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Small Colleges in Harvard


The committee of the Student Council which suggests a plan for small colleges within the University is not so imaginative as to dream of an Oxford or a Cambridge on the banks of the Charles River. If it wished to be thoroughly initiative it would have no transplant the roots of English tradition with their growth of centuries, an incomparably harder task than supplying new elms for the Harvard Yard. A Magdalen or a Magdalene cannot be improvised. If the English colleges were imported and grafted on an American university they surely would suffer extraordinary sea change.

It would be possible, however, to group Harvard students in small college units, and that is the proposal of the undergraduates on the council The unit in their view should consist of about three hundred sophomores, juniors and seniors, who would live together in a group of adjacent dormitories. The change would not affect the teaching system. Each college would have its own commons and its own dean. The collocation of the present dormitories, it is pointed out, is suitable for the college plan, so the scheme from a physical standpoint is not chimerical.

The purpose of the desired division is social. It is advocated not for the sake of innovation, but rather as a return to the life of the old Harvard, which was really a family affair in the days when it was fashionable to eat in Memorial Hall. It is hoped through the college nucleus "to draw diverse types of undergraduates together in close units of academic and social fellowship." The theory seems sound, superficially, at any rate. In the colleges which have remained small in numbers, where personal contacts and opportunities for close acquaintance are inescapable, the student bodies are well knit, as they are not in the great universities.

Friendliness in these huge institutions is confined to very small units, indeed, through no fault of the students, perhaps, since the structure of the university life affords no daily meeting ground for the interchange of amenities. The discouragement of intimate association, such as all colleges used to foster among all students, is one of the serious short-comings of the prodigious educational plants. It seems that some artifice must be adopted to make their atmosphere less gelid, and the most natural recourse is to attempt, by some such arrangement as the Harvard committee favors, to bring back to the university the traditional human warmth of the small college.

New York Herald-Tribune, April 7

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