AN AMERICAN PROFESSOR'S - " REFLECTIONS ON OXFORD "
THE retiring Harmsworth Professor of American History in his two articles in the Spectator of November 7th and I4th has painted Oxford, on the whole, in such rosy colours that if she were not a rather hardened toast, she might blush to keep herself in the picture and in countenance. Many of the criticisms which he modestly put forward would be echoed by most Oxford men, who will be encouraged by his sympathy to persevere in their search for the remedies. In a few of his comparisons between the university systems of Oxford and America he seems to me mistaken, or, about Oxford, imperfectly informed. My own experience-has been in a small way very nearly an exact counterpart of his. I have spent about 20 years as an Oxford tutor and one year as a temporary professor in a great American univer- sity. No doubt American universities differ so widely both by constitution and by local conditions that it is hard to generalize ; but he must incur this disability almost as much as I. My own experience was of a State university in the Middle West.
Professor Morrison says he left Oxford less enthusiastic for the tutorial system than when he- viewed it from afar. I returned from America absolutely convinced, not indeed- of the invariable perfection of our piactide, -but of the - rightness of the ideal and the value of the actual results.- This may- be partly- because my own subject is philosophy,- and he says that '`.`.tntoring is admirably fitted for literae humaniores; for which: it was devised ; but more modern subjects such as the promising new school of philosophy,- polities and economics, are somewhat refraCtory to one-. man teaching." I fancy even the philosophy and ancient history in literae-humaniores might prove refractory. to one-nian teaching ; but Oxford no more attempts to impose it upon them than upon modern philosophy, politics and economics.. In my own college the philosophy of the new School is taught by the philosophical_ tutor, the politics by the two. modern history tutors and the econo- mics- by the economics tutor. And if philosophy and ancient history are proper subjects for tuition it is hard to see why law and modern hiStory, to go no further afield, should be unsuitable. My own opinion is that in tuition for our honours schools anything like " cramming both with facts and with clever answers to ` spotted questions ", hardly exists. The great width of our- final. honours examinations aS compared with the usual. American examinations upon a set of-lectures and a prescribed text- book make -it impossible. Indeed; Professor_ Morrison, after accusing the tutors of cramming, Somewhat incon- sistently, as it seems to me, accuses the pupils of a- mere general ability to treat any subject- brilliantly. He adds that . they have " seldom gone to the bottom of anything or approached it so near as- an American B.A. who has done an honours thesis."-. - The honours thesis -for the S.A. obtains at-few (perhaps only -at one ?) of the Amerioan universities,. and I_have no knowledge of it, but an Oxford history tutor who has done a year's teaching at Harvard tells me he is doubtful if its value, either as education or as test, is so great as that of good work in our Modern History School.
The value of the tutorial system; in my mind, is this, that whereas in many American universities a man. might pass to his B.A. degree without ever discussing his sub- ject with a trained mind or ever hearing -it discussed except in formal lectures, an Oxford undergraduate has week by week to listen to criticisms of his essay, defend it, explain his meaning and so acquire at least two parts of scholarship—critical reading and guarded- statement— which I found much less developed among my. American pupils. - - .
Turning to post-graduate work, Professor Morrison deplores the lack of systematic guidance. In America the post-graduate student certainly gets far more help and instruction than he does with us, just as the under- graduate gets less. One reason is clear ; a man who has had three years constant tuition is to some extent ac- quainted with scholarly ways of thinking and with the need for consulting the authorities. He is, in theory at least, and usually in fact, better prepared to enter upon a course of advanced study by himself than one who has merely attended lectures and read text-books.
Professor Morrison's chief criticism of the teaching body is true and wholesome, but perhaps not truer than it would be of any teaching body in America. It is that they write too few first-rate books and too many text- books. I think he is mistaken in his comparison of the leisure of American and Oxford teachers. It is true that our terms last only twenty-five weeks as against their thirty or thirty-five, but examining, which is a heavy and not overpaid extra, falls nearly all outside term. In term-time an Oxford tutor has some twenty-four hours of tuition a week and lectures two or three times. In America I lectured eight hours a week, Besides this there is college business—disciplinary, administrative, financial (doinestic and estates)—to, which many tutors devote a • great deal of time, and also university business which in a self-governing university is a very heavy tax on those who devote themselves to it. It is unexpected to hear the citizen of a democratic country deride this self-government as " well worth the loss in efficiency, for the system gives everyone an official finger in many ,pies, and' an L opportunity to air his views. The universal craving to mind other people's business is thereby satis- fied." I should have been inclined to say that most Oxford dons regard boards and committees as the curse of their lives, but that many sacrifice a great deal of their leisure to'this unpaid, uninteresting and important duty.
I have confined myself to criticizing some details of the comparison which Professor Morrison draws without drawing any of my own. I found in America matter for both admiration and criticism, and, like him, I came home with the warmest feeling of friendlinegs for my genial