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But the greatest injustice lies in the assignment of the degrees at commencement. According to the regulations any person who receives honors in any subject is entitled to a degree magna cum laude, and one who receives highest honors gets a degree summa cum laude. This, at first sight, may appear fair enough, but if the subject is examined closely the great injustice is at once apparent. A man who has special ability in any one line, but who is decidedly inferior in general knowledge, outranks a man of good general ability, in whom no one taste is specially developed. For instance, suppose a man who hardly possesses more than average general intelligence should accidentally have a gift for music, a thing not impossible or infrequent; he devotes himself largely to that subject, and in the end gains highest honors, and with it a degree summa cum laude. Although on his degree the reason for the distinction is mentioned, such is not the case on the commencement programme. Here his name is printed in the list of the men who are supposed to write "orations." But take the case of the man of general intelligence, who, however, has not devoted himself to any special topic. He has attained an average of eighty-five per cent. in his three years' course, and therefore gets a degree magna cum laude, a grade below the other man. Of course every student knows the relative value of these degrees, obtained under such circumstances, and that the "magna cum" man is generally a better representative of Harvard than the man with a summa cum, but the outside world does not. Any stranger hearing that a man had received a summa cum degree from Harvard would suppose that of course such a man would have great general intelligence; but an acquaintance with such a person might prove the contrary.
The whole plan is a very strong method of favoring "specialists." The man who takes a general course suffers, from the fact that he did not devote himself more to one subject. It is well enough to encourage men to pursue a special line of study, but to give a man the same rank for eighty-five per cent. in eighteen hours that another man gets for forty-two hours of general work is too much of an incentive.
To explain : No honor course in college requires a man to devote more than six full courses to that study. Besides this he has to pass a special examination, which to a man that has done faithful work in his courses is but little difficulty. A man who gets honors in any subject, receives a magna cum laude degree practically for eighteen hours work. But for a man to get this degree in regular course he must attain a mark of eighty-five per cent. in his last three years, i. e., for 42 hours a week, a mark that would certainly give him honors if he took six courses on the same subject. So that a man practically gets the same degree for eighteen hours work that another man gets for forty-two hours work. There is something wrong in this arrangement without a doubt, and we trust that in time some method will be devised to do away with the evil.
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