Friday, July 20, 2012

Educational Wisdom (II)

These two come from papers delivered at a convention in New York City in 1830, which was considering the formation of what became New York University.

On student evaluations of faculty.
To refer a Professor solely or chiefly to his popularity with the students for his supper would be dangerous in all branches, which are not of a very positive and distinct nature, as, for instance, anatomy. A Professor of history might make his lectures popular, nay, he might treat generally parts of history, which are more entertaining than others; but whether he would thus most contribute to the purpose of his appointment is a very different question. The best is not always the most popular. Indeed, I have seen students fill a lecture room for the mere sake of entertainment, because the Professor interspersed his lecture (by no means the best of the university) with entertaining anecdotes. I recollect two such instances. However, taking the principle generally, would it not be making the students the judges of the professors? … I do not deny, indeed,m that the intense study found in the German universities is owing in a great measure to the liberty of choice left to the students, because liberty produces activity; but I do deny that it would be safe, to let the support of the Professor depend upon the judgment of the students. Have the greater men always been the most popular among the students? By no means. (Francis Lieber, 1830)
 On academic freedom.
All restrictions upon the moral and literary freedom of the students, are injurious to the free development of science. The heroes of German science and literature, as Kant, Kaestner, Leibnitz, Ernesti, Haller, Gronovius and others, were all educated in the German Universities, when they enjoyed the greatest freedom. The despotism of the German governments, for centuries past, suffered and sanctioned this unbound liberty of the students, while all other classes of society were chained, for they were sensible of its importance to themselves, as the means to be prefaced with able men to fill their offices. Experience proves this. Austria has for some time past confined the moral and intellectual liberty of her students, and has turned her Universities almost into schools. What is the result? her seats of science are barren of all, which has no recourse to speculative branches of knowledge and philosophy; the exact sciences only continue flourishing there.
The feeling of liberty and independence in youth, is a prominent feature and an adorable characteristic of this county; and if this feeling is with difficulty controlled in boys, as has been stated by several gentlemen of the Convention, and has been intimated to me by some of my friends; how much more difficult will their be in young men of eighteen or twenty years of age, while constitute, I hope the greater number of our students in the New University. All kinds of restrictions in this age have a tendency to defeat themselves.  (J. Leo Wolf, 1830)


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