Harvard Explained

Where does the phrase “every tub on its own bottom” come from?

First penned by John Bunyan in his 1678 allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, “every tub” was borrowed by Harvard President John T. Kirkland during the first quarter of the 19th century when critics pressed him to find a location to build up the Divinity School. In response, Kirkland declared, “It is our rule here for every tub to stand on its own bottom.” He meant that each school of the University was an independent entity, responsible for its own management and

funding.

In recent years, this phrase has been quoted by Jeremy R. Knowles, the former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), who argued that “every tub on its own bottom does make a larger number of people both accountable and responsible.” An increasing number of opponents, though, believe that this policy leaves some of Harvard’s schools in danger. Critics often mention that FAS and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences have a combined endowment of nearly $8 billion—a sum that exceeds the total endowment of all but four universities—while the School of Education and Design School only have access to endowments of under $500 million.

First penned by John Bunyan in his 1678 allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, “every tub” was borrowed by Harvard President John T. Kirkland during the first quarter of the 19th century when critics pressed him to find a location to build up the Divinity School. In response, Kirkland declared, “It is our rule here for every tub to stand on its own bottom.” He meant that each school of the University was an independent entity, responsible for its own management and

funding.

In recent years, this phrase has been quoted by Jeremy R. Knowles, the former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), who argued that “every tub on its own bottom does make a larger number of people both accountable and responsible.” An increasing number of opponents, though, believe that this policy leaves some of Harvard’s schools in danger. Critics often mention that FAS and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences have a combined endowment of nearly $8 billion—a sum that exceeds the total endowment of all but four universities—while the School of Education and Design School only have access to endowments of under $500 million.

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