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Added to the statements concerning the degree of Doctor of Philosophy which Percy Marks has seen fit to place within his last discourse upon college life, "Which Way Parnassus?" have recently appeared in "Liberty" the equally inexact remarks of Frederick Pingree, onetime undergraduate at Harvard. Neither of these attempts by certain lay minds to remedy the defects of the present system of graduate work in arts and sciences, culminating in the award of the Ph.D. degree, is, in itself, so grand an attack upon the status quo that it is going in any way to deploy the instruction of graduates at the universities into other channels. Yet both are being so widely disseminated, supposedly in the interest of truth, that some sane critique of their real worth is exceedingly necessary.
Both men attack on the ground of excessive scholarship, the intensive study of minutae, the coercion of minds in the period of growth into too narrow channels. The man who goes through the mill is to each of these men a repulsive, or at least uninteresting creature. Mr. Pingree believes of holders of this degree that they have "wasted three of the best years of their lives and trent their minds into as tortured positions as Buddhistic fakirs bend their bodies." Mr. Marks says of the same person that "if he wants his doctorate in English, he must Forego knowledge in order to become a specialist." One is tempted to ask in what profession today the same is not the case. The inductive method has forced specialization upon the university, that and the knowledge that in generalizations of the Marks, Pingree variety are no approach to truth. The leader in college work must know his field, minutae as well as the grander and more sweeping syntheses.
As once it was common to blame money as the root of all evil, so now it is the fashion to blame the Ph.D. degree. If this continues, a reaction within the universities will force upon the graduate student a certainly arid scholarship. Of course the scholarly side of the graduate work is now stressed. But such must be the case. Unless a man has gone through this mill or is a genius, he cannot know his subject. And there are not many geniuses in this country. Writers like these attackers of the Ph.D. want personality stressed. The CRIMSON in a recent editorial wanted the same thing. Yet it never suggested that scholarship should be foresworn for personality. The great question which faces the American university is how it can develop both in its graduate students.
Here one comes upon a confusion which certainly is true of the opinion of many here at Harvard. Looking, as Mr. Pingree probably did at the graduate students in the arts and sciences, one thinks them a sorry lot. Many of them are. There are hundreds who come here every year to take graduate degrees who should be digging effective and useful ditches. But these men do not receive their doctorate. Most of them are lucky to get their Master's degree. Not a few get no degree at all. If more of those who see in a momentary liking for literature the life of the scholar, could realize that one need not go in on a profession to enjoy some of its fruits, there would be fewer potential plumbers in the graduate school of arts and sciences of Harvard University.
Mr. Pingree and Mr. Marks are both sincere. They are not merely filling space for money and sensationalism. Yet both in the present case are talking to the moon. A man can go from college into teaching and by the sheer force of his personality make himself a successful teacher at a college or a university. It has been done and it is being done. Yet that man will never succeed in reaching the heights he might have attained with a truer knowledge of his subject. One must know a profession in these days of excessive competition to continue long in it or to grow in it. And one of the prerequisites of such knowledge in the case of the university professor is a background of scholarship.
Both of the articles dealt with here have in them that insidious half truth which can make more trouble than all the error possible for any popular periodical to gather in a year. And the half truth is that barrenness can often result from excessive concentration. Such barrenness one finds in successful business men as well as in products of the graduate schools. And the duty of those who have education on their minds as well as in their hearts is to find a method by which the doctorate may be in the truest sense humanized. Such humanization, like all else of a remedial nature, must, however, come from within. Neither the author of "The Plastic Age" nor a writer for "Liberty" can produce the panacea. They have not the background, dull and dry though it most certainly is.
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