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Swallows fleeting southward fly;
Dwines away the waning year.
Of the morrow needs must think?
Here to-day, let's eat and drink;
Procul, profani, procul hinc. .
F. de B.
THE DECLINE OF THE ARTS FACULTY
N his recent work entitled My Discovery of England Professor Stephen Leacock, under the cloak of humour, has some very profound things to say about University Education in North America. In a chapter devoted to Oxford he makes a searching comparison of the Oxford system of education with that of the Arts Faculties of Universities in North America. Commenting particularly on the subjects of study, he says: "To anyone accustomed to the best models of a University curriculum as it flourishes in the United States and Canada, the programme of studies is frankly quite laughable. There is less Applied Science in the place than would be found with us in a Theological College . . . one searches in vain in the Oxford curriculum for any adequate recognition of the higher and more cultured studies. Strange though it may seem to us on this side of the Atlantic there are no courses at Oxford in Housekeeping or in Salesmanship or on the influences of the Press.' After an equally trenchant criticism of certain other aspects of our Universities on this continent he sums up as follows: 'In my own opinion . . . this system contains in itself the seeds of destruction... It circumscribes that latitude of mind which is the real spirit of learning. If we persist in it we shall presently find that true learning will fly away from our Universities and will take rest wherever some individual and enquiring mind can mark out its path for itself.'
Let us not disregard these words on the ground that they are the mere 'jeux d'esprit' of a humorist. Humorous they are, but the humour is the humour of Aristophanes or of Swift, and it is only the dullest who will fail to find in them a serious warning that in the writer's opinion the Arts students in our Universities are in danger of dissipating their energy on many studies, some of questionable value, and of failing utterly to acquire what it is the real business of the University to impart.
Side by side with these words of Mr. Leacock, let me put the comment recently made by a friend of mine, not a Univer
sity man but having what Mr. Leacock would describe as an 'individual and enquiring mind.' He has an interest in artistic and literary things 'unspoiled' by any University (although by the way he regrets not being a University man) and he remarked to me recently that it was a surprise and disappointment to him to find that of all his many friends among University Arts graduates he had scarcely met one with a real interest in Art or Literature. Or again, compare the remark made to me by another friend who recently sat on a committee of selection which had to choose from a number of candidates for a scholarship. These candidates were presumably among the most promising men in the Arts Faculties of their respective Universities; but his comment was that out of well on to twenty who applied there was only one who showed any interest in intellectual things for their own sake.
If these criticisms of the intellectual status of the Arts students of our Universities are well founded we are faced with the fact that, broadly speaking, the Arts Faculties of our Universities fail to a great extent to instil into their students any real love of intellectual things for their own sake. For my own part I am inclined to think that not only are they just, but that they indicate a tendency which is progressive. I believe that during my own day at the University there was less disinterested love of intellectual things than there had been ten years earlier and that there is less now than there was in my day twenty years ago.
Nor is it perhaps surprising that this should be So. Canada is a poor country that is to say though rich in natural resources there is little accumulated wealth. We have as a result few people who have the means, even if they have the inclination, to pursue intellectual things for their own sake. Moreover, we have lost the simplicity which often enables frugal people like the Scotch, or our own preceding generation, to produce in austere and cramped surroundings very high intellectual development. The rapid
material progress which has been going on has engrossed our most active brains in material things without our having had time as yet to produce sufficient wealth to provide a class
which may develop the cultivation of mind which comes from leisure and wealth and which we see in older countries.
In the Universities the same tendency has been at work. There has been a feeling that they should keep in touch with as many departments as possible in the life of the State. 'Will they not humanize all they touch?' so the argument runs, ‘and will they not in turn be kept closer to reality and serve the community better by being in close touch with the material needs of the moment?' Any who have held the contrary view have been in a minority and have scarcely been able to make themselves heard. As a result the centre of gravity for twenty years has been shifting from the liberal to what I may call the vocational studies. This is true within the University as a whole and also within the Arts Faculty itself. In the University the relative importance of the schools of Medicine, Applied Science in its various branches, Agriculture, Dentistry, etc., have enormously increased with a corresponding decrease in the importance of the Arts Faculty; and in the Arts Faculty itself the study of the ancient Classics, of Literature and Philosophy has decreased in importance, giving ground to their old rivals, Economics, History and Modern Languages, and also to new aspirants, such as Commerce and Finance, Accounting, Transportation and the like.
'Well, and what of it?' the answer may be made. 'Suppose all this to be true, what does it come to? The sum total of your criticism is that the Universities are failing to develop a disinterested love of intellectual things; but after all Universities are teaching other more practical things of much more importance, especially in a new country, and these more than compensate for the defects which you allege, even supposing them to exist.' To this my answer is two-fold. In the first place even if I believed that the Arts Faculty by departing from its traditional aim could become more practical I would still maintain that it should not depart but should continue its proper course, which is the pursuit of learning for its own sake, regardless of the 'practical' results. However, for my part I do not believe we are faced with any such choice. I believe that it is extremely doubtful whether by departing from what has been considered the true task of the
Liberal College, our Arts Faculties, which are the modern Liberal Colleges, do produce men of as true practical value in the long run as they would do by a real Arts training. Let me try to outline what I think this training should achieve.
The function of the Arts Faculty has been so admirably stated in a book entitled The Liberal College by Alexander Meiklejohn, President of Amherst College, Mass., that I cannot do better than quote his words. "The Liberal College,' he says, 'would learn and teach what can be known about a man's moral experience, our common speech, our social relations, our political institutions, our religious aspirations and beliefs, the world of nature which surrounds and molds us, our intellectual and aesthetic strivings and yearnings-all these, the human things that all men share, the liberal school attempts to understand, believing that if they are understood men can live them better than they would live them by mere tradition and blind custom.'
It must quite frankly recognize its limits and remain within them. "The Liberal College does not pretend to give all the kinds of teaching which a young man of college age may profitably receive; it does not even claim to give all the kinds of intellectual training which are worth giving. It is committed to intellectual training of the liberal type whatever that may mean, and to that mission it must be faithful.'
The distinction between the aim of Vocational and Liberal education is well brought out in the following passage: 'If an undergraduate should take away from his studies of Chemistry, Biology and Psychology only those parts which have immediate practical application in the field of medicine, the College teachers would feel that they had failed to give to the boy the kind of instruction demanded of a college. . . In response then to demands for technical and professional training, our college teachers tell us that such training may be obtained in other schools; it is not to be had in a college of liberal culture.'
That Dr. Meiklejohn nevertheless regarded the work of the Liberal College as in the truest sense practical appears in such statements as these: 'We must show that the college is intellectual, not as opposed to practical interests and purposes,