WHEN I accepted the invitation extended by your Division of Education to lecture upon our system of public instruction in France, I felt that the present occasion would be particularly fitting for pointing out to American students the facilities to be found in France for the completion of studies begun in their local universities. I shall, therefore, speak to you this evening particularly of French higher education.
You have at present a very complete system of instruction in all kinds of human knowledge; you possess a great number of colleges and universities, some of which, like so many other things in America, have had a marvelously rapid growth and have already attained imposing proportions. The European visiting America for the first time experiences upon this score also the impression of "bigness" produced by so many other aspects of the continent. You can, then, I repeat, in your own land and under excellent conditions, study the essential parts of all knowledge, pure or applied.
For current needs you have nothing to seek abroad, and yet it would be well --- nay, even necessary --- for the general intellectual life of your country that you should become better acquainted with European methods, and that you should be able through closer association to understand the peculiarities of our intellectual life.
What Europe can give you in a general way is not so much its specialized learning as a consciousness of the interrelation of the various sorts of learning to each other and to the present-day knowledge of our world at large. You have been fortunate in being until now virtually the only great nation on your continent, and you have been able consequently to busy yourselves solely with your own affairs. You enjoy the most enviable material situation that a nation could have; but you must realize, it seems to me, that henceforth you will not be able to lead an existence so completely isolated as in the nineteenth century. With modern devices, the ocean is no longer the barrier that it was. You will be obliged, for multiple reasons, little by little to take a more direct interest in European affairs. This is an idea which I had occasion to express early in my visit to Harvard to members of the Cercle Français, and it appeared to me a logical necessity that this democratic country should set its face more squarely towards the liberal nations of Europe, that is to say, France and England. A few days later I was extremely happy to find these same ideas expressed by President Eliot with all his great authority in a fine letter to the New York Times. I believe that this war will put an end to the absolutely autonomous political life which you have been able to lead up to now. You will be forced, as England has been, to renounce your splendid isolation.
It is, then, very important that the more cultivated part of your youth should be acquainted with intellectual Europe and its tendencies, and that it should be able to set a just appreciation upon the education of its diverse peoples; that is to say, upon the relation which ii every nation general human knowledge bears to its particular forms of social existence. Now in the last forty years it has been almost an accepted tradition in this country to go and finish one's studies in German universities. It is not to be denied that you have found there much to learn, particularly in knowledge of a special and technical kind, and this at a period when you did not have at your disposition the equipment you possess to-day. But that time is past. What Germany could teach you formerly, you now have; and without entering into controversy I believe I may fairly say --- indeed, in the light of the terrible events actually happening it is only too evident to every man of common sense and sincerity --- that it is not from Germany that you should ask a model of culture. The liberal countries, France in particular, have much closer association with the fundamental principles of your civilization, and I do not fear to say, with every civilization truly moral. I must add that your knowledge of France was frequently inadequate and inexact for the very reason that your young men had not been sent there in greater numbers. I am much touched by the high esteem which you profess at this moment for my country. I often hear it stated that France has risen wonderfully during these last two years. But in truth France has not risen above her normal self. She was, for him who knew her truly and who did not trust to superficial impressions or to the calumnies which are a part of a system of perfidious propaganda, she was, I repeat, just what she shows herself to be to-day. To this fact authoritative and direct testimony, which spoke to our very souls, has been borne in Professor Barrett Wendell's book, The France of To-day. It would be futile for me to plead my country's cause before you here at Harvard.
Possibly you did not really know --- I am thinking now of young students --- how many opportunities France, through its universities and diverse institutions of higher education, can offer you. I should like to sketch them briefly. A long series of lectures or possibly a book would be necessary were I to explain them in detail. I shall limit myself merely to the indication of a few essentials.
A first and most important question is that of language, for in order to profit by the teaching in our various institutions, it is absolutely indispensable to know French. Most of you have already studied it here, and it will be easy for you to perfect yourself in it quickly in France. Many French universities, in times of peace, had summer courses organized especially for foreigners, in which the teaching of French was the principal object. The most agreeable town for this study is perhaps Grenoble, in l'Isère. Grenoble is marvelously located in the Alps of the Dauphiné, in the midst of landscapes which may well rival the most beautiful in Switzerland, and throughout the whole period of the course, excursions are organized for trips into the country round about. At Paris, also, thanks to the efforts of the Alliance Française, there is instruction of the same kind, under very excellent conditions, quite apart from university work. The Alliance organization has now an excellent home at 101 Boulevard Raspail, and every year offers courses during July and August. Thus a student setting out for Paris. at the end of the academic year at Harvard can, in normal times, pass his vacation agreeably at Paris or at Grenoble, or in any other university, and during that time perfect his knowledge of French with a view to following the university courses which begin in November. My immediate predecessor here at Harvard as exchange professor, M. H. Lichtenberger, has just written me, moreover, that a few weeks ago a committee of professors was organized to advise American students as to conditions of life and living. Students from Harvard, in particular, are certain to find the most cordial welcome, for we all know of the presence and devotion of so many of your comrades upon our front.
Let me now give you a brief idea of what a French university is, for there are marked differences between our universities and those which you know here.
We enjoy in France perfect liberty in educational matters; consequently there are many private institutions of higher learning, including several free universities, more or less complete; but for the foreigner they are of no practical importance. I cite from memory the Faculties of Protestant Theology at Paris and Montauban, and the Catholic Universities at Paris, Angers, Lille, and Lyons. We may therefore limit ourselves to a consideration of the state or national universities. Our state universities are all constructed upon the same plan, and hence may be described together. They consist of four faculties: Law, Medicine, Science, and Letters. Theology is no longer taught by the state.
Eight universities are complete: Paris, Lille, Nancy, Lyons, Montpellier, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Alger. In the others --- Caen, Rennes, Poitiers, Dijon, Grenoble, Aix, Marseilles, Besançon, and Clermont --- there are no medical faculties, but merely a school of medicine, in which studies may be begun but not finished. Moreover, at Besançon and at Clermont there is no law faculty. These incomplete universities are naturally smaller than the others, but for certain specialties may be found very interesting. This is particularly true of Grenoble and Marseilles.
Let us consider for a moment who the French students are and under what conditions they come to the university. The principal fact to be brought forward is that we have not the exact equivalent of your colleges. Our young people receive their secondary education in both public institutions (lycées nationaux or collèges communaux) and private (collèges libres). They remain in them until their seventeenth or eighteenth year, and during the last two years they take, outside their institutions and before the Faculties of Letters and of Science, certain examinations, the sum total of which comprises what we call le Baccalauréat. These examinations bear upon French, ancient and modern languages, mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry), physics, chemistry, the natural sciences, geography, and the history of philosophy. The French baccalauréat represents, in short, a degree of culture which is attained here in the course of your four years in college, and the studies pursued in our Faculties correspond to those of your Graduate School work, although the limits do not correspond exactly.
The baccalauréat is the degree requisite for admission to the regular work of a university. Through it the young student has direct access to the Faculties of Law, Science, or Letters. To matriculate under the Faculty of Medicine, he must first pass a year with the Faculty of Sciences, and follow courses with special practical work in physics, chemistry, zoology, and botany, which may be afterward approved by an examination conferring what we call the "Certificat P.C.N." You see, then, that the young Frenchman passes directly from the lycée to the professional schools of Law and Medicine without that long period of transition, so agreeable for you and so rich in consequences for the vitality of your universities, that is made possible by your progress from the freshman to the senior years. In your American society, where leisure is so rare, you have contrived to leave more time free to your youths for the acquisition of general information and for the pursuit of physical exercise than we have left to ours. Moreover, this privilege of college life is possible for all.
It is not the same with the French university, and this remark is very important. We have many special schools entirely distinct from the universities --- and very well organized, for that matter --- for which the student is directly prepared by courses of high order in the lycées after receiving the baccalauréat, and from which one may enter upon numerous careers, especially those of engineering. The result of this is that an important element of our French youth, and one of the best elements, escapes entirely from university influence. We shall see presently the historical reasons for this fact, which in my opinion is much to be regretted.
I have spoken of French students. What of the foreigners? They are admitted to regular standing, without the French baccalauréat, upon the presentation of diplomas, which may be considered as equivalent, from their own countries. To all these remarks, I should add that in our universities women are admitted, upon the same footing as men, to all Faculties, to all kinds of study, research work, or examinations.
We come, now, to the studies pursued in the university, and it may be best to examine them under the heading of each separate Faculty.
The French Law Schools are particularly rich in students --- there are more than 7000 at Paris alone---some destined for the legal careers of avocat, magistrat, etc., others intending simply to acquire a more or less general knowledge of the law at large. The instruction, which is theoretical in nature, bears upon the various parts of law, properly speaking, and of political economy. There are two degrees, la licence and le doctorat. The études de licence last three years, and cover all matters relating to law. During the course of these three years, there is a series of examinations, all oral. Before the student may work for le doctorat, he must be licencié. His studies bear only upon certain parts of the law, investigated with greater thoroughness. There are more oral examinations to be passed, and in addition, the candidate must present, by way of thesis, an original study which is printed, after acceptance by the Faculty, and which he must defend publicly. I mention in passing a competition which takes place periodically between doctors for the purpose of conferring upon a number of them which is fixed in advance the title of agrégé. This competition is our method of recruiting professors of the Faculty of Law. It has no other interest for you than to show that these professors are chosen by a very severe process of selection. Le doctorat and l'agrégation differ from la licence in that they are awarded for specialization. There are several distinct forms of doctorat and agrégation corresponding to the several parts of legal study.
Our Facultés de Médecine are at once professional schools and laboratories for original research in medicine, surgery, and biology. I cannot enter here into a detailed examination of all these medical studies, but it may be asserted without fear of contradiction that they are strongly organized and that the teaching body is composed of men of rare worth. I may add upon this score that the Faculty of Medicine is recruited in a manner similar to that of recruiting the Faculty of Law by means of a public competition, also called l'agrégation, specialized according to the various parts of medicine.
Instruction here takes the form of courses in theory, in practical work, and of probationary periods passed in hospitals. These last are spaced out over some three years, and bear upon the practice of medicine, surgery, and obstetrics. In addition to the hospitals reserved for the medical school, there is, particularly at Paris, a considerable number of emergency hospitals, and the like, all dependent upon the Board of Charities, to which students may be admitted, and where they may perform, after selection by special competition, the duties of externe and interne. These medical studies last for a minimum of five years, not comprising the year previously spent with the Faculté de Science to obtain the certificat P.C.N. In the course of these five years the student has to pass a series of oral and clinical examinations, and finally to defend his printed thesis after it has been accepted by the Faculty.
It is thus that one obtains the degree of doctor in medicine, which is the academic approbation of his medical studies, and at the same time gives him the right to practise. All Faculties of Medicine are open to foreign students and offer them exceptional opportunities at every stage. The baccalauréat, and even the P.C.N., may be replaced by foreign diplomas admitted as equivalent. But the practice of medicine in France is reserved for doctors all of whose degrees are French. This, however, is a question of professional procedure.
It goes without saying that the scientific work in the laboratories and clinics is open to foreigners, like the other functions of externe and interne in the hospital service. Our Faculties of Medicine have always had many foreign students,
I shall treat these two faculties as one, for they have many traits in common. We must at once recall that they have undergone many important modifications during the last thirty years. Until then they retained the narrow limitations which the university organization of Napoleon I had imposed upon them. Thereby they were particularly charged with the conferring of state degrees necessary for various public careers: first, the baccalauréat, for which they examined, as they still examine, the students in the lycées and in the public and free colleges; secondly, la licence---licentia docendi --- ès-lettres or ès- sciences, a degree necessary to teach in colleges and schools. There were formerly courses in the Faculties which prepared for this degree. They had then, as students, especially the future professors of secondary education, a necessarily restricted number. In the third place, they conferred the doctorat ès-lettres or ès-sciences, the degree necessary for faculty professors and for which the candidates were still less numerous. All young men with practical intentions wishing to follow higher scientific courses, such as those pertaining to the engineer's art, passed through special schools to which we shall revert later.
During the last thirty years, our Faculties' field of action has been greatly extended. To the preceding rôles, which have become in a certain measure accessory, is to be added that of the supervision of all institutions organized for original research in the fields of science, history, philosophy, and literary criticism. Our Faculties have thus acquired --- much as the German universities which preceded them in this path --- laboratories for experimental science and seminaries for other kinds of disciplines.
Let us now consider the normal trend of the studies which may interest American students.
First, la licence. --- In the Faculty of Letters the studies for la licence take from two to three years. The examination comprises written compositions and oral tests. There are certain fundamental tests which are obligatory, such as French composition, the turning of French into Latin, and optional subjects. Moreover, la licence is a specialized degree. There is a licence in letters, properly speaking, another in philosophy, another in history, and another in modern languages (German, English, Spanish, Italian).
In the Faculties of Science, until some twenty years ago, there were three licenciés ès-sciences, as follows: in mathematics (comprising higher analysis, rational mechanics, and astronomy), in physics (chemistry and mineralogy), and in natural science (zoology, botany, and geology). Recently, the system has been made more supple, with both advantages and disadvantages. The student passes a special and distinct examination on each one of the sciences taught in his Faculty: for example, on rational mechanics or biological chemistry, or mineralogy, or zoology. In the Faculté des Sciences at Paris, there are twenty-three different examinations for certificats d'études supérieures. Three of these diplomas chosen arbitrarily by the student confer upon him the title of licencié ès-sciences. This system leaves to the student, and especially to the foreign student whose studies have been commenced elsewhere, a great liberty in the choice of the sciences which might interest him. It cannot be denied that this has the disadvantage of frequently permitting the sacrifice of fundamental studies in favor of others highly specialized for which the student may be insufficiently prepared, but in which the examinations for contingent reasons are. or appear to be, more easy. The law of least resistance, which is not always that of progress, finds here its application --- a condition of affairs, however, not monopolized by French universities. But this arrangement, we must not forget, has permitted the development of a broader field of instruction which did not easily find a place in the scheme of the old licences. It has permitted an ever-increasing diversification of universities, and it offers foreigners the possibility of seeking in France the precise sort of instruction that they need. The Students' Handbook, published by the University of. Paris, gives the nomenclature of the certificates granted not only at Paris, but also at the other universities. I may add that the certificates taken in one university have an equal value in the others. In the Faculté des Sciences, in addition to the instruction leading to the certificat d'Études Supérieures, there are courses qualifying for the certificat P.C.N. These consist of practical work in physics, chemistry, zoology, and botany, for future students of medicine.
Second, le doctorat. --- The question of the doctorate is particularly important for foreign students, many of whom leave their own lands, their studies finished, to go abroad for the prosecution of original research under the direction of some well-known master, and for the later success of their callings it may be essential that these first investigations be sanctioned and confirmed by the doctor's degree. The organization of the German universities lent itself easily to this arrangement, and that was one of the reasons which gave them such a strong foreign following. It was different in France. The French doctorate --- I am speaking of the doctorat ès-sciences or ès-lettres --- is a very different thing from the German doctorate. This last is the normal ending of every student's university life: hence it cannot lay claim to any great scientific pretension. The student obtains it by writing a thesis called, very pertinently, his commencement dissertation (dissertation inaugurale), which is a work generally of slight importance, although certain superior minds are revealed in it from time to time. This German doctorate corresponds merely to the French licence, with this difference, however, that it requires a stronger personal effort in its original research. But the French doctorate is much more. If one were to seek a German equivalent for it, he would have to select the Habilitationsschrift, and even then the comparison would not be exact. In short, our doctorate is based upon a thesis constituting not a mere rough outline, but, in letters, a deep and exhaustive investigation of an important question, in science a work containing a number of results truly new. To be sure, there are mediocre French theses, but if one considers the subject impartially, one must admit that most of them are solid work, marking a definite advance in criticism or science. The French doctorate, then, represents a prolonged effort made by men who have already finished their regular university studies, approved by la licence. It is undertaken only by the best of our students, and not by all, as is the German doctorate. Finally, for these reasons, the French doctorate is the test which gives access to all teaching positions in the universities, as for that matter the Habilitationsschrift in Germany is the probationary test for the privatdocentisme.
This explains why, in spite of the deceptive similarity of the words, the French doctorate has been less easily obtainable. Not only do we demand a work more notable, more exacting, and longer than the German dissertation, but before being eligible for the doctorate, it was, until quite recently, necessary that the student be first licencié, that is to say, to have done practically all his work in a French university. This drove from us the great majority of foreigners who would have liked to take the French degree of doctor. This unfortunate condition has seriously preoccupied us during the last few years, and we have now succeeded in remedying it in a certain, although not definite, fashion. You may now come and ask from French universities a doctor's degree, which will be the expression of our academic approval of a good piece of original work. The solution has been to institute, beside the old doctorate, which was a national degree conferring its rights only upon French citizens, and for which we continue to demand strictly the previous degree of licencié --- to institute, I repeat, a doctorat d'université, a degree strictly academic, carrying with it no legal rights but for which the previous degree of licencié is not necessary. The candidate must present an original study, of sufficient importance, which shall have been executed in part at least under the direction of French professors in university classrooms, libraries, or laboratories. The various universities have established requirements varying slightly one from the other as to the requisites of the degrees previously obtained, for evidently we cannot permit a person to offer his thesis who could not present sufficient guarantee of previous special instruction. These differing requirements cannot be summed up here. They are still open to revision. What concerns us is their spirit, which tends toward facilitating for foreigners our title of doctor by taking into consideration studies already pursued in the candidate's own land. I cannot call your attention too strongly to these liberal modifications, which we hope will bring us many foreign candidates, and in particular Americans. They will certainly be cordially welcomed.
Third, l'agrégation. --- In concluding these remarks on the scheme of instruction in the Facultés des Lettres et des Sciences, I must add a word about the agrégation des Sciences and the agrégation des Lettres. They are altogether different, in spite of the similarity in name, from those in law or medicine which I have mentioned above. These are competitions among doctors, opening the way to the honor of teaching in the Faculties of Law and Medicine. The agrégations des Sciences et des Lettres are competitions which open the way to secondary teaching. All professors in our national lycées must have the title of agrégé des lettres or agrégé des sciences. To be a candidate for l'agrégation one must have fulfilled certain conditions, amongst others that of being licencié. The competition for l'agrégation, arranged each year by the Minister of Education for the whole of France, comprises written tests by which the candidate's general knowledge is tested, and oral lessons by which his pedagogic fitness is judged. The preparation for l'agrégation is made in the Facultés des Science et des Lettres. It is an essentially pedagogic preparation. At Paris it centres in the Ecole Normale Supérieure, which is, as it were, the pedagogic seminary of the University. This school, however, attracts a special class of students, recruited each year in public competition throughout the land, and for the last hundred years it alone, thanks to this competition, has furnished the greater part of the élite of the teaching personnel in France, both in secondary and in higher education. It is an institution sui generis.
The agrégation has no special interest for foreign students. It is merely a national competition, reserved in the nature of things for French students. But foreign students may, with special authorization, be admitted to follow the pedagogic work preparatory to it, and this may be of great profit to those amongst you who intend to make teaching a profession.
Such are the general conditions governing instruction in our French universities. To make the situation more definite I have tried to condense what I have just said in the accompanying table. I have limited myself to general terms applicable to all universities, although in the matter of detail there are differences between them.
|Degree necessary to be admitted as student||
|(Or diplomas which may be equal to the baccalauréat in the countries where they are conferred)|
|(Three years, with a series of oral examinations)||(Five years, with a series of oral examinations, work in clinics; a final thesis)||(Granted for three certificates
of higher study) Each faculty prepares for a certain number of
certificates corresponding to its various courses of study, any
one of which may be taken separately.
2d Certificat P.C.N.
|(Philosophy, history, letters, modern languages)|
(Oral examination and thesis)
|Special national competition for the selection of||Agrégation de Droit||Agrégation de Médecine||Agrégations des Sciences (mathématiques, physiques, naturelles)||
Agrégation de philosophie, lettres, grammaire, histoire et geographic, langues vivantes
|(For recruiting university professors)||(For recruiting professors for the national lycées)|
In what has gone before, we have been concerned merely with teaching, properly speaking, and with degrees. It may-now be pertinent to discuss the organization of our laboratories for special research; but this cannot be summed up briefly. It would be necessary to speak of each university and each laboratory in detail, and this is not the place for it. I shall limit myself to saying merely that at the present time one finds in French universities ample opportunities for the prosecution of research work in literature, science, or medicine, under the direction of professors.
Any one of our universities may, perhaps, offer foreigners attractions which no other can supply: Nancy, Lyons, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Marseilles, for example, all have laboratories diversely interesting. But, all in all, Paris presents the greatest opportunity and the greatest attractions, for in addition to the university, properly speaking, there is a whole series of schools and special institutions of higher education.
In conclusion let me say a word concerning that part of the University of Paris called the Sorbonne. The Sorbonne is the home of our Facultés des Lettres et des Sciences. Here, together with the Library, they occupy one of the original sites of the University of Paris. This institution --- with the Universities of Bologna and Oxford, the most ancient in Europe --dates back to the twelfth century, and following the general type, for which, moreover, it served as model, it was at first composed of a certain number of separate colleges. The name Sorbonne was applied to one of these colleges founded in the thirteenth century under St. Louis by Robert de Sorbon, to shelter poor theological students. This college afterwards became the Faculté de Théologie. In the seventeenth century the Sorbonne was rebuilt by Cardinal Richelieu, the great minister of Louis XIII. It has been recently reconstructed and enlarged (1885-1900), but the Richelieu chapel where one may still see the tomb of the great statesman, and the general appearance of the courtyard have been preserved. The location of the Sorbonne thus evokes ancient and illustrious memories. Without ignoring the fact that every effort has been made to satisfy the modern needs of our Faculties, it is nevertheless to be regretted that historical prestige should have kept the University of Paris in the centre of the great city, in a place where there can be no further expansion. And so, although this reconstruction is all so recent, we find ourselves at this moment confronted by a veritable swarm of laboratories, quite apart from our university, and extending even into the suburbs of Paris. What is necessary above all else for a modern university is space, where each of its separate parts may find room to develop comfortably. On this score your American universities are much better than ours, because you have not been bound by tradition.
1. In May, of 1916, Professor Maurice Caulléry, of the University of Paris, Exchange Professor at Harvard, delivered, at the invitation of the Division of Education, three lectures at Harvard on Education in France. They have been translated by George Luther Lincoln, '96, Instructor in Romance Languages, Harvard University. The first of them, here printed, describes the opportunities for American students at the French universities, and is even more timely, as the resumption of European relationships draws nearer, than it was when delivered. ---EDITOR.