Because it is an important recognition of the short-comings of the present system of advanced study in the Arts and Sciences, much attention is due President Lowell's proposal to establish Graduate Fellowships. In his annual report to the Board of Overseers, the President devotes considerable space to the Graduate School, pointing out that, while the School provides adequate training for "the industrious, worthy men who will find an honorable and highly useful place in secondary schools or in research laboratories", it does not adapt itself to the needs of the man who in college has already shown himself to be a scholar of more than mediocre potentiality.
Today's system of collecting degrees as the only means of scholastic progress has been scored before this, but the President's criticism goes beyond the familiar decrying of the Ph.D. racket and makes a constructive suggestion for improvement of the system. The recommendation calls for the creation of "a group of fellowships for men not over twenty-five." These men are to be selected "upon evidence of remarkable promise"; they are to work with "a body of older fellows eminent in different fields" in "surroundings most adapted to entice and fructify the imagination." More notable, the holders of the three-year prize are to have no assigned task, to go through no routine research, but to engage in whatever study their intellectual curiosity leads them.
There may be a tinge of the Utopian to the plan; it is certainly a far cry from the Widener mill. More than anything else it resembles the well-known traveling fellowships, except that in this case the holder of the award is presumably to reside at Harvard under the House Plan. But, behind the attractive details of the proposal is the fundamental idea that men of extraordinary ability commence their creative studies while they are still young, and that if the University is to aid them in their work to its best ability, it must free them from the snares of degree requirements and set them on their own, not to solve problems of academic minutiae, but to start on a path that may end with a discovery that is really a serious contribution to thought.
It is evident that the proposal is in line with the one constant ideal in the Harvard concept of education intellectual freedom for the individual. How the fellowships, if established, will work out in practice is another matter. University theory and practice are two different things and innovations are often more attractive on paper than in subsequent actuality. The great problem of the new proposal will be to imbue its spirit into the flesh of University administration. While grades, theses, and courses dominate the standards of University Hall, it will be exceedingly difficult to select the basic material for the fellowships and have the winners free from the present pit-falls of the Graduate School.