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Role Of The Universities In Politics
by [?]

There will come to the colleges of the United States during the next fifty years a larger and larger number of men who either strongly desire training for themselves or are the sons of men who are deeply sensible of its advantages, and therefore are at the head of families which possess and appreciate the traditions of high civilization, and would like to live in them and contribute their share to perpetuating them–and they will not come from any one portion of the country. There are, unhappily, “universities” in all parts of the Union, but there is hardly a doubt that as the means of communication are improved and cheapened, and as the real nature and value of the university education become better understood, the tendency to use the small local institutions passing by this name as, what they really are, high schools, and resort to the half-dozen colleges which can honestly call themselves universities, will increase. The demands which modern culture, owing to the advance of science and research in every field, now makes on a university, in the shape of professors, books, apparatus, are so great that only the largest and wealthiest institutions can pretend to meet them, and in fact there is something very like false pretence in the promise to do so held out to poor students by many of the smaller colleges. These colleges doubtless do a certain amount of work very creditably; but they are uncandid in saying that they give a university education, and in issuing diplomas purporting to be certificates that any such education has either been sought or received. The idea of maintaining a university for the sake of the local glory of it is a form of folly which ought not to be associated with education in any stage. These considerations are now felt to be so powerful in other countries that they threaten the destruction of a whole batch of universities in Italy which have come down famous and honored from the Middle Ages and have sent out twenty generations of students, and they are causing even the very best of the smaller universities in Germany, great and efficient as many of them are, to tremble for their existence.

There is no interest of learning, therefore, which would not be served by the greater concentration of the resources of the country as regards university education, still less is there any interest of society or politics. It is of the last importance that the class of men from all parts of the country whom the universities send out into the world should as far as possible be educated together, and start on their careers with a common stock of traditions, tastes, and associations. Much as steam and the telegraph have done, and will do, to diminish for administrative purposes the size of the Republic, and to simplify the work of government, they cannot prevent the creation of a certain diversity of interests, and even of temperament and manners, through differences of climate and soil and productions. There will never come a time when we shall not have more or less of such folly as the notion that the South and West need more money than the East, because they have less capital, or the struggle of some parts of the country for a close market against other parts which seek an open one. Nothing but a reign of knowledge and wisdom, such as centuries will not bring, will prevent States on the Gulf or on the Pacific from fancying that their interests are not identical with those of the Northern Atlantic, and nothing but profound modifications in the human constitution will ever bring the California wheat-raiser into complete sympathy with the New England shoemaker.

The work of our political system for ages to come will consist largely in keeping these differences in check; and in doing it, it will need all the help it can get from social and educational influences. It ought to be the aim, therefore, of the larger institutions of learning to offer every inducement in their power to students from all parts of the Union, and more especially from the South, as the region which is most seriously threatened by barbarism, and in which the sense of national unity and the hold of national traditions on the popular mind are now feeblest. We at the North owe to the civilized men at the South who are now, no matter what their past faults or delusions may have been, struggling to save a large portion of the Union from descent into heathen darkness and disorder, the utmost help and consideration. We owe them above all a free and generous welcome to a share in whatever means of culture we have at our disposal, and ought to offer it, as far as is consistent with our self-respect, in a shape that will not wound theirs.