Lowell Views Rapid Completion of House Units and System With Satisfaction--Bases Standards on Student Responsibility
In his annual report to the Board of Overseers, President Lowell summarized the additions to the University buildings and commented upon the developments and changes in college life.
Sections from the report follow.
"Less than three years from the day Mr. Harkness first suggested his gift for the Houses all seven of them were in full operation. For such a result we are indebted to the skill, the devotion and the tireless energy of the architects and the officers of the University who have taken part in the work. Save for the old Russell Hall--a part of Adams House, which Mr. Harkness proposed should be torn down and rebuilt at his expense--the Houses were completed and occupied at the opening the term this autumn. Residence in them has been voluntary, yet rooms for only fifty-one students, out of seventeen hundred and thirteen, are now vacant; and these include the unfilled places of men who have withdrawn because of the depression or other causes, and of freshmen who, after being assigned rooms, have failed to win promotion and cannot occupy them.
Of the undergraduates who do not live at home, nine seniors, thirty-five juniors and thirty-three sophomores have preferred to hire private houses in which they can live in small groups by themselves. To permit them to do so has been thought wiser than to attach to the Houses any sense of compulsion, or make residence therein other than a privilege.
That a resistless current will before long draw all such men into the vast majority of their fellow students there is no reason to doubt; and in the meanwhile the less is theirs.
As yet it is too early to predict the effect of the Houses, or to know how far they will fulfill the hopes of those who sponsored them; for they are a new experiment, and some years must pass before they acquire permanent traits and traditions. But they have started well, Their members--undergraduates, tutors and associates--seem happy and contented, and few serious obstacles have arisen. The masters and senior tutors have succeeded in the difficult task of selecting the applicants, so that each House contains a fair cross-section of the student body--an undertaking larger than it ever will be again, because they had to deal with three classes, whereas hereafter their attention will be almost wholly confined to freshmen, or, more strictly, prospective sophomores. The difficulty was increased by permitting the students to express their preference, no one being obliged to enter any House he did not choose. There was, indeed, much preference expressed, and it is noteworthy that under such conditions all the Houses should be so nearly filled. One hears men, assigned elsewhere than their first choice, now insist that the House in which they live is the best of all.
Revision of Instruction
Attempts at improvement wisely begin with the foundation rather than the superstructure, and this is true of a university where the foundation is laid in the undergraduate portion or college. If that is not sound, the graduate and professional schools are endangered. A revision of the instruction under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences began, therefore, with the college, and indeed with the freshman class. In 1902 there was strong and just criticism among teachers of the older academic subjects that in the large lecture courses for the lower classes the amount and thoroughness of the work required were not what they should be. A "Committee on Improving Instruction" was appointed, primarily to investigate these courses, but by no means confined thereto.
Too Little Studying
The labors of the Committee covered more than a year, and ended in a report in 1903 stating, among other things, that the average amount of study was discreditably small, and that there was too much teaching and too little studying. It urged also "the importance of encouraging a greater number of men to take honors at graduation, and of making honors something more than purely scholastic distinction for young specialists; for the Committee believes that students in pursuit of general culture should be encouraged in a thorough and somewhat advanced study of subjects to which they do not intend to devote their lives." One of the immediate results was a stiffening of not a few courses, and the report was followed some years later by rules requiring concentration and distribution in studies, instead of an uncontrolled, and too often haphazard, election.
The requirement or concentration, that is of electing not less than six courses in one subject, paved the way for another change. Of late the public has heard much of general or comprehensive examinations for honor students in their special fields. This is an old story to us, such an examination having been prescribed for candidates for honors as early as 1871; and it has been in force ever since, usually taking the form of oral questioning before a committee of the department. This test was in addition to grades in courses, and was commonly used to ascertain both range of knowledge and originality in thought. The candidate for honors had been obliged to take at least a fixed number of courses in his subject; and when all men were required to do so the question was naturally presented of extending such an examination to all, one of the objects being to place men with intellectual capacity, but without sufficient stimulus to exert it, in a position where, having to pass for graduation a general examination on their field of work, they would be tempted to do it with distinction--a result now in large measure attained. The examination involved the use of tutors to cover the vacant spaces between courses, and to correlate the different parts of the subject. But this system has been discussed so often in these reports that it seems needless to do so again here. Suffice it to say that it was adopted first by the Division of History, Government and Economics, and after experience there had proved satisfactory it spread to other departments, until now it has been voluntarily taken up in practically every subject, save that of Chemistry.
All human results come from a combination of causes, and those we see among our undergraduates may fairly be ascribed in part to the change in educational methods. Our college students as a whole appear more mature than a generation ago, not only in schol-