Some things never change

by Faculty Association | Filed under September 2015.

The Colleges and the Professors

Note: The following is an excerpt from “The Colleges and the Professors” Editorial from The Nation, published June 23, 1881.

(Boards of Governors/Regents) cannot see why a professor’s salary should be any higher than is necessary to get you a professor, and, having got a professor at their own figure, they despise him for taking so little. Having got him for less than they have paid their bookkeepers, they credit him with a bookkeeper’s capacity -that is, with ability to perform faithfully a certain round of rather humble duties, which will fulfill the object for which the buildings were erected and keep the machinery in motion. In fact, the professor, in their eyes, is rather a man who “tends” college, as a hand ‘‘tends” a loom in a mill, than a person fit to govern, or direct, or manage an institution of any kind.

This view of the professorial calling, though very prominent in some American universities, to a certain extent colors the government of them all. It is the natural result of the dominance in all affairs of the commercial spirit. It is, in other words, “the business man’s view”; the business man being the greatest force in American society, the idea that he who has made $100,000 a year, and can any day make $10,000, should yield his opinion on any question of administration to a man who acknowledges that $2,500 or $3,000 a year is as much as he can earn, strikes him as a little absurd. The college to him is a sort of industrial enterprise, turning out scholars just as a mill turns out yarns, and the professors are part of the “plant.” He thinks he has to be looked after and kept up to his work like other “hands” by some outside system of inspection. The idea of letting professors have a college to themselves, to manage it as they please, without Trustees or overseers of some kind, has a grotesque air to him, a little like the idea of trusting a lot of clerks to carry on his own business. He does not know exactly what they would do with the college if they got hold of it, but something very queer, he feels sure, because not only are they poor hands at making money, but they are dreamy, eccentric people, who are capable of any kind of folly outside their studies. He wishes very much, indeed, that a college could be carried on without professors, and has a vague notion that by some sort of improvement in organization this result may some day be attained.


This excerpt was recently posted by the Campaign to Support Contract Academic Staff at Western University via 100 Days @ Western: The Alternative Listening Tour (

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