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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
To most undergraduates the Littauer Center, the huge no classic building known popularly as the "while elephant" which stands at the intersection of Kirkland Street and Massachusetts Avenue, is an enigma and a mystery.
For Harvard's new School of Public Administration which is housed there offers the strange paradox of being a graduate school which charges no tuition, gives no degrees, and has only 15 students.
This mystery building has a distinguished heritage. On the spot where it stands, commanding the Cambridge Common, once stood the home of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and before that the headquarters of General Ward and the Committees of Public Safety of revolutionary days. And generations of Harvard men played basketball and squash and boxed in the gaunt Hemenway Gymnasium, razed two years ago to make room for the Littauer Center.
The future Littauer Center was hailed as a place "to train leaders, and through them, the people at large how to translate democratic ideas of administration into living realities." And the establishment of the new school was seen as fore-shadowing a day when "public office in the hands of broadly educated and highly expert public administrators would really become a public trust."
To translate these lofty aspirations into a practical program, in the winter and spring of 1937 an extended series of conferences was held between educators and government officials under the direction of President Harold W. Dodds of Princeton, an authority on municipal government, and California Institute of Technology's famed Professor William B. Munro. Their prospectus envisaged an enrollment in the Littauer School of from 40 to 70 students.
But today the enrollment of the School is only 15--the Littauer Fellows, college graduates with records of distinguished work in government behind them, who come here on full scholarships to do advanced work in Economics and Government. Like the Nieman Fellows in Journalism (except that they are required to participate in one seminar), the Littauer Fellows are free to take whatever graduate courses they want. They get no degree.
188 Attend Seminars
If these 15 men were the only ones to use the Littauer Center, they would rattle around like pea in a stone pod. Actually, there is a faculty of 17 men, and last year 188 students drawn from the Business School, Law School, and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, attended seminars in the Center's luxurious conference rooms. And in addition the Center houses all men giving graduate, instruction in Economics and Government.
The fact is that the Littauer School does not exist to train men for specific government jobs. It does not provide training for the routine, run - of- the - mill, government services--the Public Health and Forestry services, for example--for which adequate instruction is already available.
Rather the Littauer School is today a center for research and study in the social sciences. Under the direction of Dean John H. Williams, an outstanding practical and theoretical authority on money and banking, the School has recognized the need to emphasize "professional standards and a realistic approach."
This realistic approach means the acceptance of the fact that law and economics remain the basic training for Government administration. It means that the Littauer School sees its main work in finishing and broadening the education of lawyers and economists.
The principal work of the Littauer School, then, is carried on in seminars and research projects. The seminars, participated in by graduate students, Faculty members, and government experts, are not intended to serve as a method of instruction, but as a process of mutual learning, approaching problems of government administration with the attitude of "We don't know what the answer is, but we will use every available device to find out."
The deliberations of these seminars, and the work done in related research projects, have not been totally unproductive. The progeny spawned in seminar rooms and nurtured in the statistical laboratory includes Professor Edward P. Herring's work on party politics, and the statistical study of the financial standing of all Massachusetts towns compiled by Professor Morris B. Lambie's seminar.
Big Shot Seminars
Behind closed doors in sessions closed to the press, many big figures on the American political scene have participated in Littauer seminars during the past-year. Sitting in on Professor Alvin Hansen's fiscal policy session a have been Marriner Eccles, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Roswell Magill, former under-Secretary of the Treasury, and Charles W. Eliot, executive officer of the National Resources Board. National chairmen of both major parties--James Farley and John D. M. Hamilton--have participated in the Political Parties seminar.
The Littauer School is more than an office building for Government and Economics professors. A real attempt is being made there to being together the best contemporary thinking and research and focus it on problems of government administration.
Granted that most of the work of the School could be carried on even if there had been no new building, nevertheless the Great White Hope undoubtedly bolsters the School's morale. Of course the question inevitably arises as to whether the money for the building might not have been better spent on more fellowships and research funds.
Future plans for the Center are largely dependent on funds provided for further instruction, research, and fellowships. Even though it seems unlikely that the School's enrollment will ever expand to the figure suggested by the Dodd group, new programs for integrating the training of government students are being worked out under the direction of Professor Carl J. Friedrich.
The "super graduate school" dream does not seem wholly impossible to realize. While the School's work is fundamentally experimental, the lines of development are clearly definable. Dean Williams has stated them in these words: "What we are seeking to do is not to find a new content in public administration but a new and more effective method of work which will draw not only the various branches of the social sciences nearer together but also the university and the public service."
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