(Following are excerpts from President Conant's address at Commencement exercises today)
For the fourth time in succession Harvard holds its annual Commencement in the midst of war. For the fourth time our pledge to assist the government with all the resources of the University takes precedence over our normal academic duties. So we shall continue until the war is won. For the fourth time our thoughts turn from the alumni gathered here to the more than 25,000 Harvard men in uniform whose energies are now devoted to hastening the day when Japan surrenders.
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Today, I may call your attention to two facts. First, since Pearl Harbor approximately 60,000 members of the armed forces have attended Army and Navy schools here at Harvard. Second, as many as, 1,000 men and women have been engaged full time in the war research activities carried on by the University under contract with the United States Government. Physicists, chemists, engineers, and technical men from other universities and from industry have been mobilized under our management for several different enterprises. These figures illustrate the magnitude of some of our undertakings.
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Looking beyond that happy day when the cease firing order is given in the Pacific Theatre, we can see the challenge presented to us by the period of reconversion and demobilization. Our plans for the returning veteran are essentially complete they are summarized in a pamphlet returning recently, issued for the service men entitled, "What About Harvard?"
Wars are times of change, of rapid transformation; often hardly loss so in the victorious than in the vanquished nations. I venture to predict that the 1940s will mark a turning point in the history of American collegiate education. There is hardly a college or university in the whole land which has not been at work reexamining its educational policy during the past three years. There has been a veritable downpour of reports and books dealing with various phased of education. Harvard's contribution to this nation-wide discussion takes the from of a book entitled, "General Education in a Free Society," which will be published by the University Press on August 1.
The volume contains the report of a committee of twelve appointed more than two years ago, headed by Paul H. Buck, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Advance copies have been distributed to the members of the faculties and Governing Boards. The fifth chapter deals with the problem of general education in Harvard College and the recommendations contained there in will be considered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences next fall. Until the faculty has acted, it would be premature to discuss the proposed changes in any detail. Suffice at to say that they look toward the introduction of a new group of courses given under the direction of a special committee with all the prestige and autonomy of a department, but concerned not with any special but with the general education of the Harvard College student.
Some of you may ask, "General education--what's that? I'm interested only in liberal education--that's what the country needs." My reply to that question is, I hope you will read the book. For the use of the phrase "general education" I must take the blame. For the committee that was appointed by the President of the University and provided with a $60,000 budget by the Corporation was given the assignment of reporting on "The Objectives of a General Education in a Free Society." They were asked to consider Harvard College in the light of the problem of general education at every level and, in particular, to familiarize themselves with the work of the public schools. To my mind, the heart of the problem of a general education is the continuance of the liberal and human tradition. How the committee proposes to accomplish this in both school and college, however, is their story and not mine.
In one sense this is a report of experts, in another sense a report of an impartial jury of laymen determined to find the facts. A group of men whose lives had hitherto been devoted to university affairs have taken great pains and spent much time investigating the current educational situation in the United States. They were joined in the enterprise by colleagues from the Faculty of Education who knew the schools from long experience. The first four chapters of this book are, therefore, the product of a study which I believe is unique in the history of American education.
Unanimity of Opinion
A further unusual if not unique feature of the report is evident if one considers that the document represents a unanimity of opinion not based on compromise between divergent views. And when one adds the comment that the Committee was appointed from both the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Education, such unanimity is recognized as not only exceptional but of high significance. To one who has listened for years with considerable dismay to the "educators and school men" belaboring the "professors" and vice versa, this unanimity seems like the dawn of a welcome day. I am obviously a biased witness, but to me the first four chapters are a heartening sign that college professors and school teachers and administrators can come to understand each other's difficulties if they will put their minds upon the task. For I think the members of the Committee, would be the first to say that it, as is they had case been forced to write a report after a few months of deliberation, both unanimity and understanding of the nature of the problem would have been conspicuous by their absence. The title of this book might well be "A Study of American Education."
A casual reader may easily miss an important point if ht fails to realize that the Committee was not only considering the problem for nearly three years, but spent the equivalent of many weeks of eight-hour working days in its investigations and deliberations. The assistance of numerous collaborators of wide experience and high standing, and the consultations with many school and college men who came to Cambridge required, of course, a budget for expenses considerably beyond that which one normally expects a faculty committee to spend. It has turned out that the $60,000 appropriated by the Harvard Corporation was a fairly accurate measure of the monetary cost of the undertaking. The cost in terms of the time and energy of the members, while strictly speaking incalculable, is obviously of a different order of magnitude. Indeed, it is such cost that usually makes academic enterprises of this sort prohibitively expensive. But in the case at hand, the importance and the urgency of the problem appeared to Warren what was planned.
Such in brief is my report on the academic year which ends this afternoon. Some of you with grave responsibility for war and postwar affairs heavy on your shoulders may feel that I have been speaking of relatively trivial academic matters. If so, I beg to differ. Universal education is the great instrument created by American democracy to secure the foundations of a republic of free men. Our colleges and universities are an integral part of this system which has no equivalent in other lands. We are more closely linked to the national life, I believe, than the corresponding institutions in other countries. It is no accident, therefore, that in time of war our colleges and universities have proved them selves both effective and adaptable. We have rendered aid to the government of great value whether measured in terms of dollars or the saving of the lives of fighting men. It is my firm conviction that in the days of peace to come we shall prove not less adaptable and render aid to the nation of no less value, though in vastly different ways.
Many of our Alumni now lie buried in foreign lands or beneath the seas. Their gallant sacrifice knits us still more closely to the country's future. We, the colleges, exist not to serve the ends of local groups of special cliques, but for the national welfare. Of that truth these war years will remind us, gentlemen, when we face the vast problems of the peace