« PreviousContinue »
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. Jefferson was forty years in getting the University of Virginia established. Long he hoped that the ancient college of William and Mary could be freed from limiting conditions and influences, and be developed into a true university. As late as 1820 he was still striving for a consolidation of the old college with the forming institution in Albemarle. It was already apparent that the want of America was, not new institutions of learning, but a suppression of one-half of those already existing, and the survival of the fittest,' enriched by the spoils of the weak. But William and Mary, like most of the colleges of Christendom, is constricted by the ignorance and vanity of benefactors,' who gave their money to found an institution for all time, and annexed conditions to their gifts which were suited only to their own time. Nothing remained but to create a new institution. In 1794 a strange circumstance occurred, which gave him hopes of attaining his object by a short cut. Several of the professors in the College of Geneva, Switzerland, dissatisfied with the political condition of their canton, united in proposing to Mr. Jefferson to remove in a body to Virginia, and continue their vocation under the protection and patronage of the legislature. On sounding influential members, he discovered that the project was premature, and it was not pressed. The coming of Dr. Priestly, followed by some learned friends of his and other men of science, revived his hopes. A letter to Priestly in 1800 shows that the great outlines of the scheme were then fully drawn in his mind. He told the learned exile that he desired to found in the center of the State a • university on a plan so broad and liberal and modern as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the
cup of knowledge, and fraternize with us.' He proposed that the professors should follow no other calling; and he hoped to draw from Europe the first characters in science by considerable temptations.' He asked Dr. Priestly to draw up a plan, and favor him with advice and suggestions. During his presidency, he still embraced opportunities to increase his knowledge of such institutions. After his retirement, the war of 1812 interposed obstacles; but, from the peace of 1815 to the close of his life, the University of Virginia was the chief subject of his thoughts, and the chief object of his labors.
• Compiled from Parton and Randall Biographies, and the authorities cited by them. The most exhaustive history of the University in its early stages will be found in the Letters of Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell, with Mr. Jefferson's original Bill, and a biography of Mr. Cabell-_-528 pages. 1856.
In 1814, an effort was made to revive the Albemarle academy, located at Charlottesville, and on the suggestion of Mr. Jefferson, whose coöperation was invited, the plan of studies was enlarged into the usual college curriculum, and the administration confided to a Board of Visitors. The total subscription collected in the central counties of Virginia was about $40,000, toward which Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Madison, Mr. Monroe, George Divers, John Harris, Reuben Lindsay, John H. Cocke, Joseph C. Cabell, John Patterson, Wilson C. Nicholas, each gave $1,000. Under the presidency of Mr. Jefferson, the institution was incorporated by the name of the Central College; and the establishment of an efficient system of public instruction embracing colleges, academies, and schools, to to diffuse the benefits of education throughout the commonwealth, with Central college as the university, was agitated in the legislature of that year. A plan drawn up by Mr. Jefferson, and closely resembling the plan drawn up by him in 1779, was submitted at the session of 1817, which passed the House of Delegates, and was postponed by the Senate, that the public might be better informed of its features, to the ensuing session, in February, 1818. To effectuate this, by a joint resolution of both Houses, the report, which preceded the bill, the bill itself, and the proposed amendments, Mr. Jefferson's original bill of 1779, and his letter to the president of the Albemarle academy in 1814, proposing an expansion of that institution into a college as part of a State systemwas ordered to be printed and distributed throughout the State.
At the session of 1818, an act was passed appropriating from the revenues of the Literary Fund forty-five thousand dollars per annum for the primary education of the poor, and fifteen thousand dollars per annum for the support of a university, on a site and on a plan to be fixed by a commission consisting of twenty-four members, one taken from each senate distriet. The commissioners assembled at Rockfish Gap, August 1, 1818, and after a session of five days, located the university on the site of Central college, which institution was thereby merged in it, and decided on the plan of a building; the branches of learning to be taught; the number and description of professorships; and certain general principles of administration to be incorporated into the organic law. The report embodying the action of the commission, drawn up by Mr. Jefferson, whose recommendations were substantially adopted, was submitted to the legislature; and in January, 1819, the law organizing the university was enacted.
In February, 1819, the first Board of Visitors was chosen, and it consisted of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Chapman Johnson, James Breckenridge, Robert B. Taylor, John Cocke, and Joseph C. Cabell. On the 29th of March, 1819, the visitors held their first meeting, and unanimously appointed Mr. Jefferson as Rector. Of these eminent men, the most active and efficient in all the struggles to establish the institation, to secure the necessary legislation, to enlighten and conciliate the people of the State in all the misunderstandings which the large pecuniary outlay on building and the religious jealousies of denominations evoked—was Joseph Carrington Cabell. Of an ancient and opulent family-distinguished in both the paternal and maternal line, himself a man of practical ability, highly educated by competent teachers and foreign travel, a warm personal friend of Mr. Jefferson's, whose aims he resolved to see fairly carried out without any ambition to draw attention to his own views and labors—Mr. Cabell deserves the credit, next to its projector, of being the founder of the University of Virginia. The institution is situated on a hill which commands fine views. The buildings, erected after Mr. Jefferson's plan, on three sides of a square or lawn, front inwards. One side is occupied by the rotunda and some other structures for the common use of the students, and two sides by professors' houses (called pavilions), and intervening rows of students' apartments, each one story in height and faced with colonnades. The partitions, ten in number, display different architectural order, the capitals of which were executed in Italy. The students' rooms, both in the location and construction, receive certain points of necessary supervision, and avoidance of accidents by fire and panic, but involved increased appropriations, which finally ran up from $75,000, as estimated, to $300,000, and had well nigh wrecked the institution before the professors or students had entered into residence.
The appointment to a professorship of Dr. Cooper (celebrated as Dr. Priestley's friend, whose religious opinions he shared, and also as one of the victims of the Sedition Law) in 1820, under an arrangement made by the visitors of Central college in 1818, was made the occasion of violent attacks on the institution both in and out of the State, which for a time threatened to alienate a majority of the members of the legislature. Dr. Cooper's withdrawal on terms satisfactory to him, and the subsequent appointment of able and learned men to the different professorships without any question or test, so far as Mr. Jefferson was concerned, as to their religious opinions, and yet all of them of strong religious convictions, should for ever relieve the founder of the university of any suspicion of using it in the service of proselytizing.
The university was opened on the 1st of April, 1825, with forty students—and thus Mr. Jefferson succeeded in planting on Virginia soil a university, unique in two particulars.* In all other American colleges then existing, the controlling influence was wielded by one of the learned professions; and all students were compelled to pursue a course of studies originally prescribed by that one profession for its own perpetuation. In the University of Virginia, founded through the influence and persistent tact of Jefferson, seconded at every stage by the zeal and ability of Joseph C. Cabell, all the professions are upon an equality, and every student is free to choose what knowledge he will acquire, and what neglect. It is a secularized university. Knowledge and scholarship are there neither rivals nor enemics, but equal and independent sources of mental power, inviting all, compelling none. Jefferson's intention was to provide an assemblage of schools and professors, where every student could find facilities for getting just what knowledge he wanted, without being obliged to pretend to pursue studies for which he bad neither need nor taste. He desired, also, to test his favorite principle of trusting every individual to the custody of his own honor and conscience. It was his wish that students should stand on the simple footing of citizens, amenable only to the laws of their State and country, and that the head of the faculty should be a regularly commissioned magistrate, to sit in judgment on any who had violated those laws. This part of the scheme he was compelled, at a critical moment, to drop; but he did so only to avoid the peril of a more important failure. But he held to the principle. He would have no espionage upon the students; but left all of them free to improve their opportunities in their own way, provided the laws of the land were not broken, and the rights of others were respected. His trust was in the conscience and good sense of the students, in the moral influence of a superior corps of instructors, and in an elevated public opinion.
The institution differs from other American colleges in these particulars : there is no president; all the professors are of equal rank, except that one of their number is elected chairman of the faculty, and performs the usual representative duties. They get from the university a small fixed salary, meant to be sufficient for subsistence. Besides this, every professor receives a small fee from each of the students attending his school.'. There are no rewards given by the university and no honors, except a statement of the student's proficiency in each of the schools' which he attends; and that profi
* Parton's Life of Jefferson.
ciency is ascertained, not by a system of daily marks, but by an examination which is intended to be thorough and just. "Graduation' signifies only that a student has acquitted himself well in one of the groups' of schools. A great point is made of the examinations. "Rigorous written examinations,' Dr. Charles Venable, the chairman of the faculty, has recently written, are held periodically in each school, and the diploma of the school is conferred on those students only whose examination-papers come up to a fixed standard. That is, the candidate for graduation must obtain four-fifths (in some of the schools three-fourths) of the values assigned to the questions set in the examinations. No distinctions are made anong the graduates. A student either graduates cum laude or not at all. In the lower classes of the schools like examinations are held, and certificates of distinction given to those who come up to the standard of three-fourths of the values of the questions set.'
Another peculiarity of this institution is the homage it pays to religion. This is unique. In other colleges it is assumed that students will neither go to church nor attend prayers unless they are compelled to do so. This university, on the contrary, assumes that religion has an attractive power of its own, and leaves it to each student to go to church and attend prayers, or to abstain from so doing. Daily prayers are held, and a service on Sunday is conducted by a clergyman of the vicinity, elected in rotation from the chief denominations of the State; and he is maintained by the voluntary contributions of the inmates of the university. But the dishonor is not put upon him of compelling attendance at his ministrations. Dr. Venable states that the results of this system of freedom are such as might have been expected. The students, he says, 'contribute with commendable liberality to the support of the chaplain, who goes constantly in and out among them as their friend and brother, laboring earnestly in the promotion of Christian activity and all good works. There is always a respectable attendance of student worshipers at morning prayers, a good attendance of students in the Sunday services in the chapel as well as in the churches in the town. There is an earnest Christian activity among the students, which employs itself in the different enterprises of the University Young Men's Christian Association. They keep up six Sunday-schools in the sparsely-settled mountain districts of the neighborhood,-five for whites and one for freedmen, with an average attendance on each of thirty pupils. This steady Christian activity is not a thing of to-day, but it has been the rule for years.'
Dr. Venable bears explicit testimony also to the happy results of