George Chrystal's First Promoter's Address

When Professor George Chrystal took charge of the Chair of Mathematics in University of Edinburgh, every professor in the Faculty of Arts was required to deliver a Promoter's Address to the new graduates of the University. In the beginning of his professoriate, since there were only seven professors in the Faculty, his first and second promoter's addresses were delivered in 1885, 1892, but then the number of professors in the Faculty increased and so his third and last promoter's address was delivered sixteen years after the second in 1908.

Links to the other addresses are here: Second address   third address

These addresses are full of valuable suggestions and cover many aspects of education at that time. George Chrystal made his first Promoter's Address to graduates of Edinburgh University on 22 April 1885.

George Chrystal's First Promoter's Address: 22 April 1885.

Gentlemen, - In conformity with a custom of a good many years' standing, it is now my duty to address you, the newly promoted graduates of this university.

Sir Alexander Grant

There is one topic that will doubtless occur to all of you as appropriate for this address, for there is one figure that used to be prominent among us on this occasion that will appear here no more. So suddenly did the death of Sir Alexander Grant overtake us in the hurry of the busy session that we scarcely had time to realise our loss before we were whirled away in the rapid current of college work. Now that leisure has come to us once more, that loss will be felt anew; and I greatly regret that the office of promoter is not occupied by one better fitted than I am to give expression to this common feeling. I have the double disadvantage of not having been personally intimate with Sir Alexander Grant, and of being little versed in the department of scholarship in which he made his reputation. My relations with him were solely in the way of university business. Few as even these were, they led me to form a very high opinion of the acute business-like character of his intellect. I was particularly struck with this while we were engaged in drawing up the financial statement criticising the Treasury clauses of the University Bill. Sir Alexander seized and retained the points of the financial character. During the whole course of discussions regarding University reform I was much impressed with the width and liberality of our late Principal's views. Even when some of us happened to be unable to come to the same conclusion as he did, we never failed to recognise the manly straightforwardness of his course, and to perceive that he thought only of the highest interests of the University regarded as an institution for the advancement of sound learning. The principalship of Sir Alexander Grant will unquestionably be a marked era in the history of our University, for during his time it attained a prosperity such as it had never seen before. I can of course judge from what I have observed during the last five years of the period in question; but from that I should say that much of this prosperity must have been directly due to him. At all events I am certain of this, that during the last few years of his principalship, when the prosperity of the university had brought her difficulties naturally arising out of her increase, his tact and moderation did much to retain the many friends which she still happily possesses. To his tact also it was in a large measure due that an appeal to those friends resulted in the palatial buildings in which our brethren of the medical faculty are now established. The memory of the great Tercentenary Festival is still so fresh that I need not allude to it, except to mention its success as a striking testimony to the boldness in conceiving and skill in executing of our late Principal. A heavy share of the work connected with that celebration fell upon him, and I fear that the effects of it shortened his life. One of the most amiable characteristics of Sir Alexander Grant was his lively and continual interest in all that concerned the personal welfare of the students. The last great University scheme about which he busied himself was the founding of a Union Society and Club Room for the students and graduates of the University; and I venture to suggest that the best tribute you can pay to his memory would be to put your shoulders to the wheel, and carry into immediate execution this project which interested him so greatly.

University Reform

The next topic which naturally suggests itself to a University Professor at the present moment is the burning question of university reform; and I propose to say a word or two on this all-important subject. Although I have never hitherto taken any part in the public discussion of this matter, I have by no means been an indifferent spectator. I have for the last fifteen years been an ardent student of everything relating to our higher education. In the course of that time I have been more or less intimately connected as student or teacher with five different universities, home and foreign; and ever since I became a Scottish Professor, i.e., for the last eight years or so, I have largely availed myself of opportunities offered me for examining secondary schools in England and Scotland. I may also add that I have read every publication, good or bad, bearing on the subject which has come within my notice during the last ten years. To the last of these, viz., the Italian University Bill, I shall make some allusions by and by.

It would be merest affection to say that I have not learned much from all this experience; but it is quite within the truth to say that there are many practical questions of high importance, on the solution of which my experience throws no light whatever. My observation regarding much of the writing on this subject has been that the more confident the proposer of a scheme, the more profoundly superficial, if I may use such an expression, has it appeared on examination. It is not unnatural therefore that I should be somewhat confident in setting forth my own views on the subject. Some of my conclusions are merely of a negative character, and for others, more positive in nature, I claim merely that they are the result of careful consideration, after the weighing of experience certainly wider than that of many of those who have come forward as physicians of our educational maladies. Above all, I wish it to be understood that I am a mere "vagrom man," claiming to represent no sect, party, or body of men whatsoever, not even my colleagues in the University.

Higher education is an expensive commodity, the furnishing of which involves most important practical questions regarding men and money. Who are the men that are to receive it? Where are the men to come from who are to give it? How is the money to be provided to maintain the givers of it, and to equip them with the necessary but costly apparatus? The higher education in the strictest sense of the word must always be the possession of a very few, and yet the proposition that avenues to it should be open to everyone, however poor, who has shown special fitness to receive it, is to my mind so obvious, and is moreover so universally accepted in Scotland, that it would be idle to discuss it here. This proposition carries with it of course the admission that the higher education must be supported to a large extent by the community at large, and can never be treated as a merely commercial article, subject to the ordinary laws of supply and demand. In most civilised modern nations a large part of this support for secondary education is drawn from the state; and in Scotland, as every one knows, the same practice has been contemplated ever since the great scheme for reorganising our national instruction was planned by John Knox. One of the most objectionable features of the last University Bill was the reactionary proposal that the rights of the Scottish universities should be bought off, and their connection with the state practically severed. Happily we are to hear no more of this idea, and with it disappears the greater part of my objection to the Government measure. On reading the report containing the Italian Bill represented to the Italian Senate by my friend Professor Cremona, I was greatly struck to find that a similar proposal had been made in the original draft of their measure as it came from the former Minister of Education, and that it had been met and overthrown by arguments almost identical with those used by the University of Edinburgh and many others in Scotland.

The idea of the original Italian measure was precisely the notion to which we were treated by some of the Treasury officials - viz., autonomia and dotazione fissa , i.e., autonomy and a fixed grant. It was said by many, in excuse of the Treasury, that the finality clause meant nothing; there never was a greater mistake. We found the authorities in London far more ready to bargain with us as to the sum than to give the principle. They wanted to be done with us, that was plain. It was a matter of so and so many thousand pounds. Now, as regards the interests and the vested rights of the University officials of the present generation, that might be so; but what about the birthright of the Scottish Universities? The finality clause was, to use the very words of the Italian report, "a reform in the wrong direction, which would inevitably have caused the decline instead of the progress of our studies, because our universities, even the best of them, are very far from having attained the full development demanded by the actual state of science." The finality clause gone, one of the greatest obstacles to a gradual reform of our higher education disappears. No one in his senses expects that an executive commission will be able to sit down and draw up a scheme that will at once meet all our difficulties for all time coming. Such an idea belongs to the childhood of an educational reformer. What the commission will, in all probability, do, - what they certainly ought to do, - is to put elasticity and, if need be, joints into the cast-iron framework of our University Constitution, which will enable us gradually, as men and money can be found, to adapt ourselves to the existing want of our time. I will quote again, from the account of the views of Signor Coppino, the new Minister of Public Education, a sentence or two which express my views exactly. "I would prefer that the state, reserving to itself a high surveillance and the right of approval, should concede the most ample scientific-didactic freedom to the universities, meaning thereby the totality of university professors, who would be called to propose in new regulations or statutes of the faculties compiled by a commission elected by and common to all the universities those parts of the scholastic regime which are not purely administrative, but are founded on scientific and technical criteria. Thus that part of the matter which by its nature ought to follow the progress of science and the movement of ideas would be determined by statutes made by experts and subjected to periodical revision at shorter intervals; while those parts should be determined by law which do not depend on scientific opinion, and which may without detriment remain unchanged for such a longer period of time as the life of an organic law regarding public instruction is wont to be."

Who should receive higher education

So much for the question of the highest education, and the duty of the state to provide it for those, be they rich or poor, who have shown themselves fittest to receive it. I shall return immediately to the consideration of the best means to be adopted for providing such education; but let me just mention that there is another part of the subject which the above considerations do not touch. How far is it the right of every one, not unfit, but not necessarily of the fittest, who is willing to pay for it to receive the highest education? This raises a variety of very difficult questions, on which I am not well prepared to give any definite opinion. How far, for instance, shall the higher education be self-supporting, i.e., be paid for by those who receive it? What subjects shall be included in a course of general culture? What proportion of a course of general culture shall be given inside the universities? and how much relegated to the schools? How far shall secondary teachers and professors be paid by the fees of their pupils, and how far by fixed endowments? I have always felt myself, and now more than ever, since the not infrequent attacks made of late upon University officials, that these questions to be decided by the cultured public, or by the state as representing them. After all, it is mainly for those who are to be educated to say what education shall be, and not for the teacher, who is their paid servant. The unsatisfactory part of this matter is that a close study of the opinion emitted, although it discovers a decided tendency to depart from the old course, shows no approach to unanimity regarding the path or paths we are to follow in the future. If I may be allowed, without pressing it on any one, to state my own private inclination, I should say that I have a preference for the old M. A. course of the Scottish Universities, especially in Aberdeen form, where it embraces a class of Natural Science. I went through it myself, and took full advantage of almost every part of it, and it has served me well; and if in the course of my wanderings I have often found men far my superior in special knowledge, I never saw any one of I could say that he seemed to me to have had better opportunities for laying the foundation of a good general education. Of course I do not mean that that course is not susceptible of great improvement particularly in the earlier stages in and outside the University. There has been much talk of the Universities depressing the standard in the schools. In my department, at least, much of that is somewhat of an exaggeration, and what there is of truth in it was due to the illiberal treatment which my subject used to receive under the regime of those very classicists who are loudest in their complaints against the Universities.

A Student at Aberdeen

When I entered the University of Aberdeen some eighteen years ago I was a moderate classical scholar, but I had learned practically no mathematics. We used to read the first book of Euclid as far as the pons asinorum; but regularly as we reached that dreadful pass we were turned back for a revisal. Algebra I had none, not to speak of other mathematical furniture. Yet large demands were made upon me during my second session under Professors Fuller, and I had to work hard during the spare time of my first year to be able to take his junior class with advantage. The fact that mathematical students from Aberdeen had been doing well in the world long before the time I allude to, was due to no exertions on the part of schools, but simply to the presence in the Faculty of Arts of two teachers, Professor Fuller and Thomson, of exceptional energy and ability, whose efforts were ably seconded by a private tutor, Mr Rennet, well known and much beloved by all Aberdeen graduates, who combined in a way more happy than common the power of dealing at once with the best and with the worst material that came up to the University. With regard to the rest of the teachers of my first alma mater, I have this to say, that I entered their lecture rooms a child intellectually, and that I emerged a man, and that during no other part of my mental life have I made so much intellectual progress as I did under their tuition.

Much improvement has doubtless been effected in the mathematical department of the schools of the north since my day. I had in fact occasion to remark it in a recent examination of my old school; and perhaps in the south, where there were secondary schools at all, the state of matters was never quite so bad, but I find no difficulty in my department of the University in providing for the better prepared students that come up to me. The fact is that one of my difficulties is that so few of those who pass the entrance examination in mathematics avail themselves of the privilege to which they are entitled. The number who pass is yearly on the increase; last year it was about fifty, but the fraction of these that actually enter my second class, as they ought to do, is very small; and this postponement of their promotion greatly aggravates their difficulties when they come to read for honours. All my representations on this subject to students and schoolmasters have hitherto been of no avail. The fact is that nothing prevents a well-prepared student from entering at once my third class. One once proposed to do so, and I went to the trouble of obtaining the consent of the faculty, which indeed was readily given, but the young man finally did not appear. Without enlarging more on this subject, I may be allowed to say that the difficulty I find in the meantime is not in giving a sufficient amount of the higher teaching, but in getting men to receive it.

More students needed

This brings me to what to my mind is our most glaring defect in Scotland -the fact that we do not produce so many men with the highest special training as we ought to do. There can be no doubt in the mind of any one who has compared our secondary schools even with those to be met with in England - and that is not a high standard of measurement - that our secondary schoolmasters are very much behind the age in the matter of special training. The reasons for this are not far to seek. It does not lie in the character of the teachers themselves, for a more intelligent and devoted body of men I have never met with; and in my discussions with them - which have been many - as to the best means for raising the standards of education, I have met everywhere with the heartiest sympathy; and if we have accomplished anything of late, and I think we have perhaps done a very little, that is quite as much due to their co-operation as to any other cause that I am aware of. One of the best evidences of their readiness to avail themselves of every aid in their profession is the wonderful success of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, which was founded with a view to the spreading, more particularly among our younger schoolmasters, of the latest and freshest ideas in mathematical science. It now numbers about 150 members drawn from all parts of the country.

No, the fault is not in the men, but in the poor prospect held out to them, and the scanty means at their disposal for maintaining themselves during a thorough course of University training. Time after time I lose honours men simply because they cannot afford to stay with me any longer; but must either go to some educational centre, such as Cambridge, where inducements are held out to them, or they must turn themselves to the making of their livelihood. The posts open to such men as teachers in Scotland are so few and so wretchedly paid that we cannot retain in the country the few good men we produce. They go away to India, to Australia, to New Zealand, and to the English Grammar Schools, because at home people will talk about the reform of our educational institutions, and every now and then abuse somebody in the newspapers, but will do nothing in the way of pressing upon the State the necessity for removing the disgrace we incur in the eyes of civilised nations by failing to provide an organised system of schools for the higher instruction. To institute entrance examinations and tinker University constitutions ever so cunningly, and expect thereby to cure this radical defect, is as reasonable as to hope by combing the hair of a patient to cure him of spinal disease.

However, in the meantime, let the patient's hair be combed by all means. If that be judiciously done, it will do no harm. In the suggestions I am now to make I have in view chiefly the special training of a higher class of secondary schoolmasters than we now possess, and the opening up of academic careers for men who are to take up this profession, and who may also aspire ultimately to become University teachers and cultivators of the higher branches of learning. After much careful consideration I have gradually come to the conclusion that this will be best done by adopting such a modification of the German University System as will suit our circumstances. I have been much strengthened in this conclusion by finding that the Italians, whose educational evils are very like our own, viz., a superabundance of ill-equipped Universities and a defective system of secondary schools, have adopted this course.

University professors

I think that in the future the system of paying our University Professors so largely by fees directly assigned to them should be departed from; and its place taken by an extension of the plan of endowment. There should no longer be the same rigidity as to the exact number and rank of professors; there should be more of them, and they should be graded as to pay and position. In the scientific didactic sense I would give them the utmost liberty; that is to say, I would prevent no one from lecturing on a subject which he was specially fitted to treat, simply because that subject was touched upon in the course of a colleague.
In the future, professors should be appointed to a faculty and a scientific department more than to a particular chair, as at present. There ought to be various ranks, say ordinary professors, extra-ordinary professors, with less experience and lower pay, but with prospects of advancement, both of these should be fixed; then lecturers with temporary appointments, who might be either in probation or merely appointed for a time, on account of some special literary or scientific demand for instruction which they were peculiarly fitted to impart. Finally, I would concede to every man who has taken honours in a special subject, and who has passed a two years' probation in that subject, and during that time done such work as shall satisfy his faculty that he is fit for the trust, the liberty to give lectures to matriculated University students within the University, under the University discipline - these lectures to be remunerated by fees from those attending them. I would also contemplate that pecuniary assistance of moderate amount should be given to the more deserving of these privatim docentes, regard being had in its distribution alike to service rendered to the University as a teaching body, and to original contributions made to literature and science.

Most important questions of detail arise in connection with this scheme which time will not permit me to discuss. There is the question as to the relative share of this body of teachers in the government of the University. I should contemplate a full share in the general government being given only to those of higher rank., but all the professors, ordinary and extraordinary, should have some voice in didactic matters, i.e., in that part of the routine work of the faculties which consists in arranging programmes of instruction; but in all matters, such as discipline, that require immediate action, the responsibility should be concentrated - the determining voices weighty but few.

So far as examinations are to form part of the University instruction (and I may say, and every experienced teacher now-a-days will agree with me, that their number ought to be reduced to a minimum) the examiners ought to consist of all the professors, ordinary and extra-ordinary, in the respective subjects, along with state appointed assessors, if that be thought necessary, to secure impartiality, and prevent the examination from becoming a sham, as they are apt to do, in spite even of the efforts of honest examiners to prevent it.

I do not contemplate that the number of ordinary professors should be fixed, only it ought to be kept below a certain maximum proportion of the whole staff. There might, under certain circumstances, be no ordinary professors at all in a particular department, but only energetic, promising extra-ordinaries, who had not yet attained the highest academic rank, and the corresponding pay. The great advantage of this plan is that it offers a continuous career for young men, perfectly open and unrestricted at the beginning (save by vocation), but giving in its course the fullest freedom for the selection of the fittest. The great defect of our present system is that it lifts a man at once to his maximum income, and puts in general no prospect before him whatsoever. Very possibly he may have the chagrin to see his pay diminishing year by year, from causes which he cannot control, and his work ever-increasing. Yet another advantage of the system I advocate, is that it would no longer necessitate the abrupt retirement of professors, which is at present so necessary, and so costly a feature of our system. Often a Professor retires at present simply because some trifling infirmity renders him unfit to lecture to a large class; but under the free system all that would be necessary would be to promote him, with or without some trifling increase of pay, and indicate to him that he was better fitted to give lectures on some speciality to a select class. A younger man would then take his place with less pay, and would be well content to do so, knowing that if he worked hard in his vigorous youth, he would be promoted to lighter labour and not less pay when he grew old. Surely this is a better - a more natural - system than the one at present in vogue; moreover it works well in the German Universities, where a professor is allowed to die in honour among his academic colleagues.

But you will say this is a revolution. I grant it freely; but it will be a very gradual one. The full carrying out of the plan in every department would take more men than now exist in Scotland fit for the work indicated, and more money than we could hope to get just at present, - more even than it would be right to expend all at once on anything of the kind; but I want is that the University Commission should give us framework of such a system as I describe, so that we could fill it in gradually, as the means come to us. Benefactors of the University have never been wanting, and if we had room in our system for such Posts as I describe, I believe that many would be found to perpetuate their memory by helping to endow them. No reform of anything like the requisite depth can take full effect in much less than ten or fifteen years; and how many obstacles will be swept away in that time? The vested rights, about which there has been so much needless bad language, would have well-nigh disappeared. When I look to the University of Aberdeen, I find in the Faculty of Arts only one Professor, who taught there in my day.

There is one thing that must be attended in the gradual introduction of a system of free teaching and free study, viz., that one or two years, according to circumstances, of the earlier part of the Scottish University students' course is virtually a gymnasial course, when judged by continental standards. To this part of the students' career, so long as it continues within the Universities, the ideas of lehr - and lern-freiheit may have to be applied with some caution. There may have, for instance, to be a somewhat more careful attention on the part of the Faculty to the division of this part of certain professors' work. But, in point of fact, there always is, even in Germany, except in the rarest cases, an understanding among the professors and privat-docenten as to the division of the work of each session. Here I would quote again, from the Italian report, words which express my views exactly, and which will, I believe, meet with the approval of every expert in the theory and practice of education. "We do not participate in the illusion of those who attach great importance to a competition on the ground of the same teaching between private and official teacher, as to who shall attract the most students, be it by the most honourable means. Such a competition is very rare, even in Germany, where the system of private teachers has been rooted for a long time. The competition usually takes place in quite another way. If there are vigorous youths qualified for free teaching, it is impossible for the professor to go to sleep; he is considered to aim high, and to go forward, in order to keep himself worthy of his office. And the height to which he rises, and at which he maintains himself, exerts in turn an action on the private teacher, and prevents him from slackening rein. Moreover, the fire teaching fills the lacunae of the official courses, and relieves the Government of the necessity for providing an excessive number of officials."

Leave some things unaltered

And now, this brings me to the last of my themes, how our Universities should not be altered.

In the scheme I sketched a little ago it is essential that all the teaching, whether by ordinary or extraordinary professors, by lecturers or by privatim docentes, shall be given under exactly the same conditions as to supervision and discipline. The private teaching, to be effective and free from abuses, must be given either in the lecture rooms of the University, or in places as fully under University supervision as these lecture rooms are. To adopt a phrase of my colleague, Dr Crum Brown, the University in this matter is, or ought to be, the educational arm of the State. Here again the words of the admirable report of Cremona:- "After the qualification has been given, the (free) teaching ought to be given in the buildings of the University, since it does not appear right that the State should have to grant a legal value to courses given beyond all discipline and vigilance. Just as the liberal professions are exercised under the discipline and guarantee of the State, so education ought to be disciplined and guaranteed."

Here of course I come into collision with extra-mural doctrine as it is understood in Scotland. I have studied this system anxiously among the other objects relating to University reform, and I see no harm at present juncture of indulging in a little plain speaking as to my conclusions. I am very much afraid, from what fell from some of our distinguished guests during the Tercentenary Festival, that the famous Edinburgh extra-mural system of medical teaching, great as its claims to recognition have been in the past, and important as are the advantages it still to some degree presents - is regarded by high authorities as little better than a relic of academic barbarism, bearing as little relation to the elaborate organisation of higher education in modern civilised states as do the bows and arrows of Crecy and Agincourt to the long range artillery of the battle of Sedan. The illusion mentioned in the Italian report has a good deal to do with the beliefs of the people who advocate the expansion of extra-academical teaching in its present form. It is a not an unnatural one for those to entertain who have read of foreign institutions without seeing them at work. They constantly identify the continental system of privatim docentes with the home product, but in truth no two things could be more unlike in their actual working.

Let me begin by conceding the advantages of the extra-mural plan as we now have it. It affords a training school for professors, and it occasionally (of late not so frequently as of yore) supplies the lacuna in the official instruction caused by a useless professor, or by the want of a lectureship on some special subject. The most superficial examination of the two systems shows that the one I have sketched as preferable fulfils these requirements in a far more effectual way. It does that systematically which in the order is left to chance. In my system one great defect of our present one is remedied. Now a rising man is either included in or excluded from the University - that is to say, he must adhere to one or other of two antagonistic cliques, the appointed or the disappointed professors. Once a man's chance of a chair is past, he remains forever outside. It will sometimes happen that a man justly thinks that he is better than his official rival; and it is no libel on human nature to say that the outsider will in general be more or less inclined to look at the territory from which he is excluded through a medium not quite free from special colour. Be it understood that I point to no individual; I merely lay finger on the inevitable consequences of human weakness. Can any one who values the academic reputation of his country read with complacency the recent discussions regarding educational questions - volumes regarding contending interests, barely a mention of the requirements of sound learning? Then, look again at the miserable contentions that arise about examinations. A University student passes, it is well; he fails, nothing amiss. An extra-academical student passes, it is also well; but he is plucked, and behold the examination was necessarily unfair. It is very natural - incidental, in fact, to the system - that he, and possibly also his teacher, should believe that. The tendency of this is, of course, to depress the educational standard of the University examination. We hear the most extraordinary arguments based on fallacies kindred to this. In the same speech you will hear a man advocating fm competition outside and inside the Universities - among other things, because it tends to the advancement of science - and saying that it is monstrous that grants and laboratories and scientific apparatus should be given to the Universities, because that would be furnishing their professors with the implements of a lucrative trade, and giving them an unfair advantage over their outside rivals. This is cutting off the scientific tail to please the tailless scientific fox with vengeance. Within the hearing of such talk, is it altogether unintelligible that the permanent officials of the Treasury should stint the grant to our Universities, and the Government officials should draw bills aiming at the destruction of the influence of our schools of Medicine? If it were the case, as some say, that the teaching of the University is nothing but a lucrative trade, and the activity of the extra-mural schools nothing but a struggle for a share in it, then I say - Away with both of them and substitute something better.

Then, again, is it the fact that any meritorious young man can start at once as an extra-academical teacher? Is it not the fact that to do so in many cases requires a certain amount of capital, small it may be, but more than is at the disposal of every young man who might wish to try the experiment; while, on the other hand, the possession of the capital will enable him to do so, quite irrespective of his fitness in other respects? No doubt a good many do manage to get a start, because there are various ways and means available to a man launched on a definite profession like Medicine, such as scanty professional earnings, hospital posts, and so on; but these facilities are limited, even in Medicine, and in the department of Arts there are none such. Most of my good men earn their living even while at college, and, as I have explained, often have to cut short their career for want of means to continue it. How one of them is to live by lecturing, say on definite integrals, is a mystery to the solution of which the advocates of pure and unadulterated extra-muralism have not addressed themselves. Is it not the fact that a considerable portion of the extra-mural medical teaching is in the hands of well-to-do practitioners, whose high standing and pecuniary independence puts them above the temptation to stoop to the trade of cramming for examinations, and that it is really the influence of these that keeps the system from degenerating? But where, may I ask, is the position to which an extra-mural teacher in Arts - nay, even for the matter of that, a professor in Arts - could aspire comparable with that of a successful Edinburgh surgeon or physician?

Finally, let me ask this pertinent question. The extra-academical system has been in force here for many a year, has it prevented overgrowth of classes in the Medical Faculty? Is that evil not more remarkable there than in any other part of the University? Nay, does the present system not occasionally aggravate that serious difficulty, when, for instance, a successful extra-academical teacher is transferred to the University and this clientele, as is not unnatural, to a large extent follow him? The truth is that, considering the enormous number of our students, there is work enough inside the University for all the competent teachers that Edinburgh at present can produce, were that work properly divided, and the teaching body properly organised, instead of being allowed or compelled, as they now are, to compete in paying subjects merely.

If I think that the extra-academical teaching at present arranged is not a good thing for the Faculty of Medicine, I need scarcely say that I think it would be worse thing for the Faculty of Arts. It would lead either to a mockery or to an abuse. As to providing for the real wants of our universities, in the way of higher instruction, it would be a mockery, because the subjects to be taught are not in such demand that men could live by teaching them The extra-academical teacher would simply have to compete in the preparation for examinations - to become a private "coach," in fact. With the operation of this system, as seen in the English Universities, I am well acquainted; there (in mathematics, at least) it has invaded the higher subjects as well as the lower. The result is that the education of the University is to a large extent in the hands of a few private coaches; and the place is wholly given over to idolatry in the shape of reading for examinations. This is why the English Universities have, notwithstanding their princely endowments, done, comparatively speaking, so little for the advancement of science and learning. England, in the words of the Italian report, is the country of examinations. With an honours list in mathematics alone that passes a hundred, there are terms in which the lectures of one of the greatest mathematicians of Europe are not attended by more than three out of the whole University, and among these not a single undergraduate. The system of education in Cambridge owing to this abuse is, scholastically considered, certainly the most expensive, and perhaps the most ineffective in Europe. If you do not believe me, ask an English University reformer. Listen to one more story of the result of ill-regulated extra-academical teaching at Naples. It is Professor Villari, who writes in the Nuova Antologia as follows:-

"Owing to the want of a true and proper University, the higher teaching at Naples under the Bourbons was given by free teachers, some of them of the greatest merit and highest character. When a good University was founded by the Italian Government, in which many of these free teachers became professors, the remainder, who certainly were not the best, seeing their gains placed in danger, complained against the violation of liberty of teaching; and the more degenerate suddenly took to being preparers for the examinations, and invoked protection for this new species of trade. The Government soon began to yield, which multiplied the traders, increased their audacity and the number of their protectors, rendered the ministry less stern of brow toward them, and disgusted those who studied and taught in very deed. From concession to concession, these so-called (professori pareggiaati) professors co-ordinate of Naples obtained first one post on the examining commission, then two, then three, and finally four. There was conceded to them by law the right to get from the University a part of the scholastic fees according to the number of lectures beyond the official course, which left a new margin for the co-ordinates. And all this was done with the good intention of protecting and promoting liberty of teaching; but what was the real consequence? To-day there are at Naples a number of co-ordinates who, without giving a single lecture, gain three, or four, even six or seven thousand francs per annum, sometimes even more, and these odd thousands are paid by the state. The student who in November arrives at the railway station in Naples, immediately finds an agent who invites him to put down his name for a few free courses. "'You will lose nothing," he says, "and will cause the professor to gain, who will then be among the examiners. You are under no obligation to go to his lectures; you can go if you like to those of the official professor." And sometimes for the readier persuasion he offers him a proportion of the fee, generally five francs for every inscription. If all this does not take place at the railway station, it happens in the house of the student, or in the University buildings, where another student, or even the professor co-ordinate himself, for economy, plays in person the part of agent .... The good and true free teachers, who work much and gain little, complain grievously of a state of affairs which discredits their office, and the faculty has often energetically protested. But no minister has the force to resist, because the traders have their clientele , and the others think solely of working and holding their tongue."

You see I have spoken plainly, and why not ? I am a young man speaking to my fellow young men, and we are not identified with any effete system of education, be it extra- or intra-mural. Our aspirations are towards academic freedom of teaching and learning, with proper academic appliances, and under proper academic laws-- under arrangements, in short, such that the academic race shall be not to the longest purse, but to the longest head.

Speaking of young men suggests to me a reflection calculated to make us both grave and glad. It is our duty doubtless to listen respectfully to what our elders say in their speeches and write in the newspapers about the glorious deeds of the past, and the weapons with which they were accomplished, and about what ought to be done in the future. But although the past, and partly also the present is theirs, we the young men can say of the future in the words of an old northern proverb
The Gordons hae the guidin' o't.

Last Updated March 2005