Remarks by Dr. John Addison Howard, President of Rockford College

Delivered at the Convention of the American College Public Relations Association
July 5, 1962

It is said that shortly before Gertrude Stein died she lay on her bed moaning over and over, “What is the answer? What is the answer? What is the answer?” Finally the phrase came to an end and Miss Stein was quiet. Then, suddenly sitting upright, she exclaimed vigorously, “Ah, but what is the question?” In this business of finding aid, federal or otherwise, for education we seem to be so busy charging after an answer that we have failed to identify the question. I suggest the question to which we should be devoting our first attention is the nature of our educational system and the purposes we wish it to serve, before we try to answer what are the means of perpetuating and expanding the system.

Education is a machine of our society. None of us would dream of trying to make major repairs to a complex motor without first understanding the principles upon which the motor operates and then obtaining appropriate tools. A hammer, while it is generally considered a rather useful tool, may not be the best tool to fix a motor. Our national agriculture is one societal machine which we tried to repair without understanding fully how the mechanism works. The tools we chose to use in fixing it – federal subsidy and price support – were not suited to the nature of the machine, and its functioning has been further impaired by our tampering. Is it possible that we would make the same egregious blunder in education?

As Lawrence College’s President Knight has so wisely observed in his introductory chapter to the volume entitled The Federal Government and Higher Education, “Any significant planning for our future must recognize the difference between the urgent and the essential.” What education shall be and what effect it shall have upon the students and the nation are essential questions. How it shall be housed and by what means it shall be expanded are only urgent ones. If we meet urgencies without regard to essentials we shall be a people of little wisdom.

There are many views of the purpose of higher education, but for now let me propose two categories to include all these views: one, that education adds to and disseminates our store of knowledge, puts to the fullest possible use the intellectual capacities of student and teacher, and thus serves society; the other definition includes all the purposes of the first one but, in addition, challenges the moral and spiritual capacities of student and teacher and thus seeks to elevate society.

The latter view was certainly in the minds of the authors of the Northwest Ordinance when they wrote “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.” Surely those same objectives animated the founders of almost every independent college and university of America. Are we prepared as a nation to adopt the view that education shall be confined to intellectual pursuits, for, to the extent that the federal government is involved, religion and spiritual considerations are excluded.

The Supreme Court ban on school prayers in New York and elsewhere comes as no surprise to anyone who has studied the pending House Bill 8900 which would make grants for academic structures except those in which religious services may be held. In effect the bill discriminates against church related colleges and universities. How ironic that this pending legislation, so often claimed as a great boon to higher education, should downgrade the efforts of some institutions to act upon what is probably our greatest national need – a spiritual search that will lead the individual citizen to a philosophy of life that girds him with courage, confidence, serenity and a sense of human fulfillment in this new age of human doubt amid the eternal atomic fear. Harold Blake Walker has observed that America has mistaken a standard of living for the purpose of life. The proposed legislation will tend to confirm and perpetuate that grievous national pattern of values and may well lead us into America’s great educational leap backwards. Church and State have been proclaimed forever separate in our nation. As State involves itself in education, Church and Religion must be withdrawn.

Whether we shall choose to advance educational institutions that are not spiritually oriented, while excluding those that are, is, I believe one essential that we must bear in mind as we attend to the urgent.

A second essential is the diverse character of American Higher Education. Our varied array of colleges and universities is the wonder and the envy of the world. We have colleges that range in size from Deep Springs’ eighteen students to universities that enroll a veritable city of people. We have institutions with academic programs devoted primarily to the humanities, and others devoted primarily to science and technology. There are those that emphasize off-campus work experience and others that require all students to build and repair college buildings. We have semester, quarter, trimester and three-three calendars. The political climate ranges from extreme liberal on one campus to extreme conservatism on another.

The variety of the college programs and the educational experiments we have undertaken may justly receive a great part of the credit for the dynamism and the success that have characterized our nation. I know of no educator who would favor any diminution of the diversity of American higher education.

What fosters this diversity? Principally, it is the autonomy of the various institutions. As a college executive conceives or receives a new idea that seems promising, he has only to sell it to his own board of control and faculty. If he can convince them that it is a sound project and can find the financial resources to implement the plan, it is tried. However, we must bear in mind that what makes sense to one controlling board may seem unwise to another. The diversity of institutional programs and policies has its origin in diverse and autonomous boards of control.

Now it is proposed that the federal government should meet a substantial part of the costs of higher education. The present bills would provide student scholarships and a third of the cost of building construction. An additional subsidy for faculty salaries was proposed, but that seemed a bit too radical and will be reserved for another year, after the less objectionable and less controversial steps have been taken. However, once the doors are opened to federal underwriting of educational costs, it can be regarded as certain that the aid programs will expand in the areas in which subsidies are provided as well as in the volume of benefits.

Suppose the college and university aid bills are enacted. The legislators must provide certain restrictions so that the monies go to bona fide educational institutions and not to any of the so-called degree mills. Religion must be excluded, and, of course, Communists. Furthermore, the funds, if they are for construction purposes, should not be spent for buildings that are too flimsy and epheneral, nor for buildings that are too lavish, so certain reasonable restrictions will be written into the legislation.

An administrator must be appointed and a staff to help him process the applications for federal funds, and here new problems arise. Unless we are prepared to make government dollars available in amount that would stagger even the Congress, there will be qualified applications far in excess of the amounts allocated and some value judgments must be made by the administrator. Let us assume that he is immune to political pressure, that he is impeccably honest and that he is thoroughly versed in educational fact and theory. Nevertheless, whoever he is, certain programs and philosophies will seem sounder to him than others, and in time the pattern of his judgments will become clear to the applicants for funds.

What happens to the educational diversity? Certain colleges, and their programs, and their proposals, will qualify as they exist for the grants according to the terms of the law and the interpretation of the government officer. Other colleges, either because of the legal requirements or through the judgments of the staff, will have to bend in order to obtain their subsidies.

Perhaps it is axiomatic that where diversity is fundamental virtue, uniform action is fundamental vice. Government grants, however wisely legislated, and however fairly administered, cannot fail to produce a certain uniformity among recipient colleges and universities.

A third essential of education that we should not ignore in this discussion is the retention of planning initiative by the college or university. Obviously this point is related to the preceding one to the extent that a solicitor college must alter its program or its plans to qualify for a grant, but, let us go beyond that hypothetical projection and look at some of the actual results of existing governmental activities on our campuses.

The report issued by Harvard on its relationship to the federal government mentioned certain imbalances that have occurred at the University which derive from the extensive research contracts Harvard has undertaken. The science departments have grown like Jack’s beanstalk leaving the other academic disciplines earthbound. The number of staff members primarily engaged in research has swelled out of all proportion to those who spend their time in what was once considered the raison d’etre of an educational institution – the teaching of students. Similarly the ratio of new faculty members to the old­timers who know the ways and reasons of university policy has changed markedly, and it can be imagined that faculty discussions and faculty votes will change, too.

Recently President Davidson of the University of Louisville made similar observations about the effects of government research programs, and noted that doctoral programs, initiated at Louisville in 1951, now number eight, all in science, and all in response to opportunities provided by the federal government. If the initiative effectively lay with the Graduate Dean and the graduate faculty of that university, do you think they would have excluded other branches of learning? This example raises another matter, the effect of matching grants and the extent to which local policy is influenced by the opportunities provided from above. It can be said that Louisville should have been strong and resisted the temptation to build eight graduate science departments before it could start some in other fields, but a university is a service institution and understandably chooses to provide additional services as the opportunities arise, even if distortion is the result.

The fact remains that governmental programs do have the inexorable effect of making an institution something different than it would have been had the institutional officers laid the plans, free of government influence.

There are other essential aspects of the nature of a college and its purposes which must be evaluated in regard to the effects of federal subsidy – whether college presidents of the future will be chosen for their political skills and Washington contacts instead of for their educational philosophy, for instance – but perhaps enough has been said to make the point that we must pay a heavy price for federal dollars and it behooves us to know what that price is before we make the deal.

The price will certainly include a diminishing spiritual influence from the aggregate of our colleges and a tacit decision that we wish our educational institutions only to reflect the society in which they exist rather than to try to raise the sights of society to values other than material ones.

The price will certainly include a trend away from educational diversity toward educational uniformity.

The price will certainly include some sacrifice of the individual institution’s freedom to plan, evolve, initiate and experiment solely within the framework of its own goals, philosophy and resources.

These characteristics which we shall forfeit have been among the chief virtues and contributions of independent education in this country. Will we stand by quietly and see them disposed of?

The institutions represented at this particular meeting have much at stake in the present effort to bring the Federal Government into the general underwriting of higher education. We would do well to recall Amiel’s words: “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it is outraged by silence.”
It is not an act of sabotage to our colleagues who disagree with us for us to speak out about the dangers some of us foresee in government’s surge into educational finance. In our system good legislation can only result from a profound analysis of conflicting views, and their rival claims, and it is not the way of Congress to heed the quiet claimant.

Well, what has brought up this issue?

It seems to be money and only money that is the present magnet drawing education toward federal aid. However, for most educators, Washington dollars have long been considered a last resort. Since money is the lure, some money questions ought to be asked. Do we actually believe new funds can suddenly spring forth from Washington like Athena appearing full grown from the head of Zeus? Or have we deceived ourselves into thinking we can borrow from the future larger and larger sums without ever having to pay them?

The additional money for education which we might obtain from the federal government is the same money which is already available to the state, municipal and private sources, although it is true they are less prodigal than the federal government with their funds. Clearly our easiest course is to get Congress to vote monies for us, but the sacrifices education must make for that easy money would seem to involve selling our educational soul.

I am not willing to believe that the people of America, nor their elected representatives, nor their educational leaders would take this step if they recognized its full implications. Difficult as it may be to obtain our finances through the traditional sources, the stakes warrant far more determined efforts than have yet been made to carry out our responsibilities without further Federal subsidy.

Great treasures are only earned and safeguarded by hard work, personal sacrifices and vigilance. A strong diverse, dynamic system of colleges and universities guided and restricted only by their respective boards of control is truly one of the greatest treasures we possess.

It appears as if we are being stampeded into hasty action by governmental officers who understandably would like the credit for solving a grave problem and by the professional Washington staff members of educational organizations who are expressly hired to promote closer ties between government and education. Perhaps these people are so engrossed in their own responsibilities that they lack the perspective to anticipate the consequences of their recommendations. It is for us whose lives are bound up in the operation of colleges to analyse with precision, and make known with conviction, what will be the results of further subsidy by ‘the federal government.’

May we be granted the wisdom to recognize in this matter what is truly essential and what is merely urgent! And may we be granted the courage and the strength to meet the problems of education by methods that will safeguard the institutions entrusted to us!


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