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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
An important matter to be chronicled this year in Harvard's history is the establishment of cordial relations between the University and the City of Cambridge. Certainly there has been no other event more welcome to everybody who desires to see the benefits of the highest education appreciated in those communities which are the seats of universities and professional schools. That citizens of Cambridge have ever in large numbers believed that the city would be better off without Harvard University seems hardly credible; but that there has been misunderstanding on the part of some of them and that the issues were at one time somewhat befogged, is a matter of record.
The change in feeling has come about quite naturally, through the better understanding by the leading merchants and business men of Cambridge of the benefits, direct and indirect, which the city derives from Harvard. On the other hand, President Lowell and the Harvard authorities have been quick to respond to the friendliness of these citizens, who have the best interests of Cambridge at heart, and form and lead civic public opinion.
It will be recalled that up to and including the spring of 1910, intermittently at first and then annually, the Massachusetts legislature was petitioned by residents of Cambridge, Williams-town, and other towns in which colleges were situated, to tax those institutions. The bills were regularly rejected; but there was sufficient opposition on the part of some politicians to allow the colleges to go untaxed, to cause anxiety for the financial future of those colleges. Harvard University, for instance, would be crippled, if it were forced to pay taxes on all its exempted property.
Last year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, realizing that it must soon move from its crowded quarters in the heart of Boston, looked about for a new site and was much attracted by the Riverbank esplanade on the north side of the Back Bay Basin. No better location could be desired for a great institution like the Institute, and its buildings as planned would have made a noble frame for that side of the Embankment. But the trustees of Technology hesitated, knowing the determination that had been expressed by a few persons in Cambridge to persist until they succeeded in taxing Harvard and other institutions. The trustees were further unofficially advised by the Harvard Corporation that in its opinion the removing of more real estate from taxation might endanger the untaxed institutions, including Harvard College, which already existed in Cambridge.
Technology, therefore, ceased considering the Riverbank site; but the fact that Cambridge might have secured that institution, and thereby added directly to the taxable value of the land between the Riverbank and the Grand Junction Railroad, began to impress the intelligent business men of Cambridge. Nothing could be more desired than that the Cambridge side of the Back Bay Basin, on which millions of dollars have been spent, should be occupied by monumental buildings, worthy of the location and of the city. Here was the opportunity, when an institution of great reputation throughout the United States would erect such buildings, and thereby assure the future of that entire section; but the unfriendly clamor in previous years frightened that institution away, and with it the guarantee that that section would remain desirable. The point was driven home a little later, when, President Maclaurin having publicly announced that Technology was looking for a new residence, offers came immediately from many places. Springfield, for instance, offered to give all the land required, besides pledging perpetual exemption from taxation. The citizens of Cambridge were not slow to conclude that what Springfield regarded as a most profitable investment-to wit, a three-million dollar institution free from taxation-could not be a bad thing for Cambridge; and accordingly they asked Technology to remove to this city, without fear, now or hereafter, of being assailed by the taxassessors. This agitation contributed greatly toward altering the public sentiment toward Harvard; for, if the best business men of Cambridge-despite the traditional clamor against Harvard's exemption-declared that it would be very desirable to increase the untaxed property by $3,000,000, the supposed case against Harvard fell to the ground.
The Cambridge Club, which is composed of the leading merchants, manufacturers, and professional men of the city, was quick to give public expression to this change of sentiment. For some time past it had wished to promote closer relations between Town and Gown, and to that end it appointed a committee, of which Mr. Henry M. Williams '85 was chairman, to confer with the Harvard authorities. At the monthly dinner of the Cambridge Club on March 20, the club had as its guests more than 40 Harvard students of the "first group," and it listened to the following report, which was read by Mr. Williams:
"Your committee reports that it has held various meetings both by itself and with a like committee of the Faculty appointed by President Lowell; that the latter committee responded in a most friendly manner to all the suggestions made by your committee and went even further in its recommendations as to the various ways in which Harvard College will hereafter co-operate with the city for the mutual advantage of the citizens and the University.
"Upon the recommendation of the committee of the Faculty the Harvard Corporation has voted to make an agreement with the City of Cambridge as follows:
(1) Agree to give free tuition for their Freshman year to all Cambridge boys from high schools, whose parents cannot afford to pay their expenses.
(2) That, subject to the approval of the Dean, reduced rates be offered to Cambridge teachers in the Summer School of Arts and Sciences.
(3) That the University athletic fields in Cambridge be offered as playgrounds for the children of Cambridge in the summer, so far as possible.
(4) That within reasonable limits, upon request of the City authorities made to the President, and with his approval, expert advice on municipal affairs of the city will be given gratuitously by members of the Faculties of the University.
"In response to these very liberal offers of the College, which were made voluntarily, we believe that this club can make some response for the citizens, and recommends:
First, that the plans of a reception and dinner to high scholars of the Sophomore class of Harvard College be made an annual event as a tribute to scholarship and as a mark of this club's appreciation of the prompt and generous action of the College authorities.
Second, that a committee of not less than three nor more than five be appoint- ed by the President, of which he shall be one, as a committee of hospitality, which committee shall solicit and record the names of members of this club and all other house-holders of Cambridge desirous of showing some interest in and social attention to the students of Harvard University coming from out of town who are without acquaintances when arriving in Cambridge, and to co-operate with the several Deans of the University to obtain the names and addresses of such students by whom friendship and the attentions above indicated would be welcomed. The College authorities welcome any appreciation of high scholarship and the effort of our people to lend a hand in helping care for the many young men who come to Cambridge without friends or acquaintances.
Third, your committee has already been able to render a practical service to the city as well as to the College, in appearing by four out of five of its members at the recent hearing at the State House in opposition to the bills for the taxation of college property. The position taken by your committee at that hearing was that the citizens of Cambridge in general are not only against such taxation, but are earnestly desirous that the good name of the city should no longer be imperiled by the repeated efforts of a single individual seeking for notoriety.
Fourth, this club recommend that the Mayor appoint a committee representative of the city government, of Harvard University, and of the citizens of Cambridge at large to consider the great interests of the city for the more suitable arrangement of streets about and approaches to the College grounds."
Mr. Williams, after reading the report, spoke of the work of the club in bringing the project to a head, and decried any credit to ex-Representative Julius Myers. He declared that the movement could in no way be traced to Mr. Myers's campaign for taxation, but was a voluntary act on the part of the College, when the matter had been brought up, long before Mr. Myers's bills were filed with the legislature.
In accordance with the suggestion in the report, a committee was appointed to act in further conjunction with the committee from the College. This committee was announced as follows: Henry M. Williams '85, chairman, Edmund A. Whitman '81, John H. Corcoran, Samuel D. Elmore '93, and George E. Saunders.
Mr. Williams spoke a few words on the recommendations, saying that the annual dinner to high scholars in the Sophomore class was suggested because it fits in with the second suggestion-to get more closely in touch with new students without acquaintances in Cambridge. Such an affair would be a great pleasure and lead to better acquaintance and be a benefit both to the citizens and to the students. The committee on hospitality is a thing near to the heart of the deans. Dean Briggs is heartily in favor of it.
The College's offer had absolutely nothing to do with the bills on taxation before the legislature. The work of the committee was begun in September, and the matter was threshed out by January before the Myers bills were drawn up. The whole thing was voluntary on the part of the College and in the meetings of the committees taxation was practically tabooed from the very start. The club's endorsement of the recommendations was unanimous, and, on motion of Stoughton Bell, a vote of thanks was extended to the committee for its work.
In regard to the Myers bills for taxing Harvard, it need only be said that at the hearing at the State House, Mr. Myers was left not only wholly without support, but was opposed by various citizens of Cambridge, including a committee of the Cambridge Club, who attacked his bills on the ground that they would injure the City of Cambridge itself.
In view of the complete and most welcome change of sentiment, at a meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College on March 13, 1911, it was understood that the President should notify the President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that in view of the petitions from a large number of leading citizens of Cambridge asking the Institute to remove to that city, the Corporation withdraws any objection to such removal hitherto raised on the ground that the exemption from taxation of so large an amount of property in Cambridge might endanger the stability of the existing provisions relieving educational institutions from taxation.
The city has already applied to the University for expert advice, and the other recommendations recorded above are in the way of being carried out. That the bonds between Town and Gown may grow stronger and stronger, and the mutual friendship and service become too apparent to give any one cause to suppose that the interests of the city and University are necessarily antagonistic, is the hope of every intelligent person in Cambridge.
[Note.-Reprinted from the June number of the Harvard Graduates' Magazine.
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