There is nothing unusual in the fact that Ruben H. Fogel, like many Harvard students, decided to take some time off before completing his degree. But Fogel '28 took 50 years before returning to Harvard this year to complete the requirement for his B.A. in Economics.
Fogel left Harvard in 1928 without having successfully completed his general examinations and went to work on Wall Street. Except for the years between 1935 and 1945, during which Fogel left the stock market because of the Depression and World War II, he worked in the investment business continuously from 1928 until 1969.
Why would a man who had spent most of his life at the heart of the business world want to come back to undergraduate economic theory?
"I considered it unfinished business," Fogel explained this week. "I regretted not having completed the requirements then. There were more and more reasons for not doing it at the time--looking back they weren't that important."
"The Lord had spared me this long, I felt I should go back and do it," Fogel added.
But this presented some problems for the Economics Department, particularly because there was no way to recreate a general exam comparable to the one Fogel would have taken 50 years ago. "Most of what he studied was pre-Keynesian economics," David G. Hartman, assistant professor of Economics and Fogel's tutor, said this week. "It was impossible to write a fair general exam, so he wrote a senior paper instead."
Fogel sat in on some lectures, including Economics 10, "Principles of Economics," which was Economics A in 1928. He read the standard Ec 10 textbooks and readings.
Tutorials were an important part of Fogel's program. "President Lowell had just introduced tutorials in the '20s," Fogel observed, adding that he was glad to see they were still part of the curriculum.
Like almost every field, economics has changed radically in the last half century.
"The guru of that day was Albert Marshall, who was the teacher of Keynes, the patron saint of liberal economics," Fogel said. "There weren't any liberals in those days, they were all conservatives."
"Marxism was hardly a college subject at that time," Fogel recalls. "No one in Economics was interested in it." It was not until the New Deal years that Marxism began attracting attention as an economic theory, Fogel said.
In the '50s Harvard disturbed many of its alumni when the Economics Department became more left-oriented, Fogel said. "It created quite a bit of concern among the old grads--some grumbled about withholding contributions. But I got here and found it wasn't that way."
Fogel discovered many changes around Cambridge upon his return this year. "Harvard Square has always been a lively place, but it's almost frenetic these days," he said.
"It was mostly students in the Square in those days. Now it's transportation center--a lot of commuters and a lot of people who are neither students nor commuters."
One change that dismayed Fogel was the resurgence of student protests this year. "I was brought up in Cambridge," he said. "I would occasionally walk through the Yard and see John Harvard and I felt I was walking on holy ground. When I saw thes people--they had hung an effigy and some vulgar banners on the statue--I thought it was desecration. I thought it was overdoing things."
Fogel's return to the academic life was successful in purely quantitative terms as he received an 'A' for his paper on regulation and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
"I worked in the atmosphere they created and I was aware of what the SEC did," he said. "When the SEC was set up in '33-'34 I was able to follow all of the subsequent developments. I found a great many things to criticize."
Fogel will complete his Harvard oddysey this Thursday when he marches with the Class of '78 parade in the morning and the Class of '28 march in the afternoon.
He will receive a non-honors diploma at the Commencement exercises.
"It was a very enjoyable experience," Fogel said. "I regret that it's over.