WHAT A UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT HAS LEARNED, By A. Lawrence Lowell. MacMillan Co. 1938. 126 Pages. Price $1.25.
RUMMAGING through the vast welter of Problems that presented themselves to him white he was president of Harvard University, A. Lawrence Lowell has picked out certain of the most important conclusions he has reached and has arranged them in a book, some what vaguely termed "What a University President Has Learned." It must be said that the book is less distinguished than the author, and looms rather disjointed and complex in the reader's mind although it is not complex in the reader's mind although it is not much more than a hundred pages in length. It is written in a style that is scholarly and dignified, although occasionally obscure.
There are a great many interesting ideas packed into a small space, but at times one generality follows so closely upon another without concrete illustration, that each one loses much of its significance. This is particularly true in the first section describing how the administrator of a university can do his work effectively. Although Dr. Lowell says it is not a description of what was actually done but rather a sketch of how a design can be executed, at the same time, if he had enlarged this section and drawn more specifically from his own experience, it would have been a very illuminating chapter. As it is, only other college administrators could really appreciate its significance.
In the chapter called "Tools and the Man," Dr. Lowell shows himself a member of the old school of thought, which believes strongly in mental discipline for its own sake. He favors the study of classics in secondary school as excellent mind training and self-education, and rather approves of the idea that the subject should contain more drudgery than interest. At a later time in discussing the minds of students, Dr. Lowell says they do not object to strict discipline in itself, particularly if they are responsible for the result. But he does not take into consideration the fact that it is only when a student is genuinely interested that he will drill and grind at a subject, otherwise he is apt to be merely a hard-working bore.
Towards competitive examinations Dr. Lowell shows the utmost respect and he has statistics to back up his premise that marks are a very accurate criterion of success after college. Life is one great competition, he implies, and he who can organize his forces best at an examination at college will do the same afterward. This ignores the difference in the amount of time each student spends studying, for as long as grades in exams tend to vary according to the amount memorized and hence the time spent, it is the hard worker, not the man with initiative, who will rank best. Yet the grind is not the most apt to succeed. A more accurate measure of ability seems to be the thesis, a topic not mentioned by Dr. Lowell.
But it is this attitude that is the most interesting aspect of the book. For here are the views of Harvard's distinguished ex-president presented so that they can be compared with the present tendencies which are already moving in a some-what different direction.