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Every non-competitive examination and appointment that occurred under my observation, and of which I have personal knowledge, was consented to by the Board because good reasons were adduced for it; the persons so appointed have all given the best satisfaction, and not a single complaint has been heard of or presented against any of them. Those appointments were taken as a pretense for unjustified attacks upon this department, continued during many months. Its work was hampered; its cause discredited; certain rude and immature individuals presumed to dictate to the Commissioners what they ought to do, after systematically misleading the reading public by prevarications, by obscuring and misconstruing facts, and by slanderous insinuations evidently inspired by malicious malcontents; and I know that where they created the greatest disturbance, robbing this office of much valuable time and obstructing necessary work, there was not the least cause for complaint.
Erring is human, and neither the Commissioners nor their executive official pretend to be omniscient or infallible. During the period of less than three years, since the Board was first organized in 1895, they have continually sought to improve the system of registration, examination, marking and the general rules. They will continue to do so in the light of their growing experience; and as the combined law-givers of our country have not yet succeeded, after a century and a quarter of national, state and municipal legislation, to develop a code of law approaching perfection and giving general satisfaction, no person disposed to be reasonable and just will expect the new Civil Service Reform system to be perfect in its organization and to work without friction and defects after only a few years of practical application.
That the people generally have become convinced that a Civil Service examination at Milwaukee is no farce, is indicated by the quality of recent applicants, whose average intellectual and ethical level seems to be considerably higher than that of the applicants of former years.
For good reasons the Board adopted the policy in the examination for certain positions to give a moderate credit for a knowledge of those foreign languages that are spoken by considerable portions of the population of the city. Such knowledge is of practical value in saving time, preventing misunderstandings and errors, and generally facilitating business in places the incumbents of which are required to enter houses, or otherwise to come in contact with large numbers of people.
Many uneducated persons, and even people of good education who do not understand English and are obliged by circumstances to call at this office to apply for work, or at other departments for other reasons, labor under great disadvantages even if they have the good fortune to find officials who are able to understand them and to give them the required information; they are to be pitied if they are snubbed, as they are sometimes, by inconsiderate persons who do not understand them or find pleasure in pretending not to understand them; they are made to suffer for circumstances over which they may have had no control. It is, therefore, desirable that among the clerical and other official employes in every department there should be some who can attend to such callers; it is in the interest of the departments as well as the public, because it saves time and complications.
But this question admits of another aspect. Persons of foreign birth or descent who apply for city work and who have tried to learn English, are generally not as able to express their thoughts in our national tongue as native-born applicants; and in examinations where English grammar is one of the subjects taken into consideration and marked separately, the foreign-born applicants usually suffer great disadvantage. It is an unquestionable fact that very excellent, highly recommended men have failed to obtain a place on the eligible list of janitors and other classes, solely because the Chief Examiner, guided by the requirement of the application blank that applicants for all so-called official positions must fill out the blanks in their own handwriting, did not feel authorized to allow them to answer the examinations in their mother tongue.
The examiners at the recent plumbers' examination, having had more liberty of action, introduced a new departure in this matter by allowing answers to be given in the candidates' vernacular. If the men who were accorded that privilege prove to be proficient, accurate, cleanly, polite and honest laborers in their profession, the people have cause to thank the Plumbing Commissioners for the innovation.
If there is complaint of the moderate credit given for foreign languages after a maximum credit of 100% has been allowed for the. English language where language is marked separately, it results from an exaggerated idea of the manner of marking foreign languages, which gives to those who state that they do not know any other language besides English 75%, and to those who do from 80 to 100%-i. e., from 5 to 25% additional, which enters the final average with only a fraction of that increase.
In many departments of this as well as other governments certain officials or employes are paid extra for their knowledge of foreign languages, where it is desirable to arrive at facts for reasons of justice and fairness, to avoid errors in documents, or to save time, labor and trouble to individuals or to the public service.
As to the small credit given for foreign languages in examinations, I say with my favorite, Patrick Henry: "If this be treason, then make the most of it.”
STATISTICS OF THE 699 APPLICANTS
March 1, 1897, to February 28, 1898, inclusive.
About 32% foreign born. (In giving percentages in statistical tables fractions are omitted.)