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President Conant in his letter on the Roosevelt judiciary proposal to the Senators for Massachusetts has driven home one essential point. The The independence of the judiciary is at stake. Nor can there be any doubt that "to rush through a change of this nature . . . . without submitting the issue to the people seems dangerous in the extreme."
The current battle over the Teacher's oath recently, emphasizes Dean Holmes' warning in his last report; "American universities face a dangerous period of intolerance directed against teachers, schools, and universities." When President Conant appeared last week before the legislature, he spoke as President of Harvard and rightly so. The University was being directly attacked and the duty of defence naturally rested upon his shoulders.
Bye and large, however, it is questionable for a president of Harvard who is, in effect, dean of American educators to embroil himself in political questions. If, as President Conant evidently believes, the precedent may "eventually jeopardize the liberties guaranteed under the Bill of Rights", there can be no doubt as to the compelling necessity for him to protest, for the maintenance of "freedom of speech and inquiry" is the very staff of life for educational institutions. Deprived of such liberty, they perish intellectually, even though their material shell be preserved.
If the central question is "how long before some administration will 'pack' the Court to affect decisions on the issue of liberty itself," it is obviously not only his right but his duty to speak. If, however, the implications are not as broad as this, he may rather be doing free education a disservice and banking the fires of intolerance. The Roosevelt measure will have far reaching effect, but many will deny that it can be considered primarily as a threat to the educational principles for which President Conant and Harvard stand. The result of entering the political lists when the institution is not directly concerned, as it is in the oath law, is to focus the attention of the politicians on the universities, and it may engender an "eye for an eye" attitude that will do more than anything else to destroy their traditional freedom.
For President Conant's warning concerning the threat to the judiciary and his demand that the question be submitted to the people there can be nothing but sympathy. As for the application of the letter to education, only time and the public reception will decide its justification.
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