(A student committee is now engaged in revising the Student Council's constitution. Through all the recent agitation for Council revision the problem of what should be the Council's function has been much debated. This historical article indicates that constant evaluation of the University's long-range policy toward undergraduates, summed up in reports to the administration, is the Council's most valuable and lasting function.)
The tutorial system as we know it today is partially a product of a group of undergraduates who in 1931 were interested in improving Harvard education.
President Lowell had the recommendations of a special group of students in mind when he readily accepted an offer of $12,000,000 to establish the House system in the College.
Another group of undergraduates once presented the Administration with a plan that was adopted almost immediately as the present inter-House athletic system.
University policy as we know it today is in many cases the direct result of such "interested students" of past generations who creatively criticized their College life--intellectual, social, and athletic--and "told the Dean" about it.
These men were the Student Council. They didn't wait until they were overly dissatisfied, nor did they were overly dissatisfied, nor did they wait until the Dean brought them a problem. They set up principles for the type of education they wanted, examined the existing methods, then created better schemes for fulfilling their chosen ends. During the period from the late 1920's to the war, recommendations to the administration were of such a consistently high quality that many of them were put into action and are evident today in College policy.
Anticipated General Ed
General Education, perhaps the most significant new movement in the College today, was presaged by Council education surveys in 1939 and 1942.
The goals of liberal education, cited in the first report were strikingly similar to those adopted six years later by the Harvard Committee on the Objectives of General Education in a Free Society. Important aims of a liberal college, according to the Council survey, were those of freeing the mind from ignorance and prejudice and giving the student an "opportunity to develop considered standards of value." To do this the College must give the student some idea of our "common tradition of human experience" and also attempt to provide him with the "intellectual tools with which he can confront new problems successfully."
For the College to foster this "common tradition" and provide "intellectual tools," the report recommended a) that each of the "main branches of knowledge" be covered, and b) that new courses should be organized to provide "an intelligible view of each of the large areas of knowledge." It is noteworthy that recommendation a) is now realized in present distribution requirements, while part b) forms the organizing principle of our General Education courses now.
The 1942 Council survey on "Necessary Elements of a Liberal Education" slammed the College's inadequate distribution system. "Two Harvard students can follow such unconnected courses of study that they are unable to converse intelligently with each other about their college work," it is said. This has since become a stock phrase with University leaders in their emphasis on the necessity of a common body of knowledge in the school for all students to draw from. This common knowledge is to be provided by General Education, they say.
In another part of this report, there is a plea for distribution courses that will stress "values and standards." To see how this idea has been borne out in action we need only to look at one of the General Education Courses now taught on the Freshman level--"Individual and Social Values in History, Drama, Fiction, and Philosophy," better known as Humanities 3.
To say that these two Student Council reports "caused General Education" would be a gross simplification of the cause and effect pattern. Doubtless there were the same forces operating on these student valuators as later affected the faculty framers of the General Education policy. But the fact remains that the 12 members of the faculty "Committee on Objectives" carefully considered these Council reports and actually "lifted" some parts totally. The student's view was being accepted. And the effects of this acceptance are with us today.
Changed Athletic Setup
Inter-House athletics fell into the Council's progressive hands in 1936 when a five man committee, of its own initiative, made a careful study of the athletic system, which it felt was not functioning to the utmost good of the students.