(The following article, from the pen of Lucius Beebe of the New York Herald-Tribune, was culled from the Sunday issue of that journal.)
There has been a deal of pother and to do in the public prints and a vast amount of discussion, which, happily, has not been recorded, since the inauguration of the so-called house plan at Harvard and the subsequent announcement that Yale has also been induced to become Harkness-minded. Printed matter from the office of Robert Lamb, the Ivy Lee of Cambridge, and more oblique declarations from President A. Lawrence Lowell (who never makes statements for publication, and so has never at once been wrong and on record for it) have sung in almost lyric phrases the boons and ueufructs of the $15,000,000 which will eventually be spent on the project. Harvard undergraduates, who, after all, are more intimately concerned with the house plan than any one else, rose grandly in rebellion, and there ensued an orgy of hoots, sneezes and jeers in student publications, until all gestures of opposition were rendered somewhat fatuous by the factual presence and functioning of the new house units themselves.
And throughout it all the bright young men of the press and magazine staffs and numerous other unclassified space-rate artists publicized the Harvard innovation in all its detail and implications, usually, it may be said, with a respectful eye cocked in the general direction of Mr. Harkness and the Harvard administration. who had manifestly provided reams and reams of elegant copy.
Added to all these variations on an academic theme, there is the inside dope, the ultimate reassurance of the defeatists, which is given a considerable cred- ence among Harvard men of all classifications, and has it that the acceptance of the somewhat complicated social and curricular implications of the house plan is merely the device of that clever old fox, Prexy Lowell, to secure a number of new and costly physical units for the university by accepting them as part of an apparently far-reaching educational experiment, the less concrete aspects of which can easily be discarded with the passing of time, leaving only the architectural assets so badly needed on the Cambridge scene.
But all the considerations, discussions and essays in the realm of beautiful letters concerning the house plan as it obtains at Harvard have had the common characteristic of viewing the entire affair from the purely academic angle--that is to say, as it affects the serious student, who goes to college for purposes other than social, recreational or commercial. And, as every one knows who has ever had any contact with American undergraduates, this serious student whose major pre-occupation for four years is the pursuit of curricular ambitions is a very rare fellow, indeed. Of course, this is not the burden of deans and presidents in their annual reports to the trustees or in their high-minded dissertations in the educational reviews, but the fact remains that the dominant concern of the large majority of young collegians today is not book learning, scholastic rating or formal education.
What, then, are the effects of the house plan not upon the submerged and minuscule minority, but upon the normal undergraduate, upon his social habits, his method of physical existence, his extracurricular activities in the college itself, his eating and drinking, his relations with Mayfair and with Bohemia, his contacts and his clubs--in general, upon the things that really occupy every portion of his day and night save the begrudged or casual hour or two he may spend at lectures or in the library as insurance against the ever-present menace of examinations?
The answer is: None at all.
So far as can be determined by pious investigation of the Harvard scene. Lowell and Dunster Houses, the two units which have been in operation since the beginning of the current college year, furnish for the hand-picked groups of undergraduates selected as their first members the most agreeable and luxurious of available student residences at any college or university, nothing more.
Bach and Beethoven
The groups of serious-minded students gathered in the music room after dinner for a little Bach or Beethoven, or discussing the problems of vis major and concepts of momentum and potential energy with the head tutor over the teacups exist, happily or otherwise, only in the imaginings of the more lyrically inclined correspondents. Nor were the student apartments visited by the investigator inhabited solely by bespectacled fellows deeply immersed in theses on the newly evolved science of bio-psychology or the declension of the Coptic verbs. He was, in point of actual fact, treated to some of the most adroitly compounded Daiquiris of his wide experience and then hustled off to the Waterfront Club in Boston, where he was able to identify a number of the more prominent of Dr. Lowell's flock, their neckties under their ears, drinking what appeared to be Crug's yellow label extra sec and dancing in a not altogether academic fashion with young ladies assuredly not discovered in the Radcliffe library.
For the rest, under this head, it has not been noticeable that the young men of Harvard have completely taken the veil. Tea time at the Ritz overlooking the Public Garden and the dinner hour at Frank Locke's Winter Place tavern still find the gilded youth of Cambridge in more or less complete possession, and the replacement of the stock of stemmed glassware at the Brookline Country Club is still a standard item on every hostess's dance bill. To be sure, the authorities can usually round up enough studious looking fellows to illustrate the divans in the house libraries when visiting notables or the photographers are around, but to date the changes in Harvard undergraduate existence resulting from the house plan have been practically negligible.
Since the academic overtones of the house plan are of such an apparently faint and fugitive nature, it is with the social and extracurricular future of the college that Harvard men will, as a group, be concerned. That the "democratic" principles on which the present grouping was designed are destined to an early oblivion if they ever existed at all, would seem to be the consensus of responsible opinion about Harvard Yard, and it seems inevitable that when all the seven units into which the undergraduate portion of the university will be subdivided are completed, certain of these colleges will assume definitive social characteristics, as those of Oxford and Cambridge have done.
Whether or not this is a desirable trend may be a debatable question, but the Harvard student body seems to have a way of going about its own business, regardless of the devices and desires of the authorities, who, theoretically, govern its destinies. Certainly the house plan has not as yet produced any great modification of Harvard life, and it looks as though the celebrated indifference of the bright young men of Cambridge might be the immovable body against which the forces of innovation and experiment will dash themselves in vain