Like Measles

“Speaking generally, American university-trustees and presidents regard buildings, endowments and student-population as the important thing, while on the Continent the professors are regarded as the important thing. A visiting German pundit the other day remarked this difference rather naively. ‘When Germans come to America’, he said, ‘you show them all over your buildings. When Americans visit our institutions, we introduce them to our professors’. We talked this over for quite a while, and decided that the Continental authorities had the common-sense view. After all, you can teach in a tent or a barn to as good purpose as in a palace, if you have the right kind of student-material and are the right kind of teacher; and failing these conditions, a palace is no help — you and your students are all dressed up, with nowhere to go, and hence nothing happens. Trustees and presidents who have a good eye for buildings, moreover, have a notoriously poor eye for men, and the Continental is right in seeing that men are all that count, for education is something that is communicated only by contagion, like measles. If you wish to catch measles, you have to go where measles is, maybe in a palace, maybe in a hovel, no matter — you’ll get it. But if there is nobody around who has measles, you won’t get it, palace or no palace, hovel or no hovel.” (Albert Jay Nock, A Journey into Rabelais’s France, 1934)