There may be men in the senior class or even in the lower classes who are arranging their college course and building their air castles with the view of obtaining a degree of Master of Arts at the same time that they take their Bachelor of Arts degree. To such men at least, and doubtless to many others, it will be interesting to know what the prospects of netting such a degree are, and what in general has been the policy pursued in awarding A. M. degrees.
After the custom of giving the degree of A. M. to any graduate of three years' standing who took the trouble to pay the University a small fee for it, a custom which was continued down to the early 1870's - after this custom was discarded, the governing boards of the University passed certain standing votes relating to the A. M. degrees, among which are noted the following:
"That the degree of Master of Arts * * * be open to Bachelors of Arts of Harvard College," and again
"That the Academic Council [now the Faculty of Arts and Sciences] be authorized to recommend for the degree of Master of Arts candidates otherwise properly qualified, who, after taking the Bachelor's degree, shall have pursued for at least one year at the University a course of liberal study approved by the Academic Council, and shall have passed with high credit an examination on that course"
This distinctly lays it down that the work for the A. M. shall be done after a man has taken his A. B.
By the year 1890-91, what with the three years' course agitation and a general desire to condense the academic work, men began taking their fifth year course while they were doing the work of the other four, and petitioning for their degree of A. M. at the same time that they graduated from college; and many such petitions were granted.
The following year members of the class of '92 planned their course to the same purpose. Before they graduated, however, the Overseers perceived the infringement of the standing rule and drew to it the attention of the Faculty. The Faculty, while admitting that the rule had been violated, nevertheless recommended for the A. M. degree eight seniors, on the ground that they had been misled by the action of the Faculty in regard to former classes, and had planned their college course accordingly.
The question that now concerns men in the present senior class is whether the Faculty will consider that any of them has been so misled by precedents that he has made a radical change in his college course that it would be unjust to overlook. Otherwise the standing rule will have to hold and no man will be allowed his degree of A. M. without a year of work taken after he has got his A. B.