The Princetonian in an article on the elective system published recently stated:
"From now onward the Harvard student meets the full elective system, and has no prescribed studies. If the sees fit, he may take Hebrew, French, Music, and Botany. If he wants however, something that is not simply incongrous, but in the nature of a "snap" he might drop the Hebrew and by little shifting around, keeping an eye open to the avoidance of conflicts in his weekly schedule, take French, Music, and Botany, and in place of the Hebrew, a course in elementary Fine Art where "practice in Drawing, including the use of water-colors, forms a considerable part of the work." That many men select such courses is not hard for anyone to believe who has seen the great skill often exhibited in the choice of easy subjects in other colleges. That it is practised in notorious."
This great question of elective vs. prescribed studies is still unsettled, and everyone's opinion on it should be treated with respect. When, however, one argues from such premises as above, some protest, in justice to the name of truth, should be uttered. By reference to the Dean's report, our esteemed contemporary will find that in the year 1883-84, the most popular courses in our college were not by any means the "snaps" or easy courses that appear in our elective pamphlet, but that, on the contrary, the hardest courses, those requiring the greatest research, and the most original thought, the courses in History, Philosophy, Political Economy, the languages and the sciences were elected by a very large number of students. The best system in any department of work can be abused, but the abuses of the elective system at Harvard are the exception, and not the rule. These eyils exist under other systems as our contemporary admits. Lazy men will be found at Harvard as well as at Princeton, but the system that allows the vast majority to make progress in the field of learning for which one is naturally fitted should not be condemned thereby.
This question is one that should call for a statement of the advantages of each system, and not of the possible evils that exist under any system that is not absolutely devoid of choice on the part of the student.
If Harvard under the elective system is such a paradise for lazy men, why is it that students will remain at prepartory schools an extra year in order to enter Harvard, and why is it that after they have entered, so many are found who are willing to take the hardest courses, and do the great amount of voluntary work that is done annually at Harvard in the way of supporting the many literary societies, the Finance Club, the Historical Society, and the Natural History and Mathemaiical Seminars? Why do they not. if they are seeking for ease, dispense with this year of hard work for preparation, and this extra labor after having entered college and go to Princeton, where no such opportunities are offered?
It may be notorious that a small number of students practice ingenuity in order to do the least amount of work at Harvard, but it is a fact, recognized by everyone familiar with the subject, that the vast majority of Harvard students are doing hard earnest work, and are profiting by the privileges afforded by the elective system.