ON BEING INDIFFERENT
No Freshman who stays around Cambridge awhile or who has heard tell of Harvard from some unfortunate vantage point like New Haven or Hanover can be ignorant of one symbol, one illusion, one catch-phrase commonly associated with New England and Harvard in particular.
So many words have been written about the indifference which supposedly breathes in Harvard's "brilliant but cold" Georgian buildings, in the social life of its myriad inhabitants, and in the attitude of the University as a whole toward life and liberalism, that upperclassmen and graduates can only growl feebly when they read them. Like communism the word indifference has a kind of African mystery to it, as thought if analyzed, it might explode in one's face and release snakes and tigers. Really it is the tool of description for those who do not understand a social condition easily explained by Henry Adams, the Porcellian Club, or Samuel Eliot Morison's history. It is applied to the student so absorbed in his bio-chemistry that he cannot look at anyone and to the Freshmen too frightened for words, as well as to the Andover man who finds himself a cozy corner in Mt. Auburn Street and sleeps four years.
Sanely regarded, it seems that Harvard indifferences is nothing more than New England individualism, whereby each leaves the other to his business, which he expects is much like his own. Because of this self-reliant way of pursuing education, Harvard does not believe in football rallies or Junior proms. Yet when the need arises, it can organize into a peace demonstration, riot, or Class Day parade.
Academically, it is healthy that the student attack learning in an independent fashion. If indifference means no more than this, who can object? But if the criticism voiced recently by a Harvard lecturer is true--that indifference means aloofness to social progress (a better phrase than conservatism), it is time to sit up and redefine the slogan. This lecturer, Mr. Rollo Brown, claims that "it is no more to be expected that Harvard will kick free of her restraints and lead off boldly in behalf of any economic democracy that would elevate large numbers of submerged individual men to opportunities of growth than that Duke University will launch a crusade against the use of tobacco." He points out that Harvard's closest relatives are its financial sources, which to a large degree have originated from Boston's State Street; that such dominance tends to develop a limited, even selfish, point of view right in the Yard.
It is up to the Freshman to remain academically benefit all classes and all essential institutions. Independent, yet also to become cooperative at.
But it seems to us that this man has had little contact with Harvard undergraduates, else he would be aware of a sharp interest in the problems of American democracy and in solutions that will Harvard to the extent that he uses his education to think roundly about the real world in which he lives.