MEN OF SCIENCE AND PUBLIC APPOINTMENTS.
T"public has hitherto been given only one side of the story of the dismissal of Professor Ray Lankester from the post of Director of the Natural History Museum. That is the version of the facts presented by Dr. Lankester himself in his letter to the Times of August 8th. But Dr. Lankester's assertions have gone unquestioned and, so far as the general public is concerned, unexplained up to the present ; and until some explanation is forthcoming from the authorities responsible for his dismissal, he cannot but appear to be the victim, if not of grave injustice, at all events of extremely unfortunate circumstances. Briefly, his case stands thus. Eight years ago, in 1898, he held a valuable and independent position, the Linacre Professor- ship at Oxford, which is tenable for life and carries a salary of £900, besides allowing the holder of the Chair six months' holiday in the year,—a very considerable attraction to a man with a talent for original research. He resigned this post in order to accept the Directorship of the Natural History Department of the British Museum ; and in resigning he calculated that if his health continued to be good he would be able to retain his new position until the age of seventy, since his predecessors in the Directorship, Sir William Flower and Sir Richard Owen, had remained in office until sixty-eight and eighty years of age respectively. In any case, he supposed that if his retirement came before the age of seventy, the Treasury would add twenty-one years' to his actual service in counting for a pension, taking into consideration the fact that he accepted office after the age of fifty. He calculated wrongly. On May 25th of this year the Standing Com- mittee of the British Museum forwarded to him a document requiring him to retire from his post at the completion of the year—i.e., in May next—on such pension as he is by regulation entitled to receive. The maximum of this pension is £300 per annum, the Treasury to-day being unable to add more than seven years' service in counting a pension, instead of twenty-one years' as in days gone by. Dr. Lankester, upon receiving the request for his retirement, formally requested that he might be given the reasons for his dismissal. This request was refused by the Committee, and the refusal was upheld on July 28th by the general meeting of the Trustees. Dr. Lankester remains, therefore, dismissed without reason assigned. As he puts it, " I was allowed neither to offer any defence nor to give any explanation of what may be a mistake or mis- apprehension on the part of the Trustees. I am at this moment totally ignorant of the grounds assigned by them for their action and cannot imagine what they may be." The completeness of the dramatic catastrophe is emphasised by the fact that at the moment of receiving the final decision of the Museum Trustees Dr. Lankester was pre- siding at the annual meeting of the British Association, perhaps the highest temporary position tenable by an English man of science.
Difficult, and in many ways painful, as the state of affairs thus created maybe, of one fact it would be unwise to lose sight. The Trustees of the Museum had a perfect ;right to act in the way in which they hive done. The Three Principal Trustees, in whom the powers of appoint- ment and dismissal are by statute invested, are the Arch- :bishop of 'Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, and the Speaker of the House of Commons ; and the forty-two'remaining Trustees must be suppo'sed. to have given to their decision the same careful consideration, as would be expected from their three chief representatives. We may remark here that we have personally no knowledge of the reasons which induced the Trustees to decide to ask Dr Lankester to resign his appointment, and we do not pretend to suggest, or even to guess at, the motives by which they were actuated. But clearly it would be only right and proper that the Trustees should be invested with the power to call for the resignation of the Director of an institution such as the Natural History Museum, even, so to speak, before his time, and even though the Director might be a man of the most brilliant personal attainments. The Trustees have to think first and foremost of the interests of the Museum, not of any individual person or persons. It might quite conceivably happen that a body of Trustees in all honesty, and with the utmost expectation of a prosperous future for all con- cerned, might appoint to the Directorship of the Natural History Museum, or any other public institution, a man who, although possessing unequalled scientific attainments, might yet be incapable of advancing the best interests of the institution considered as a whole. He might be a Director who, while giving the institution the benefit of unremitting hard work and admirably pertinacious research on his own part, would not succeed in extracting good work from his subordinates. He might be intolerant of advice, even of requests from those who had the right to request; he might regard as stupid, and therefore negligible, demands on his attention which to other men would appear perfectly reasonable ; he might, in short, make the work of his department difficult in a hundred ways, not one of which, taken by itself, would be sufficient reason for formal complaint, but which, taken in their sum, would make up an overwhelming case for a requested retirement. There is no ground whatever, so far as we are aware, for supposing that the reason for the dismissal of Dr. Lankester in any way corresponds with the possi- bilities we have suggested as conceivably governing an entirely imaginary situation. But it is necessary to remember, in judging a case of this kind, that such possi- bilities must be taken into account.
However that may be, and whatever may be the reasons ultimately assigned for the conduct of the Trustees in this particular case, one conspicuous point emerges. The treatment by the nation of its eminent men of science in the matter of salaries and pensions cannot be said to be creditable, or to compare favourably with the methods thought right and natural by other nations in similar circumstances. Dr. Ray Lankester is a Professor of Science who has established a world-wide reputation. He has been a public servant and a teacher and original investigator for thirty-five years. He has been honoured by foreign Academies of Science, one after another, for twenty years past, and to-day he is President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Yet while still in possession of his full working powers he is suddenly deprived of his libraries and laboratories and a salary of £1,200—no very large income in any case—and put on a pension of £300, a sum considerably less than that assigned to hundreds of retired Civil servants whose claim to recog- nition on the part of their countrymen is comparatively insignificant. Dr. Lankester's case is, of course, excep- tional. But it cannot be said to be isolated. The circum- stances of his dismissal have led another distinguished public servant, Professor J. W. Judd, to lay the facts relating to his own retirement and pension before the public. For a full statement of Professor Judd's treatment by the Treasury officials we must refer our readers to his, letter published in the Times of Tuesday. Shortly stated, the main facts are that in 1876 Dr. Judd was appointed Professor of Geology in the Royal School of Mines in succession to Sir Andrew Ramsay ; in 1885 he was called upon as senior Professor to discharge the office of Dean in succession to Huxley, and was confirmed in the office of Dean by the Duke of Devonshire in 1895. , Last year, on attaining the age of sixty-five, although requested by .the Board of Education to remain in office, he decided on grounds of health, impaired by thirty years' exacting work, to retire. He. did so, and his services were handsomely acknowledged by the Board of Education. But on applying for a minimum pension of £600 a year, founded on his double services as Dean an? Professor, 'he has been informed that his pension will be reduced by nearly £100 a year, on the ground that during his first five years of office he did not sign a book on entering and leaving the College each day, for all the world like an undergraduate "keeping a roll- call," or a mechanic " signing on " and " signing off " at the gate of his employer's yard. Eighteen months of unremitting labour on the part of Dr. Judd's colleagues have, he states, failed to induce the Treasury officials to relax that particular knot of red-tape.
A last point remains. In the case of Dr. Judd's voluntary retirement the actual facts and reasons, however absurd the concluSions drawn from them may be, are not in dispute. In the case of Dr. Lankester, on the contrary, there is much that is obscure. The Committee of the Museum Trustees must be held to have acted on serious giounds and for grave reasons. If so, it would be better that those reasons, whatever they are, should be publicly stated. Nothing can be gained by allowing an impression to take hold of the general mind that the Trustees have been actuated in any way by personal or private motives. In the public interest it ought to be made as certain as possible that a distinguished man of science, if he accepts a responsible post such as the Directorship of the Natural History Museum, shall not be asked to resign it except for the gravest possible reasons. There ought to be no conceivable question of private prejudice or hole-and-corner intrigue. It would be best, therefore, for the Museum authorities to use their discretion in conveying to Professor Ray Lankester their reasons for requiring his resignation. Public opinion demands, as English opinion will always demand in such cases, to be reassured on a question which, on the face of the facts known, appears to constitute, if not a scandal, at least a grave shortcoming of justice.