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Following is the text of the address "The Undergraduate of Today," delivered at the Associated Harvard Clubs meeting by Edward D. Miller, '37:
Josiah Quincy, Jr., in bringing to a close the celebraties of Harvard's Bicentennial, in 1836, made the following prediction: "A century will soon roll away, and there will be another clan-gathering of the sons of Harvard. They will come rushing, as it were, on the wings of the wind, from every quarter of our land . . . Creatures of a day, it is delightful to multiply our associations with that distant time. In this spirit, the banner that floats over us has been prepared. It will be deposited among the archives of the University. Our hope is, that a century hence, it will collect under its folds the Alumni of Harvard. Over what a scene will it on that day display its blazenry! What a feeling of relationship will it establish between that age and the present!" He then moved "that this assembly of the Alumni be adjourned to meet at this place on the 8th of September, 1936." Immediately thereafter, the record continues, all the College buildings were "brilliantly illuminated by the students, at the expense of the Corporation"--a very practical precedent, indeed.
You who have gathered here for this celebration, or rather, for this "reassembly," have, doubtless, already been astonished and perhaps somewhat bewildered at the almost complete revision, during the past twenty-five years, of the educational methods and policies of Harvard College. General examinations, the Tutorial System, the Reading Periods, the House Plan, Harvard College Prize Fellowships, and the gradual reduction of compulsory attendance at classes--all these educational innovations were unknown twenty-five years ago. Yet they are integral parts of the undergraduate life of Harvard today.
These changes are only another manifestation of the Harvard spirit. As everybody knows, the colossal changes, brought about chiefly by science in the nineteenth century, shook the very foundations of society. Therefore Harvard's problem, at least in part, has had to be one of fitting in with a changing world. Some of these changes are rather amusing. Take the Harvard College Law of 1655, for example: "Every scholler, everywhere shall weare modest and sober habit, without strange, rufflan-like or newfangled fashions; . . . neither shall it be Lawfull for any to weare Long Hair Locks or foretopps nor to use curling, crissing, parting, or powdering their Haire." The College authorities, though they might have been tempted by the crew hair cut to a modern corollary of this law, saw fit to omit the mention of any such regulation in the Parietal Rules of 1936! But it is our purpose to discuss, in the light of past experiences and future experiments, some of Harvard's more serious recent changes.
Prominent among the changed attitudes of the undergraduate today is a marked increase in social responsibility. The inertia implied in resignation to a system of laissez-faire is being challenged by a scientific search for that form of society most conducive to the common good. The undergraduate's seal for earning a living is being replaced by a desire to participate intelligently in later civic activities.
In this increased sense of undergraduate social responsibility, Harvard has shown that she must avoid aloofness from the outer world. She has, with fluctuations, been a dominating force, in the past, in national and international affairs. Today she is trying earnestly to face the new problems which have arisen. We may confidently predict that, in doing so, she will avoid the evil of attempting to teach her future social leaders what to think, instead of how to think. Throughout her history, Harvard has kept a unique record in encouraging independent thought. For an illustration of this, as early as 1692, look at the records of the Salem witchcraft frenzy. This was an event in which many prominent Harvard men were involved, but, characteristically, with entirely different points of view. William Stoughton, the chief prosecutor of the witch trials; Nathaniel Saltonstall, the judge who left the bench "rather than stain his hands with innocent blood"; John Hale, the most active minister among the witch-hunters; Joshua Moody, the minister who braved mob fury in helping some of the accused to escape; and President Mather, one of the two men who did most to bring the prosecutions to an end--all were Harvard men. Or, to bring our illustration up to date, we are reminded that among the members of the Class of 1910 were both "Jack Reed," the journalist who merited a grave in Moscow, and our conservative Congressman, Mr. Hamilton Fish. Look at some of the Harvard non-conformisas of the past--Theodore Parker, Henry D. Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, James Russell Lowell--abolitionists, religious heretics, champions of women's rights. All were pioneers in a hostile land, yet leaders of movements which today are universally approved. The training of such independent thought is the goal of true education. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "I have so small a following because I draw men to themselves, not to myself." This is the attitude which Harvard, in the midst of this growing sense of social responsibility among her undergraduates, must be especially careful to maintain.
Another change in the undergraduate of today is his attitude toward extra-curricular activities. He does not, in general, feel that a crowded social and extra-curricular calendar is necessarily a mark of distinction, or of collegiate success. More and more, he is choosing his extra-curricular activities to supplement his college training as a whole--to suit him better for his later, more practical life. Even in recent times, we have heard the complaint that Harvard's training is too academic to meet the demand for practical men in actual life. The undergraduate of today has attempted to correct this situation through his selective participation in outside activities. This is a tendency that is becoming more and more pronounced. It indicates the undergraduate's feeling that extra-curricular activities should be treated as a means to a chosen end, rather than as an ultimate end in themselves.
These are some of the more important consequences of the recent changes in the social and academic life at Harvard College. Other accomplishments, equally important, might be mentioned, but there still remains much to be done, Consider, for example, the House Plan. The Houses, equipped with ample libraries, comfortable common rooms, billiard rooms, squash courts, and music rooms, to say nothing of the dining halls which offer the most valuable means of acquaintance, have been of great value in giving purpose to the undergraduate's scholastic pursuits. He is now made to feel, by his very surroundings, that he is part of a vast intellectual activity, and that even his recreation may be directed toward the common goal. They make him realize his increased social responsibility. But, although the Houses have been a true blessing to undergraduate life, they have fallen short of their goal in several respects. Instead of integrating the College into one great whole, they have tended to break it up into separate units. They have restricted friendships, to a great extent, to members of the same House. Paradoxical as it may seem, the Houses might well serve to integrate the College as a whole, if more individual House spirit were developed. For a developed House spirit would lead to an increase in competition between the Houses--and such wholesome rivalry would tend to bring the diverse parts of the College together. Morever, the Houses have failed to fulfill adequately their functions as social units. Among the most valuable of the social affairs of the College are the House dances, but even these are considered more like impersonal commercial enterprises than social functions presented by and for the House members. Only when the Houses are considered more than just convenient academic addresses--when each one begins to assume the spirit of a home--will they achieve their true purpose.
Intimacy With Elders
A conspicuous characteristic of the past decade is a growing feeling of intimacy on the part of the young generation with their elders. In the college, this has revealed itself in an ever-increasing desire among the students to have more personal acquaintance with the members of the faculty. The Houses, where faculty and students may dine together, have done a good deal toward meeting these demands, but much is still desired by the students. The older members of the faculty, with large courses and heavy administrative duties, as well as with the guidance of graduate students and with their own research work, have too little time for personal contact with the undergraduates. This represents one of a very few instances where the College has not succeeded in adapting itself to the changed spirit of its new generation. Through the in- creased cooperation of both the faculty and the undergraduate members, the Houses must be utilized to the fullest as educational, no less than as social units, for only thus can Harvard College's future be planned and ultimately determined, by the mutual efforts of students and teachers.
Plenty of Good Times
There are other comparisons, in Harvard's history, besides the serious academic ones, which we might make if time permitted. You graduates were all undergraduates--you want to know what we think about the college now. Perhaps you are not so anxious to know how seriously we take our studies, as whether we have a good time. Is this just a mechanical brain factory, or does it prepare us for life, as you know it ought? Look around you. You have heard it said that almost one third of the Senior Class now graduates with honors. But do we look like pedants and goggle-eyed aesthetes? We still have plenty of good times, but even in our gayer moments, we're not as bad as you often hear. One of our most "horrible" pastimes is throwing water from our windows on "Colonel" Apted and his force of "Yard Cops" as they try to quell a Spring riot. But, I ask you, is such a pastime better or worse than that recorded by President Chauney in 1656, when "Three students were expelled out of the Colledge for hanging Goodman Sells dogge upon the signe post in the night?"
Effect of Freedom
The undergraduate of today is gratised at the great measure of freedom which the college authorities now allow him. The effect of this freedom on the student is his assumption of a large share of the responsibility for his own education. And it is safe to predict that this freedom will be no less when the College celebrates its four-hundredth birthday. Harvard has had a brilliant past. These recent developments show that Harvard, aware of the great changes that are taking place in the society of which she is a part, is prepared, now as always, to furnish that Intellectual leadership which has invariably been her glory. As we survey the transitory present, we may rejoice that a new Harvard is being shaped on the old foundations--a Harvard ready as always, to adapt herself to the needs of her age, but still standing a stronghold for the traditions and guiding principles of the past a Harvard which will justify our hopes and expectations for a future worthy of the dreams of her founders and the nobles' efforts of her leaders in all generations
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