Although Harvard is far from perfect, University officials will find few constructive ideas in former Professor Lake's recent tirade on American education. Indeed, the querulous tone of his criticism seems more indicative of personal resentment of Harvard's belated censure of his conduct than of any real interest in the educational process. Possibly, too, Mr. Lake was impressing Brown University with his qualifications for the chair of Comparative Literature.
At all events, the suggestion that students take too many courses just for credit is one which would be difficult to substantiate and even more difficult to correct if proven true. At Harvard, as in most universities, required courses have been cut to a minimum, and the only ones now exacted are those held essential to a student's understanding of his field. "Snap courses," which indolent students take to fulfill requirements, are also becoming extinct, so much so that Comparative Literature 35 has long been renowned as the exception proving the rule.
Warming to his subject, Mr. Lake began to attack theories more closely associated with the University. In supporting the classical education, however, he put his money on a losing horse. This type of education, was doomed the moment subjects were found that offered, in addition to the discipline of Latin, Greek, and Aramaic, instruction of a practical nature.
The most touchy subject the speech undertook to judge was the matter of degrees, and in backing President Hutchins' two-year "Associate in Arts" degree, Mr. Lake let his animosity toward Harvard lead him into a contradiction. The only excuse for laboriously learning the classics is the thorough nature of the education it gives. Nothing is more contrary to Mr. Lake's desires than a speedy veneer of culture, followed by a purely vocational course. A two-year university degree comes close to being a contradiction of terms. President Lowell is reported as saying that "In sixty years the Lord can make an oak, but the best He can do in six months is a pumpkin."
It is altogether regrettable that Mr. Lake should have stooped to this form of retaliation, for if he should value one possession above all others, it is the esteem of generations of Harvard men. It is a prize hard to win, and all too easy to lose.