Inaugural Address of President Barrows
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Ladies and Gentlemen: I am deeply sensible of the solemnity of this moment, in which I have received from the President of the Board of Regents the symbol of office. For better or for worse, for an uncertain period, a part of the government of this great University is intrusted to me. I am conscious of your great interest and solicitude, and I cannot free myself from a sense of responsibility and concern. But your presence here, your splendid kindness in greeting me, the participation of the Governor of the State, of commanders of our Army and Navy, the heads and representatives of friendly institutions, and this great concourse, bid me accept this responsibility sensibly and without diffidence.
I have taken for the subject of my remarks Academic Freedom. I have chosen this topic in the hope that it may have a measure of interest for each and every one of us here. This is a place where I like to believe there has been cultivated a very noble form of that freedom which becometh a university. The original professorships were filled by men of character and great independence. For nearly twenty years this great body of students has been self-governing. There are no detailed regulations for the control of conduct on this campus, but our life finds its guidance and harmony in a daily emphasis on "the good of the University." This is a fit place in which to observe and define academic freedom.
Also we are met in the presence of friends, delegates, and students from other centers of learning, which from distances far and near have sent us spokesmen of their
― 110 ―interest and fellowship. Many of these are from foreign lands. I hope my topic will have significance for them, because that intelligent approach to one another which may be afforded to the student class of many countries through this University can, I think, never be realized except by cultivating here a society which properly balances order and liberty, and which depends upon a common regard for our freedom to make practicable a genuine sharing of all our privileges. As for myself, it has seemed that I could not, perhaps, do better today than attempt to analyze the responsibility which the presidency of an American university has to this freedom of the university. It occurs to me that every president should attempt to do this at least once, and that for me the present occasion would seem to be the appropriate one.
American university organization, like American institutions generally, has departed boldly from the old European type from which it is remotely derived. The universitas of Europe's period of revived learning was a legal corporation of scholars, self-governing, self-perpetuating. Such corporations established themselves at Bologna, Paris, or Oxford, and received from the princes or ruling powers of that day special charters of privilege exempting them from secular jurisdiction--that is, they were given a freedom and autonomy which have survived as a great and noble tradition even to this day and to this remote shore. But with us the state university is an institution created by the commonwealth to serve its higher needs, responsible to the people. The corporation is a body of state servants (in our case of twenty-four) chosen in several ways, but so constituted as to be above the control of any personality or faction; regularly but slowly renewed, and able for this reason to initiate and realize
― 111 ―policies extending over long terms of years; a perpetual trusteeship in the name of the state and of the republic for administering those great properties, endowments, and appropriations which have been dedicated to the higher learning. But they have also a service to perform higher and more important even than the faithful trusteeship of great properties, and this is their service in building up and protecting our academic community, in not merely finding the resources to make possible here great teaching and profound research, but of filling this place with a spirit congenial to the scholarly mind and jealous of its liberties. Great as our pride is in this fair site with its Grecian hills and its far ocean vista, great though our satisfaction in these stately and imperishable buildings, I know I express the mind of every Regent when I say that our still more profound interest and concern are in the reputation of our academic body, the support of our men of learning, the encouragement of our great student company to use well and profitably the opportunities of this foundation. These are our main endeavors.
And here I am led to enquire, what is an academic community in the American republic, and particularly in this great western section of our republic where the state itself has been so solicitous to erect and sustain university institutions? Our academic company is a fellowship, not removed or cloistered from the common thought and busy activities of men, but a part of the community's stirring life and intimately associated in its leadership, and yet none the less distinguished from other callings by the fact that its men and women have chosen this work and this place because one and all, at one time or another, they have been deeply moved by a common experience. And the common experience is this--that all have apprehended that above all other joys of life is the joy of
― 112 ―discovery. The student's approach to a new and difficult field of knowledge is usually through a fog of misunderstanding, but to the diligent the state of doubt gradually clears and there comes a radiant sense of comprehension which we may consider the highest delight of the human soul. With it come also a power of analysis and a sense of mastery. And then, if the subject be pursued by sufficient power of the mind, comes a revelation to the scholar that his labors and sincerity are disclosing some part of the great mystery of this universe which men have never solved before. This I believe to be the experience which time out of mind has swept men from their routine and the anticipated order of their living and committed them to great and passionate adventures involving inconvenience, self-denial, and the general subordination of all other objects and aims.
This, I claim, is the experience which all men must have who would be worthy members of a university, and the first care of a university should be to so order itself as to make this experience a powerful and if possible a common recurrence to those who dwell here.
I realize that this may be a somewhat unattainable ideal; that for some the quest ends in weakness and discouragement; that in every academic community there are likely to be those upon whom this adventure has palled; that at all times
and I realize also that perhaps most of us are destined to be inspired more by others' success than by our own, but none the less I believe that the force which assembles
― 113 ―men in academic communities and holds these communities together against the obvious inducements of the world is the charm of belonging to a body which discloses life's secrets and the fascination experienced by audacity in discovery. And it is because truth is our endeavor that moral power inheres in a university and that there is something here that men regard and revere, something that appeals to the undying crusading spirit of the race, that helps all to realize that the quest is no common one and cannot be followed by common men, that those
It is, then, this searching, questing, unslaked spirit that makes such a company as ours a true university--a spirit that will not stop dismayed or fearful, but which writes at the head of each enterprise such a title as that which Professor Goldwin Smith gave to his last volume of his searching if insufficient essays, "No Refuge but in Truth."
Fit men who enter university life should enter it wisely disillusioned as to certain things. They should all cheerfully and discerningly appreciate at the start that there are no great material rewards, that they must, so far as regards any prospects which the university offers, live and die poor men--poor, that is, in the sense in which a very rich and generously spending nation uses that term. But there are further great privileges in the life which I think we may properly emphasize, for they should be ever present in our minds and they should be particularly held before that chosen element of our
― 114 ―student body whom we would with pleasure see turn its interest to the university as a profession.
One of the best of these privileges is the social advantage which the university professorship affords. I use this word social advantage in no common sense. I refer to the obvious fact that a man or woman holding a professorship in a university distinguished for its greatness of spirit and the soundness of its scholarship needs no other line of recommendation to admit him, world over, into the company of the most interesting persons and communities. He may expect to receive the courteous and attentive interest of governments and academies, literary and artistic groups, wherever he may wander and desire to make himself known. He can associate with the world's best men and women at all times and places upon the plane of perfect equality that neither requires nor admits any sacrifice of self-respect or any recognition of patronage from the great and powerful.
A great institution like our own naturally and easily wins as its guests the truly great and distinguished men and women who pass our way in their circuits of the earth. We, their modest entertainers, are able to converse with them on a ground of simple and respectful understanding. Surely this companionship with the truly noble is one of the finest privileges of life and one which a university affords in a manner that no other institution or circle can rival.
And intimately associated with this is the fellowship of ourselves, something so rare and so inspiring, so enriching in its experience and inspiration, that one who has dwelt for any length of time in an academic community feels life elsewhere somewhat barren and forlorn. It recalls what James Russell Lowell said in his Harvard anniversary address thirty-five years ago: "Nothing is
― 115 ―so great a quickening of the faculties or so likely to prevent their being narrowed to a single groove as frequent social commingling of men who are aiming at one goal by different paths."
But perhaps the greatest attraction of university life, and the one which most distinguishes it is that embraced in my title, namely its freedom. I approach here a much discussed topic and one certainly preëminent among the interests of a university. What is meant by academic or university freedom? How is our life free above other men's lives? What are the true and proper limitations to our freedom and what are the hindrances to that freedom which university life in America has not succeeded in preventing?
I realize it is somewhat audacious for me to approach this subject so early in my experience because it is often charged that the American university president is the great trespasser upon university freedom, and he is frequently mentioned (I do not know with what propriety) as the tyrant of academic men's destinies. But I find myself prepared to admit this--that without freedom there can be no university.
I shall begin my analysis of what our freedom of life embodies with one of its less disputable points, namely its freedom from fixed engagements. It is the lot of men, for the most part, to be bound inescapably to their tasks, to have their work measured and apportioned by others, their methods prescribed, their products standardized. In most of these respects the academic man is free and he has an ample release from set engagements. Long experience in the organization of teaching has seemed to indicate that to do it well it must be done sparingly, that the number of times a week in which a man can give his best to a class, without exhausting the batteries of his
― 116 ―physical being, is relatively small, and that, for men of our race at least, the periods of instruction must be interrupted by relatively ample periods of cessation. This gives to the university worker frequently recurring periods of relief that are commonly spoken of as holidays or vacations. Where properly employed, however, they are less periods of leisure than they are periods of relief from appointments, during which the mind may be exclusively turned and the energies concentrated upon the advance of that investigation in which the university man is enthralled. They are periods advisable for movement, travel, and visiting of perhaps distant lands and peoples where alone an investigation can be carried to completeness. The knowledge that characterizes universities is markedly knowledge which cannot be pursued parochially. It must have the benefit of wide intercourse. For its successful advance it must frequently be carried to the uttermost parts of the earth. The forests, the waters, the earth's stratifications, the uttermost parts of the planet, its types of men, their society, beliefs, creations, must frequently be examined in a most general manner. So that travel and exploration in the physical sense are characteristic of academic communities and among the essentials for the successful prosecution of their endeavors. Our liberal vacations, the sabbatical years, offer a kind of opportunity which experience has shown is indispensable to the university. But in whatever way the academic man chooses from year to year to employ that generous period of liberation from fixed duties, it is clear that he is uncommonly free, and that his freedom is one of the most splendid and generous sides of academic life. It is a kind of release which neither great wealth nor high administrative responsibility can assure.
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Another sort of freedom permissible in a university is freedom from artificial conventions of our complex society. In the midst of life increasingly busy with trivial employments and diversions, increasingly weighted with superfluous possessions, the life of university men is permitted to continue relatively simple, homely, plain. University standards permit us to live, if we please, in relatively unpretentious and comfortable homes, with only such furnishings and accessories as we choose to have because they actually contribute to our comfort and sense of pleasure, and to give our entertainment and intercourse a classical simplicity. This point may seem trivial to some, but it means a great deal that in a state which is tempted to such present-day extravagances and display as is the American nation, we may here, if we so desire, cultivate plainness and simplicity without diffidence or concern.
Finally, we come to that special freedom to which the term "academic freedom" is sometimes confined--freedom of teaching and of thought and utterance associated with it. This is undoubtedly the crucial point of our inquiry. Is a professor in a university, and above all in a state university, to be permitted to express himself without restraint? I am not sure that I represent the unanimous academic view, but as a practical answer I would say yes, once a man is called to be a professor. The earlier grades of academic advancement are necessarily probationary, but once the professorial status is conferred the scholar cannot thereafter successfully be laid under restraint. The bounds upon his action must be those of his own defining--the consciousness that he is speaking as one in authority, as one appointed to act with such consideration and courtesy as become a gentleman
― 118 ―and that any lapse into utterance that is foolish and uninformed will affect the esteem in which he is held. The bestowal of the rank of professor is conditioned upon maturity of experience, soundness of knowledge, sincerity of character, and those qualities which enter into the considerations leading to the choice for the professorship must be trusted to work out satisfactorily for the man, his teaching, and his institution. It is apparent that all academic choices are not equally successful. Some are obviously lamentable. Institutions like ours must occasionally suffer from the indiscretions and vulgarity of their members, but experience seems to indicate that a university suffers far less by enduring such conduct with dignity and restraint than it does by coercive or punitive action.
An appointment to a professorship here with us, and I believe the same obtains generally in the most distinguished of our American institutions, is for life. I do not say that disloyalty to country or grossly immoral conduct are not reasons for summary removal, but, these considerations apart, a professorial appointment is practically a permanent engagement and the university which does not stand for this principle, even in the face of irritation and criticism, will in time be punished by a failure to command the interest of distinguished scholars. Doubtless it is the responsibility of the president, as occupying a position in which he is especially open to the effects produced by academic indiscretions, to counsel and to advise frankly, but I think he may not threaten, I think he may not advocate punishment. These last actions are incompatible with the democracy and independence essential to university fellowship.
Our main safeguard is wisdom in selecting the university personnel, and advancing to professorial grade. The
― 119 ―man who is known to be penetrated with the academic spirit, to whom pretence and insincerity are detestable and who is chosen because he is a man of knowledge and of character will never offer real embarrassment to a university which fears not the principle, "No Refuge but in Truth."
I appreciate that there are times which are exceptional, when men neither in a university nor in civil society generally may use their privilege of speech and criticism. War is such a season. As one who has known the restraints of a soldier, I do not sympathize with the extreme liberal view that expression of view should not be limited even in war. War is a highly abnormal experience in which thousands and millions of men, at utmost danger to their lives, forego all freedom, surrender all liberty to the necessary requirements of military discipline. And this being the situation of the men who fight, some measure of restraint is justifiable over the entire nation, that the army may suffer no increased hazard. And there may also be other crises in a state so acute, so disturbing, so painful to large numbers, as to necessitate a temporary suppression of free utterance, but normally the rule of academic freedom holds.
Having said this, I wish to distinguish a university as a place where those who belong to it have free utterance from a place where every comer may have freedom of speech. The two ideas are not consistent. The university is not an open forum. Its platforms are not free to the uninstructed or to those without repute. It is not a place where any sort of doctrine may be expounded by any sort of person. There is a public attitude that sometimes questions the right, particularly of a state university, to exclude any from public utterance in university halls. But just as the permanent members of a
― 120 ―university are selected with great care and for reasons of confidence in their knowledge, so those who are invited to speak incidentally or occasionally must be judged with comparable consideration.
I now come to my final point. What is the place of the president in this academic community and what his responsibility to this freedom? The President of the University of California is a member of its Academic Senate, he is a colleague of the teaching force as well as of the Regents and according to the bylaws of the University he is the normal avenue of communications between the two bodies. It seems to be his responsibility to draw all the various institutions which make up the University into a helpful arrangement with one another and assure their common development, and he is obviously the center and chief of a large staff to whom the administrative tasks of the University are entrusted. It is his duty to inform the Regents as to the University's needs, recommend financial provision for those needs and bring to the Regent's attention those academic policies upon which our Senate has concluded its consideration. It is obvious that he cannot, in such a community as ours, do these things except in the closest association with the academic life itself. It would be presumptuous and futile for him to attempt in a secretive or solitary manner to formulate an academic policy or to nominate to our membership. The University is a place dependent upon being friendly, and university matters can only be settled, in Sir Arthur Help's fine phrase, "by friends in council."
The President has responsibility to see that needed action is taken; that decisions are reached, though the decision may not be exactly his. But he can afford to assume very little of autocratic authority in such matters. Rather would he seem to be a point about which may
― 121 ―gather those elements which result in a clear and imperishable crystal of opinion, or, to change the figure, possibly a hard, irritating substance within the precious mother-of-pearl which leads to the accumulation there of those translucent particles which produce a diadem.
It is in this spirit at least that I approach this office which has been so lately conferred. I am sensible of its distinguished character, of its great opportunities, of the fine traditions we associate with it, of the friendship and esteem that surround it; but I am sensible also of its cares and its chagrins, of the fact that that very freedom which I have so extolled as the embodiment of the academic life is, by the nature of the presidential office among us, largely denied to it. No one who views it as I have been privileged to view it here, as student, as alumnus, as teacher, could approach it without reverence, without humility, and without a sincere disposition to give all that he possesses in order that our common life may be kept in those free and honest paths along which it has so well proceeded and which are leading us seemingly to heights of usefulness and influence of which no man can see the summits.