The Mail

(The following is an open letter addressed to The President and Fellows of Harvard College.)


Professors Elliott and Leach have presented a most interesting approach to the honorary degree problem and one that may well be applied to other vexatious question. When, for example, Radcliffe put an end to the CRIMSON's Miss Radcliffe contest, the editors might have instituted an annual competition among noted beauties of the past. The Williams professor and I may disagree on who immortalized the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, but we would, I am sure, agree that disputation about her beauty would have been more becoming than was the Kampus Kutle Kontest that agitated Plympton St. last year.

But is this a suitable way to approach the problem of honorary degrees? Beauty, after all, "is a vain and doubtful good," and in the matter of beauty contests we would need to feel no shame at turning away from our own time and burrowing into the past. But honorary degrees, Sirs, honorary degrees! Surely Harvard cannot shirk its duty to future historians, its duty to choose from among the many those few worthy of its recognition and their attention. Surely it would be unseemly for a great university to bury its head in the sands of the past and neglect history's need for its wise and discriminating guidance. Surely this should not, can not, will not be.

But partisan controversy IS unbecoming as Professors Elliott and Leach remind us. Have they not, however, mistaken the root of the problem? The difficulty is not that we award our honors to the living, but that we announce the awards. Let us continue to sort the great from the near-great, but let us announce our verdict fifty years later.

Thus could we say to those five decades hence, "These have we chosen, these have we honored." And they would know that these men had been the bravest, wisest, and most upright of our time. Our obligation would be fulfilled, our duty done, yet no factional strife would today disturb us.

But what would we do for the next fifty years? Our predecessors did not seal up their choices, but we can still benefit by their wisdom and turn our attention to the leaders of the past. This June the world should hear again the names of those chosen in 1910: Charles Evans Hughes, Thomas Leonard Livermore, Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, John Pierpont Morgan, Sir John Murray, Horace Porter, George Walter Prothero, Theodore William Richards, Theobald Smith, John Eliot Thayer, Samuel Williston, Robert Archey Woods. James A. Sharaf '59-3.

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