"Wherever you have a small class and they can be intimately associated with their chief in the study of an interesting subject they catch the infection of the subject; but where they are in big classes and simply hear a man lecture two or three times a week, they cannot catch the infection of anything, except it may be the voice and enthusiasm of the lecturer himself. This is the way in which to transform the place." - President Woodrow Wilson ’79

Here is the full text of President Wilson’s address at the New York dinner on December 9, as reported stenographically for The Weekly and corrected for publication by the President:

I am not vain enough to take this demonstration as an evidence of your admiration of me. I know what you have come here for. You have come here to express your gratification that a Princeton alumnus whom you know and have consorted with is now in command of the ship which we all man. (Applause)> I know that the meaning of this company is that there is a life in the body of men who have gone out from Princeton that cannot be quenched and which cannot be resisted. There are many things which Princeton needs, but she does not need life and vigor, she does not need the blood and the spirit of men to carry her standards and her cause forward.

You will readily believe me when I say that I have been deeply moved by the scene which I look upon tonight. I am ordinarily, gentlemen, a very witty man, but all wit has been subdued in me by the spirit almost of solemnity which this scene brings upon me. I do not doubt that we have entered upon a new era, not because of anything that is in me, but because of the spirit that is in you. If you feel any tithe of that combined power which you show in demonstrations like this tonight, we are sure of the future of Princeton University. I believe that the gentlemen who are with us from other institutions must have felt the pulse that is beating in this body tonight. No man can mistake it and no man can sit here and not feel it; and I suppose that those who do not know us have wondered what bred this spirit amongst us. How did it happen that men so diverse in age and occupation and condition, so different in the circumstances of their lives and the antecedents of their fortunes, are bound together by this common tie, like boys and yet like men, with the feeling of boys and with the purpose of men? How did that happen? (Applause). This is a thing bred by the spirit of a place, a place which the memory of every man here keeps as a sort of shrine to which all his happiest thoughts return; a place in which his comradeships, the dearest comradeships of his life have begun, a place in which he remembers some of the best impulses of his life to have begun; a place where when we walk we feel that we have renewed a spirit of allegiance to the truth, to learning, to manhood, to that fair spirit of dealing man with man which makes the best part of the feeling of the American people.

And all of this has been bred by life in a place the charm of which even strangers feel. I have marked how men who never saw that place before feel the spirit of it when they walk those streets and across that campus; how they say “There is something in this place which we never felt anywhere else, some atmosphere which takes the imagination, which kindles enthusiasm, so that one can hardly leave here without feeling that he has been adopted into the Princeton family and has partaken of the Princeton allegiance.” No one fails to feel it. The freshman feels it in the midst of his miseries; the sophomore feels it in the midst of his pride; the junior and the senior in the midst of their leisure have time to feel it. (Laughter). And by a simple device we have enhanced the spirit of the place. By the very simple device of building our new buildings in the Tudor Gothic style we seem to have added to Princeton the age of Oxford and of Cambridge; we have added a thousand years to the history of Princeton by merely putting those lines in our buildings which point every man’s imagination to the historic traditions of learning in the English-speaking race. We have declared and acknowledged our derivation and lineage; we have said “This is the spirit in which we have been bred,” and as the imagination, as the recollection of classes yet to be graduated from Princeton are affected by the suggestions of that architecture, we shall find the past of this country married with the past of the world and shall know with what destiny we have come into the forefront of the nations, with the destiny of men who have gathered the best thinking of the world and wish to add to the politics of the world not heat, but light; the light that illuminates the path of nations and makes them know the errors as well as the wisdom of the past.

Gentlemen, we have dreamed a dream in Princeton of how the charm of that place shall be enhanced. I need not tell you of the familiar map of that beautiful place. You know how naturally in the old historic campus there is slowly forming a sort of circle and quadrangle, a great quadrangle, a little town; that little town will presently close its lines from the Brokaw Building back of Prospect to where the Infirmary now stands and up Washington Road, and in that little town, girt about with buildings in the style that is historic, there will live the College of Liberal Arts, there will dwell all the high-spirited youngsters who represent us in the ballfield, who represent us in the writing of the college periodicals, who carry the spirit and the go of the place in their veins. And there will then come in the midst of that friendly town another quadrangle, a smaller quadrangle, more beautiful than any that has yet been built, and in that quadrangle there will live a little community, a community of graduate students, touched by the life in the midst of which they live, sympathetic with it, dominated by it, and yet going in and out like men bent upon the errands of the mind, loving sport but not following sport, sympathizers with the undergraduate life but not taking part in the undergraduate life, rather seeming to remind men as they go to and fro that there are invisible things which men seek with the mind’s eye, that there is a life which no man has touched, which no man has seen, that there is something that makes free the very truth itself; and these men shall touch the spirit of the undergraduates, the youngsters shall wonder if there are not visions which are worth seeing, if there are not tasks in those closeted places that are worth doing, if there is not something immortal bred in the occupations of those men. (Applause). Back of this little town, full of the visions of scholarship and of the diversions of sober, eager, ingenuous young men, there will stretch a fair garden open to the eye, where men shall see all the pleasant outlooks that that place commands; there shall be a girt of buildings down the avenue that leads to the woods below, and there shall run by those buildings a path which leads to the open quadrangles of the professional schools, upon which we shall look down as men look forward, look forward to their professional careers, look forward to the things in which they shall specifically serve the world, the quadrangle which shall house the men who are the students of jurisprudence, the students of law in all its scholarly outlooks, the men whose ambition it is not merely to seek their bread and butter by the practice of the law before the courts but whose ambition it is to supply the courts with the principles by which they shall develop the law of the country; men who shall know the old and abundant rootages of the court system of jurisprudence under which they live and who will be capable in moments critical and perplexing to give guidance to the development of the jurisprudence of this country; and then beyond that there will be the quadrangle containing those men who handle the force which runs the modern world of industry, the School of Electrical Engineering.

The electrical engineer stands at the strategic center of the future industry of this country, and we cannot afford that the industry of this country should go without the touch of the Princeton spirit. (Applause). The Princeton spirit, I think I don’t deceive myself in believing, is a spirit which is touched with the ideals of service, which is touched with those ideals which elevate professions from the lower grades to the grades in which they are conspicuous, the grades from which me reach achievement. There is a difference, gentlemen, between success and achievement. Achievement comes to the man who has forgotten himself and married himself and his mind to the task to which he has set himself; success may come to the merely diligent man.

And then where the woods has been closed about and all the fine outlooks are checked by the falling country, as it falls away to the lower lands below, where the soil is fertile, where it invites to cultivation, there will stand the great Museum of Natural History, a museum which Princeton needs now to relieve the groaning receptacles of Old North, which holds priceless collections which no man can even examine because they cannot be handled, because they cannot even be classified, because they cannot be laid before the student – those evidences of the life of the globe which it is indispensable that man should explore if he would understand the life of man and the progress of medical science.

These are the things which we dream of in our vision; and do we think of these things simply to enhance the charm of the place, simply to give ourselves new quadrangles and better and larger architecture, simply to make some man’s artistic fortune by saying, “Here is a place in which you can conceive the most complete and systematic body of buildings that can be erected anywhere in the United States?” Is this merely to please ourselves by adorning the place which we love? No. I take this dream to have this at its center: That we want to transform thoughtless boys performing tasks into thinking men. The trouble, gentlemen, with the modern undergraduate is that though a lovable boy he is a thoughtless boy. He is a boy who does his tasks sometimes merely because it is honorable for him to do his tasks; generally because it is compulsory to do his tasks; because he wants something which when he does his tasks that way really counts for nothing essential at all, he wants a paltry piece of parchment; he wants not to have the disgrace of saying that he did not graduate, but he is graduated when the end comes upon no scale of endeavor, he is graduated upon no scale of achievement, he is graduated upon a scale of residence.

We have heard a great deal about shortening the college course, and a great many persons have talked as if all that you had to judge of when you try to answer the question “When should a man graduate?” was how many times has he attended class. I have heard a great many discussions of this course which puzzled my non-mathematical head, because they said that it was necessary in order that a man should graduate that he should have in the aggregate attended sixty exercises per week. It makes you dizzy to think about it. They do not require that he should attend all sixty in any one week; he can spread these, if he has breath enough, over three years, if he has not breath enough for that he can spread them over four, if he chooses to be a gentleman of leisure he can spread them over five. But when he has sixty hours a week to his credit, why then he can graduate. What hours they apparently have to attend is for these gentlemen a matter of indifference; they simply want to reckon up son many Pharisaical performances of a certain definite requirement and then these self-righteous gentlemen are ready to graduate. It makes a great deal of difference, gentlemen, to a university whether it turns out thinking men or not. It does not make very much difference whether it turns out men who have attended lectures or not. (Applause). It would be a very nice test of university lecturers if the attendance were made optional; if a man had something to say the men would go and if he didn’t have anything to say the men would not go. I believe in my heart that any man who has something to say can get an audience; it may not be the same audience every day, but if he has something to put into the thought of the campus and the talk of the campus somebody will be there to hear him lecture, and if he has not something to contribute to the talk and the thought of the campus, ought anybody to be there to hear him lecture? That is a nice question which I should not like to press too far.

Now, gentlemen, I do not believe that a man ought to work all the time. (Many voices: Right! Good!) I knew that would be a popular sentiment. I believe that the Constitution of the United States guarantees to a man a certain amount of loafing; otherwise it would come under the head of cruel and unusual punishments. I am not going to propose that we compel the undergraduates to work all the time, but I am going to propose that we make the undergraduates want to work all the time. (Applause). And there is a way to do that. There is a way which I believe an infallible way. Mind you, there is no study in the curriculum of a university which is not of itself intrinsically interesting. There are no minds in a university to which some subjects in that university to which some subjects in that university may not be made to seem interesting, and the only way I know of to make a man see that a subject is interesting is to get him on the inside of it, and the only way to get him on the inside of it is to throw him on his own resources in becoming acquainted with it. I believe that there has to come in this country a radical change in our conception of an education, and I believe that it must come in this way: That we shall give up the school-boy idea that men are to be examined upon lectures and upon text-books, and come to the grown-up idea that men are to be examined on subjects. Let me take a concrete example, because I want to get into this thing. I want to be able to say, for example, to the undergraduates who choose that line of study, “You will at a certain date, which may turn out for you to be a fateful date, be examined on the subject of the constitutional history of the United States. Now you can get up that subject in ways which we will point out to you, or you can get up that subject in ways which you may discover for yourself, but if you don’t get that subject, we shall have the pain of parting company with you. We are not going to examine you upon what the lecturer in American constitutional history said, we are not going to examine you in the particular text books which he put in the catalogue as associated with his lectures; you can get up your history of America in that way or in some other way, but get up the history of America you must.” That makes a man of him, and it makes a man of him for this reason, that no man Is a man who receives his knowledge by instruction from somebody else; that a man is a man who receives hi instruction by his own efforts and inquiries.

Now there is a way to do that, gentlemen. There are different sorts of subjects in a curriculum, let me remind you; there are drill subjects, which I suppose are mild forms of torture, but to which every man must submit. So far as my own experience is concerned, the natural carnal man never desires to learn mathematics. We know by a knowledge of the history of the race that it is necessary but painful processes of drill to insert mathematics into a man’s constitution; he cannot be left to get up mathematics for himself because he cannot do it. There are some drill subjects which are just as necessary as the measles in order to make a man a grown-up person; he must have gone through those things in order to qualify himself for the experiences of life; he must have crucified his will and got up things which he did not intend to get up and reluctantly was compelled to get up. That I believe is necessary for the salvation of his soul. But there are other subjects, those subjects which are out of the field of the ordinary school curriculum and which I may perhaps be permitted to say are more characteristic in their kind of the university study. They are what I call the reading subjects, like philosophy, like literature, like law, like history. In those subjects it is futile to try to instruct men by mere classroom methods. The only way to instruct them is to provide a certain number of men sufficiently qualified as instructors, as scholars, who will be the companions and coaches and guides of the men’s reading, just as if we supplied the university with a score or more, with fifty or more, reference librarians, to say “If you want to get up such and such a subject here is the central and most authoritative literature on that subject, these are the books to read. If there are hard places in them we will explain them, if you lose your compass in the journey we will find your whereabouts again. You may report to us from time to time, you may consort with us every evening, we are your companions and coaches in the business, we are at your service.”

Just so soon as you do that you get men inside the subjects that they are seeking to get up, and until you do that you cannot get them inside the subjects they are trying to get up. That, you will say, is the English tutorial system. Yes, but the English make an old-fashioned mistake about it; they appoint their tutors for life and their tutors go to seed. No man can do that sort of thing for youngsters without getting tired of it. Now that is the truth of the matter. It makes it necessary that he should always be understanding the difficulties of beginners, and after awhile, ceasing to be a beginner himself, the thing becomes intolerable to him. He wants to go on about the independent research for which his beginnings have made him fit, and therefore, I do not believe you could afford to keep an ordinary tutor for more than five years at that particular job. I said this same thing in Chicago the other night and a newspaper reported that I said that no man ought to be a professor for more than five years. I did not say any such revolutionary thing as that. I said that no man ought to have this sort of a job for more than five years at a time.

Gentlemen, if we could get a body of such tutors at Princeton we could transform the place from a place where there are youngsters doing tasks to a place where there are men doing thinking, men who are conversing about the things of thought, men who are eager and interested in the things of thought; we know that, because we have done it on a small scale. Wherever you have a small class and they can be intimately associated with their chief in the study of an interesting subject they catch the infection of the subject; but where they are in big classes and simply hear a man lecture two or three times a week, they cannot catch the infection of anything, except it may be the voice and enthusiasm of the lecturer himself. This is the way in which to transform the place.

All of that, gentlemen, costs money. Now I am coming to business. To start that particular thing fairly and properly would need two millions and a quarter. (Whistles from the audience). I hope you will get your whistling over, because you will have to get used to this, and you may thank your stars I did not say four millions and a quarter, because we are going to get it. (Applause). I suspect there are gentlemen in this room who are going to give me two millions and a quarter to get rid of me. They will be able to get rid of me in no other way that I know of. And then, gentlemen, in order to do these other things which I have dreamed of, we shall need a great deal more than two millions and a quarter. I have not guessed at any figure that I have uttered. I have calculated upon a basis that I think in business would be recognized as a sound basis, every cent that I have estimated that Princeton will need, and the total is twelve millions and a half. (Applause). And what I want to say first of all about that sum of money is this, that there is no other university in the world that could make so small a sum go so far. There is not another university in the world that could transmute twelve millions and a half into so much red blood.

Now why do all of this? Why not be satisfied with the happy life at Princeton? Why not congratulate ourselves upon the comradeship of a scene like this, and say “This is enough, what could the heart of man desire more?” Because, gentlemen, what this country needs is not more good fellowship; what this country needs now more than it ever did before, what it shall need in the years following is knowledge and enlightenment. Civilization grows infinitely complex about us; the tasks of this country are no longer simple; men are not doing their duty who have a chance to know and do not equip themselves with knowledge in the midst of the tasks which surround us. Princeton has ever since her birthday stood for the service of the nation.

I have heard and my heart has echoes all the fine cheers of loyalty that have gone up for Princeton in this place and in other places, and no man who hears those cheers can doubt the genuineness of the impulse that is behind them. But, gentlemen, cheers and good wishes will not make the fortune of Princeton; these things will not give Princeton reputation; nothing will give Princeton reputation except the achievements of the men whom she creates. The reputation of a university is not a matter of report. It is a matter of fact. You know that we hear a great deal of sentimental cant nowadays about cultivating our characters. God forbid that any man should spend his days thinking about his own character. What he wants to do is to get out and accomplish something, achieve something that is honorable, something that leaves the world a little nearer to the ideals that men have at their hears, and his character will take care of itself. Your characters, gentlemen, are by-products and the minute you set yourselves to produce them you make prigs of yourselves and render them useless. I should despair of producing a character for Princeton by praising her. We are here to praise Princeton by serving our day and generation, by having some vision of the mind which we got in the comradeships of that place; and then these comradeships will mean for this country that which will assure her future. A body of men like this can in a day of crisis save the country they live in if they have purged their hearts and rectified their ways of thinking.

This is the vision which we all have; and when we have completed the task that is before us, as we shall complete it, as far as any one generation can complete what must go on forever, then every man who has scholarship and public service at heart, will feel that he must go first or last to worship at the same shrine with us. (Applause).

This was originally published in the December 13, 1902 issue of PAW.