Address at Temple University, Philadelphia, on Receiving an Honorary Degree
Governor Earle, President Beury, friends of Temple University, and, I am glad to be able to say now, my fellow alumni:
I have just had bestowed upon me a twofold honor. I am honored in having been made an alumnus of Temple University; and I am honored in having had conferred upon me for the first time the Degree of Doctor of Jurisprudence.
It is a happy coincidence that we should meet together to pay our respects to the cause of education not only on the birthday of the Father of this Nation, but also in the halls of a very great institution that is bringing true education into thousands of homes throughout the country. I have always felt certain that in Washington's wise and kindly way, he deeply appreciated the importance of education in a Republic—I might say throughout a Republic—and also the responsibility of that thing known as Government to promote education. Let this simple statement stand by itself without the proof of quotation. I say this lest, in this year of 1936, if I quoted excerpts from the somewhat voluminous writings and messages of the first President of the United States, some captious critic might search the Library of Congress to prove by other quotations that George Washington was in favor of just the opposite! Therefore, on this anniversary of his birth I propose to break a century-old precedent. I shall not quote from George Washington on his birthday.
More than that, and breaking precedent once more, I do not intend to commence any sentence with these words—"If George Washington had been alive today" or "If Thomas Jefferson" or "If Alexander Hamilton" or "If Abraham Lincoln had been alive today—beyond peradventure, beyond a doubt or perhaps the other way around, etc., etc., etc."
Suffice it to say this: What President Washington pointed out on many occasions and in many practical ways was that a broad and cosmopolitan education in every stratum of society is a necessary factor in any free Nation governed through a democratic system. Strides toward that fundamental objective were great, as we know, in the first two or three generations of the Republic, and yet you and I can assert that the greatest development of general education has occurred in the past half century, indeed, within the lives of a great many of those of us who are here today.
As literacy increases people become aware of the fact that Government and society form essentially a cooperative relationship among citizens and the selected representatives of those citizens.
When we speak of modern progress, it seems to me that we place altogether too much emphasis upon progress in material things—in invention, in industrial development, in growth of national wealth.
But progress in the things of the mind has been even more striking in these past fifty years. In my childhood a high-school education was an exceptional opportunity for an American boy or girl; a college education was possible only to an exceedingly small minority. Professional schools had hardly come into existence. And yet since 1900, thirty-six years ago, while the Nation's population has increased by about 70 percent, the enrollment in all branches of institutions of higher learning has increased well over 400 percent, and that tells the story. At the beginning of this century the total enrollment in our colleges and universities was just one student short of 168,000.
I think it is too bad that the enumerators and college presidents did not get that other one student; it would have been so much easier for the statisticians and enumerators in this year.
Today, instead of 168,000, less one, over a million students are seeking degrees in our colleges and universities and more than 700,000 are enrolled in extension courses and summer schools. I think that we of Temple University—and you see I am exercising my right now to speak as an alumnus—can take special pride in the part that our institution has taken in this growth, for Temple has carried in practice the basic ideal of its great founder, Doctor Russell Conwell. I am very happy to think back to the days when I was in college and heard him deliver that famous lecture which almost every man, woman and child knew. Doctor Conwell believed that every young person should be given a chance to obtain a good education, and he founded Temple University to meet the needs of those who might not be able to afford a college education in other hails. He believed that education should respond to community needs and fit itself into the many-sided and complex life that modern conditions have imposed upon us.
I shall watch with the keenest interest the working out of the plan recently adopted by Temple for carrying even further the practical application of this practical guiding ideal. I refer to the plan for forming an organization to be known as the "Associates of Temple University," and to be composed of representatives of the various commercial, industrial, financial and professional interests of the community outside the University's walls. As I understand it—and this is something that every other university can well afford to emulate- as I understand it, this organization will be far more than a mere advisory body, set up to meet on special and infrequent occasions and to draft recommendations of a general character. The "Associates of Temple University" will be an integral and organic part of the University's structure; the individual Associates will have clearly defined duties and responsibilities, which they will carry out according to a definite plan, and their purpose will be to serve as the "eyes and ears" of the university throughout the community, constantly alert to the changing social and economic needs, and continuously interpreting these needs to the university itself.
I am proud to be the head of a Government which tries to think along similar lines, a Government that has sought and is seeking to make a substantial contribution to the cause of education, even in a period of economic distress. Through the various agencies of the national Government, we have been helping educational institutions not only to maintain their existence, but to add to their equipment and to their offerings to the youth of the country. Since 1933 the Government has made, through the various governmental agencies of the Administration, allotments of various kinds to communities for schools, colleges and library buildings, amounting to more than $400,000,000. I shall not go into higher mathematics and tell you the man-hours of work that that has created, but you can work it out for yourself, and you will agree with me that that expenditure of money has served at least two purposes. In addition to bricks and mortar and labor and loans, we are also providing through the Works Progress Administration educational courses for thousands of groups of adults wherever there are competent unemployed teachers; and, through the National Youth Administration, funds for part-time employment to help deserving young people to earn their way through accredited colleges and universities in every part of the United States.
We have rightly taken the position that in spite of the fact that economic adversity through these years might impose upon the youth of the country distressing and unavoidable burdens, the Government owed it to the future of the Nation to see that these burdens should not include the denial of educational opportunities for those who were willing and ready to use them to advantage.
Educational progress in the past generation has given to this country a population more literate, more cultured, in the best sense of the word, more aware of the complexities of modern civilized life than ever before in our history. And while the methods of spreading education are new, the lessons of education are eternal. The books may be new, but the truth is old.
The qualities of a true education remain what they were when Washington insisted upon its importance.
First among these qualities is a sense of fair play among men.
As education grows, men come to recognize their essential dependence one upon the other. There is revealed to them the true nature of society and of Government which, in a large measure, culminates in the art of human cooperation.
The second great attribute of education is peculiarly appropriate to a great democracy. It is a sense of equality among men when they are dealing with the things of the mind. Inequality may linger in the world of material things, but great music, great literature, great art and the wonders of science are, and should be, open to all.
Finally, a true education depends upon freedom in the pursuit of truth. No group and no Government can properly prescribe precisely what should constitute the body of knowledge with which true education is concerned. The truth is found when men are free to pursue it. Genuine education is present only when the springs from which knowledge comes are pure. It is this belief in the freedom of the mind, written into our fundamental law, and observed in our everyday dealings with the problems of life, that distinguishes us as a Nation, the United States of America, above every Nation in the world.
In our ability to keep pure the sources of knowledge, in our mind's freedom to winnow the chaff from the good grain, in the even temper and in the calmness of our everyday relationships, in our willingness to face the details of fact and the needs of temporary emergencies—in all of these lie our future and our children's future.
"On your own heads, in your own hands, the sin and the saving lies!"
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Temple University, Philadelphia, on Receiving an Honorary Degree Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208540