Having carcened through the Wlash Sweezy storm, Harvard's chief executive has not wasted much time in dry dock before heading again for heavy weather. President Conant has just fired ten assistant professors. For the benefit of the national press services, let us hasten to add that he has not really "fired" them; he has converted their present contracts into terminating appointments. Of course he has a reason his personal interpretation of the Committee of Eight's report.
Scattered among pleas for "thoughtful rebels" and for definite merit criteria, the eight distinguished professors recommended the abolition of assistant professorships. They wisely felt the probationary period before final decision on permanent appointment to be too long and by the elimination of one academic rank they hoped to provide the lucky few with security at an earlier age. At the same time, they wished to set the others on the job-path before any lasting damage had been dealt their careers. But recognizing the dangers of applying its proposals too hastily, they worried: "Although some of the Committee's suggestions could . . . be put into operation at once, others could not . . . without unfairness both to the University and to individuals who have been appointed with understandings and in some cases definite contracts."
Mr. Conant has broken the back of the English department: four of its most brilliant young men must leave. He has been only a little less cruel with the Government department, where two assistant professors have been crated for the dreary trip to the hinterlands.
Future English concentrators will find important fields tended by neophytes rather than by scholars who have already gained distinction. Aside from the injustice to students who, attracted by Harvard's name, have a right to some substance, one wonders what will happen to the relative ranking among English faculties throughout the land, of a department which loses four able men so soon after the departure of Lake, Lowes, Copeland, and Kittredge.
The standing of the Government department will be even less satisfactory. Is it, so strong that it can shrug off the loss of two of its most brilliant minds and dependable workers?
Why must the institution of the new tenure system mean the abrupt dismissal of men who are bearing a major burden in their respective departments? Is the transition to the new plan sufficient reason for their unprecedented discharge when they were normally slated for renewals of their appointments? Is this action a continuation of the frozen budget policy said to be responsible for the Walsh-Sweezy fiasco? Has many attention been paid to the Committee's suggestion for a more flexible budget? Will Harvard, by this rude action, lose the reputation for decency which has helped to make it famous?