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Dr. Tappan as a Builder of the University

Henry Philip Tappan
The Michigan Alumnus 320-324

Dr. Tappan as a Builder of the University


By Charles M. Perry, Ph. D., Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma



(This articles by Dr. Perry are also appearing in the MICHIGAN HISTORY MAGAZINE, a quarterly published by the 
Michigan Historical Association.)

After having attained his philosophical
 viewpoint in The Essays On the Will and 
the Elements of Logic, Tappan had turned 
his attention to the problems of University edu
cation.

The thing that started him to write his book 
on University Education was Wayland's Report to 
the Corporation of Brown University in 1850. In 
that report a brief history of the development of
 colleges in England and America was given. The
 Universities of Cambridge and Oxford were estab
lished mainly to educate the clergy. They were
 retreats for studious men to retire to devote them
selves to meditation and the study of the arts and
 sciences. A college within one of the universities
 consisted of a master, tutors, fellows, and students, 
the whole society forming but one family. They
 lived in a college building in the form of a quadrange open in the center and admitting of but one 
entrance. The gate was closed at a certain hour, 
after which no one was allowed to come in or go
 out. In the course of time these colleges usurped 
the place of the university, the latter having only 
the nominal power of conferring degrees. 


It was at this stage of their development that 
they were copied by the founders and admin
istrators of colleges in this country. One of the 
differences in the American institutions was that
 even the nominal university was omitted and degrees were conferred by the colleges directly. This
 variation left us without universities. Another 
difference was that while American colleges as
sumed responsibility for superintending the stu
dents they were incapable of discharging it as most
 of their professors and instructors lived outside of 
the college buildings. American students had, 
 therefore, been deprived of the humanizing effect
 of daily association with older and well bred
 men.

The effect on the mind of the teacher was equal
ly bad. He had generally to teach from textbooks, 
 and textbooks written by others. Under such con
ditions he could not have the best influence upon
 the mind of the pupil, the time of the recitation
 being commonly used to ascertain whether the pupil 
had learned his lesson. The teacher had, also, little
 incentive to increase his knowledge as he already 
knew more than he had opportunity to impart. He
 often carried on enterprises other than his teach
ing, or became reconciled to and finally in love with
 his monotonous routine. This was fatal to profes
sional success.


To meet the situation Wayland proposed dras
tic measures. The system of adjusting collegiate 
study to a fixed term of four years should be aban
doned. The time allotted to each particular course
 of instruction should be determined by the nature
 of the course. Every student should be allowed, so
 far as practicable, to study "what he chose, all that 
he chose, and nothing but what he chose." Courses
 should be continued without interruption until
 completed. In addition to the existing courses of 
instruction courses should be added that would
 meet the wants of the various classes in the com-
munity. No student should be under any obligation 
to proceed to a degree, and every student should be 
entitled to a certificate of such proficiency as he
 might have made in every course pursued.

Tappan was greatly influenced by Wayland, 
 if we may judge by the number of references in 
the former's essay on University Education to Way
land's report of 1850. But Tappan was different 
from Wayland in important respects. The latter
 as steady going, capable of collecting vast masses
 of facts and marshalling them. He was compact in 
style and democratic in spirit. Tappan on the other 
hand was idealistic, almost sentimental, often rhap
sodical in expression, and inclined to be aristo
cratic. 


Schools for the people do not come first in his
tory according to Tappan. "The highest schools of 
learning were chronologically first. Schools for the 
people were not the elements out of which univer
sities took their growth; on the contrary, Schools 
for the people grew out of the Universities." And 
the State is not the origin of universities. "Univer
sities were not created originally by the State, but
 were the work of individuals. Solitary scholars
 commenced courses of public lectures which at
tracted pupils. Here was the beginning of the Universities. Afterward Colleges were endowed by
 benevolent patrons. The State gave its influence 
and authority only after eminence had been at
tained." Thus Tappan, like the true Platonist that 
he was, would start to reform at the top instead of 
the bottom.


As the solution of the problem of higher education Tappan would restore the ancient university 
ideal, which had been abandoned at Oxford and 
Cambridge and had never been transplanted to
 America. Universities are "Cyclopaedias of educa
tion: where, in libraries, cabinets, apparatus, and
 professors, provision is made for carrying forward
 all scientific investigation; where study may be ex
tended without limit, where the mind may be cult
ivated according to its wants, and where, in the 
lofty enthusiasm of growing knowledge and ripen
ing scholarship, the bauble of an academic diploma 
is forgotten. When we have such institutions, those
 who would be scholars will have some place to re
sort to; and those who have already the gifts of 
scholarship will have some place where to exercise 
them. With such institutions in full operation, the 
public will begin to comprehend what scholarship
 means, and discern the difference between sociolists
 and men of learning."

What Tappan wanted was a university. And
 there was no use of postponing it. "While 
these commendable, although limited experiments 
are making in different quarters, all scholars and
 all true friends of learning will do well to inquire, '
whether there really be any good reason why we
 should not now create in our country at least one 
great institution of learning that may vie with the 
best of the old world. Have we not the means in
 abundance? Shall the little principalities of Ger
many surpass these wealthy and powerful States?"


Tappan cared for popular education only in
directly. He saw with discerning eye that talent
 could not be elicited where it did not exist in the
 first place. He would keep the different grades of 
instruction separate; common schools as common
 schools, trade schools as trade schools, colleges as
 colleges, and the university should have recognition 
in its specific character. But the philosophical 
branch of education should pervade the whole and
 prescribe correct method in the other branches. As
 against the other educators of his time in America
 Tappan stands out as the exponent of the univer
sity system in the European sense. 


There has been much confusion about Tappan's 
responsibility for the introduction of the Scientific 
course at the University of Michigan. The intro
duction of the Scientific course is proudly exhibited 
by Mr. Utley, and even Andrew D. White regarded 
it as one of Tappan's achievements and stated that
 he might have had some little influence on the policy 
at Brown and Rochester. As a matter of fact the
 Scientific course was introduced at Union College 
twenty years before it was at Michigan; Wayland
 was considering it as early as 1842 and recom
mended the introduction of practical courses to the 
Corporation of Brown University in 1850; and the
 Rochester experiment was well under way when
 Tappan began to write on university education. 
 And the law of 1851 providing for the government 
of the University of Michigan prescribed a non-
classical course before negotiations were taken up
 with Tappan. But, most important of all, his book 
on University Education proves conclusively that
 his interest was not with a popularization of the 
university but with the creation of an institution 
that should cultivate originality and genius. And
 the book was so interpreted by his opponents in the
 newspaper attack of 1853 and 1854. Men like Nott, 
 Wayland and Mann were exponents of popular edu
cation, but Tappan was distinctly the exponent of 
the philosophical ideal of a university. 


His work at the University of Michigan was an
 effort to realize this ideal. He had a large job. 
 Here he was to make great progress in securing the 
necessary equipment for research and the personnel 
to carry it forward. Here he was to have the
 magician's part in throwing a "resistless charm 
about scholarship and the scholar." During the 
time that the newspapers of the State were engaged 
in worrying him the constructive work was going 
quietly forward. 


One of Tappan's early recommendations was the
 abolition of dormitories. He agreed with
 Wayland that furnishing board and lodgings was 
no legitimate function of an American College. The
 new university was not to be a preparatory school 
for boys; the chief diversion of college life should
 no longer consist of bothering the unfortunate in
structors who had charge of the halls. Students
 were to be allowed to live among the residents of 
the town and to be encouraged to be responsible 
citizens, capable of deporting themselves properly, 
 and, if they should fail to do so, the laws could 
take care of them as it does of any other citizens. 
 Dr. Tappan advanced this additional argument: 
"The dormitory system is objectionable in itself. 
 By withdrawing young men from the influences of 
domestic circles, and separating them from the 
community, they are often led to contract evil
 habits, and are prone to fall into disorderly con-
duct. It is a mere remnant of the monkish cloisters
 of the Middle Ages, still retained in England, but
 banished from the universities of Germany." An 
incidental advantage of the change was that it re-
leased much needed room for the work of instruction.

We have seen how Dr. Tappan within the first 
few months of his administration created an observatory which was soon to take its place among 
the great observatories of the world, and how he 
gave a decided impetus to the library of the Univer
sity. He continued as fast as possible to round
 out the institution in other ways. In conjunction
 with Dr. Douglass he was instrumental in estab
lishing a laboratory for analytical chemistry. His
 report for 1859 and 1860 states, with reference to
 this department, that "Sixty-seven students received 
instruction in the laboratory during the last year. 
 It was thus filled to its utmost capacity. This pop
ular and important branch of the University demands larger accommodations. Applications for
 admission have to be made in advance. Many, of 
course, who are desirous of availing themselves of 
its privileges are necessarily debarred." At his ur
gent solicitation departments of physics and civil
 engineering were established and provided with
 equipment. Very early in his administration 
earnest effort was put forth to induce the Legisla
ture to turn over to the University the twenty-two
 sections of salt spring land which the federal government had granted for the maintenance of an Ag
ricultural school and an agricultural course was
 tentatively organized. Even after the land grant
 was lost and the Agricultural College started at 
Lansing, Tappan tried to retain a department of
 "Theoretical and Applied Agriculture" in the University. 


One of the new President's most cherished
 plans was to have a museum of zoology, geology, 
 and botany. Considerable material had already
 been contributed by Dr. Houghton, Dr. Sager and
 others, but it was stored in a garret. Tappan provided a gallery above the library for it and had the
 specimens classified, arranged, labeled, and made 
available to the students. At the same time correspondence was opened with the Smithsonian 
Institution, which resulted in liberal and valuable
 donations and exchanges. It was also part of Tap
pan's original plan to have a collection of art. Pro
fessor Frieze and Professor White ably supported 
him in this undertaking. The former laid the foun
dation of the gallery by purchasing with his own
 money, during a visit to Europe, copies in terra
 cotta of some of the antiques in the gallery at
 Naples, and copies in plaster of Paris of the Apollo 
and other pieces in Rome, together with a large
 collection of engravings and photographs of the 
principal views in Rome. To this collection Professor White added a collection of medallions in
 plaster, named in honor of his father. Mrs. Tappan 
added a set of framed engravings of the cartoons
 of Raphael, and Dr. Tappan donated a copy of 
Raphael's Madonna and a large and valuable col
lection of engravings and lithographs of works of 
the great masters in the galleries of Munich and
 Dresden. Further additions consisted of a copy of 
the Laocoon presented by one of the graduating
 classes, an engraving of Holbein's Madonna donated
 by a citizen of Dresden, and copies in marble of
 Rogers' Nydia and his Ruth given by citizens of
 Ann Arbor. This is a meager showing for a gallery, 
 but in pioneer Michigan it was at least a beginning. 


With this increased equipment and with the 
granting of larger discretion and respons
ibility to the students an increase in the number of 
elective courses was inevitable. In the fourth year 
the curriculum in the Department of Literature, 
 Science, and the Arts a number of electives were 
permitted. Among these were astronomy, analyt
ical chemistry, zoology, German, civil engineering, 
 spherical astronomy and the use of instruments, a
gricultural science, and lectures in history. In
 1858 a University course was established which
 carried out Tappan's cherished ideal of giving in
struction in the spirit of a true university. It was 
conducted by lectures and was open to any students
 who had received the Bachelor of Arts or the Bach
elor of Science degree. Such students pursuing two 
courses during each semester of one year, sustaining
 an examination upon three of the courses, and pre
senting a satisfactory thesis, was awarded the de
gree of Master of Arts or that of Master of Science. 


But in carrying out the university idea the
 selection of men for the staff was the most impor
tant consideration. The coast was comparatively 
clear when Tappan came. Professor Ten Brook had 
resigned the chair of Mental and Moral Philosophy 
the year before, due to opposition of other members
 of the Faculty. A resolution had been offered in the
 last meeting of the preceding Board of Regents re
moving Professor Whedon for advocating the
 "higher law," but this resolution had not been
 passed. A later resolution offered at the same meet
ing had fixed the terms of office of Professors
 Whedon, Agnew, and Williams to expire with the
 current academic year, Professor Louis Fasquelle
 not being included. Before Tappan came the new
 Board had asked the retiring members of the Fac
ulty if they wished to return to their positions, and
 Professor Williams had accepted. James R. Boise 
had been elected Professor of Ancient Languages
 on the same day when Tappan was elected. It thus
 turned out that the new President had only Profes
sors Williams, Fasquelle, and Boise in the Literary 
Faculty when he arrived. 


Tappan set immediately about increasing the 
staff. E. O. Haven, subsequently President of the
 University and later a bishop of the Methodist
 Episcopal Church, was called first to the chair of 
Latin and later transferred to that of History and 
English Literature. When Haven withdrew from 
the Universty his place was taken by Andrew D. 
 White, whose subsequent career as a University 
president and as a diplomat is well known. Henry 
S. Frieze, who followed Haven in the chair of Latin, 
 was later acting President of the University at a
 critical time and is known for his text of Vergil 
and for his extensive culture. Francis Brunnow, 
 with whom we are already acquainted, was already 
a man of note and later won greater distinction in
 his field. And Alexander Winchell, who is known 
to us for his works on geology, for his generous enthusiasms in the field of education, and as Chan
cellor of Syracuse University, became, after some 
shifting, Professor of Geology, Zoology, and Botany. Other names might be mentioned but these will
 serve to show what a brilliant group of men Tappan
 succeeded in gathering about him.

OF Dr. Tappan's own influence White spoke in 
an address given at a farewell banquet tendered him by the German American Society at Berlin 
in 1902. He said, among other things: "He was a 
statesman, a theologian, a patriot in the highest
 sense. ... To him, more than to any other, is due
 the fact that, about the year 1850, out of the old 
system of sectarian instruction, mainly in petty 
colleges obedient to deteriorated traditions of Eng
lish methods, there began to be developed univer
sities—drawing their ideals and methods largely 
from Germany." And again, in his Autobiography, 
 he said: "Dr. Tappan's work was great, indeed. He 
stood not only at the beginning of the institution at 
Ann Arbor, but really at the beginning of the other 
universities of the Western States, from which the
 country is gaining so much at present, and is sure 
to gain vastly more in the future. The day will come
 when his statue will commemorate his services."


To Tappan a university was not the accidental
 creation of a majority vote. It might well be the 
result of a private munificence or royal bounty, as 
most institutions of the kind had been in the course 
of history. If by chance the externals of a univer
sity had been provided by the people of a State he
 would take hold of them and, acknowledging re
sponsibility only to God, he would make the most 
of them. The fountain of authority was the Platon
ic reason, transmitted to this mundane world 
through genius. The university was one of the organs through which genius could express itself and
 by which it could receive its necessary training. If 
popular education was to be supported it was not 
that the people were the source of wisdom but that 
they had need of wisdom. From this it follows that
 education should not be at the mercy of popular 
whims. Whether a subject should be offered or not
 should not depend on whether it was desired but on
 whether it conformed to the architectonic plan of 
education. 


The viewpoint required that great emphasis be 
placed on outstanding personalities, men who had 
insight and originality, men who had resources of
 their own which should enable them to teach with-
out a textbook. In getting this kind of men Tap-
pan was remarkably successful. To make the most, 
 of them he had to provide facilities for them, the
 means of general culture and the means of research, 
 libraries, museums, and laboratories. To the same
 end he had to enfranchise the students, remove them 
from tutelage and treat them as adults pursuing
 their own purposes. To insure that the University 
should not be swamped with preparatory work and
 should be left free to perform its proper function, 
 he advocated changes in the State system of education that should correlate the various factors, high 
schools, denominational colleges and the like, in
 such a way as to get the preparatory work done before the students should come to Ann Arbor.