Mr. Conant's speech before the Harvard Club of New York is the first significant index to the development which the University may be expected to fellow during his regime. Although the substance of Mr. Conant's remarks was necessarily broad and incomplete, it is fair to assume that they embody an educational philosophy which his first annual report on Monday will serve merely to expand.
The aim of Harvard University is "to advance and perpetuate learning." But Mr. Conant states explicitly that the first of these two objectives is the more important, and the practical impact of this preference, on faculty and on students alike, must mean a decisive change from the Harvard of Presidents Eliot and Lowell. Mr. Conant reaffirms the ideal of a faculty distinguished in teaching and in research; but his policy will be shaped to meet a faculty that cannot realize this double ideal, and it will be shaped on an acceptance of the prior claims of research. For the growth of the tutorial system the question is a central one; if a class of able tutors is to be recruited and encouraged, the University must adjust its promotion criteria to give the mere teacher a place in the sun of academic life. It is true that Mr. Conant only expresses as a standard what Harvard has long been pursuing as a policy, but that expression is itself important, coming at a time when tutorial expansion is in the air, and when the problem of personnel is both a challenge and an obstacle.
Mr. Conant makes clear that his main interest is in that small fraction of the student body who are really creative scholars. His departure from President Lowell is here obvious. The tutorial system, the House Plan, the other great achievements of President Lowell's regime were directed at "making scholarship honorable," and making it honorable for the average Harvard undergraduate. They are adapted to this end; they were modelled after an English university system that has always been devoted to a class whose homogeneity is not primarily intellectual. The kind of education which they effect is a personal, and a mutual kind; but it is also an expensive kind. When its tutorial phase has reached full development, when it has been united with the unexampled luxury of the Houses themselves, it will be an education expensive beyond that of any university in the world. The endowment of Harvard, which would normally have operated to drive undergraduate expenses steadily lower, has been diverted, and will be diverted more in the future, to the task of arresting their advance. President Lowell was acutely sensible of this problem; throughout his policy was dictated by the necessity of keeping the growth of personal education, and its increasing costs, parallel with the advance in endowments.
But this policy does not envisage any widespread increase in the number of scholarship students, and if Mr. Conant turns his back on the English example, and endeavors to attract to Harvard, through financial assistance, the intellectual cream of each college generation, he will face a budgetary problem that is ever more acute. The immediate future of the House Plan and the tutorial system must be weighed against the ambition to make Harvard a national university, an educational centre from which no one of talent is barred on financial grounds. Oxford and Cambridge have chosen an expensive educational system; the provincial universities of England have sacrificed that system to make their benefits more universal.
It is true that these two forces are not intellectually opposed, that a great increase in endowment revenue might even reconcile them in practice, and make possible the growth of Harvard's new and expensive educational instruments without limiting their extension. But it is best to reckon without a great increase in endowment revenue. Mr. Conant is choosing between two practical alternatives. Oxford and Cambridge, in following one path, have hampered their development along the other; the state universities of America, on the reverse of the medal, have faced educational difficulties of their own. Whether Harvard, armed with great endowments and a splendid intellectual record, can strike in the end an unique mean, an aristocracy of scholarship that is financially democratic, rests in the laps of God and the founders of endowments. In making his temporary choice, Mr. Conant will need both realism and courage; this, the first statement of his policy, indicates his possession of them.