New York Times
THE PROFESSORS' UNION
The recent martyrdom of Dr. SCOTT NEARING, that pattern of pondered and dignified speech, at the hands of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania is still viewed with alarm by the organized professorate. Dr. NEARING is nursing his wounds in a comfortable post at Toledo University, but his woe goes marching on. "Academic freedom," that is, the inalienable right of every college instructor to make a fool of himself and his college by vealy, intemperate sensational prattle about every subject under heaven, to his classes and to the public, and still keep on the payroll or be reft therefrom only by elaborate process, is cried to all the winds by the organized dons.
A committee of the American Association of Professors, appointed to set for the means of guaranteeing "academic freedom," has made a report in which the "dangers" to that prime necessity in the treatment by professors of questions in the "the political and social science" are dwelt on. The governing bodies of privately endowed colleges are largely men who have been successful in private business enterprises. When the political and social sciences attack economic conditions or commercial practices they are likely to come into conflict with these men, the representatives of "vested interests," the bogies of innovators and radicals.
It may be work while to make the perhaps too obvious remark that the "sciences" about which the uplift professors are apt to be most cocksure are pseudo-sciences, mere opinions. A sociologist, for instance, cannot right speak with the certainty of a mathematician or a chemist. He often speaks with a great deal more, with an unreasoning heat and violence. It is in the politico-sociological region that the most academic friction is disengaged.
The situation of some of these pontifical Professors is curious. Here is a college founded, perhaps, by some person who has got rich in business. Some, or many, of the Trustees are guilty of the same crime. An ardent Professor attacks wealth, perhaps recommends the confiscation of great estates, is fierce against the practices of the prosperous, has some vague, sentimental notion of depressing them to help "the poor." That is his privilege. He will be allowed to exercise it unless he carries his chartered libertinism of speech so far that he makes the college ridiculous and disgusts graduates and the parents of students. These private institutions cannot live without the term fees. Parents will not send their sons to, will withdraw their sons from, colleges which are afflicted with one of these rash and sudden utterers of flubdub. Only in exteme cases, however, will the Governors of the college, a much-enduring body, get rid of the nuisance. For opinions of the most radical sort there is a great toleration. It is not the opinions of certain errant and cometary instructors, it is the want of dignity in the expression of them, it is claptrap, sensationalism, appeal to the groundlings, the unwelcome notoriety they give the institution, that forces at last the hand of the Trustees. Then the pother rises about "academic freedom," freedom to cheapen the reputation of the university and repel the students. Academic freedom ! Why, it is so great and general that one need have only the most casual knowledge of American colleges to know cases where Professors whose loss both Faculty and Trustees would count a gain are kept in their places for fear of the hullabaloo of the Professors’ union.
Why do these fiery Professors consent to take the "tainted money" of their salaries ? It comes largely from the income of funds established by members of "the more prosperous and conservative classes," from fees paid by members of those classes, the parents and guardians of students. It comes from pork and steel, iron and dry goods, banking, "Wall Street," and other sinister sources, and from "vested interests." Why does the aspiring Professor consent to the degradation of taking such base wages? He not only does, but he howls to the reverberant heavens when he is removed or is not reappointed. If we understand the report of the committee, a Professor is not an employe. He is a sacred character, to be dismissed by the Trustees only with the advise and consent of the Faculty.
One passage in the report throws out of court the whole controversy:
The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit: that is to say they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language.
It is by violating all or most of these conditions that a few Professors have lost their posts. It would be well for the Professors’ union to understand that the screeching, the shallowness, and the pretense of too many Professors are bringing on the vocation a certain discredit. The union suffers from the violence of some of its members.