"Inteliectual Senility" is the charge hurled at Harvard men in an article appearing in one of the current undergraduate literary publications, a charge hurled with all the vigor of intellectual potency which it denies in others, a charge which cries out for the undergraduates to rise and prove their intellectual worth before it is too late. The basis for this claim that the youth in College at the present day have passed their intelectual prime and are tottering in dotage seems to rest on "the observable tendency of the College to blight young thinking," this blight taking the form of professorial pressure on students to conform on the top of the academic heirarchy, and student pressure to conform on the bottom. Such a tendency may be "observable," but the challenge that it is all embracing or universal in scope must be taken up.
The premise of those who believe that the undergraduate and faculty should not force students in the College to conform to their own standards of conduct, intellectual behavior, and methods of thought seems to be the idea that all thoughts, stupid or intelligent, sound or shallow, are worthy of enthusiastic acceptance just because somebody has had a big thrill thinking them out. It must appear on reflection, however, that some people possess powers of thought denied to others, that some minds are incapable of formulating rational ideas as distinguished from mere "emoting," and that often those who shout loudest about how Harvard fails to pay them any attention, are not, on the basis of what they have to say, worthy of being heard. For there is a distinction between sound intellectual operation, which takes discipline, and words full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. For the latter to get the cold shoulder at Harvard does not mean the College is old before its time, but rather that it is mature beyond its years. That is not a bad claim to distinction.
The matter of intellectual discipline has a great deal to do with the question of the value of thinking. For it does not mean that teachers who are predominantly sound are dull, or backward because they are conservative. In every department of the University will be found professors who have led the parade in their field. It would be insulting to the average student to name them: they are legion. It is equally blind to claim that the faculty has been bred on "booklearning which destroys enthusiasm," when the ranks of every school in the University are filled with men of reknown not just in Cambridge, but in the country over, for their achievements in their chosen line of endeavour.
There may be truth in the assertion that Harvard "looks the other way" on bright young men who have startling ideas and delight in using such a place as Harvard as a sounding board for the spread of their youthful ideas. But that is only half, or even less, of the picture. For when real intellectual prowess makes its appearance on the field the young and old of Harvard delight to lend ear. Blind enthusiasm cannot be substituted for thought, nor can real thought fail in the end to win its way through to the heart of Harvard.