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Had Increase Mather been among those to hear the current President of Harvard College speak at Cornell last Friday, he would have felt right at home; Mr. Conant was talking his language. For three hundred years Harvard has led the educational life of this country, and the task has not been easy. Nothing is so hard as consistent leadership, and for its present place in American life Harvard is indebted to the clear foresight and active minds of a long line of presidents and overseers.
From the earliest days, when Archbishop Laud threatened the very existence of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, there have been obstacles in the path of Harvard's progress. Whenever possible, the College has adapted itself to the changing conditions of national life and so guided its development that there have always been new fields ahead in which it might play the role, as Mr. Conant phrases it, of "innovator and pacemaker." But when the conditions have been such that they menaced Harvard's existence in any form, the College has not been too proud to fight.
In last Friday's speech, Mr. Conant pointed to two factors which were obstructing Harvard's present course. The first was intolerance, and with a veiled reference to the Massachusetts Teacher's Oath Law, the President gave it to be clearly understood that Harvard would continue to oppose every move which threatened to hinder liberal instruction.
The second factor was the growth of tax-supported education. Mr. Conant realized that it was inevitable and by no means undesirable that the State should come to educate more and more of its citizens. He grasped clearly the necessity of a shift in the basic function of the privately endowed institution. Although a little vague as to what the precise nature of this new function would be, or how it would affect the enrollments and courses of today, it was apparent that he was seeking still other fields of public service.
Thus Mr. Conant's speech is in keeping with three hundred years of College history, and his reactions are such as one might expect from a Harvard president. The University, while prepared to fight every attempt of a bigoted few to muzzle the tradition of liberal instruction will cooperate as always with sincere government efforts to advance the cause of learning.
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