the turtle will appear to be climbing at a terrific rate. The difference between us and the rest of American education does not lie in our intelligence, courage, and originality. It is simply a slight difference in tradition. The tradition elsewhere is to agree that something ought to be done, but that nothing can be. The tradition here is to agree that if the consensus of all literate men and women through the ages is that something ought to be done, perhaps we ought to try to do something about it."
But that something had not been enough. The credit, or "adding machine," system still prevailed in many of the university's divisions and schools; only the college and the social sciences division had got rid of it entirely. So, too, the course system, which was interwoven with the credit system. Reading lists, a tutorial system, and general examinations "constitute the only defensible educational combination. . . . The passion for courses, like the passion for textbooks, rests on the assumption that you can not educate in an American educational institution. . . . We are told that [the young] can not learn anything outside the classroom, especially not from good books. . . . Of the pushovers that still obstruct us, I hope that the course system, and the adding machine system dependent on it, will be among the first to fall."
The preprandial and prandial delights had given way to the same old scolding, the same old belittling, the same old taunting, and the same old demands. After fifteen years of watching him intently, his audience was still underestimating the intensity of his frustration and his fury. After fifteen years of a wild and woolly tenure, he was unwilling merely to add insult to injury; he was bent on adding injury to injury. He had just begun to fight.
"We are still entangled in the farce of academic rank. It performs no function except to guarantee a certain constant measure of division and disappointment-in the faculty. Tenure means nothing. New members of the faculty are guaranteed permanent tenure after ten years of service. Salary means something. Of salaries I shall speak in a moment. Rank means nothing except trouble. We should get rid of it."
The proposal to abolish rank was staggering. Everybody was to appear to be the equal of everybody else. The only instantly visible distinction among scholars was to be junked. It was—it was—it was—socialism, that's what it was. Some sort of socialism. In the great university where
everyone was a Doctor, everyone was called Mister and no one was called (or called himself) Professor. But everyone knew who was a professor—and by that exclusionary fact, a member of the faculty senate. The titles were writ small, but indelibly. (And what about the president?—Did you hear him say anything about doing away with that title?)
Of salaries I shall speak in a moment . Now the glow of the evening was wholly dissipated. Rank—and salaries—were important. The professorial diners were sitting up. (And so were the trustees.) They all knew that the wisecracker had once been quoted as saying, "A businessman may have ideals, but a professor will do anything for money."
Now the phrases came measured: "As academic rank divides the academic community, so does our tendency to regard that professor as most successful who has the greatest number of paying interests outside the university. The members of the faculty should be put on a full-time basis; they should be paid decent salaries; and they should be free to engage in outside activities they like. To make sure that the ones they like are the ones that are good for them, they should be required to turn over all their outside earnings to the University. (Here at longest last the face of tyranny was unveiled: To make sure that the ones they like are the ones that are good for them, they should be required . . . . )
"We should promote the sense of community within the University by reconsidering the whole salary question. The only basis of compensation in a true community is need. The academic community should carefully select its members. When a man has been admitted to it, he should be paid enough to live as a professor should live." (And who would say how "a professor should live"? Plainer and plainer, the face of tyranny displayed.)
"This would mean that a young man with three children would have a larger living allowance than a departmental chairman with none. Under the present system the members of the faculty who get any money get it when they need it least and starve and cripple themselves and their scholarly development because they get nothing to live on when they need it most.
"These things are obvious and are all on the pushover level."
The only basis of compensation in a true community is need . ("Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." Acts 5:34-35.)
The president went on talking for another ten or fifteen minutes, but his hearers had been stunned into inattention. He brought up the issue of organization again, saying (again) that all that had to be done ("it is time
we did something") was to elect a short-term president, require him to ask the faculty's advice, and compel him to decide and take the consequences. To his now inattentive listeners, the decisions that would be made by this president would come down to socialism and bolshevism.
And to what all else? "A university president is a political leader without patronage and without a party. He should have neither. He should be the responsible officer of a high-tension democracy."
A high-tension democracy.
"An academic community is not an end in itself. Neither is academic democracy. They are both in their turn preliminary steps."
"They are means to the accomplishment of the purpose of the University."
And the purpose of the University?
"And the purpose of the University is nothing less than to procure a moral, intellectual, and spiritual revolution throughout the world. . . . The whole scale of values by which our society lives must be reversed if any society is to endure. We want a democratic academic community because we know that if we have one we can multiply the power which the University can bring upon the character, the mind, and the spirit of men. Among the kinds of institution called to this crusade the specific task of the university is the development, release, and direction of intellectual power. . . . The total resources of the University must be focused on the problem of raising the intellectual level of the society which it serves."
The whole scale of values . . . multiply the power . . . the spirit of men . . . this crusade . . . the total resources . . . . . A cannon let loose . . . .
"We have the only rationally organized college in the United States. . . . Since it is the only one which can do it, it is under a duty to reform, or rather to introduce, liberal education in this country. This requires the members of its faculty to figure out what a liberal education is, to get one themselves, and then reveal it to the world."
Get one themselves .
"If we are to show the way to liberal education for all, we shall have to get ready to educate the teachers who are to undertake this task. We may have to found a new organization for this purpose. At that time we shall have to reconsider our advanced degrees and think once more whether we ought not to award the PhD to those who have prepared themselves to teach through a new Institute of Liberal Studies."
Intermittently since his inaugural address fifteen years before, he had called for the award of separate PhDs for research and teaching. He had never before called for a new organization.
"It all comes to this. The University of Chicago has greater opportunities and greater obligations than any university in history, even greater than those which fell to the lot of the University of Paris seven hundred years ago. It is perhaps too much to hope that as the University of Paris moulded the civilization of the Middle Age, the University of Chicago can make a civilization in the Twentieth Century. But it can try."
The faculty that was going to lose its rank and its competitive wages was aghast. The board members scattered among them at the dinner tables in the ballroom were aghast at the prospect of introducing socialism and bolshevism into what was, after all, legally their property and their responsibility. The ballroom sat silent, mesmerized by the human cannon run amok among them.
"I must confess"—he drew a breath—"I must confess that I have never liked the motto of the University—Crescat Scientia Vita Excolatur. Let Knowledge Grow That Life May Be Enriched. In the first place, it seems incongruous and affected for those rugged and unsophisticated pioneers of the Nineties to think up a Latin slogan for their raw, new university. In the second place, 'enriched' is ambiguous. I do not like the materialistic interpretation to which it is open. Therefore I suggest a new motto for the University, one which will express its spirit and its purpose as it sallies forth to battle in the revolution that must come if men are to live together in peace. The new motto I suggest for the University is a line from Walt Whitman. It is this: 'Solitary, singing in the West, I strike up for a new world.'"
He sat down, as obviously unshaken as Hugo's cannon was. The applause was perhaps the least deafening he had ever received. But there was one segment of the audience which could not restrain itself completely. It was composed of "the young men with three children," the instructors at the very bottom of the totem pole to whose ears the proposal of full-time service with compensation on the basis of need sounded sweet indeed. ("They'll breed like rabbits," said Dean William Taliaferro of the biological sciences division.)