The Story of the University of Chicago
Chapter 5 President Harper Plans a University
Thomas W. Goodspeed
THE first million-dollar fund was contributed to the new institution to found a college. For many months before his formal election to the presidency Dr. Harper had been considering, more or less seriously, the plan on which the institution should be organized. The friends of the enterprise had urged the consideration of this problem. They had reminded him that he was the only educational expert among the trustees, that on the educational plan the trustees would look to him for guidance and they had urged him to have such a plan ready for the September, 1890, meeting. But for the first and only time in his life his prolific mind seemed to be barren of ideas. It refused to function. He cudgeled his brains in vain to strike out a plan of organization. The truth was that from the beginning his mind and heart had been fixed on a university, while a college only had been founded. He had appeared to yield to the necessity of beginning with a college. As a matter of fact he had never yielded. The idea of a university remained fixed in his mind and he found himself unable to think
( 52) in terms of a college—for undergraduate students only. No sooner, however, had Mr. Rockefeller added a million dollars to the funds for the purpose of making the college a true university than Dr. Harper's mind became very busy. His creative instinct at once awoke. He could think fast and effectively in terms of a university. Within two weeks after this second million had been promised his mind had grappled with the question with all that extraordinary concentration and fecundity which were so characteristic.
The months of brooding over the question, now that the way was open for planning the university of his dreams, came to sudden fruition. While returning to New Haven after his election in September, 1890, he began to work on the plan, and before the end of the journey the broad outlines of it had been fully drawn up. According to his own statements, quoted elsewhere, it flashed upon him, suddenly assumed shape, and gave him immense satisfaction. The first presentation of it was made to the trustees at their fourth meeting, in December, 1890, adopted by them, and given to the public in what was called Official Bulletin No. I. This was followed at brief intervals by five other official bulletins, filling out and elaborating the plan under the following heads: "The Colleges," "The Academies," "The Graduate Schools," "The Divinity School," "The University Extension Division."
No attempt will here be made to present the educational plan in its details. Dr. Harper, while he grasped large plans in outline, had a remarkable gift for working these plans out into the minutest details. It fell to the writer to be in intimate official relations with him. At their business conferences the president would frequently begin by saying, "I have forty points to be discussed this morning." He kept a "red book" in which he wrote out the points to be worked out by himself or discussed with his subordinates. There are a dozen or more of these red books in the University archives. Under every general subject there are written, in his hand, from ten to a hundred and fifty points for consideration or discussion. An officer would often carry away from a conference twenty questions to work out, on which he was expected to report. In the same way the plan was elaborated into great detail. In Official Bulletin No. 1, there were a hundred and fifty divisions and subdivisions; in the second, on The Colleges, two hundred and twenty-five or more; and in the six bulletins more than a thousand, filling a hundred printed pages.
When the plan assumed its final form, the general organization of the University included these five divisions:
The University Proper
The University Extension
The University Press
The University Libraries, Laboratories, and Museums
The University Affiliations
It may be said of three of the general divisions that they were new features in the organization of an American university. In these three—University Extension, the University Press, and University Affiliations —President Harper was deeply interested. The other divisions were common, in one form or another, to all universities. These three were his own conception, and he confidently believed that they promised, if wisely and successfully administered, to increase immensely the University's scope and usefulness and power. Hitherto American universities had concentrated and confined their work within their own precincts. It was President Harper's purpose to extend college and university instruction to the public at large, to make the University useful to other institutions, and to expand its influence and usefulness, through its press, as widely as possible. He believed there were large numbers of people who could spend little or no time at the University itself who' would welcome and profit by the instruction of its professors in genuine college and university courses, if that instruction could be sent to them through lectures, afternoon and evening classes, correspondence lessons, and books loaned to them from the libraries. He had learned of the success of the extension movement con-
( 55) ducted in England by the University of Cambridge, and expected wide usefulness for the enlarged and varied work in the university extension he contemplated. It was because he believed so fully in its value and its permanency that in his educational plan he made it one of the five great divisions of the University. The basic principle on which he would build a university was service—service not merely to the students within its walls, but also to the public, to mankind.
This was the end he had in view in all the three new and novel divisions of the organization. He was a profound believer in the power of the printed page. Through the Press he believed the usefulness of the University would be immensely enlarged and carried to the ends of the earth. It was on this account that his heart was set on building the University Press into the system, making it not an incident, an attachment, but one of the great divisions of the University, an organic part of the institution.
The same thing was true as to Affiliation. President Harper did not wish to found a university that would through its rivalry weaken and injure the smaller institutions of the Middle West. He conceived the plan of entering into relations of affiliation with them, not primarily to increase the power of Chicago, but rather to assist them in raising their standards, to add to their prestige, and in every way to strengthen
( 56) and upbuild them. This principle of large and wide service was, indeed, the fundamental principle of the educational plan of the University.
These five general divisions may perhaps be regarded as the foundation upon which the University was to be built. The most important element of the superstructure would, of course, be the students, and the institution was to be coeducational. Men and women were to be admitted to all its privileges on equal terms. This had been decided before the educational plan had been considered.
There remain to be considered two of the most important and most interesting features of President Harper's educational plan. These two features were among those which he termed educational experiments. It may probably be truthfully said that he regarded them as the central and essential features of the new University. He believed in them with his whole heart and should be permitted to present them in his own words.
I quote from a statement written by him a few months before the University opened and intended to be his first annual report to the board, but which because he was overwhelmed with the other duties of those busy months, he could not find time to finish. He wrote most fully on the two features of his plan now to be considered. These were the Academic Year and the Classification of Courses.
The work of the University has been arranged to continue throughout the year. It is divided into four quarters of twelve weeks each, with a recess of one week after each quarter. Each quarter is further divided into two terms of six weeks each. While instruction will thus be offered during forty-eight weeks of the year, a professor or teacher will be expected to lecture only thirty-six weeks. He may take as his vacation any one of the four quarters, according as it may be arranged, or he may take two vacations of six weeks each at different periods of the year. All vacations, whether extra or regular, shall be adjusted to the demands of the situation, in order that there may always be on hand a working force.
The student may take as his vacation any one of the four quarters, or, if he desire, two terms of six weeks each in different parts of the year. There seems to be no good reason why, during a large portion of the year, the University buildings should be empty and the advantages which it offers denied to many who desire them.
The small number of hours required of professors (eight to ten hours a week) makes it possible for investigation to be carried on all the time, and in the climate of Chicago there is no season which, upon the whole, is more suitable for work than the summer.
This plan of a continuous session secures certain advantages which are denied in institutions open only three-fourths of the year.
It will permit the admission of students to the University at several times during the course of the year, rather than at one time only, the arrangement of courses having already been made with this object in view. It will enable students who have lost time because of illness to make up the lost work without further injury to their health or detriment to the subject studied. It will make it possible for the summer months to be employed in study by those who are physically able to carry on intellectual work throughout the year, and who may thus take the full college course in three years. It will permit students to be absent from
(58) the University during those portions of the year in which they can to best advantage occupy themselves in procuring means with which to continue the course. It will make it possible for the University to use, beside its own corps of teachers, the best men of other institutions both in this country and in Europe. It will permit greater freedom on the part of both students and instructors in the matter of vacations. It will provide an opportunity for professors in smaller institutions, teachers in academies and high schools, ministers and others, who, under the existing system, cannot attend a college or university, to avail themselves of the opportunity of university residence.
On the Classification of Courses he said:
Majors and Minors.—It is conceded by many instructors and students that the plan which prevails in many institutions of providing courses of instruction of one, two, and three hours a week, thus compelling the student to pursue six, seven, and even eight different subjects at one time, is a mistake. In order to become deeply interested in the subject the student must concentrate his attention upon that subject. Concentration on a single subject is impossible, if at the same time the student is held responsible for work in five or more additional subjects.
The plan of majors and minors, announced in our bulletins and calendars, has been arranged in order to meet this difficulty. The terms do not indicate that the subject taken as a major is more important than the subject taken as a minor. It is entirely possible that the most important subjects should never be taken as majors. The terms mean simply, that, for a certain period of six weeks or twelve weeks, Mathematics, for example, is the major, that is, the subject to which special attention is given, and that during another six or twelve weeks History is the major. A subject taken as a major requires eight or ten hours' classroom work or lecture work a week. This is sufficient to lead the student to
(59) become intensely interested in the subject and to accomplish results so clear and definite as to encourage him with the progress of his work. It permits the carrying along of another subject entirely different as a minor, or, for the time being, less important subject. This gives the needed variety, and the change from the one to the other furnishes what is always conceded to be necessary, a relaxation of the mind.
.... By the plan proposed, the student, when he first takes hold of a subject, gives that amount of time and attention to it which will enable him to grasp it and to become acquainted with it in its details. When the end of the course has been reached he has acquired an interest in the subject, a knowledge of the subject, and, what is of still more value, he has learned how to take hold of a subject in the way in which, during his entire future life, he will be able to take hold of things which from time to time present themselves.....
It is proposed that the plan shall be less rigid in higher work than in lower work. It has been the practice to give the student in his younger years the largest possible number of subjects, gradually reducing the number until, when he has become strong in mind and mature in age, he is allowed to devote his entire attention to work in a single department. The particular age which needed most protection has received least. It is proposed, therefore, to adopt the plan rigidly in the academies of the University and likewise in the Academic College; but in the University College and graduate work, where students already begin to specialize and to concentrate every effort without restriction or requirement, and where different courses may be taken in the same department, to require a less rigid application of the plan.
Such was President Harper's conception of continuous sessions, the Summer Quarter, and the classification of courses as majors and minors.
It is very clear from all this that he was contemplating a great university. On this subject he went on to speak as follows in the unfinished report:
It is expected by all who are
interested that the university idea is to be emphasized. It is proposed to
establish, not a college, but a university A large number of the professors have
been selected with the understanding that their work is to be exclusively in the Graduate Schools. The organization, as it has been perfected, would be from the college point of view entirely a mistake. It has been the desire to establish an institution which should not be a rival with the many colleges already in existence, but an institution which should help these colleges . . . . To assist these numerous colleges, to furnish them instructors who shall be able to do work of the highest order; to accomplish this purpose, the main energies of the institution have been directed toward graduate work . . . .The chief purpose of graduate work is, not to stock the student's mind with knowledge of what has already been accomplished in a given field, but rather so to train him that he himself may be able to push out along new lines of investigation. Such work is, of course, of the most expensive character. Laboratories and libraries and apparatus must be lavishly provided in order to offer the necessary opportunities. . . . Here also is to be found the question of the effort to secure the best available men in the country as the heads and directors of departments. It is only the man who has made investigation who may teach others to investigate. Without this spirit in the instructor and without his example students will never be led to undertake the work. Moreover, if the instructor is loaded down with lectures he will have neither time nor strength to pursue his investigations. Freedom from care, time for work, and liberty of thought are prime requisites in all such work. An essential element, moreover, is the opportunity of publishing results obtained
(61) in investigation. To this end it is provided that in each department there shall be published either a Journal or a series of separate studies which shall in each department embody the results of the work of the instructors in that department. It is expected that professors and other instructors will, at intervals, be excused entirely for a period from lecture work, in order that they may thus be able to give their entire time to the work of investigation. Promotion of younger men in the departments will depend more largely upon the results of their work as investigators than upon the efficiency of their teaching, although the latter will by no means be overlooked. In other words, it is proposed in this institution to make the work of investigation primary, the work of giving instruction secondary.
Such, then, were the plans on which President Harper organized the University of Chicago. They were made not for a college but for a university. The emphasis was to be placed on advanced graduate work. Professors were to be encouraged in pursuing original investigation. Students in advanced courses were to be disciplined and encouraged in research work. It was hoped that the University would be useful in extending the boundaries of knowledge. On this part of the plan a professor writes:
Nowhere in this part of the country were research interests at all well represented, and the tremendous momentum given to the entire movement throughout the country by the emphasis of this work at the University of Chicago can hardly be exaggerated.
President Harper was a man of large views. He planned the University for indefinite expansion. He believed in the future of Chicago, as one of the great-
62) -est cities on the globe, and he planned and organized a university that
should grow with, and be worthy of, the city whose name it bore. At the end of
the first third of a century of its history his general plans continued to shape
the growth of the institution. The educational plan, novel, radical, a great
educational experiment, modified in some particulars, but essentially the same,
remained and promised to continue to remain the University's fundamental law.