It would not be fair to compare the colleges of the past to the modern, commercial American university system. While the differences are vast and many, to point each one out individually would almost be meaningless given the complex system of social, economic, and political factors that created the divide between these styles of higher education. It is a given fact that, like almost everything else, college was different one hundred years ago. Why waste time pointing out these differences?
That being said…
There is value to be gained from looking at what has changed and what has not. Obviously we should come into this task accepting that the differences are countless owing to decades of social development. This doesn’t mean that we cannot gain insight into the organization of the past collegiate world (in this blog, as seen through St. Ignatius College in Chicago), and into our own contemporary university system (read, Loyola University Chicago). Aside from the sheer intrigue that presents itself in an opportunity to research what students at St. Ignatius were studying, performing, and doing one hundred years ago, a look at the course catalogue of the college in 1890-1891 presents a chance to reflect on the status of modern Loyola students and on the future of the university.
The differences are so many that it is hard to know which ones are worth writing about. One of the main differences to note would be the fact that the school was divided between classical studies (Latin and Greek, history, religion, elocution, natural sciences) and more modern commercial studies. There had been a long-standing debate amongst the Jesuit colleges over whether the focus should remain on traditional classical studies or whether to embrace perhaps more practical education. St. Ignatius opted to offer both.
There were a few things in particular that stood out to me when looking at the course catalogue. One of the first things I noticed was that nearly every single professor and instructor at St. Ignatius was a Jesuit. The school in 1890 was much more Catholic than Loyola is now, both in terms of the student body and the character of the institution. Furthermore, the staff was much smaller (25 instructors are listed), as was the class size. Ellen Skerrett’s history of Loyola lists the student body of the college in 1900 at a little over 200, so it is understandable that a relatively small number of Jesuits would be able to manage the school without need for lay staff. Yet it is striking to see so many Jesuits listed, with only one lay professor – a Mr. John E. Stack.
Over the last century, the position of the Jesuits within the colleges and the universities they run has generally been scaled back. While the Society of Jesus still plays an important role at Loyola, and throughout their institutions nationwide, it seems clear that when compared to the schools of the past, there has been a distinct rollback in their influence at these schools. Lay professors and boards now provide for a more diversified and secular character, though the underlying Jesuit themes remain. By no means do I want to pass judgement here, but I feel it is an important point of comparison. In looking at St. Ignatius’s staff directory, it is hard not to reflect on Loyola’s current faculty makeup. Looking to the future, I am drawn to the position of President of the University. Since Fr. Damen, the Jesuits have always controlled this position. With Fr. Garanzini’s retirement, the school is currently searching for a new president. Will Loyola pick a Jesuit and continue the tradition that has been held for nearly 150 years, or will the university decide that a specific religious background is not a requirement for this position? It will be interesting to see how Loyola develops as a Catholic university, especially when noting how distinct this Catholic nature was at the turn of the 20th century.
Another point that stood out to me was the involvement of parents in the education of St. Ignatius’s students. Looking at the setup of classes, it looks very similar to modern high school schedules. Classes are offered from 8:30 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, following a set schedule. There are no night classes or complex schedules. The school’s small size likely played a large roll in this, but it is interesting to note just how much collegiate life at St. Ignatius resembled a contemporary high school.
What is striking to me is how much the description of the school seems to appeal to parents, making it clear whose decision attending the college was. As the parents were the ones who decided if their kids could go to St. Ignatius, they demanded to know that their money was put to good use. The general regulations state that “whilst upon the college premises, the pupils are constantly under the watchful care of one or more of the Prefects or Professors”. Not exactly an appeal to the independence of young adults. St. Ignatius was located in a working neighborhood, and while many students went on to be part of a rising Catholic middle and upper class, many began their lives as the sons of workers. Their parents may not have had much money to throw around, and would have wanted assurance that their investment at St. Ignatius was not in vain. Still, it is strange to see a system so different from our own.
College today is viewed as an almost necessary part of growing up, a fundamental step towards independence in the American psyche. High schoolers look forward to the freedom, the fun, and the possibilities offered in college. In a sense, our social view of university life is very different from the view held by the students of the 1890s. While the common aim of advancing in the professional world remains the same, the role of parents has changed. Today. federal regulations prevent American universities from releasing student information to the parents, as the government rules that college students are independent adults. At St. Ignatius, notices were sent every second month to the parents of students to update them on the “deportment, diligence, proficiency and attendance of their sons or wards”. Any school trying something like that today would quickly face a wave of litigation. St. Ignatius also asks for parental over watch of their children at home, to make sure they follow through on the estimated two to three hours of homework that will follow an average day of class. Absence notes too must be signed by a parent or guardian. The role of the parents in their children’s education was much greater than it is today, for better or for worse. One wonders whether the average St. Ignatius student would have been happier with the strict separation of parents from their children’s (collegiate) studies as we find today. It would be interesting to see how the students viewed this arrangement, and whether they were comfortable with it
In wrapping up what now seems like a fairly wordy post, I would just like to reiterate the great differences between the modern styles of education at Loyola University Chicago at the education offered at St. Ignatius College in 1890. The changes are numerous, and the reasons for these are many and each one is complex. Looking at the examples I’ve chosen, it seems easy to point out that parents had a different role in late 19th century education, but understanding why this has changed is perhaps more important than noting the change itself. Why are parents kept from viewing their college children’s records? Because the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires student consent for parents to view records for individuals over 18 years old. The story of how this bill came to pass, and the debate and challenges it faced are crucial to understanding just one of the differences between modern education and the educational system one hundred years ago.
Differences are easy to point out. The next step is explaining why things changed and examining these changes in greater depth. I don’t think I can aptly do this for all my examples, especially without going into great detail. Yet I’m left with many questions as from looking at these differences. Why has American society shifted the role of parents in the lives of young adults? Why do we now have a greater emphasis on the independent character of young men and women in university compared to what we see in a place like St. Ignatius College in 1890? Looking at the Jesuits, why has their role been decreased in the universities and colleges they founded? Is this good, or is this bad, or are there benefits either way? What will be the role of the religious in future education? These are complex issues, and I hope ones that spark some thought. I think it is important to reflect on changes, and to see how different things were and how different things have become. Reflection and the opportunity for insight is immensely valuable. Just be sure to carry on to the next step of explaining and exploring these issues.