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America has heard much of the high standard of Oxford and the English colleges; Harvard in the past year or two especially has heard much of the Oxford Forum and the wide discussion of politics which forms one of the greatest interests of that University. From one of the most prominent graduates, Mr. Charles Francis Adams '56, we have an interview on Oxford as compared with Harvard which is of extreme interest to the College, taking as it does a somewhat different point of view from that of the usual unstinted praise for Oxford institutions. This interview was published in the Transcript during the summer, and reprinted in the September Graduates' Magazine as revised by Mr. Adams. It follows:
"The horse-car hustle of Harvard and the scholastic quiet at Oxford cannot find place in the same category," Mr. Adams began. (It will be remembered that, a Harvard graduate, he had served for 24 years as an Overseer of the American University.) "In Oxford, man walks, talks and has his being in an atmosphere of scholasticism. The old classical traditions are there still preserved. Do I expect a revival of those traditions in our American colleges? There is not the remotest probability of it. For 50 years the tendency in the United States has been steadily the other way.
"The tide has steadily set toward what may best be termed the democratizing--though I very much dislike the phrase! --of the higher education. Democratizing means always materializing and commercializing. It means the rush for business,--for mere money-making."
"Why," put in the inquisitive visitor, pleased with the thought that it was a big "why" he propounded,--"why can English university men so soon take a recognized place in the political life of their country, often standing in Parliament the second or third year after they take their degrees, when young American graduates rarely contrive to win seats in their state legislatures, and then usually find that their share in statecraft amounts to keeping fellow-members amused by their boyish oratory?"
"Again tradition and environment, are the determining factors," Mr. Adams replied. "It is in the atmosphere. Public life, Parliament, and politics are a tradition at Oxford. They play an important part in undergraduate life. But how many Harvard men will tell you they are going into political life or the public service? Very few. Hardly a man!" Mr. Adams repeated. "They'll tell you they're going into business, which means into Wall Street, a broker's office, or anywhere and everywhere that they can make money; but politics and a public career are looked at askance. And with reason! The conditions are altogether different.
"Consider the Harvard of 50 years ago, and compare it with the Harvard of today. Once, all of its students were planning to engage in one of the three, so-called, learned professions--law, medicine or theology. Now, although the Law and Medical Schools are more active than ever before, the Theological School is nearly extinct; and, in the Academic Department, the rush is all toward science, technology and business, --toward the most practical studies, away from the classics, and away from culture,--in one word, the scholastic."
"And I presume this makes you quite unhappy?" the inquisitive visitor asked.
"Unhappy? Not at all!" Mr. Adams replied. "It is ever the way with old men to dilate on how the country is going to the dogs; but I for one don't see it! Obviously, and for reasons not far to seek, the world in general, even. Oxford as a sequestered part of it, is now passing through a phase of transition,--it is a period of rapid as well as far-reaching readjustment to meet fast changing conditions; and, naturally, it is not altogether pleasant for a man more or less adjusted, to things as they were 'befo' the waw' to see how the change is working out for the better. But for myself, I make it a rule to accept what the lord sends;--for two reasons, one that I may, after all be wrong; and the other that I can't do anything else.
"The more rapid democratizing of our American higher education is the inevitable result of the trend of American life; but don't for a moment imagine that Oxford and Cambridge will remain forever secure in their traditions. The English are more conservative than we, and their traditions are deeper-rooted than ours. Consequently their universities are enjoying, or at any rate having, a longer immunity from the sweep and rush of modern conditions. But they will succumb! Slowly but irresistibly the change will be wrought, and Oxford and Cambridge will be offering their graduate course in business, their higher instruction in industrial administration. The modern gods 'Efficiency' and 'Utility' will get them yet!
"Already the portents are very visible. While in London, I attended a number of those speech-making dinner clubs--you know what sort of thing they are. Boston itself is somewhat given that way--great clearing-houses for useless ideas. Well, believe me or not, as you choose, on those occasions I heard a most prodigious amount of well-nigh inconceivable 'rot'--no other word describes it,--there emitted. Progressiveism--gone mad, we in the United States would consider it; they call it Radicalism. To my thought it was twaddle. And it wasn't the talking of it bothered me, it was the applause the speakers got! They might have been uttering revelations of unadulterated truth to a waiting world, and their reception could have been no warmer as it was they were, in very forcible-feeble fashion, just glibly maundering.
"Much the same thing is in vogue at Oxford. There, too, you will find lots of silly boys with more radical notions than they--thank Heaven!--"have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.' And they are no Hamlets either! For instance, while I was lecturing, a strike of street-car men was going on. I do not doubt the striking employees had their 'grievances' and sufficient cause for self-assertion; it was, however, no affair of the undergraduate world. Yet a contingent of those half-baked boys must needs side with the strikers, making stump speeches about the rights of man, and joining generally in the hullabaloo. They were unfledged Radicals. In more archaic times they would very deservedly have been horsed and birched. 'Untruss, young sir!'
"Don't for an instant assume that I object to a serious-minded Radicalism. That type of thought may for all I know be specially now needed to cope with the problems today presenting themselves. In England these problems are acute. I venture to say that the unrest is already far deeper-seated in the English proletariat than it is here; and surely America has need of some well-balanced, if Radical, thinking to meet existing conditions. Toward the solution of the problems of today the universities, both of America and of England, will do well to bend their energies. That, however, is a somewhat large topic to be inconsiderably and incidentally entered on. At the present time, and in this connection, I have only to say that the atmospheric environment in Oxford is wholly different from that in constant evidence at Harvard. In the one case it is to a degree still academic and traditional, while in the other case it tends more and more to the useful and up-to-date.
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