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THE DEMAND OF THE PRESENT.
What the friends of education now ask is this: That the Government of the United States, after more than a hundred years since the earnest appeals and final bequest of Washington, at length extend the needed "fostering hand" to that great enterprise of which he fondly believed he had made a worthy beginning; that Congress now begin the establishment of a true national university in harmony with the general principles already set forth by what may be regarded as the highest authorities on this subject
A university, whose board of regents, representing all sections, shall be so chosen and so limited when chosen as not only to insure the promotion of its general interests, but also to avoid the dangers of partisan interference, religious or political;
Whose provision for internal management shall duly protect the interests of learning and the rights of all members;
Whose conditions of admission shall relate to character and competency only;
The doors of whose regular courses of study, looking to graduation, shall be open to such only as have already received the bachelor's degree from recognized institutions;
Whose students of every class shall be permitted to utilize the vast facilities and forces in the many Departments of the Government so far as this can be accorded without detriment to the public service;
Whose system of scholarships shall supply at once a reward of merit and a stimulus to the youth of the country in every grade of schools, shall hold the schools themselves to proper standards, and insure the highest character of the university membership;
Whose fellowships shall be open to all the nations and so endowed as to fill its places for original work with aspirants of superior genius from every quarter of the globe;
Whose professoriate, like that of the German universities, shall by its system of gradations and promotions supply its professorships and lectureships with the best talent and proficiency the world can afford;
Whose graduates, receiving none but the higher degrees, shall be to all the schools, colleges, and universities of the land a means of reënforcement from the highest possible source;
Whose high faculties of letters, science, and philosophy shall be the center of a grand constellation of ranking schools for all the professions save theology, with surrounding of such independent religious institutions as the hundreds of denominations may choose to set up;
Whose beginnings shall be with such means as befit the great undertaking, and whose final aggregation of endowments by Government, States, organizations, and philanthropists, shall fully comport with the demands of learning, with the aspirations of a great people of surpassing genius as well as material resources, and with the incalculable interest of other peoples in those free institutions which, being ours by inheritance, it is our solemn duty to perfect and illustrate for the best good of universal man.
According to the plan of endowment once proposed-that of issuing a registered certificate unassignable and bearing interest at a fixed rate in perpetuity-there need be no considerable draft upon the pres ent money resources of the Government. It is now paying out more than three millions for the support and development of its invaluable scientific bureaus, libraries, and museums. Let it now add a million more to this sum for the support of an institution equal to the task of further, and as completely as possible, utilizing the vast collections and forces already here, and it will render an incalcuable service to the cause of learning, the country, and the world.
As it was the university of Paris that brought new prosperity and distinction to France, and the university of Berlin that helped immensely to build up the little Kingdom of Prussia into the majestic Empire of Germany, thus creating two intellectual centers whose achievements are the envy of the world, so will the National University of America, if thus established and endowed, powerfully contribute to place the United States in the forefront of the nations.
THE CONDITIONS OF SUCCESS.
First, they who are in power must give the matter its full measure of consideration. Absorbed in other matters, pressed by measures of finance, commerce, lands, industrial development, and much else, even the most intelligent and large-minded of men are in danger of overlooking a measure, however important, comprehensive, and far-reaching, that is neither vital to party success nor boldly insists on being heard.
Secondly, while it may be assumed that such of our statesmen as already appreciate the importance of the enterprise, seeing clearly how it would promote the national welfare and advance the cause of learning in the world, are equal to the responsibility of taking it up and carrying it forward to a successful issue on the high ground of duty alone, it is but right as well as desirable that they be duly reënforced by the enlightened sentiment of the country. And they certainly will be. Educators at the head of our schools, academies, colleges, and universities, with the multitude of their friends, none of whom can fail to see the incalculable value of a crowning institution like the one proposed, will naturally join hands for its early realization when they discover an earnest purpose in Congress.
Last, but not least, the press of the United States, so liberal and ever on the alert for new measures of progress, can be safely counted on to more fully interest the general public in a proposition so often urged by the Father of his Country, so repeatedly indorsed by other of our statesmen in all periods of the national history, and so clearly a condition of the highest dignity and welfare of the Republic.
Such opposition as may manifest itself in any form will disappear on a nearer, more scrutinizing, and broader view.
The old and once popular objection to government institutions on the ground of "political" interference, has long ceased to be valid as against Congressionally-endowed State institutions, many of which are now among the most important in the land, and is sufficiently met by the adoption of such provisions as are embodied in charters wisely drawn in the sole interest of learning-charters under which there is seldom occasion for submitting to the legislature such questions as could be made to assume a partisan form, which leave the internal affairs of such an institution almost entirely in the hands of its professional members, themselves governed by university laws which give both security and efficiency to the entire service.
No institutions in the land are better managed or have larger immunity from partisan interference than our State universities, and none are more prosperous. Indeed one of these, the University of Michigan, is in point of numbers the strongest institution in America, having in all its numerous departments nearly three thousand students. And not only in point of numbers does it hold high ground. For the character of its many departments, the number and ability of its professors, its standard of scholarship, and skill of general management, it stands in the front rank. Peace reigns within its borders, the whole people regard it with pride, and the legislature accords to it a cheerful and generous support. In one respect, that of exerting a guiding and elevating influence upon all the lower schools of the State, in a manner similar to that proposed for the national university, it has long been foremost; affording a most useful example to all other State universities.
The extraordinary career of the Smithsonian Institution, always free from even the slightest taint of "politics," and already become the most important institution of its kind in the world, affords yet another total refutation of this ancient theory that no interest, of however exalted a nature, may come to be sacred in the eyes of political ambition.
In fact, with the growing respect for science and learning, and the consequent spirit of an honorable rivalry among the higher institutions. of the country, especially those of them annually reporting to the Government, there has come an almost total emancipation from the once potent influence of political partisanship. The supreme interest involved has so far determined both legislative and executive action in the several States that scrupulous care is coming to be taken everywhere to balance the control of all such public institutions so evenly as to leave no room for the jealous scheming of parties.
Time has also settled another question. The old argument against a national university, based on the centralization theory, has long perished from the earth. It was early shown to be unphilosophical, and time has added countless illustrations of its falsity. The error was in making no radical distinction between a centralization of political power, which always demands vigilance lest it advance to the point of endangering the liberties of the people, and centralization of educational opportunities, which is not only absolutely necessary to the highest results in the interest of learning, but is itself the best safeguard against the encroachments of political ambition by furnishing to thousands of local centers trained thinkers who are also, in the very process of training, imbued with the spirit of liberty and independence. Every intelligent citizen now knows that, while political centralization is like a congestion, fatal if carried to a certain limit, educational centralization is, on the other hand, like the concentration of the vital fluid in the heart-a prerequisite to that diffusion of knowledge which insures health and security to every part of the body politic.
Opposition based on local ambitions will also disappear when a just view is taken of the relation that is normally sustained by a central and national post-graduate university to all other institutions; when it is once seen how potential for the good of all would be that central coordinating and uplifting force to which allusion has been made; how powerfully the national university would inspire every faculty of instruction and every ambitious institution of learning in the land; how, with open doors for those worthy to enter them, it would in turn prove a great training school for such as might desire chairs in the nearly five hundred colleges and universities of the country; how by its exalted service and by the supreme dignity through it and for its sake accorded to science and learning it would reflect new honor upon all institutions of learning wheresoever found.
It is a source of high gratification that this view is already shared by the great body of educators in the United States, as must have appeared from the foregoing summary, and especially gratifying that almost without exception the presidents of great and growing universities, North, South, East, and West, have warmly declared their sympathy with the national university movement.
There has not been named in all the past, nor can there be named in any future, one argument against the national university proposition of George Washington that will bear the scrutiny of philosophy or the test of history.