The Preservation of the University
LEARNING DETERMINES COUNTRY'S PLACE IN HISTORY
By DR. MONROE E. DEUTSCH, Vice-President and Provost of the University of California
Delivered at the Commencement Exercises of Stanford University, June 14, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 624-627.
IN a world shaken in well-nigh every part by the shock of war, it is pleasant to gather in academic ceremonial mid the cloisters of the University. It is not that we are unaware of what is going on about us; it is not that we are unmoved by the issues of the struggle; it is not that we do not realize how much the outcome of the war means to all mankind—including these universities of ours.
But amid all the din and tragedy of war an occasion like this furnishes in a sense a moment of relief from the noise of the fray. It takes us as it were out of the threatening present into the time—that quiet time—when we were at peace. For a moment it turns our minds from the events that are about us.
And on such an occasion it is good to recall that universities—and the university as an institution—have existed some seven hundred years, have survived wars again and again, have survived dictatorships, have survived periods of distress, periods of civil war. Yes, through everything of ill that seven hundred years could heap upon it, the university lived, the beacon light of learning and scholarship, however much the storms assailed it.
And so assembled here, we feel that we are attached to something that is sure to outlast this war and whatever other dire perils may come. To Hitler the University says: "Long after you, petty upstart, are gone and the world has wiped away all the signs of the disaster you have wrought, I shalllive and shall preach everything that you scorned and on which you sought to trample. I shall encourage freedom of research, freedom of speech; I shall see to it that your pseudo-science is exposed. I shall reprint the great works you have burned and striven to destroy; they will be all the more sought by a world that has thrown off your shackles. I shall live, for Truth is eternal."
Among Hitler's many crimes there are few greater than the use of the free spirit, Learning, as a lackey, a slave.
Amid the welter of war let us guard the university and the freedoms which it preserves and embodies. It is easy to say this in the abstract—but when a concrete case occurs, when public hysteria rises, and patriotism assumes the guise of a baleful monster, then stand up for the freedom of your university—yes of all universities.
In this period of war like other institutions, colleges have undergone certain alterations—external changes, I trust they are. Because technically trained men and women are desperately needed, we are all seeking to complete the basic education of physicians, chemists, engineers, physicists and the like as rapidly as possible. And this we must of course do. We must also offer courses fitting men and women to participate in many ways in our war effort. These must include practical courses and those that seek to teach what the issues of the war really are. All this is proper and good.
But there is great danger that we may look at all university education through glasses clouded by the mist of war. After all universities will go on living long after the struggle is over—and men and women will be educated once more, we trust, without immediate thought of preparation for war.
So I wish to make a plea for the studies that have no direct relation to warfare—for letters, the social science, pure science, art, music and philosophy. I admit each of these can be shown to be of use at the present time. The musician can write a stirring song; the poet may rouse men as Tyrtaeus the Spartan did; the historian may help by showing the roots of the struggle; the economist may aid in finance and other problems. While this is all true, these studies do not exist primarily for such a purpose.
And the university must not let the temporary situation turn young men and women completely away from the pursuits that are essential in a civilized society. Let a Hitler shape all education to the uses of war—but if we imitate him, then (however the war may end) he will have won, for we will have turned not only plough-shares but harps and paint brushes into swords.
Mankind will need religion and letters, song and sculpture, law and the social sciences long after the trumpet sounds that prayed-for armistice. Think what a barren world—a desert—we should have if all these disappeared from the face of the earth.
Let us not forget Archimedes, that great Greek mathematician. You will recall the story that at the time of the siege of Syracuse by the Romans, he was found drawing a mathematical figure on the sand, and when the enemy soldier came upon him, he was so absorbed that he cried out: "Don't disturb my circles." And we remember Archimedes far more than the conquest of Syracuse.
So we may say: "Don't disturb my music—or my law—or my painting." I do not need to argue for their importance in a civilized society. And yet under the pressure of war the individual may feel ashamed to say that he is studying literature or art or history.
We must in short take the long look—and not let the 1942 scene blind us to the fact that there will be a world after 1942 and 1943.
To be sure none of these fields will be worth pursuing, if the Swastika wins. But that, I am sure, is in our heartsunthinkable. Stupendous as the successes of the two Axis partners have been, time is our ally, not theirs; see to it that we do not fail this mighty helper of ours.
What I have been emphasizing is that we should not let our ideas of education for the future be determined by the events of the moment—by the war in which we are engaged. And so I feel strongly that in the same way we should not try to reshape educational procedures on the basis of the mood of the present.
Of course education, like everything human, changes throughout the centuries; but the change should not be based on the impact of a machine gun or the presence of an airplane. And in thinking of the education we hope to see established hereafter, we must not let our plans be determined by the war and what it brings with it. What we thought before it broke out, may be more valid than what we of a sudden decide amid the smoke of artillery.
I recall that while San Francisco was still burning in 1906, someone commented on the fact that all the theatres had been destroyed. Another answered: "What of it? Nobody will want to go to the theatre again." But it wasn't long before theatres were improvised, for the desire for drama was not destroyed by the earthquake or the fire which the city suffered.
So in seeking to remold the university, wait till the war is over. And in the meantime let us see that we win it— for if we don't, the air of freedom will certainly not blow here or anywhere else.
We should also remember that time is longer than the years of a war, however many they may be. And even while wars go on, men and women perform deeds that last long after the din of battle has ceased. While the fighting goes on, artists are at work, poets are writing, scientists are making discoveries, musicians are composing, historians are publishing the results of their research—and what they have left, prepared amid the din of war, the world holds as a treasure for all time.
Thus from 431 b.c. to 403 b.c. Athens and Sparta fought the Peloponnesian War. During the years of the struggle Euripides was writing his dramas. Almost all the comedies of Aristophanes fall within that period. Then it was that Thucydides wrote his great history. That was the time of Socrates' activity; Plato and Xenophon were disciples at the master's feet.
Let us place the names together—Euripides, Aristophanes, Thucydides, Socrates, Plato. They are indeed a great company. They lived during a period of war and battle; yet their notable activities lay not in combat but in the fields of tragedy and comedy, of history and philosophy.
Now I ask you whether they were wrong. Should they have abandoned their life work and devoted themselves constantly, if not to actual warfare, to something closely related to it? No, the work of the great men I have named was far more important than anything else they could possibly have done; it has indeed influenced succeeding generations and centuries.
Let us now take an illustration from our own land. We have a Hall of Fame at New York University. The names chosen for inclusion in it are selected by a distinguished group of jurors. While doubtless there would be some difference of opinion as to the relative greatness of one or another on the list, nevertheless it certainly does include those who are among our most famous Americans. There are seventy-three names in all. And of that number but seven at the most are soldiers and sailors, while there are sixteen authors, seven scientists, and six musicians, painters and sculptors. So we, like those in other lands, recognize the fact that while great military leaders are indispensable, the ultimate greatness of a country does not depend by anymeans on such men alone; it is the achievements of a people in literature, science, art, education and the sister fields that determine its place in the history of civilization.
We must therefore retain a proper perspective as to the value of the various studies and should not scuttle pure science art and literature because they may not be very useful 1 fighting the war. And likewise within each particular field do not determine relative values in the light of temporary and, we trust, transient conditions. I have heard speakers urge the importance of studying the Orient far more than in the past, and in doing so they stress the need of knowing China and India. They are right; but Japan will, I fancy, exist after the war, and if we really desire a correct view of the Orient, we cannot overlook that country and its people. But—and this is a large but—after all our civilization is derived from Europe, and we must not discard or minimize the study of the history, literature and art of the European lands which are not only the founts of our own history, literature and art, but the countries from which individually we are nearly all of us sprung.
So too when I hear men arguing that in our education we have over-emphasized the study of things European and should diminish our attention to them, stressing rather our own history and culture, I say: "Surely let us know our own land and its history far, far better than we do—but at the same time let us not become isolationist in our education at the very moment that the gates of isolationism are being battered down by airplane and submarine."
Do not in short, determine what our education is to be wholly in the light of the war and the immediate present. And in this connection Francis Bacon gives us wise advice: "It is good also not to try experiments in states, except the necessity be urgent, or the utility evident; and well to beware that it be the reformation that dwelleth on the change, and not the desire of change that pretendeth the reformation."
What then is your obligation and mine? Obviously if our nation summons us to serve her in any capacity whatsoever, in order that a free world may continue, we shall gladly answer her call.
But if because of age or sex or for physical reasons you are allowed to continue your university work, I want you to feel no shame that you are doing so nor seek to turn your studies into a pretense of war service. Certainly you will strive to aid your government in every way possible, and the Stanford student body has given an outstanding example of national service to other institutions.
But if you are studying law, your primary obligation is to make yourself as proficient as you can. And if your field is history or literature, do it with confidence that these are no less important in the world which is to be. You must not think that the only literature that is of consequence is war literature—or the literature of the United Nations. Dante is as great and as worth studying, whether Italy fights with us or against us. And the fact that Goethe was a German, does not remove him from his place among the world's greatest writers.
Literature and science and art and scholarship in all fields transcend national boundaries; neither time nor space circumscribes them.
And while scientists will like others stand ready to serve, it must not be felt that each and every one must turn from the research which is his life-work, to carry on studies which pertain directly to the war. If any one can help find a cure for cancer, should we not eagerly encourage him—war or no war?
Life will go on through the period of combat and into the time that follows. The struggle will be of the greatestsignificance in our lives and those of all mankind—but when it is over, the tasks of peace will call us.
Some years ago a Chinese bishop of the Catholic church visited our shores. At a luncheon here someone asked him what he thought of the Chinese students carrying on work in American universities while their country was fighting desperately against the Japanese invaders. He paused a moment and then replied: "If they are studying medicine or engineering, they should continue their work, for China will surely need both physicians and engineers." Then after an instant he went on: "No, China will need leaders in all fields. If they are doing good work in any subject, let them stay on."
There you have the long look. We too shall need leaders of all kinds. We shall need not only physicists, chemists, physicians, dentists and engineers but also teachers, scholars in all fields, lawyers, foresters, business men, philosophers, artists, musicians. And unless those who are not summoned to the immediate service of our nation, devote themselves to their training, we may enter the post-war era a generation taught but one thing—war.
After all, if our universities were to give themselves wholly to activities pertaining to the war, they would really be war colleges, not universities.
In this mighty struggle many things are being defended— not least the university. Yes, you are in very truth defending Stanford University.
Your motto: "The Air of Freedom Blows" would under Nazi rule become (to use their own elegant words): "We spit on freedom." Your library would be ransacked and most of the books—especially those dealing with the foundation and spirit of our government—burned in the Quad. Your faculty would be thoroughly purged. A Goebbels or some American Quisling would take the chancellor's seat. Regimentation would replace liberty. Selection of students would be made on the basis of adherence to Nazi philosophy. Stanford University would exist only in name. Indeed its founders would feel that all for which they had sacrificed had been destroyed. As you will recall, in the Founding Grant, Governor Stanford said: "And its purposes, to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization, teaching the blessing of liberty regulated by law, and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government, as derived from the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
All the aims of the founders would be destroyed if the adherents of totalitarianism were to conquer.
You are therefore fighting for all the elements of a free society, including the freedom of all universities, when you fight in the cause of your country.
And if you have been touched by the spirit of the university, you will go with pride to defend American ideals.
You are making great sacrifices—but sacrifices which your country has a right to ask. And you would feel shame at seeking to avoid the elemental duty of a citizen. Never forget what it is for which we are fighting. And beside us stand the soldiers of the brave people of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the long enduring Chinese, and the undaunted soldiers of the Union of Soviet Republics—and every citizen of France and Norway, Holland and Belgium, Czecho-Slovakia and Greece and Poland, Yugo-Slavia and Denmark who could slip out of the prison walls of his conquered country. The fight is for each of these lands and we will have the joy of helping to restore them to freedom.
We are at last called on to assume the place in the world of nations that our power and wealth and strength impose upon us. We cannot fail our comrades.
And so my plea is that we defend the freedoms, including the freedom of the university, from external aggression, and no less maintain the true university even amid the din of the machine-guns.
We must preserve a free world for ourselves, for thepeoples united to us, for the stricken nations who pray that the cruel heel of the oppressor may be removed from their necks, and for the generations that are to come after us. And in that free world we must guard one of the stoutest pillars that uphold it, the university.