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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Lippmann Urges Freedom of Colleges From Politics in Anniversary Article

By Walter Lippmann

Below are excerpts, reprinted by permission of the New York Herald-Tribune, of an article by Walter Lippmann, entitled "The Harvard Anniversary".

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The preparations have been going forward for some time now to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Harvard College. The event has more than a sentimental significance to the graduates of Harvard. For it is also the anniversary of the founding of higher education in the United States. That was an event of momentous importance.

This is an appropriate moment in the history of the world to celebrate the idea of a university and to take the occasion to define and to reaffirm most especially the basic relation between teaching and scholarship on the one hand, the power and the policies of government on the other. The Harvard anniversary is a most suitable occasion. For Harvard stands unqualifiedly for the principle that unless they are independent of each other the relation between universities and governments will not be healthy.

There are many, not only in the European despotisms but here as well, who do not hold that view, who think, to put it bluntly, that the politicians should run the professors or that the professors should run the politicians. Thus there are those who would reduce the universities to the position of bureaus in the ministry of propaganda and there are those who would invite them to become the advisers of politicians, the directors and planners of national policy.

Against these two views, the one crudely destructive, the other subtly destructive, of the advancement of learning, the celebrations this year will affirm the principle that if the universities are to do their work they must be independent and they must be disinterested.

The choice has to be made. If there are to be universities which are not controlled by the government, if there are to be universities free of the government because they are privately endowed, if in accepting these endowments the universities are to be able to insist on their freedom from the prompting of private interest, then the universities themselves must also renounce the ambition to play a part in partisan political controversy.

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