Alumni Play Increasingly Vital Role
"The last audience in America to which I would make a serious address would be a reunion of college graduates. In such reunions men honoring the ancient shrines of learning with one accord breathe one prayer: 'Make me a sophomore just for tonight.' And few prayers are more unfailingly answered."
So spoke Socialist leader Norman Thomas, Princeton '02, before the last war.
But the age of Sputnik and the crisis in American education have done their work to sober up the traditional week of reckless abandon, when the "old grads" return to Cambridge, and to the "bright college days" of ten, twenty-five, or fifty years ago. Being a Harvard alumnus has become a year-round job.
Forums Mark Increased Seriousness
The program ror Reunion Week, 1958, shows the marked tendency for the alumnus to use the week in Cambridge to reacquaint himself with the educational, as well as the "extra-curricular," aspect of his college days. Forums on the Soviet Union, space travel, and the place of the humanities in the scientific age demonstrate at once the increased seriousness of the Reunioners and the topics which may have encouraged this seriousness.
Daniel S. Cheever '39, lecturer on Government and Director of University Alumni Affairs, recently emphasized the increased sense of responsibility which these forums, and others like them, indicate: "The American alumnus has become extremely important. The University and the alumni must move forward together not only in carrying out effective alumni programs, but in identifying the goals such programs are to serve."
As Cheever sees these goals, the importance of the alumni to the independent university is to maintain its independence of, or freedom from, "political pressure, financial worry and narrow thinking. Independence in this broad sense is largely dependent on alumni support--moral, intellectual and financial."
A Closer Connection
The post which Cheever has occupied since its creation in 1956 has as its purpose the strengthening this support by "providing a closer connection between the educational program in Cambridge and its graduates." As a liason officer he holds his post as a presidential appointee, yet works primarily with officials elected or appointed by alumni groups--Cheever has the task of communicating the University to various bodies of alumni.
The largest of these alumni organizations is the Alumni Association, which automatically includes in its membership all graduates of any division of the University, ten times the traditional ten thousand men of Harvard.
At the 118th meeting of the Alumni Association, to be held on the afternoon of Commencement Day, the polling for the election of the Overseers will be announced. Aside from the introduction of the new president of the Association, this will be the only official business transacted at the meeting, which will then be given over to speeches by the Governor, the President of the Association, and two or three of the honorary degree winners.
Election of Overseers
The supervision of the election of Overseers, which Cheever calls an "overriding constitutional responsibility," is a result of agitation almost a century ago within the University, particularly by alumni, to free University policy from control of the state.
After a sometimes bitter battle, the election to the 1865 Massachusetts Legislature of several graduates who favored the dissolution, enabled the bill to pass by one vote in the Senate, and two in the House.
The Board of Overseers, which is now elected by alumni as a result of this action, holds a position similar to that of British royalty: it reigns but does not rule. Approval of faculty appointments by the Overseers is constitutionally required, but there is little likelihood of the Board exercising its nominal veto.
Election of Overseers by the alumni was indirectly responsible for the formation of another group of alumni, the Associated Harvard Clubs. Although alumni had been traditionally organized on the basis of graduating classes, midwestern Harvard graduates in the 19th century were somewhat spread apart geographically both from each other and from the University.
Western Allegiance to Clubs
For this reason, the movement to found Harvard Clubs started in the midwest and the west, and since that time the allegiance of the alumnus in areas other than the New England and Middle Atlantic States has been to the Club rather than to the Class.
The Associated Harvard Clubs was formed primarily to insure the nomination of a midwestern candidate to the Board of Overseers. Its liberalizing tendency is to be seen in the fact that the procedure of the postal ballot, used at present to insure the right of every alumnus who has been a graduate for more than five years to vote in Overseers elections, was the result of action by the Associated Harvard Clubs.
A certain amount of this liberal tradition remains an element of the Associated Harvard Clubs today. AHC Headquarters are located in St. Louis, and there is a feeling, chiefly among the "old guard" of the organization, that removal of the offices to Cambridge might destroy its independent nature.
Cambridge Office for Clubs.
However, at the annual meeting of the AHC, held last month in Pittsburgh, a special committee recommended that the Clubs maintain an office in Cambridge.
The Pittsburgh proposals were the result of suggestions by President Pusey that the organizational set-up of the AHC be modified in order to keep the alumni in closer touch with the University. The Alumni Association has asked that both groups be served by a single executive secretary.
Contact with the University is the keynote of alumni affairs, and has received special emphasis as the result of the Program for Harvard College. March 28, 1958, "Harvard's Day," set some important precedents for alumni gatherings, which are being echoed this week in the forums scheduled for Wednesday morning. For one of the important effects of the Program has been to utilize ways of showing alumni what the school is doing.
This contact is important for many reasons. It is primarily through the graduate that the University is known to the nation. The make-up of future classes is largely determined through the alumnus, both by the example he sets and by his active recruiting.
Contact is important for such constitutional matters as election of the Overseers. Expansion policies are particularly subjct to alumni criticism and particularly in need of a picture of the University as it is today, not in 1933 or 1908.
A Low-Pressure Undercurrent
Finally, according to Peter D. Schultz '52, Secretary of the Alumni Association, "The dollar sign does loom pretty big." The Alumni Association, through the Harvard Fund Council, headed by poet David T.W. McCord '21, tries to encourage the "habit of annual giving."
This important alumni function figures in virtually every alumni affair as a low pressure undercurrent. McCord set the pace for the Program, the Alumni Association, and the Associated Harvard Clubs with this bit of whimsy, read at the New York Harvard's Day Program:
The man in the money: they're bound he will give.
They hug the old bunny,
That man in the money;
And once he's begun he
Is just like a sieve.
The man in the money; the bounder WILL give.