The president of a university has a job about as cozy as a window cleaner's on the Empire State Building. It is public and full of risks. Platoons of alumni, educators, newspapermen, and social seers judge his every act and opinion, be it on academic freedom, the draft, finances, the purpose of higher education, or the size of colleges. President Conant suggests that it takes about six years before a university president finds sitting in his hot seat becomes a habit. Alfred Whitney Griswold, the recently elected president of Yale, considers Conant's appraisal the best encouragement he's had.
Currently in the fifth month of his first six years, Griswold has decided to dedicate himself to learning his job and maintaining more or less of a status quo at Yale while he's learning. Occasionally he talks about his past as if he were intimidated by it. Actually his present uneasiness in Yale's presidential chair stems from a healthy respect for the problems, particularly financial that the president of Yale must handle. Griswold is not "worried" about his problems; he is "concerned." He is confident that they can ultimately be solved and once they are, he wants to give his time "to some of the philosophical problems of education."
There is one principle of education about which Griswold is already certain, that colleges cannot be both gargantuan and really effective.
"Teaching that gets beyond 50 men in a room is no longer teaching," Griswold says, "it becomes histrionics, entertainment." Yale and Harvard have succumbed to the "curse of bigness," he confesses, but they have done an admirable job of holding the line. "The House system and College system are particularly valuable in this resect. They provide valuable small college intimacy and serve as a brake on larger enrollments since both universities gauge admissions to fit their residential systems."
One of the best things that has happened to Griswold since he moved into his Woodbridge Hall office in July was a million dollar gift Yale got last month to finance research fellowships for young scholars in the humanities. The fellowship plan will permit bright young men on the Yale faculty to leave their teaching posts and write for a year without any reduction in salary. Griswold is convinced that rearch is essential to good teaching. "I see no fundamental conflict between the two, as those who carelessly use the phrase 'publish or perish' seem to. You become mellow, pipe-smoking, and tweedy if you don't have the galvanic influence of original scholarship."
Griswold can remember when he was a bright young man on the Yale faculty himself. In fact the president of Yale, despite an inexorably retreating hairline, still looks like a History 1 section man. He likes to wear grey flannels, striped ties, button-down shirts, and sport jackets. His speech is flavorsome and devoid of pomposity.
A graduate of Yale in 1929, Griswold had an undergraduate career guaranteed to earn the respect of the most extra-curricular minded Yale man. He was noted as the class wit; condemned Phi Beta Kappa for luring muscularly competent men form athletics and making "nifties" of them; was acting chairman and later managing editor of the Yale Record; wrote a column for the Yale Daily News; and was a member of the Elizabethan Club, the Pundits, Psi Upsilon, and Wolf's Head, a secret society.
By 1933 Griswold had taken a Ph.D., become an instructor in history and a specialist in international relations. In 1938 he became an assistant professor and four years later an associate professor. During the war he directed Yale's Foreign Areas Studies and in 1947 he won a full professorship. His appointment to the presidency, he claims, "came as a complete surprise."
Despite his own hectic undergraduate life, Griswold thinks today's Yale student overemphasizes extra-curricular activities, especially because he generally enters them to prove he's a big shot. "We need to learn to do things for their own sake," Griswold says. He thinks that perhaps student conferences between Harvard and Yale men might be useful to eliminate the "10 to 25 percent margin" between the Harvard student's apathy toward extra-curricular and college life and the Yale man's overzealousness.
The Korean fighting has kept the fledgling president apprehensive but he says he is "a little less worried now than last summer. I really think we can rationally hope for peace if we mobilize adequately and prepare adequately. I've kept quiet about the draft because I'm not too sure yet what I think." For a while at least, Yale's sixteenth president apparently intends to follow the lead of another Ivy League president who is in his day advocated watchful waiting.