Harkness Gave Houses as Spur for Yale's 'Colleges'
Results Are Far From His Goal
Yale's ten "colleges" serve just about the same function as Harvard's Houses, but it was like pulling teeth before Yale would accept the Harkness millions that made the project possible.
In fact, were it not for Yale's intransigence Harvard might never have had its House system.
On November 8, 1928, the late Edward S. Harkness, Yale '97, gave Harvard $3,000,000 to start the House system on its way. On January 14, 1930, Yale announced its "college" system, and also announced the receipt of a "very generous" gift from Harkness.
Harkness' present to Harvard came as a complete surprise. To be sure, a Student Council committee had suggested in 1926 that a House system be established. But when Harkness offered money to Harvard, it came, as President Lowell said, "like a bolt from the Blue." Harkness had previously made important gifts to Yale, but Lowell had never looked to the Eli graduate to make such a substantial gift to Harvard.
Nevertheless they accepted it fast. Harvard had grown from a small, intimate college to a huge institution. Living accommodations and eating facilities in Cambridge were unsatisfactory. And personal contact between student and Faculty was gradually slipping away as the College grew. Moreover, students never got the opportunity to meet one another that they had had in the small college.
The House system was designed to correct this condition. It would bring together various types of students, give them a chance to meet faculty members who would also live in the House, and supply undergraduates better housing and food than they could get taking potluck in Cambridge.
Yale had the same problems. Harkness, recognizing this, had tried to sell Yale officials, headed by President James Rowland Angell, on the ability of the "college" plan to keep the advantages of a small college without destroying the advantages of bigness. But, it is believed, Yale distrusted the experiment and was about to suggest that Harkness give his money for something else.
So, to get Yale to accept his gift of the college system, Harkness turned to Harvard, and suggested to the Corporation that it get a House plan started with his financial backing. Despite considerable undergraduate opposition, the Corporation persevered and soon announced plans for the first two Houses.
The purpose of Harkness' gift to Harvard seems to have been to spur Yale officials into seeing his point of view. He tacitly threatened them that he would continue to finance Harvard projects if they wouldn't accept his gift of the colleges. Apparently Yale official-dom saw the light, for Angell was soon expounding the college plan to alumni meetings. Shortly thereafter he announced the acceptance of Harkness' gift.
At neither Harvard nor Yale has the House system lived up to its advance billing. Both Harvard and Yale are large colleges, and little that the Houses or colleges have done has preserved small-college relationships between students and Faculty.
According to Yale undergraduates, college spirit runs higher at Yale than House spirit in Cambridge, and the colleges have far less difficulty in recruiting 11 men for intra-mural football games.
The Yale colleges also seem to provide more opportunity for mixing than is found here, though they are hardly melting-pots. Extra-curricular activities also are more college-conscious at Yale than they are House-conscious at Harvard. Yale's strong debate team is grounded in a college debate league, while a Debate Council effort to set up a House debate league has failed to attract much support.
But Yale students seem quite as dissatisfied with the college system as Harvard students are with the House system. The musings of one Yale undergraduate, junior John Klingenstein '50, after a few drinks a week ago last night are a good example of this.
He envisaged colleges guided by student senates, which would "advise the Yale Athletic Association regarding allocations, suggest improvements in dining hall diets, and determine hours during which women would be allowed in the colleges.
He also mused of college lectures by famous people, "with individual lectures being given in each college." Student participation in such educational endeavors would be assured by a weekly intercollege forum "in which a panel of exports selected one from each college participate in discussions of current events."
A few more drinks elicited his solution to the problem of getting different types of students to mix. Merely install in each college a bar "to operate on Saturdays during the football season."
Harvard men have had such dreams about their Houses, too.