Despite the bureaucratic obstinacy which so often characterizes the mechanics of Harvard's educational process, occasionally a new and sensible idea gropes its way to realization. One of these reassuring incidents is the decision to replace final examinations in English 163 and Comp Lit 166 with lengthy reading papers.
The new system supplants the aging fallacy that examinations can extort conclusive proof of a student's achievement in a given field of knowledge with the more reasonable supposition that a carefully considered essay on the reading in a course provides a better measure of the learning absorbed.
Examinations, unforunately, too often become opportunities for the spewing out of hastily-organized and impermanent knowledge. But the new regime, too, has its weaknesses. It is conceivable that a student will do none of the course reading until he finds out what the paper topic is and then read only what he considers necessary for the paper. Thus the methodical, diligent student would be penalized and the crafty fraud unjustly rewarded. But professors who make sure that the topics they assign are broad enough to require completion of a majority of the required reading can insure that academic virtue is given its own reward. Surely the scope afforded in a paper topic will represent a more satisfactory test of a student's work than either the overly picayune or overly general variety of essay questions so prevalent on Harvard examinations.