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TERCENTENARY ORATION

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Following is the text of President Conant's Terosntenary Address, "The University Tradition in America--Yesterday and Tomorrow."

Such a gathering as this could come together only to commemorate, an act of faith. This assembly honors a vision three centuries old and in so doing reaffirms an intent of perpetuating an ideal. A hundred years ago President Quincy, writing of the founding of Harvard, used these words: "On recurring to the origin of this seminary, our first feelings impel us to wonder and admire." From such admiration grow the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary; with no less reverential feeling the sons of Harvard have once again met here to mark the turn of another century.

The passage of a hundred years has enabled us to see more clearly the events which occurred between 1636 and the granting of the charter to the President and Fellows in 1650. Thanks to the labors of the historians we are able to appreciate more fully than did Quincy the spirit of the founders and to understand more completely the significance of their bold plan. And with the increase in our knowledge comes a more than proportional increase in our admiration. As you have heard, the Puritans' ambition was none other than to transplant to an untamed forest the ancient university tradition. They would be satisfied with nothing short of duplicating here in New England at least one college of Cambridge University. Carried forward by the 'strong tide of Puritanism, the enterprise was at first blessed with almost miraculous success. The goal might well seem to be in sight when, within twenty years of the founding, Oxford and Cambridge (then in the hands of dissenters, to be sure) recognized the Harvard degree as equivalent to their own. But many changes in both the mother country and the Bay Colony were yet to come. The enthusiasm for education in a new land waned, and even the second President of Harvard complained of those who desired "to pull down schools of learning, or which is all one to take away the oyl from the lamps, denying or withholding maintenance from them." The acorn had been planted, the young tree was alive, but its growth was slow beyond the expectation of those who had brought the seed to a wild, new continent.

In the middle of the last century, in 1867 to be exact, the head of one of the Oxford colleges, an eminent scholar and educational reformer, saw no evidence that the university tradition had ever taken root in the United States. "America has no universities as we understand the term" he wrote, "the institutions so called being merely places for granting titular degrees." Taken literally this harsh judgment is undoubtedly false, and yet I venture to think that it is not a gross exaggeration of the situation which then existed. The new spirit moving within the educational institutions of this country had not become evident to those outside the academic walls. Another decade was to pass before a university was opened in Baltimore, national in its scope, and proclaiming boldly that "all departments of learning should be promoted" . . . "and that the glory of the University should rest upon the character of the teachers and scholars . . . and not upon their number nor upon the buildings constructed for their use."

We Commemorate a Hope

We commemorate today the daring hope of a group of determined men--a hope the fulfillment of which was long delayed; delayed, indeed, until within the lifetime of many now present here this morning. With feelings of gratitude we turn back through three centuries to pay homage to the faith that could see no obstacles and to ideals which are indeed eternal. But the real past which we salute is but yesterday. Harvard, together with all the other universities in this country, stands just beyond the threshold of a new understanding. It is towards the future of our common enterprise that on this occasion we must direct our guze.

* * *

The future of the university tradition in America that is the problem that must concern all of us who are assembled here today. But what is this tradition; indeed, what is a university? Like any living thing, an academic institution is comprehensible only in terms of its history. For well on a thousand years there have been universities in the western world. During the Middle Ages the air they breathed was permeated with the doctrines of a universal church; since the Reformation in Protestant countries these have undergone a slow and varied metamorphosis. But the essence of the university tradition has remained constant. From the first foundations to the present, four main streams have watered the soil on which the universities have flourished. These ultimate sources of strength are: first, the cultivation of learning for its own sake; secondly, the general educational stream of the liberal arts: thirdly, the educational stream that makes possible the professions; and, lastly, the never-failing river of student life carrying all the power that comes from the gregarious impulses of human beings. All four streams are easily discerned bringing life to the English universities in the first half of the seventeenth century. For this reason Oxford and Cambridge flourished; and because they flourished, their sons who migrated to this strange land desired to cultivate the same sturdy tradition even in a wilderness.

Dunster's View

The plans of President Dunster and his collaborators reveal clearly what the university tradition meant to the Anglo-Saxon world of the seventeenth century. Harvard's founders insisted on the "collegiate way of living," thus recognizing the importance of student life. They knew the educational values which arise from the daily intercourse between individual students and between student and tutor. Their concept of professional training was, to be sure, largely cast in terms of the ministry, but they envisaged also training in the law and medicine. The liberal arts educational tradition they transplanted in toto from the colleges which they had left behind. And finally, their zeal for the cultivation of learning is made evident by the reference in the charter of 1650 to "the advancement of all good literature, arts and sciences..."

Such, it seems to me, was the properly balanced plan of a university in a time when universities were flourishing; such, it seems to me, must be the idea of a university if institutions of higher learning are to fulfill their proper function in the times that are to come. But there have been periods of sickness, even of decay, in the history of almost every academic foundation. If one of the four vital streams I have mentioned either fails or swells to a torrent, thus destroying the proper balance of nourishment, then the true university tradition may perish. The cultivation of learning alone produces not a university but a research institute; the sole concern with the student life produces an academic country club or merely a football team manoenvering under a collegiate banner. On such abnormalities we need not dwell, but I should like to take a few moments to consider the disastrous effects of an over-emphasis of either the liberal arts educational tradition or the element of professional training. This is a real danger at all times. For a university nourished exclusively from either one of these two educational streams always seems to the uninformed to be most healthy because they believe it to be most useful.

First Consideration

Let us consider, first, the situation, created when the proper balance is upset by disproportionate concern with general education. In this case the stream of learning and research inevitably dries up; indeed, some have contended that it should. Newman defined his idea of a university as "a place of teaching universal knowledge, for the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement." In his famous essay be recommended "a division of intellectual labour between learned academies and universities." (In twentieth century terminology we should substitute the words "research institute" for "academy".) He believed that "to discover and to teach are two distinct functions." Newman's proposal amounted to eliminating one of the four vital ingredients evident in the life of the universities during their healthy periods. Unconsciously he was reflecting the condition of the English universities as he knew them before 1850 when they were still suffering from the long sleep of the eighteenth century. His proposition was in reality but a concise description of a disease. A few years later a prominent member of his own University, recognizing the condition as pathological, expressed himself in the following words: "The colleges (of Oxford and Cambridge) were in their origin endowments for the prolonged study of special used professional faculties by men of riper age . . . This was the theory of the university in the Middle Ages and the design of the collegiate foundations in their origin. Time and circumstances have brought about a total change. The colleges no longer promote the researches of science, or direct professional study . . . Elementary teaching of youths under twenty-two is now the only function performed by the university, and almost the only object of college endowments. Colleges were homes for the life-study of the highest and most abstruse parts of knowledge. They, have become boarding schools in which the elements of the learned languages are taught to youths." When we read this indictment penned before the completion of the nineteenth century reform of Oxford we may well ask: If the intellectual division of labour which Newman advocated' and which still finds proponents in our own time is to be desired, why were the English universities in so unsatisfactory a condition? The accidents of time had destroyed the ancient function of advancing knowledge and yet the institutions did not flourish.

As further evidence, listen to what the Royal Commission of inquiry into the condition of Oxford had to say on this subject in 1850. "It is generally acknowledged that both Oxford and the country at large suffer greatly from the absence of a body of learned men devoting their lives to the cultivation of science and the direction of academical education. . . . The presence of men eminent in various departments of knowledge would impart a dignity and stability to the whole institution, far more effectual against attacks from without than the utmost amount of privilege and protection." Attacks from without--the phrase has a modern ring. Events proved that the Commission of 1850 was correct in its statement, the changes which they advocated restored the confidence of the nation in its two ancient institutions. They could not foresee, however, the reluctance of certain sections of public opinion to welcome the restoration of the true university tradition. They did not realize how willingly the public often follows those who argue for a separation of teaching and research! No better illustration could be found than an article in The London Times published in 1867. The writer endorses the general view that "the university is mainly a place of education for young men just before they enter upon life and should confine its whole administration to this practical aim." (Please note the word "practical"!) "We are confident," the article continues, "that this view is the one from which Englishmen in general regard the universities. It is a growing subject of discontent among the public that the tutors and professors of both Oxford and Cambridge are becoming more and more absorbed in their own scientific pursuits." And these remarks at the time when the two ancient universi-

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