Julian Lowell Coolidge '95, Professor of Mathematics in the University, answers the question, uppermost in the mind of the Harvard graduate unmercifully harrassed with Class Gift and Endowment. "What sort of an institution is this anyway? How good a college have they got there in Cambridge? How does is compare with that college which we knew or thought we knew so well when we graduated, thirty years ago?"
In the current issue of the Harvard Graduates' Magazine is Professor Coolidge's answer, delivered in a speech at the Thirtieth Anniversary dinner of the Class of 1895.
"I am glad to answer these questions," declared Professor Coolidge, "and to testify that in many ways it is a much better college than the one which we left together in 1895.
"There Was the Luxury of a Bath"
"Do you remember the living conditions in our time? Unless you were a malefactor of great wealth, living in Claverly or Beck, or took your turn in standing under a faucet in teh gymnasium, there was no chance to bathe. Our classmate, Flandrau, says somewhere in his 'Diary of a Freshman' that a daily bath should be an innocent pleasure, not a morbid family pride. It was not either of these for most of us--it was an unattainable luxury.
"Compare the splendid Freshman dormitories of to-day, the rehabilitated Massachusetts, the two new little dormitories that flank Holden Chapel, with, let us say, Holyoke House, and you will have some idea of the measure of the improvement. Compare the wooden stands on Holmes or Jarvis Field with the Stadium, or the Anderson Bridge with the rickety plank affair that used to span the river, and you will see how far we have gone.
"No Union in Those Days"
"There was no Phillips Brooks House in our time, no Harvard Union. Robinson Hall and Emerson Hall have come since. The University Museum has been doubled, and then there is the Library. It is the best university library in the country. It is more than that. If your idea of a scholar's library is a place where serious students will find a rich store of precious books which they can study under the most advantageous and liberal conditions, why, the Harvard Library will stand comparison with any university or city or State library in the World.
"Moreover, we are not at the end of this building expansion. It is going on today more actively than ever. A new Freshman dormitory will presently be started and another new dormitory in the Yard. . . .
"We are just breaking ground across the river for the $5,000,000 George F. Baker group of the Business School. I Know taht there are two opinions about this most admirably managed institution: some people feel that it is one of the most important and promising of our university bodies; others hold that a university created for liberal studies has no business to have such a school anyway. All are agreed, however, that they are very glad that it is going across the river. . . .
Eating Habits Have Gone Down
"Is there another side to the question? Surely there must be. You will accuse me of being an altogether blinded optimist if I can show no signs of retrogression whatever. I think perhaps there are such signs. To begin with, there are the eating habits of the students. In our time, almost everybody ate at a club table. The wealthier men ate at their clubs or at various boarding houses. The majority of the men ate at Memorial Hall, almost all at regular club tables with a definite body of friends: the poorer men went to Foxcroft. To show the extent of this system, I may mention that a few years after we graduated there were about twelve hundred men eating at Memorial and about eight hundred more in the Randall Dining Hall, which succeeded Foxcroft House: so that the great bulk of our students ate at regular times and regular places, with regular companions.
"Now, I hold no brief for the food at Memorial still less for the smells thereof, but I maintain that to eat regularly and leisurely at a fixed time in dignified surroundings, with chosen companions, is a civilized and civilizing influence. Today all that is changed. A small body of men still eat at their clubs; Randall has not been opened since the War; Memorial Hall was finally closed this year because it was found impossible to coerce or cajole enough students into going there to make the place pay. The great mass of our undergraduates shovel down their food at quick-lunches or self-service cafeterias. This is no fault of the College. It represents a deep difference in social customs which the College is powerless to change.
Different Problems to Be Met
"'Why do you fill up the Faculty with grinds and men who have shown no great signs of force of character? Why don't you appoint a certain number of natural leaders, class officers, men who have been recognized by their fellows for leadership and capacity? The undergraduates would be tremendously inspired by such men. There are two answers to this suggestion: the first is the simple one that these undergraduate supermen would not in general accept any position we could offer them; they would not make the sacrifices required by the academic life. And the second answer is this: thirty years ago Harvard was the largest university in the country. Today all that is changed. We shall never again have that position. There are two alternatives and two only ahead of us: either we must be the leading intellectual center in the western hemisphere or we must gradually sink back to the position of a glorified New England academy from which we emerged.