The Three Years Course.
The Faculty Majority and Minority Reports as Given to the Overseers.
The minority report is signed by the following members of the faculty: Professors Whitney, Child, Cooke, Everett, Goodwin, Nash, White, Shaler, Allen, Farlow, Jackson, Davis, Hill, Chaplin, Byerly, Emerton, Mark, Mac Vane, Briggs, Peirce; Assistant Professors Cohn, Hall, Kittredge; Instructors Snow, Marcou, Huntington, Howard, Baker.
The text of the report follows:
Our first and strongest objection to the plan is, that we believe that it will inevitably lower the standard of our college education and degrade the bachelor's degree. Whether the proposed reduction be great or small, the same momentous principle is involved. The smallest reduction would be a step backwards and would reverse the best traditions of the college and the fixed policy of the past thirty years. This period has witnessed a slow but steady raising of the standard of the degree as a result of a radical improvement in the whole system of teaching. We can look back on this time with pride and satisfaction, feeling that every opportunity to elevate and broaden our scholarship has been eagerly improved. If this long and honorable record is now to be closed and our policy reversed; if our degree is to be degraded by our own free act, we shall be compelled to abandon our position as leaders in American scholarship and to take our places without excuse in the second rank. It must never be forgotten that, with all our improvement, we have not yet reached any such height of scholarship that we can afford to lower our standard-indeed we cannot lower it without positive discredit.
To a few of us, who have taken part in all the changes of the past thirty years, the present proposal seems to threaten to destroy by one blow all that has been gained during that period by the persistent labor of a whole generation of scholars. The present senior year may fairly be said to represent the net gain in scholarship which Harvard College has made since 1860; and if this year is lost we must begin again at the foot of the long and toilsome hill which we have slowly climbed.
Perhaps it may be thought unfair to discuss the present plan as if it proposed to reduce to college course to three years by cutting off the senior year. But it is the right and the duty of those who are asked to take a given step, to inquire what further steps are likely to follow the one proposed, and especially what is the intention of those who propose it. This is all the more necessary when the step involves the reversal of the long established policy of a great institution, so that an error, if made, cannot easily be corrected. No one who has followed the history of the present movement can doubt that the object of those most interested in its success is to secure a three years course. No one seriously doubts that the actual proposal, which relates to the work of half a year, is only an entering wedge, and that more will be demanded for consistency's sake if this fails on trial to secure at least one additional year of professional study. The faculty's plan would lead to many difficulties if it should be adopted as it stands. It will hardly be expected that many would avail themselves of the privilege of graduating in the middle of the senior year.
If the plan should be adopted, our students would form two distinct sets-those who would compress three and a half years work into three years, and those who would spread three and a half over four years. As both sets would be taught in the same classes, there could be no accommodation of the severity of the courses to either. The desire to do three and a half years work in three years would tend to encourage the choice of studies which demand easier work or have less dangerous examinations. This evil already puts the courses which demand severe and continuous work at a serious disadvantage, and it is unavoidably aggravated by the close competition for scholarships.
It is difficult to see how this plan can be called "a cautious experiment." A sudden reversal of the traditions of the college, even though the backward movement were very slight at first could be no mere experiment. It would be a step on an entirely new road, and one which it would be almost impossible to retrace. It would also inaugurate a new and most dangerous policy, for the college is now asked for the first time to cut off a part of its best education to regain time which has been worse than wasted in the lower schools, while there is no hint of any attempt to strike at the real cause of our delays in education. We feel, indeed, that the consequences of the proposed step would be so momentous to the welfare of this and other colleges, and to the whole community, that it ought not to be taken without the hearty and almost unanimous concurrence of all the boards which have the fate of Harvard College in their hands.