The Harvard Review
From the Shelf
Entering its third year of publication, the Harvard Review suffers from a pronounced case of schizophrenia. It is the handsomest and often the most substantial magazine put out by undergraduates, yet students seldom, if ever, write for it. Its topics range from fairly narrow subjects with special relevance to the Harvard community--for example the excellent memorial issue on Perry Miller--to nearly limitless ones like this number on undergraduate education. Ambivalent about their audience and their contributors, the editors of the Review have never quite decided whether their magazine is distinctly a Harvard publication with a local focus and local writers or whether it is to be a Daedalus, j.g., commenting in depth on Important Topics for Our Time.
Caught between these dissimilar if not entirely disjunctive roles, this issue of the Review attempts to comment generally on undergraduate education with particular reference to Harvard, and with results which are for the most part vaguely unsatisfying. Editor David M. Gordon had a noble conception. As he correctly observes in the Introduction, collegiate education is an exciting, relevant, and vital topic, the Doty Report and the Faculty debate notwithstanding. In contrast to the stultifying and unproductive dialogue to which the community has been subjected during the past year, he hoped to present nothing less than a discussion of the quality, meaning, purposes, and future of liberal education--surely a topic worthy of the thickest and most scholarly of quarterlies. But, although the Review managed to snare some big names, they have written articles which are too often slight, too seldom provocative. The Harvard Review hasn't the prestige to command original, first-rate pieces from the first-rate minds which are necessary to deal with the ambitious subject.
Paul Buck's "Remembrance of Themes Past" is a case in point. Former Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and co-chairman of the Committee on General Education which produced the Redbook, he was an ardent warrior for improved undergraduate education in the forties and early fifties. But Buck the engaged combattant has become the retired soldier wistfully retelling the pasts' battles. He concludes by saying "I believe that a truly liberal education for today and tomorrow will combine a program of general education, a program of specialism [departmental education], and a collegiate way of living [a house system]."
The tone suggests that these are not commonplaces at Harvard but still zones of combat. However, any reader of the Review in this community will be less than enthralled at his delineation of the components of a liberal education. If Buck had been willing, a much more important essay could have been written from the perspective of his extensive experience in the college examining the failure of the house system to establish a meaningful community and play a significant part in the student's education or the reasons for the discrepancy between the Redbook's ideals and the actual implementation of a Gen Ed program at Harvard.
Buck's piece was not written for the Review but was an old speech, reprinted. Similarly, Paul Deats, Jr.'s "The Problem of Liberal Education" was drawn from an address and as a result has both the asset of some bright rhetoric and notable phrasing and the defect of little depth and tightness. Deats, professor of theology at Boston University, asks the questions: what is a liberal education? is it possible? what hope is there for it? His definition is a fine summary of recent thought but in discussing the forces intruding on liberal education and the prospects for their containment he is suggestive at best and at worst annoyingly banal. Like Buck, he seeks to realize the goals of liberal education more by slaying the dragons that threaten it rather than by proposing positive and creative measures.
Two other essays in this issue treat general aspects of undergraduate education, but whereas Deats and Buck make some attempt to be systematic, both Susanne Rudolph's "The Ivory Dorm Revisited: The Reality of the Unreal" and Robert W. Gordon's "Thoughts from an Army Camp in Germany" are essentially exercises in self-indulgence. They cloak in abstractions and portentous words insights that are clearly the results of personal experience, nothing more, nothing less. With the aid of some semantic sophistry, Mrs. Rudolph suggests that the old cliche criticism of the Ivory Tower should be discarded; college should not try to prepare one for the real world but rather inculcate ideals for which the student-citizen-to-be will strive once he leaves the Yard for State Street, Wall Street, or Easy Street. A nice thought, perhaps; it could be worked up into a dandy epigram, but it hardly seems worth the space. An expert on eastern culture, Mrs. Rudolph would much better have devoted her energy to scoring the nation's universities for Western parochialism.
Gordon's piece depicts the evils of specialization by creating two hypothetical students--one who yearns for the romance of scholarship, the other for the romance of government. Reading his rambling conversational essay is like sitting down with an interesting fellow in the dining hall; the talk's not too precise, the reforms not necessarily related to the evil attacked, but the spirit of engagement, the sense of concern is there. Indeed the dining table is the symbol of Gordon's pain-killer for the migraine of specialization; beef up the community because students will be most liberally educated by their friends. The houses not the curriculum must be the bastions of liberal undergraduate education.
The Review is at its best when it discusses specifics. "Identity-at Harvard and Harvard's Identity," despite its overblown title, details a study of twenty-four Harvard freshmen made in 1959 by David Ricks and Robert McCarley. They compare ideal "public" and "private" students in order to assess the impact college had on each group and find that contrary to myth the preppie possesses deeper anxiety and undergoes greater change because he, unlike the boy from City High, is less prepared by his secondary school culture to fit into the "new" Harvard--a college in which the premium value is motivated, independent learning. At the beginning of the essay, Ricks and McCarley suggest that a social scientist is one who is never afraid to admit the obvious, and doubtless they would admit the obvious difficulties in generalizing about Harvard from so small a sample, but their analysis of a central Harvard value and the pervasiveness of its attraction is nonetheless stimulating and suggestive.
By far the most exciting piece in the issue is Byron Stookey's illuminating essay on the new branch of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Stookey, former head of the Freshmen Seminar program and now assistant to the Chancellor of Santa Cruz, outlines the planning of a university community which will be unique in this country. Explaining the innovation at California, he implicitly scores Harvard at almost every turn.
Stookey begins at the most basic level by explaining his understanding of the aims of higher education. Too often, goals are either mechanistic--fitted to existing facilities in a university--or ritualistic--vague and over general phrases like "educating people for a democracy." "We have a right," he suggests, "to ask of an institution just exactly what its aims are . . . a right to expect these aims to be true ones; not, in the university for instance, curricular tautologies. Education is presumably an enterprise whose end is larger than its means." He quotes from Clark Kerr's The Uses of the University to explain what problems Santa Cruz hopes to solve:
how to give adequate recogniton to the teaching skill as well as the research performance of the faculty; how to create a curriculum that serves the needs of the students as well as the research interest of the teacher; how to prepare the generalist as well as the specialist in an age of specialization looking for better generalizations; how to treat the individual student as a unigue human being in the mass student body; how to make the university seem smaller even as it grows larger; how to establish a range of contact between faculty and students broader than the one way route across the lectern . . . ; how to raise educational policy again to the forefront of faculty concerns.
That these sound extraordinarily familiar is not a condemnation but a sobering indication of how universal such difficulties are.
The creative and original use of power for the undergraduate is in one sense the most radical change at Santa Cruz. To solve the perpetual problems of liberal education, colleges, about twice as large as the Houses, will be created within the university with the power to hire their own faculty, shape and teach their own curriculum. Departmental strength will be seriously circumscribed and the colleges will become the center of political strength within the broader university culture. At Harvard, the college has been losing a defensive war for two decades; at Santa Cruz, the colleges will have necessary prominence. In short, starting from scratch, says Stookey, means that in "each college the University will have what every large institution must finally devise; a place where experiment can occur without threat to the whole enterprise."
Stookey's essay is must reading, even, or perhaps especially, for those dulled to immobility by the Gen Ed debate at Harvard. But its excellence and importance, its partial fulfillment of the goals outlined for this issue are qualities too rarely seen and demonstrates what The Harvard Review can do but does not do often enough.