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In the October issue of Harpers Magazine, Chicago University's President Robert Maynard Hutchins voices a sincere outcry against those influences in American life which combine to produce "confusion in higher education". "The state of the nation determines the state of education," says President Hutchins, "but how can we hope to improve the state of the nation? Only through education." This vicious circle, the writer maintains, can only be broken if some institutions can be strong enough to show the people what the higher learning is.
The methods which President Hutchins proposes, however, are both revolutionary and impractical. In his enthusiasm for the cause of high scholarship and uninterrupted research, he bends over backwards to obliterate all that for which American college of the liberal arts have striven. Basing his argument on the doubtful proposition that the future must bring a regiment of standardized junior colleges, President Hutchins advocates an arbitrary line to be drawn between the sophomore and junior years of every college, as if to say "Here is born ambition, ability, and the will to learn". Only exceptional students would be admitted to the universities, which would carry on "graduate work" under the leadership of brilliant scholars. The average business man would thus acquire an education equivalent to that of a Harvard sophomore on probation. Similarly, Harvard's national scholarships are declared to be doomed, as the omnipotent junior colleges would become purely local institutions (of equal status and desirability, of course!) and the "inevitable tendency" would swamp Harvard's feeble efforts to stem its onrushing tide.
In the first place, there seems small cause for this arbitrary readjustment. Most graduates are more than thankful for their four college years, and with good reason. Of greater practical importance, however, is the fact that no sharp, uncompromising line can be drawn between so-called "general education" and graduate work. There will always be students of university calibre, even according to President Hutchins' standards, who need drilling on elementary work. A total divorce of the two types of institutions of higher learning would greatly hinder, as mass production always will, any possible attention to individual needs. The direct result could only be to retard that "single-minded devotion to the advancement of knowledge" which President Hutchins lauds so highly.
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