We Must Turn to the Needs of War


By ROBERT G. SPROUL, President, University of California

Delivered at Stanford University's Fiftieth Anniversary, June 20, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 595-597

IN appearing on this program to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Stanford University, I feel a deep sense of pleasure. Stanford and I have much in common. We are both products of the Gay Nineties. In fact, in the same year that Stanford began to offer instruction to a select group of students under the Palo Alto, I initiated, in the city of St. Francis, a course for the benefit of my parents, entitled Trials and Tribulations of Raising a First Son. And so it happened that Stanford and I have grown up together. I know exactly how it feels to be fifty years old this year. And I know how lucky Stanford is that she was roofed with tile instead of pile, and that her multifold arches were built of solid, non-collapsing stone. The chief difference in our life destinies is that Stanford has won a deserved repute as a private university, whereas I have gone into the public school business as head of the University of California.

But on my part at least I am sure that the difference between public and private universities, whatever it may once have been, is not today sufficiently great to warrant any great feeling of incompatibility between Stanford and myself. In his latest annual report the President of Columbia University, an institution which is still called private, though it lives on one of the busy thoroughfares of New York City, said: "There is, and can be, no such thing as a private university. . . . True universities . . . may be either governmental or non-governmental, but in either case they are public service institutions . . . the non-governmental university is engaged in direct public service and is, in effect, a gift to the taxpayer."

I agree with President Nicholas Murray Butler on this point. There is, or there should be, no fundamental difference in the goals sought by the so-called private, and the so-called public, university, or in the standard of values by which they appraise the success of their efforts. Both are seeking to educate American men and women for the manifold opportunities and responsibilities which the leading citizens of a democracy must accept. Both in a sense are public institutions sharing a common field of public service. The private institution may, because of tuition fees, tend to draw a greater percentage of its students from one end of the established economic and social ladder. It will receive, however, students blessed with varied types of intellects and capacities, just as does the public university. It will receive students who vary even more widely in equally important parts of the make-up known as the heart and the conscience and the backbone. Like the public university, it will receive some students who are able to satisfy the entrance requirements but who use up the last ounce of their surplus intelligence and will to do so. Like the public university, it will not receive some students who should have a college education but who are unable to obtain it because of personal problems, usually economic.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, in its now famous survey of education in the State of Pennsylvania, found that twenty-five per cent of the students who went on from high school to college were less qualified for matriculation than fifty per cent of the students who found it impossible to go on to college. The Foundation concludes: "Taken as a group, the high school pupils who go to college exhibit a superior average, but that fact takes no account of the able and often brilliant young minds that are left behind because they cannot pay college bills. And it does not make the situation less distressing for such students to know that at the other end of the scale the college is accepting a large group who, even though they may pay full tuition, are still a drain on that surplus expenditure that a college incurs over and above what any student returns to it. In other words, both state subsidies and the income from endowments are today flowing in large amounts to individuals who might be replaced by more appropriate intellectual investments."

Here, it seems to me, is indicated one of the major responsibilities of the university of the future, namely, to see that the money it spends, over and above tuition fees or incidental fees, goes toward the education of the most worthy candidates in each generation. Ours is a republican form of government which depends for its success on the intelligence and the knowledge of a majority of its voting citizens. The degree to which the intellectual capacity of each generation is utilized, through supplying the facts that are the tools of thought, and through encouraging rational thinking and sound judgments, will be a basic criterion of the success of democracy in its present and future struggle to maintain itself against authoritarian forms of government. The intelligence of the citizenry of a nation is a natural resource which transcends in importance all other natural resources. It is a natural resource with the peculiar virtue of being best conserved by unlimited use. We may condone the waste of many natural resources on the ground that science will find a substitute that is just as good. But intelligence is unique, and though science search diligently it will never find a substitute for it, nor will Hitler or Mussolini, neither Stalin nor the War Lords of Japan.

Universities, public and private both, are, in the last analysis, not merely training schools for the professions, or finishing schools for gentlemen; they are conservators of the above-average intelligence of the nation. The implications of that responsibility universities have only just begun to visualize. Every conservation program must proceed along two lines: It must safeguard the known reserves of a given resource, and it must also, through exploration and everyother means, make determined efforts to ascertain accurately the further supplies of that natural resource. Heretofore, we have contended ourselves with estimating our reserves of intelligence on three bases: (1) the number of young men and women applying for entrance to the colleges and universities of America; (2) the number able to satisfy entrance requirements; and (3) the number finally graduated. As these numbers have increased, many individuals have expressed grave doubts whether we were continuing to tap the same high quality of intelligence that colleges and universities drew upon a generation or two ago. Some of these earnest gentlemen remind me of those others who annually predict the exhaustion of the world's petroleum resources, and prophesy that shortly we shall be seeking to recover oil from low-grade shales on the surface of the earth rather than from the rich reservoirs far beneath its surface. These predictions and prophesies have been overwhelmed time and time again by additional discoveries. They were false predictions not because of faulty mathematics, but because of incomplete data.

The same difficulty confronts us with respect to what I have designated as our most important natural resource, human intelligence. We don't know how much intelligence the citizenry of this nation is capable of producing. We pay little attention to intelligence unless it forces itself to the surface and trickles into a college or university by force of gravity. If it happens to come to the surface in a backwoods area or a rural district, where the process of trickling down to college is made difficult by distance and by lack of funds, the chances are that the trickle will sink into the earth again, "unwept, unhonored, and unsung,"—unless, of course, it happens to be one of the fastest running, highest jumping, or trickiest trickles on the track, court, or gridiron.

I am perhaps exaggerating our present situation for purposes of emphasis. Universities are not completely neglecting their responsibilities for the recruiting of intelligence or entirely depending on volunteers from the ranks of those who think they have intelligence. Over the course of years every great college and university has steadily built up funds for the support of scholarships to be awarded to those whose intelligence and general societal usefulness might otherwise be wasted. But none has attempted to solve the problem in a fundamental way by joining with other institutions in the same area, in an effort to seek out all of the most promising young men and women in each high school graduating class, and to see what opportunities are afforded them to continue their educations in the college or university best suited to their interests and talents. I am not implying that the whole burden should be carried by colleges and universities, because the greatest beneficiary from an educated citizenry is society. The individual, and his family, are also beneficiaries. And for the normal young man or woman the necessity of having to work a reasonable number of hours each week is one of the best stimulants to full development that I know. A little hard work for the purpose of self-support is just as important in the life of a young person as a reasonable amount of vitamins in the diet. Too much of either is bad; too little may be worse.

The private university is, perhaps, more handicapped in doing its full share toward meeting the problem of conserving intelligence than is the public university. It must derive a fair proportion of its annual budget from fees paid by its students. To bring its services within reach of a meritorious student who is without resources of any kind requires that it pay not only part of the student's living expenses, but also his tuition fee, or at least that it lend him money for that purpose to be repaid years later. Perhaps the private university should exact full payment for theprivileges that it provides, not only to cover the cost of its annual operating expenses, but also to make possible further contributions toward the discharge of its responsibility as a conservator of intellectual resources. It is sometimes difficult to separate those who are barely promising enough to be admitted to a university from those who are not quite promising enough to justify admission. These borderline cases may often derive considerable benefit from college attendance, but they do so only at the cost of extra effort by the teaching staff and, perhaps, obstruction of other students. Would it not be fair to ask them to pay more for the privilege? Tuition fees might be charged in accordance with a sliding scale rather than a flat rate; and money derived from those who pay the higher fees could go toward encouraging the entrance of those who may have means to pay only part of the fee or even those who can pay no fee at all. Some health insurance groups accept new policy holders without regard to bodily fitness, provided that each applicant brings in seven other applicants at the same time. In other words, they will accept a poor risk if, through his own efforts, he brings in good risks.

This potential source of income, unfortunately, is not available to the public university; so I offer the idea for general use. But the public university must find other ways of discharging its responsibility for the conservation of intelligence. It must promote public acceptance of the obvious fact that the full value of the millions of tax dollars which are now being invested in education will not be realized until additional positive steps are taken to equalize the economic burden carried by parents of the outstanding young men and women of each generation. It must bring public pressure to bear on the development of a state-wide system of selecting and encouraging these outstanding young men and women in their efforts to fit themselves for effective citizenship.

In giving much of my time this morning to the problem of finding and encouraging the potential intelligence of the nation, I would not leave you with the impression that there is nothing more to the problem of conservation that I have outlined. What the colleges and universities do with this potential intelligence after it comes into their hands is hardly less important, but this phase of the problem receives a great deal of attention, not only from educators, but also from thousands of self-appointed critics who know what a university should be, either because they once went to one, or because, not having gone to one, they have an impartial and objective point of view. In part the activities of these critics are justified, for universities give up traditional practices with reluctance. Yet subjects and curricula are changing, slowly but surely, to meet the problem of educating an ever higher percentage of the youth of the country. Attempts are being made to serve, besides the intellectual type of individual in which the university is interested, other types of young men and women who can help to build the backbone of this nation.

Junior colleges have been established and have increased in number. Normal schools have been converted into State Colleges to offer a different type of student. Various technical colleges are being proposed to fill in a reputed gap in the educational system between the trade school program of the high school or junior college and the cultural and professional courses of the university. The universities cannot help but agree with the theory of these programs and the intention of their supporters. But it is their thankless task to insist as diplomatically as possible that the practices of these various schools remain in harmony with their theory, and that the value of the results be demonstrated.

It is well to conserve not only the highest intelligence butalso average ability and manual skill by establishing schools without special academic entrance requirements for those who are not interested in, or not temperamentally suited to university-level training. But if those schools do not apply themselves to the purpose for which they were created, and if they accept all students without attempting to single out those who should go to a university, the result may be disastrous. It will be no less disastrous for them to fail to set a top limit on the talents of students they accept than it would be for a university to fail to set a bottom limit on its requirements for entrance. This lays another and important responsibility upon the modern educator, namely, to use more effectively those methods that are now available for the classification and differentiation of high school students, and to seek to perfect those methods further.

The present world crisis puts special burdens on the university, especially the public university, with respect to the National Defense. But many of those burdens which we are now accepting because an emergency has brought them forcibly to our attention should be part of our continuing responsibility. I speak specifically of maintaining among our people an active and intelligent interest in the duties of American citizenship. National Defense is not just a matter of tanks and guns and planes, or of pilots and sailors and soldiers. It is not just a matter of stopping an invasion. It is also the constant building and nurture of the faith of our people in an ideal and of their willingness to work for that ideal in peace as well as to fight for it in war. This responsibility is shared with other instrumentalities, but to education representative government entrusts its peculiarity. We have made mistakes. As President Dixon Ryan Fox of Union College recently said (School and Society, November 11, 1939): "The greatest curse that has come upon us is a theory that we are all victims of something or other. A long-faced economist tells a young man that he is doomed to failure and misery unless the system is changed . . . security, it is said, must be a social and not at all a personal responsibility. A long-faced psychiatrist looks at the young man and bursts out crying. He is the victim of a hereditary taint; or he fell out of the cradle at the age of seven months and so cannot do mathematics; . . . he is too desperately in love with his mother and hence will never lead a normal

life, for which she should be blamed. . . . At a time when our whole idea of education . . . is being challenged throughout a great part of the civilized world, we need, as never before, to give our individual students standards of useful living, and to encourage the will to meet them."

In recent years this sophisticated dissatisfaction has become the popular American pose. We have magnified our own failures and minimized our successes to such an extreme that for a while it was a mark of ignorance for any young man or woman to refer to democracy publicly except to criticize it. Such an era may be one of rapid reform in a world at peace, but in a world of nations caught between victory and slavery it may also be one of rapid suicide. We are living in the most highly developed democracy on earth. If we can't find within ourselves enthusiasm for this form of government, this way of life, to see that it has a fair chance of winning in the struggle for world acceptance, then the most glorious dream that has ever heartened the souls of men is but a dream after all.

In the United States the only severe testing that democracy has undergone was the War between the States. Through the superb leadership of Abraham Lincoln the nation survived that crisis of union or disunion. No clear-eyed observer can fail to see that today not alone are existing democracies being tested, but that also the very hope of future democracy for other peoples is being threatened. For a long time we of America have been lulled by the very richness and good fortune of our economic, geographic and other circumstances. For too long we have dallied while the enemy made ready, and even while the enemy has been striking down, one by one, other unprepared nations. Democracy, I believe, is indestructible, because it is of the essence of the invincible human spirit. But its blessing must be earned, and tended, and cherished, or they will wither and die, or be destroyed.

So we must today gird ourselves afresh for neglected duties. People and universities, lovers of peace and skilled in the arts of peace, we must suffer the interruption of our normal work and turn to the arts and needs of war. Not that we choose war and reject peace, but because we are dedicated to the service of democracy and freedom.