The annual report of Dean Keppel of Columbia College recommends tentatively a new plan for undergraduate study during Junior and Senior years, which will doubtless evoke wide discussion. Strictly speaking, as he himself points out, the "Conference programme" is not new, for it somewhat resembles the mediaeval "disputations" system.
At the beginning of his Junior year, each student is to have the option of registering for independent study in place of the regular courses. Weekly conferences will be held by the instructors with the students, but they need come up for test only twice a year. Each year they are to give evidence of their work in a carefully considered essay bearing on their chosen subject. Certain other regulations there are, but those briefly sketched here give the main features of the scheme.
Already something like this Columbia experiment has been tried here at Harvard unofficially in connection with certain courses, and has been found to work with fair success, when limited to "honor men." In History 1, to mention only one example, the evening collateral conferences proved to add much to the interest of the course. But the plan as applied to undergraduates in general has its drawbacks. If undergraduate "human nature" were perfect, or if all the distractions,--subtle and otherwise,--which lead to procrastination and alas! too often to the professional tutor, could be swept away, then the "conference programme" would undoubtedly be a long step in advance toward thorough scholarship. As it is now, however, the proposed plan is directly opposed to the policy of more frequent tests, urged by the Student Council, as necessary to bring about regular and consistent work by undergraduates. The Columbia scheme may work admirably in the case of men of high standing, whose work needs no close supervision, but the success of its general application is by no means certain. In any event, the working of the plan, if applied at Columbia, will be watched with extreme interest.