A Critique of the Summer School: Despite Some Faults, it Spreads its Bit of Veritas
When the Harvardman leaves Harvard in the spring he frequently wonders what it is that takes over during the summer months. He who stays behind to see finds out that the buildings can withstand the tread of Fire Red toes. Harvard as a whole, assuming for the summer an altruistic little Burden for itself, feels she has done a good deed for American higher education.
The Summer School itself, also proud of the services it performs, is yet almost abnormally sensitive to criticism. The disdain that Harvard students on vacation feel about the Summer School has officials believe spread to the local community, and they hope that no one will say anything nasty about the day camp appearance of the Yard during Wednesday afternoon Punches.
But there is much more to the Summer School than the nightly collection of hungry males ogling the windows of female - filled Wiggles-worth, the sight of a bare nail-polished foot extended upon a chair during a final exam, and the overly friendly girls who ask a young man whether he "would tutor me in this course because I just have no idea of what's going on." This summer saw an unusually large number of renowned professors among the School's faculty: Allen Tate, C. Northcote Parkinson, Angus Taylor, Harold Schmidt, and many others. On a poll distributed by the Summer News, all the respondents voiced approval of their courses, far higher percentage than Confidential Guide polls reveal. The small classes and informal lectures are to a great extent responsible for this, and most members of the School's faculty work as hard on these courses as they do during the regular year.
Most popular courses for the year were Tate's courses in poetry and the impressionistic novel, Howard Mumford Jonees's English 170, and a course given by Hans Kohn, professor of History at C.C.N.Y., in Intellectual History of Continental Europe. Also praised in the Summer News poll was Chemistry S-60, given by Dudley Herschbech, Junior Fellow, and a course in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, given by Harold C. Martin, Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Director of General Education Ahf. Martin won great praise from his students for the superb or-financial reasons, and dislike the job. But a good number of these men take on the task to keep alert during the muggy months, and give courses which a number of Harvard students have admitted to be among the best they have ever taken. Classes five days a week can keep students and professors continually thinking about their material, and one can even find stimulating conversation amid the Punch and reclining forms in the Yard.
A further stimulation--potentially--is the number of conferences and forums which the School schedules for its patrons. This year's forums were heavily weighted toward discussions of education, many of which were found by undergraduates to be quite tedious. One of the public forums on Education and Science was widely praised, however, and weekly panel discussions by members of the International Seminar proved quite popular. During the height of the Middle East crisis the Egyptian delegate frequently raised the temperatures of forums on Arab unity. Indian and French delegates "disinflated their national egos" at one forum, and a British delegate asserted that "our shrinking pains will not stop until government policy stops parading Britain as a major power."
In addition to these large-scale forums, the School sponsored a series of weekly speeches by various notables. C. Northcote Parkinson, a robust, droll English-ganization of his perceptive lectures.
It is sometimes thought that professors teach at the Summer School for purely man whose sly humor masks his worldwide reputation as a scholar on Oceanic History, spoke on "Parkinson's Law," to the delight of his capacity-plus audience, and Cornelia Otis Skinner gave a series of humorous character sketches.
The biggest event of the forum season was supposed to be a publlic reading by Fugitive Poets in honor of John Crowe Ransom, Kenyon College poet-critic who turned 70 earlier this year. The Fugitives wrote poetry as undergraduates at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee in the mid-Twenties, under the tutelage of Ransom, then a young member of the school's faculty. After Ransom's moving reading the night before, four other Fugitives and two guests poets read from their poetry and patted each other on the back. After a while, the latter activity exceeded the former, and when the group played a recording of the late Merrill Moore reading "Death is the only language death can speak," along with several other poems on the same subject, some in the audience found the idea of the fugitive reunion beginning to cloy.
To alleviate the strain of academic work, the Summer School scheduled numerous social events, which worked out less successfully than planned. Friday night mixers in the Union were appropriately crowded, but for some reason the School suddenly discarded informality, and required coats and ties, making the affairs a bit sweatier than one might have wished.
Recorded music hours and Yard punches filled out the regular social program, with occasional square dances adding to the fun. Two of these, however, were squeezed into the humid Union and one was scheduled during a week filled with hour exams. Occasionally, folk singing pervaded small corners of the Yard in the dark hours, and lounging on the steps of the girls' dorms (that was as far as men could get) also consumed evening time. Some students asked for more social events, others for a less formally organized program; those who did not go away weekends found nothing planned after the Friday mixers, and Cambridge offered little to amuse them. A trip to Tanglewood and a tennis tournament which seemed always to be just getting underway were special events.
Students organized a drama group which presented a fair Antigone (Anouilh) and an excellent No Exit (Sartre), both highlights of the School's artistic program, along with an outstanding concert by Schmidt's Summer School Chorus, which made a film for television on the problems of training a chorus. Despite few rehearsals, Schmidt's dynamic direction produced a stirring program.
The Summer School administration made much of its varied extracurricular offering, and was extremely concerned with public relations. Its immediate organ of publicity was the Harvard Summer News, published weekly for the School by editors of the CRIMSON, with aid from transient journalists in the Summer School. Since the News was published essentially as an organ of the School, it conformed--as much as it could--to its restrictions. The sensitive administration disliked controversy; thus a story on reactions or Arkansan students to the large primary victory of Orval Faubus was banned by the School on the grounds that it might to "too controversial." The administration became excited when a speech was reported in which only one side of a disputed question was aired; this, they felt, allied the Summer School with that one side. In the midst of the tense week of the Middle East crisis the Summer News bore the lead headline: "Education, Security Conferences mark Week."
This fear of bad publicity was unnecessary, for in regard to the Summer School itself, there is little concrete to criticize. One must discount the few who would turn up their noses at punches and forms sprawled over the grass, and although one observer noted that the School was "a world where all taste was poor taste," there were few at or around the School who would agree. Whatever students' reasons were for attending the school (the News poll indicated that most were academically motivated, but thought their classmates came for social reasons), most students benefitted in some way from the experience. Dean Bundy noted in his Convocation address that whatever their motives were, "the significant thing is that you are here."
Despite the somewhat musty forums, and occasional professorial disappointment at the level of knowledge of students, the school charitably offers to all without restriction the opportunity for two months of a Harvard education. As a dynamic facet of the University's design to educate wherever it can, the Summer School serves a vital purpose. In contrast to the noisy plan discussed two years ago of sponsoring a number of Harvard-like colleges throughout the U.S., the Summer School spreads its bit of veritas around quietly--though self-consciously--and in a quite successful, manner.