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FREEDOM OF THE COLLEGE
BY ALEXANDER MEIKLEJOHN
Now if there be such a conflict withI
in the college, it is not to be avoided. It THERE have been many disputes would be well to have it out, and that about freedom. And there will be many quickly. I should like, in this paper, to more. It is a matter about which men contribute, so far as I may, to the ‘havfeel very deeply. It has therefore been ing it out.' I do not expect to end the argued about more than it has been controversy. My purpose is rather to studied. 'Shall not a man be free to find out whether or not there is one, think what he thinks and say what he and if so what it is. Especially I should thinks'? one group demands. “What like to know just what it is that the are you going to do with a fellow who professor wants and that the trustee is has no common sense?' retorts the said to be unwilling he should have. other. And on the relations of Liberty What is academic freedom? and License, especially as both names In the first place, what kind of a begin with Li, there have been many thing is it? Is it a right, or a duty, or passionate pronunciamentos.
an obligation, or a privilege, or a perWe are apparently just entering on quisite, or what is it? Is it something another phase of this old conflict. It is which the professor wants for his own presented very commonly in the head- private satisfaction? That would make lines of our newspapers. ‘Another pro- it a perquisite or a privilege. And we fessor dismissed. Teaching investigat- should have the very natural question, ed and condemned. Faculty members “Why may not other people have the protest in vain. Trustees firm.' The same freedom which the professors reader is given the impression that a claim?' But the question which we conflict is going on in the colleges, that really ask on this plane is just the oppotrustees and professors are arrayed in site one. The question is, whether the opposing camps. It is understood that professor may have the same degree of one party is demanding freedom of freedom as other men have; whether, thought and speech while the other is because of his peculiar responsibilities, insisting upon common decency and he ought not to be specially limited in common sense. And further, it is noted thought and speech. There are, we all that the two parties find their demands know, dangers with professors. There mutually hostile and irreconcilable. is always the danger that some one will Just why freedom and common sense take a professor seriously; and so it may should be irreconcilable does not ap- be necessary to take care what he says. pear to the casual observer, or perhaps And it is also possible that his thinking appears only to him. And yet it is very may carry him along one of the roads easily taken for granted that they are. that thought travels, that he may realAnd so the issue is formulated. Trus- ly get somewhere else; therefore there tees and professors are in conflict about may be need of prescribing whither he freedom of thought and speech. shall and shall not go. These are dan
which mark him off from the com- we say, 'but poor things.' In the realm mon run of men. And so the question of politics, for example, we all have on this level is, to what degree the pro- opinions and act upon them, but we fessor should be denied this privilege of know that we do not know very much freedom of thought and speech which a about politics, and further that, if we democracy normally allows its citizens. did know more, we could make better
But freedom as a privilege is not fun- opinions. And the men who differ from damental. The duty or obligation to us, as well as those who
agree be free is the essential thing. I take it are in like situation. They too are dothat the community is so related to the ing each his best, and yet it is not very college and the college so related to the good. Our judgments upon politics, professor, that the community makes a yours and mine, are rather poor things; demand upon the college with regard they are not very true; for reasons of to the professor. It says, 'I demand of our own we claim the privilege of holdyou that for the sake of my welfare you ing opinions, of believing them, of actsee to it that the study of my scholars ing on them, even though we know that and the learning of my children be free.' as opinions they are no better intellecAnd the duty, the obligation, of the tually than are we who make them. professor is to the college just as the ob- There are two ways in which this ligation of the college is to the commun- unsatisfactoriness of our opinions is ity. In order to do its service, he must brought home to us, and each of them be free; he is a trickster and a fraud if seems to me to reveal the need of colhe is not free. When he speaks of free- leges which are free. dom, he is not playing with his own per- The more obvious bit of evidence quisites and possessions; he is facing about the quality of our opinions is his master and the commands of his that our neighbors think less highly of duty are upon him.
them than we do ourselves; in fact, they The essential principle in the doc- contradict them. And these contradictrine of academic freedom as a duty tions come, not only from our equals in may, I think, be stated in this way. intelligence, but also from our superiors. Most men, outside our institutions of I may believe in Social Coöperation, learning, having the choice between but my neighbor holds fast to Individfreedom and non-freedom of thought ualism. And on the whole he seems to and speech, choose the privilege of the be as good a mind as I. In other words, latter. They prefer not to be free. It is I think that my opinion is true, but just for this reason that they demand that as good a mind as mine thinks it is not. the man within the college shall adopt That makes the chances even that I am the former. To explain this statement, wrong. But worse and more disturbing I must try to explain what colleges are than our equals are our superiors, the for. If we can understand this, I think better men who differ from us. No matwe may get a grip on academic freedom. ter what opinion we may hold, we know May I therefore try to describe the that other minds, better informed and mission of the college with regard to trained than ours, can make a better. human opinions and judgments? And so, however brave a face we put
Every one knows, or may know if he on it, we know that our superiors, the stops to think about it, that his opin- men whose mental fibre is stronger and ions, the judgments which he believes, more delicate, can think their way to are not very good, are not so true as better thoughts than ours. I feel sure they might be. “Mine own they are,' that this awareness of our ineptitude,
this knowledge of our ignorance, is one his proof is 'interested,' and we should of the reasons why we build colleges. ask of him not whether his proof is good
The second and more disturbing or bad, but what he hopes to gain for observation about our beliefs is that himself by setting up the proof. Nor of their connection with our interests. am I taking as my own the current Here again, not in a conscious way, but popular philosophy which scoffs at none the less effectively, we seem to absolutes' and finds the meaning of have chosen not to be free. Men seem truth in service to the actual ends of to think by classes, and thoughts to actual men. That doctrine too is renexpress desires and needs rather than dering doubtful service in these times facts. We do not like the story that of stress. But I am only saying this — when the Constitution was made men that as we view our fellows and ourvoted in groups according to the bear- selves, we find ourselves in groups acing of the votes upon their holdings or cording to our interests, and in those lack of holdings in property. And yet groups we find common beliefs related the story is told. And in the telling is to those interests. There is a bias in our revealed, not conscious lack of honesty, thinking. We cannot trust ourselves to not conscious putting of private inter- be impartial. To do our daily work we ests before the public good, but rather must be special in our points of view. a blind unconscious bias in human Unconsciously we use our thoughts as thinking. And in the present day there instruments to further our ends. But is no lack of illustrations. Holders of when we stop to think about it, we hate property to-day are very much agreed the special interested point of view; we about the rights of property. And la- know that it is not true, not worthy of boring men are on the whole convinced our deeper selves. And in the seeking that labor does not get its share and for escape from it, we find a second immust have more. Germans agree that pulse to the building of the colleges, the Germany must have her place out in colleges which shall be free. the sun, and France and England find If now the college be defined in terms the moral law demanding that they of these two impulses, it is essentially, keep the Germans in their proper place. not accidentally, a place of freedom. It Even professors sometimes agree is a place in which the human mind is to the interests they have in common. seeking deliverance from its bonds They are in large agreement concerning the bonds of partial knowledge and selfcollege presidents, college trustees, and interest. It has no hope of fully achievprofessorial freedom. They hold the ing such freedom, and yet this end dogma of their class, that members of defines its work. Men form their opinthe class should have more power. And ions from partial knowledge; the college when one leaves his class and joins the must know, so far as may be known, all presidents, we know the merry farce of that the human mind has thought and changing points of view, of widening learned which bears on these opinions. experience, of greater insight into many Men fashion their thoughts according things.
as their interests and activities have I do not wish to press the point too moulded and shaped their minds; the far. I am not saying that human be college may have no special interests liefs are simply selfish desires finding shaping it. It must in this sense stand expression in the forms of thought. The apart, viewing all interests of men alike man who proves that human thinking with equal eye, and measuring each in is 'interested in this sense, proves that terms of every other and the whole. It
is a place of knowledge and of criticism. know that he is ill. We say that col
What then is academic freedom? It leges are built because men know their is, it seems to me, the very quality of a ignorance, that is, the ignorance of their college. The question whether or not a fellows, and wish to cure it. But mocollege is free is meaningless. An insti- tives are not always clear, even to those tution which is not intellectually free who act on them. And I am sure that, is not a college, whatever else it be. in the large, our public does not keenly States may be servants of partial in- feel the need of criticism; on the other sights and partial interests, and so may hand, I am not sure that, if it did, the factories and corporations, and even college is the doctor whom it would schools of medicine; but not so colleges. choose for diagnosis and prescription. A college is our social and individual What shall we do to lure the patient, striving to escape the bonds which the to get some living forms in which to world's work would fix upon us. It is practice our profession? I see no other the search for freedom from ourselves. way except to hang our shingle out and
let it swing in public places. Perhaps
to change the figure would give it more II
attractiveness. 'Clearing House for The actual carrying on of the college Opinions; Discount on Popular Prejuenterprise brings one to many rather dices; Foreign Exchange'! And if we puzzling problems. Even for an individ- catch a patient, we must make it clear to ual self-criticism is not an easy task. him that he is ill, yes, very ill, and that To do two things at once — to go about the social mind is ill also, and all his one's work, planning and acting as if friends. I fear the method is not quite one's thoughts were true, and yet to professional. But something must be know and act as if one's thoughts were done to make people understand that wrong and partial — to do both things colleges are ready to do a piece of work, at once is hard for busy, single-mind- and that the work is sorely needed in ed men. It is no wonder that we fail. our country and by our generation. But it is even harder for an institution Assuming then that we have caught like a college to do the task. A college a patient, may I proceed to tell him has so many independent parts which just what our methods are and what do not know each other, which take they are not, to arouse his hopes, exthemselves for granted, which have cite his fears, especially to let him know not stopped to think about themselves, what college freedom is? or other parts, or even the college as a And first, let it be understood, the whole. Trustees, professors, presidents, college is not simply a school for boys. departments, graduates, students, do. It is a place to which boys should go nors, outside world are all factors in because the teachers of men are to be the situation. Each has its share in mak- found there, scholars whom men reing for our people knowledge and self- spect and honor as their guides and criticism. And they have hardly begun leaders. No man who cannot lead his to criticize, to understand themselves, peers is fit to teach the younger generato realize the work they have to do. tion. The education of a boy consists
But worse than either of these diffi- in coming into active contact with a culties is the fact that, though the col- group of minds which have command lege has compounded its medicines to of human thinking; he learns by feeling cure the public mind, the patient does how they think, and imitating them. not come for treatment; he does not Again, the college has no list of dog
mas or doctrines which it seeks to teach. their own. But they must also deal hon-
tilely or obviously, can be a college. On the other hand, if there are still I think that the Association of Uniother subjects on which all men have versity Professors, fine as it is in purthe same opinions, there can be little pose, has tended to increase misappreharm in letting younger people know of hension at this point. The Association these agreements. The only genuine in its proposals and discussions has sunpedagogic sin I know is that of drag- dered the college in two. It has opging our students by the nose to precon- posed the teachers and the administraceived conclusions, blinding their eyes to tors. Trustees and presidents, it seems paths that lead on this side or that to- to say, must further the material interward truth, yet pretending that we are ests of the college, must pay the bills, leading them into the ways of human and find the wherewithal to pay them. thought. Such teaching is not honest; Professors, on the other hand, have no and it will find its own reward for those concern with interests like these; they who give as well as those who take it. are the scholars and teachers, interest
I do not mean that there is no place ed in the truth. Professors are free, but for schools which choose to teach some trustees and presidents -- well, they special doctrines which they think im- must get the money, so perhaps they portant. Such schools are different must give up some measure of their from free colleges, not in kind but only freedom. What does this mean? in degree. No college, however free, It sometimes seems as if professors can escape the prepossessions of its said, “Let presidents and trustees get background, the mental attitude from money as they can; let them make which it springs. But in the schools of promises to donors or legislators if need which I speak, some special conscious be; but we will see that the promises limitations are taken on; the school they give are broken; no man can incommits itself to teaching this or that fluence us.' Professors free; trustees as true. Such schools must first of all and presidents slaves, that seems to try to be fair to doctrines other than be the doctrine. But surely such a doc