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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
During this season of Harvard's jubilee there is a great danger that amid the world-wide tribute, the pomp and circumstance inevitable in such an affair, Harvard men may lose sight of the real meaning of the Tercentenary. As it is understood that the birdseye views of Harvard's grandeur seen in the Sunday rotogravure show only the stage-set for the life of the university, so it must also be stressed that the present celebration merely reflects the satisfaction of Harvard men in the intellectual position of their university.
There would be no cause for such ceremony if Harvard were celebrating a three-hundredth birthday and nothing more. In such a case Billy Rose and his Fort Worth debutantes or Rufus Dawes and his Chicago millions could put on a show to make the American public Harvard-conscious to an undreamed of degree. It would be no less hypocritical to rejoice if this were a university from which all attributes but old age had long since field. Leave that to Heidelberg and Bologna.
The Tercentenary celebration in which Harvard can take just pride is the Conference of Arts and Sciences. Here the foremost scholars of the world have gathered in Cambridge to hold the most spectacular intellectual symposium of modern times. The explanation of their respective countries and peoples given by Prof. Anesaki of Japan and Dr. HuShin of China; the glimpses into industrialism of the future disclosed by Dr. Bergius; and the startling possibilities of the work done in biological chemistry by such men as Ruzicka of Switzerland; are the parts of the Tercentenary to be permanently remembered. The flattery of Boston newspapers is pleasant, the exercises in the new Tercentenary theater cannot fail to be impressive, nor the fireworks on the river exciting, but all these merely reflect an inner pride. They seem small beside this summer's symposium which is the first such gathering of the world's wise men since 13th century Paris.
During the last century the material growth of Harvard has been spectacular but not all-important. The undergraduate body has swelled from a few hundred to many thousands; rich friends have coaxed the endowment well over the hundred-million-dollar mark; Mrs. Widener and Mr. Harkness have raised up pillars in the Yard and flung a row of palaces along the Charles. But all these are simply tools for more important tasks. Other universities have surpassed Harvard in size and approached her in endowment, but real progress has been in a different direction. The history of Harvard's last century lies in George Herbert Palmer's translation of the "Odyssey," in the Nobel prize of Professor Richards, in the psychology of William James and Munsterberg, in the lectures of Professor Kittredge, and in President Lowell's fight for academic freedom.
Harvard can celebrate her three-hundredth birthday only as the world of learning celebrates the contributions she has made to human progress. The prophets who foretell the eclipse of Harvard are blinded by the physical aspects of the occasion. The key to the future is the same one Harvard has used for the past three centuries. It is expressed in the simple command of President Conant: "We must plan for the future in terms of men."
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