A Harvard President's annual report of the progress of affairs at Cambridge has come to assume the importance commonly attached to state papers like the President's message to Congress or a governor's inaugural address. Not only do the Boston newspapers carry a complete digest of it and many long quotations from it, but the leading journals of New York and other cities also treat it as news of national significance. And such it is, for Harvard is in most respects the country's leading university, and what is done in Cambridge today may be done in a hundred other colleges and universities throughout the country tomorrow.
President Lowell's report for the academic year 1928-29 does not contain many startlingly new statements of fact or proposals for the future. His views on college athletics are well known, and he has made previously the suggestion that intercollegiate competition be confined to one major contest in each sport. His opinion that the average age of freshmen could well be reduced with a consequently shorter period of scholastic preparation for life has been expressed recently; and most notably, perhaps, at the National Education Association meeting in Boston in March 1928. He has at various times within the past year described his plans and hopes for the new Harkness Houses. These are all interesting topics, deserving of consideration in these columns so recently that further observation now is unnecessary.
The tentative proposal that the master's degree in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences be abolished seems, as Mr. Lowell says, "a drastic solution" for the problem of over-crowding in that division of the university. The A.M. degree lias long been a rung in the academic ladder, and many persons would no doubt consider its removal a handicap to ambitious scholars. But for many years it has not amounted to very much,--in fact, in some of the English universities it can be won as easily as the A. B. by merely paying a few pounds more or remaining in residence at the college a few months longer. In America it has become purely a "mechanical" degree, which a college graduate may automatically obtain by passing with credit so many courses. It does not show that the holder is prepared to perform satisfactorily a professional duty, but merely indicates that he is a passably good student in a certain field of study.
But in general, the A.M. has come to mean in secondary education, although to a much lesser extent, what the Ph.D. means in college teaching. Some school boards require that an applicant for a teacher's position in a high school shall have a master's degree. This rule is commendable in its aim to raise the standards of secondary school teaching. It would seem more reasonable, however, that a prospective teacher should take advanced work in a graduate school of education. There he could obtain practical experience in classroom work and expert instruction in educational theories and school administration. A graduate school of arts and sciences is, or should be, devoted to pure scholarship.
It would appear that if the economic value of the A. M. label in secondary school teaching could be converted into that of equivalent work in a school of education, the reason for its existence would disappear. As it is now, it means very little to university faculties and nothing at all in any other profession. But the degree has a fond place in academic tradition, and it is doubtful that it will be universally discarded for many years. But at Mr. Lowell's behest, it may soon vanish at Harvard. --Boston Herald.