Fear of forced resignations has reared its ugly head above the younger members of the Faculty. Its nasty grin sends safaris of instructors deep into the jungle of Widener stacks to capture its food, productive scholarship. Its threatening sneer drives assistant professors into huddles of desperate whispers.
One hundred and seventy typewriters subject the alphabet to every conceivable humiliation in attempts to show President Conant that their owners will be scholars by 40. Scholarship, research, productive scholarship--these terms have undermined Harvard indifference to a larger extent than the Revolution, the Civil War, or the National Student League.
Conant vs. Robespierre
Surely President Conant never meant to play the part of Robespierre when he announced his aim of developing scholars in Cambridge. Do the facts justify the "terror"? Just how many men are being fired and what change has occurred in Faculty standards?
No figures are available concerning instructors holding one-year appointments. It has always been the policy of the College to maintain a healthy overturn so that the lower brackets of the Faculty will not become stagnated. This year, as in past years, a large number of these instructors are leaving for home or for new posts.
Since associate professors and full professors are on life appointments, the significant category is that of the three-year appointments, faculty instructors and assistant professors.
No Change in Numbers
There is no evidence that more men have left Harvard in either of the Conant years than in several years of the Lowell administration. Therefore fear is not inspired by sheer numbers.
What change has there been in standards? Mr. Conant has a disconcerting way of referring to scholarship in an all-inclusive manner but this may not tell the whole story. In his own words, he believes that a professor should be "something of a teacher and a great deal of a scholar or something of a scholar and a great deal of a teacher." No man can be lacking it either.
When scholarship in applied to scientific appointments the meaning is obvious. If a man is going to teach a technical study well, the President believes he must have worked in a laboratory. To satisfy the Administration that he will be a good teacher at 40, he must produce a bibliography of papers on his subject.
No Clear Definition
Mr. Conant has never adequately defined scholarship in relation to the humane subjects. That he means investigation on some distant treaty or on some vague aspect of some vague author is wrong. He said himself at Amherst last fall, "No one wishes to encourage the uninspired plodding which often is supposed to pass for creative scholarship."
His definition before the Associated Harvard Clubs a year age leaves a good deal of leeway. "It seems to me," he said, "that it will probably be more true in the future than it has been in the past that unless a university teacher is himself a live person and has an intelligent life of his own in which he is carrying on some sort of research, some sort of writing, some sort of scholarship, he will not be a teacher for mature students."
He might well be trying to find a standard which will give Harvard insurance against the declining ability of brilliant teachers as they advance past 40 in the classroom. He does believe that any man on the Faculty of Arts must show that he can talk constructively on something. Certainly critical comment on his subject such as essays, books, reviews, etc., will keep him alive to his subject, not research in the true sense of the term. The difference between this and the science standard is difficult to understand, but fundamental.
If Mr. Conant holds these views with which the writer credits him, he is mistaken not to disclose them. No one knows what he does think and his remarks on the subject form an inconsequential part of his speeches. He is responsible at present for the Faculty attitude which is not conductive to his purpose. A speech on scholarship would do little to restrict the flexibility of his freedom and would aid immeasurably a sane discussion.
One Other Factor
This confusion started the terror, but there is one factor to be considered in connection with it. An administration may not inform a man when he comes up for promotion or reappointment what his chances of eventual success are. If this is the policy, a man may spend 15 years basking in contented sunshine before he receives the axe.
This is not the present theory. With a less number of associate and full professors than instructors and assistant professors, it is self-evident that few instructors will reach the upper brackets. The new administration is trying to tell every man when he comes up for reappointment or promotion what his chances are. If they are bad, he has an opportunity to look elsewhere while he is still an attractive catch.
As a result, many of the innocents of former days are now quaking in their shoes. They have instilled their terror into those who have not had official conferences. Combined with magic of that word, scholarship, all these young instructors are scurrying to libraries and stacks where the implements of research are found.