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When the British author Mr. H. G. Wells mentioned in his recent magazine article that President Conant might make an excellent presidential possibility some day, he may have been echoing the feelings of many people who have dealt with the present head of the University. Those who have transacted business with him in University Hall, or have seen him about the country on his various missionary expeditions, have been impressed with his personality and with the way in which he has transferred his allegiance from research in science to an administrative position which calls for sterling abilities.
There are certain reasons why a college president is at a disadvantage in trying out for the presidency of the United States. Important among these is the lack of any organized political machine. Politics, like the poor, we have always with us, and nobody has been able to demonstrate a way of succeeding in polities without some organized backing. Another discouraging factor is the illusion in the public mind that college presidents are dreamy, pensive fellows who have rusticated behind cloistered walls all their lives and hence are unfit to hold the reins of government. Mr. Wells himself seems to consider this idea in speaking of President Wilson, despite the fact that the ex-President of Princeton did manage to bring about a number of domestic reforms and put across a victory in France, albeit his Paris performance brought him to ultimate failure.
The most potent factor in discouraging President Conant and any of his admirers from an adventure of this sort, however, should be its effect on Harvard. The minute a college president takes sides in a political discussion, his impartiality on any subject he may subsequently take up, be it political, educational, or merely the weather, is bound to be called in question by political smear-artists whose job it is to throw mud. This mud cannot help spattering the University and sullying its name in the academic field. Glenn Frank, for instance, may be a fine politician, and a great discovery for the Republican Party, but his activities did not redound to the advantage of Wisconsin. Nor do Nicholas Murray Butler's annual speeches to the economic royalists in Southampton add to the credit of Columbia.
As yet nobody is taking seriously the mention of President Conant for nomination. Before any current flows in this direction, it is well to realize that such a tide might not be in the best interests of Harvard.
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