The Danger Is Real
"It is feared by many people that the tradition of the liberal arts college will be extinguished by the impact of the technological demands of war. The danger is real and we do well to recognize it." They were the words written by James Bryant Conant last January. They were the first indication that Harvard was in for a major change. Not an internal change to speed up graduation or, streamline courses. But a structural change; an overhauling of rules, requirements, and curriculum. This change has not yet come. But before it does, the officers of the University must decided this question; how much of the liberal arts can and must be preserved in a university existing in a country at war.
The tradition of liberal arts cannot be "extinguished," nor can it remain completely intact. The one would mean discarding a majority of the Faculty, overhauling facilities, and destroying the framework upon which the University must rebuild after the war. The other would force students to dissipate a valuable preparation period, and deny them training they will need in the positions they must fill for a country that is fighting for its life.
Somehow, there must be an integration of the two. We must find a way to present the opportunity for students to get specific war training, and at the same time preserve a solid framework of the liberal arts structure. Yale University recently initiated a plan which does just that. Instead of forcing students to go into "such fields as advanced science, automotive operation, communications, operation control, and map making," Yale has "provided opportunity to unite their major courses of study with an integrated plan of basic preparation for was service."
That phrase, "provided opportunity," is the key to the whole problem. The war courses must be offered, they must be available; but not enforced. If students are going into the services, they will take them without any shoving. They will grab at the chance to choose the sort of war work they are most fitted for, and get a head start in preparing for it. It is enough to offer war courses. But it is the basic liberal arts courses that must be enforced. Perhaps that is what President Conant meant when he said: "During the war we might concentrate our educational efforts not so much on those students who wish to dig deeply into one subject, but rather on those who seek a more general education."