The current issue of Vanity Fair contains an article by John Jay Chapman entitled "Harvard's Plight," a renewed complaint against the composition of the Corporation. Although we were surprised to find such a weighty subject discussed in a publication which seldom enters upon academic questions, the matter is too important to be dismissed without thought or comment. Mr. Chapman declares that Harvard is run by State Street bankers and that they have caused a spirit of "commercialism" to pervade its former intellectual atmosphere.
Yet although the Corporation is composed mainly of bankers, and although it is true that the College does not compare as an intellectual center with most of the English universities, the connection between the two appears rather remote. The Corporation owns the University, appoints and pays the professors, and administers, in general, all its affairs; but in the selection of courses and the direction of the matters of instruction, and in the internal management, the Corporation concerns itself but little. It acts upon the recommendation of the Faculty and the Overseers, and in many cases, merely serves as the "official rubber stamp." The Corporation is primarily a business organization, charged with attending to the financial interests of the University.
The undeniable decline of scholarship at Harvard--but no more at Harvard than at other colleges--is due not so much to banking interests in the Corporation as to the absence of great scholars in the Faculty. It is the reputation of great teaching which attracts men to the college and which impels students to seek scholastic attainment. The greatest difficulty Harvard now faces is the lack of funds; professors have been asked to accept positions here, in some cases, for $2,000 less than they were getting. Such a situation cannot but keep able men from coming here.
The main need of the University is for financial backing. A Corporation composed of men of sound business judgment can do more good than a Corporation composed of intellectuals, who though admirable judges of scholars, cannot offer them a sufficient salary to induce them to devote their energies to Harvard.
There seems justice in the demands of many alumni that one or two members of the Corporation should come from New York or cities outside of New England. They consider that new blood should broaden the outlook of the Corporation. In that there is obvious reason. But the necessity for able business men on the Corporation is paramount, to provide a strong backing and to keep the University and its professors out of need.
Mr. Chapman's indictment, although well meant, and aimed to correct a deplorable lack of intellectuality, hit upon the wrong cause, and attacked a Corporation which is now trying to remedy our greatest shortcoming.