Chapter XX

THE AVENUES OF LEARNING

   The eighth of February, 1956, was a dull gray day with some dirty snow patching the campus and workmen hammering in the nearly completed Administration Building. Students were shuffling into the Library for the final day of pay-line. Notices in faculty boxes announced an Arts and Science staff meeting to discuss the bringing of more good students to Miami--a project which Dean Alderman pressed with all his resources.
   It was another day in mid-winter, at the beginning of a term. But one thing was different. On the third floor of Upham Hall students filed into five classrooms where there were no instructors. The shades were drawn. Chairs were banked to face two tall-stilted television screens in the corners of the room. As the bell rang a proctor closed the door. The dead screen came to life. Into Room 317 came the voice and features of Professor David Lewis, and a course in Introductory Sociology was under way--though Professor Lewis was standing before three cameras in a studio in the temporary Communications Building behind the power plant. In other classrooms down the hall students watched Professors Mitchell, McNelly and Bergstrom on the screen and took notes on Educational Psychology, Human Physiology and Human Biology.
   On the following Friday the Miami Student ran a front page cartoon: "New Addition to the Faculty." It showed a wise-looking TV screen wearing a mortar board, carrying a cane in one hand and a textbook in the other. Instruction by television had come to old Miami.
   Three months earlier to the University Senate President Millett had announced a grant of $135,000 from the Fund for the Advancement of Education to conduct an experimental study in teaching procedures. With prospects of a huge increase in university enrollments within a decade, there was need to determine whether and how college faculties could instruct more and more students. In 1956 Miami, like most other American colleges, had sufficient staff to teach by the traditional procedures. But by 1966 the pressure of increased numbers would require new methods. The study at Miami, one of several related experiments across the country, was an attempt to prepare for the future.
   Teaching by closed-circuit television was a part of the experimental program at Miami. While students took notes from TV lectures and at the close of the hour dropped their questions into a box on the proctor's desk, two other innovations were being tested. In the freshman course in Principles of Modern Business and in General Biology, sections were taught by graduate assistants under the supervision of a regular staff member. The departments of government, English, geography, mathematics and psychology conducted large lecture sections, ranging from fifty-five to one hundred forty, and the results of the instruction were carefully compared with those in small control sections, ranging from twenty-seven to thirty-seven, where Miami's traditional teaching method, personal, informal and discursive, was used.
   The purpose of the Miami University Experimental Study in Instructional Procedures was to determine the relative effectiveness of large and small group instruction. Along with this major purpose the study aimed to improve large group teaching procedures and to develop audio and visual aids for use in the improvement of college teaching generally. Evaluation was emphasized from the start, with an evaluation analyst using the data from the experiment to judge whether or not class size could be increased without a loss in student learning.
   In the second year of the study the number of experimental courses was increased. During 1956-57 there were still four multiple-section courses taught by television, each balanced by a control section of traditional procedure, and there were again two courses taught by graduate assistants under supervision of veteran instructors. But the large lecture courses were increased to seventeen, and they represented all divisions of the University except that of Fine Arts.
   The experimental study was to continue for three years and the final report would be made at a symposium for educators during Miami's Sesquicentennial year, 1959. Meanwhile, progress reports showed that comparable achievement resulted from experimental and control sections. While students generally preferred the traditional small classes, their acquisition of subject matter was not diminished by assignment to a television or lecture section. And while they would choose the traditional small class, most students indicated that they would voluntarily enroll in a television or lecture section if it assured them of an instructor of known excellence. The study in teaching procedures, still in progress as the Sesquicentennial anniversary approached, was casting long shadows over Miami's classrooms in the future.
   Not only would teaching resources need to be stretched in the years ahead, but there would be need for an increased number of qualified college teachers. In anticipation of this need Provost Kreger in 1956 devised a Graduate-Undergraduate Fellowship program to give prospective college teachers an opportunity for special preparation. The plan called for the finding of undergraduates whose interests and abilities promised successful careers in college teaching and the nominating of these students as Undergraduate Fellows, each one assigned to a faculty sponsor. The Fellow was introduced to some of the intellectual and social life of his major department. He assisted the sponsoring professor, as circumstances allowed, in class work, research and paper grading. With him were shared some of the professor's intellectual pursuits and some of his leisure. So he obtained understanding of the tasks and the satisfactions of the academic life. A Graduate Fellow in this program gave fifteen hours a week in assistance to the sponsoring professor, in addition to his own graduate study, and received a $1600 stipend along with the waiving of fees. The Undergraduate Fellow was considered "in training" for the Graduate Fellowship program.
   In the first year of this plan for recruitment of potential college teachers there were thirty-one seniors assigned to professors in fourteen departments and three Graduate Fellows in two departments. Appointments for 1957-58 were twenty-nine Undergraduates and five Graduate Fellows. By that time the program had attracted nation-wide interest as a means of enlisting and preparing college teachers for the years ahead. This program was concerned with the future--the endless future, if one recalls Henry Adams' statement, "A teacher," he said, "affects eternity."
   In the bright month of May, 1957, State building inspectors roamed through Harrison Hall, from the dim basement with its old furnaces rusting in the walls to the trap doors that open onto the windy platform roof. When they made their report, the days of Harrison Hall were numbered. They found the floors and stairways of the old building below the required standard of strength. So began its evacuation. A building crane, moved in from the construction job at William Dennison Hall, raised its gaunt arms to the third floor windows. Out from the old Erodelphian Hall, which had become an art studio, came the sculpture casts of Moses, David and Lorenzo d'Medici. These heroic figures reclined in the grass of the quadrangle while the crane dangled desks and cabinets from the top-floor classrooms. From second-floor faculty offices came tons of books. Classes in the building were restricted in size, and the Towers Theater, the original bare, square chapel room of Old Miami, was limited to classroom use. Life was ebbing from the old building.
   For a century the Main Building had been the heart of Miami University. There McGuffey lodged when he first came to Oxford, there Beta Theta Pi, Delta Zeta and Phi Kappa Tau were founded, there the Literary Halls flourished and dwindled. The building contained Miami's first gymnasium room, its first hall of science, its first library chamber. It was barricaded in the Snow Rebellion of 1847 and decorated for the college's re-opening in 1885. For nearly a century it had housed the University's administration. When faculty books were removed from the sociology offices in 1957, a wall, enclosed years before, was opened into the vault that had contained the university archives. In hundreds of musty pigeonholes were thousands of papers--some William H. McGuffey signatures on academic records, many annual professor's reports, hundreds of pieces of correspondence pertaining to past anniversaries, and bundles of receipts for land rents paid to the University in years gone by.
   Harrison Hall, re-named in the 1930's when the old "edifice" had ceased to be the main building, was judged to be beyond renovation. Architects began drawing plans for a new Harrison Hall that would rise in its place, with lines reminiscent of the structure that had been Alma Mater to many generations of Miami men.
   Herron Hall, too, had served its time. The Miami gymnasium, replaced in the 1930's by Withrow Court, had been converted into a women's gymnasium. As the Sesquicentennial year approached, plans called for a new women's physical education building across from Hamilton and Richard halls on the South Campus. And fronting High Street just below the site of Herron Hall excavation began in 1957 for Laws Hall, the new building of the School of Business Administration. Its name was another link between the new Miami and the old.
   The name of Samuel Spahr Laws seemed new on the Miami campus, though students and faculty for nearly forty years had walked daily past it. In the rotunda of the Library stands the Houdon statue of George Washington, "presented to Miami University in 1920 by S. S. Laws." The statue is arresting enough to keep the passing throngs from studying the inscription at its base. Originally commissioned by the State of Virginia, bronze copies of the marble statue now stand in the Treasury Building in New York City and at the entrance to the Chicago Art Museum, as well as in the Miami Library. There is an appropriateness in that figure in the Library rotunda, for George Washington had signed the Act of Congress granting the township of land which was the original support of Miami University.
   Samuel Spahr Laws, valedictorian of the class of 1848, was a far-ranging man. Inventor, educator, physician, theologian, financier, he fitted a series of careers into his ninety-seven years of life and left a record of achievement in diverse fields.
   His first career was in the church. Graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1851, he served for three years as a Presbyterian minister in St. Louis and then as a professor of physical science in Westminster College at Fulton, Missouri. A year later he was elected president of the college. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was president of the Presbyterian synodical colleges in the South. Laws was a Virginian and a believer in states' rights. When he refused to take an oath of allegiance to the federal government he was committed to the Illinois State Prison; for nine months there he worked on a translation of Aristotle. Paroled, he went to Europe, spending two years in London and Paris. On his return to America in 1863 he joined the Gold Exchange on Wall Street in New York. During the war the "Gold Room" in the Stock Exchange was the center of financial activity; its quotations governed the nation's commerce. Elected vice-president of the Exchange, Laws devised a mechanical indicator, the origin of the stock market printing telegraph, which issued a steady stream of figures. Laws had worked in a tool factory in his youth, before coming to Miami, and at Princeton along with the study of theology he had studied electricity under the famous Joseph Henry. In 1866 he patented his machine and had had it installed in the offices of fifty subscribers. Soon the subscribers increased to three hundred, and the improved stock market "ticker" was the national vehicle of financial news.
   In 1869 an unknown young mechanic named Thomas A. Edison arrived in New York. While waiting for a job he slept in the battery room of Laws' Gold Indicator Company. He studied the ticker machine with an inventor's interest, and he was in the room when it broke down. He replaced a spring, adjusted the contact wheels and soon had the machine stuttering out its stream of figures. Then--as Edison recalled years afterward--"Dr. Laws came in to ask my name and what I was doing. I told him, and he asked me to come to his office the following day. His office was filled with stacks of books, all relating to metaphysics and kindred matters. He asked me a great many questions about the instruments and his system, and I showed him how he could simplify things generally. He then requested that I should call next day. On arrival, he stated at once that he had decided to put me in charge of the whole plant, and that my salary would be $300 a month! This was such a violent jump from anything I had seen before that it rather paralyzed me for a while. I thought it was too much to be lasting, but I determined to try and live up to that salary if twenty hours a day of hard work would do it. I kept this position, made many improvements, devised several stock tickers, until the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company consolidated with the Gold Indicator Company."
   Meanwhile S. S. Laws had decided to study law, and while studying law he became interested in medicine. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1869, awarded a law degree from Columbia College in 1870 and an M.D. from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in 1875. In 1876 he was elected president of the University of Missouri, where he served for thirteen years. In 1893 he became professor of apologetics at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He kept up his scientific and medical pursuits, writing pioneering works on neuro-psychology. This amazing man, citizen of the world of knowledge, wrote for the Miami University Diamond Anniversary in 1899 a recollection of his student years at Miami. Sixty years later his name on a Business Administration building could remind young Miami men of the stature of their forebears.
   With a prospective bulge in applications Miami officials in 1956 considered a new admissions policy. President Millett said: "A state university by its very nature cannot expect to establish admission standards comparable to those imposed by our highest quality private colleges and universities. There is room for a wide variety of talent and energy in our system of higher education. It is a function of a state university to help promote that wide variety." Yet he went on to discuss selective admission. For several years it had been the practice to require that students in the lower half of their high school graduating class take pre-college tests. On the basis of these tests, plus recommendation of the high school principal and the applicant's high school standing, students might be admitted on warning. In 1958 the Board of Trustees adopted a policy providing that the University might give preference in housing to students other than those who have been admitted on warning.
   In 1957 under a new practice of granting Admission with Honors, appropriate certificates were awarded to two hundred thirty-five high school graduates who by academic record, recommendation of their school principal, and ranking in the Ohio General Scholarship Test showed promise of superior intellectual achievement.
   With all signs pointing to increasing enrollment in the nation's universities, Miami prepared for growth, within practicable limits. As a residence college, it could not accept more students than housing facilities allowed. The residence halls under construction or projected for completion in 1959 fixed a limit of some six thousand two hundred students. For this quota the aim was to attract capable students and give them a demanding and rewarding course of study.
   A part of the celebration of Miami's Sesquicentennial was the building from contributions of alumni and friends, of a University Chapel. Non-sectarian, it would provide a place of meditation and worship for individuals and groups. Rising at the end of a broad walk leading west from the University Center, it would represent the values and aspirations of a college that had been fostered by the churches and served by men who believed in a religious foundation for higher education.
   The Miami of 1959, with hundreds of acres of grounds, scores of buildings and thousands of students, was greatly changed from the college that Robert Hamilton Bishop presided over in the 1820's. Yet in certain ways it was the same institution. The income from its never-revalued land grant remained at $7,000 a year, hardly enough to pay for its book keeping. Though highways and motor traffic brought crowds of people on special occasions, the college was still removed from the strident world. It remained an inexpensive college, offering an opportunity for education at a minimum cost, and the prohibition of student automobiles kept its social life simple and self-contained. It continued to be a college of liberal interests and conservative practices, regarding intellectual breadth and liberation as the best things it could give its students. The relationship of faculty and students was still informal, with frequent meetings outside the classroom and a ready exchange of interests and ideas. And, as the daily chapel service was the heart of Old Miami, the new University Chapel symbolized its sustained concern for spiritual values.
   The quest for understanding ticks like an everlasting clock on a college campus. In 1891 when the first section of Brice Hall was built, President Warfield said it would contain the science of Miami for the next hundred years. Now, three times its original size, that hall contains a single department of science--a department that had no separate existence when President Warfield dedicated the building. The course of study changes, but the pursuit of knowledge goes on from generation to generation. And despite all the bread and circuses that have been added to American universities, the meaning of college is still the burning of a study lamp at midnight.
   "The sweetest path of life," wrote David Hume, "leads through the avenues of learning, and whoever can open up the way for another, ought, so far, to be esteemed as a benefactor of mankind." It was for this purpose that the founders of Miami, a century and a half ago, lit the old lamps of learning and piety in a new country.


Return to Table of Contents  Go to Next Chapter  Go to Previous Chapter