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Entering into the fray of college educators over the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill of Rights) President Conant in his annual report to the University trustees yesterday urged revision of the Act to assure professional training at government expense for veterans of exceptional ability.
"We shall pay heavily as a nation in years to come," he said, unless we rapidly fill the war gap in the education of future leaders in scholarship, research, medicine, law and other professions. "We face a truly alarming situation," he said, if this is not done.
The weakness of the present GI Bill, he explained, is that it bases educational opportunity on length of military service and not on "demonstrated ability." The bill should provide advanced education for "a carefully selected group; the length and types of such education to be related to the national educational deficit caused by the war."
"Unless the law is subsequently modified, all our colleges, universities and technical schools will have heavy responsibilities when the wave of demobilized veterans (an estimated 650,000 servicemen expect to go to college after they are discharged--Ed.) hits our educational system.
"Unless high standards of performance can be maintained in spite of sentimental pressures and financial temptation, we may find the least capable among the war generation, instead of the most capable, flooding the facilities for advanced education in the United States.
"Such a situation would be detected before long by the general public and the reaction against our colleges might be severe indeed." (Other educators have expressed fears. President Robert Maynard Hutchins, of the University of Chicago, has warned of "educational hoboes"--veterans, unable to get jobs, who will be offered a chance to live at Government expense simply by going to school. In an article in Collier's magazine. Hutchins said, "Educational institutions, as the big-time football racket shows cannot resist money." "The GI Bill of Rights gives them a chance to get more money than they have ever dreamed of . . . They will not want to keep out un-qualified veterans; they will not want to expel those who fail." Hutchins recommended nation-wide examinations to screen out veterans who cannot succeed in or profit by college, and a plan to stimulate the colleges' discrimination and alertness by making them feet the bill for each of their veteran students.)
"Differences of opinion among educators as to whether the selection should be made by a state or federal agency," said President Conant, "were in part responsible for the elimination of the selective feature. But fundamentally, the bill as finally enacted reflected the American public's distrust of differentiation of educational opportunity in terms of talent or ability.
"Such differentiation is often spoken of as undemocratic. As a matter of fact the original scheme (as first submitted to Congress) with its selective features was quite the reverse; this is evident if one compares a program for providing professional education for veterans at government expense on the basis of demonstrated ability with the past procedures in this country in which the accidents of geography and parental income played the dominating role."
President Conant also said that the veterans with the most brains and initiative will probably be those most dissatisfied with academic formalities and most tempted to go directly into outside work. To recruit these men for professional training, it will be necessary to eliminate some formal credit requirements, provide an intensified year-round program of study, and telescope college and graduate professional studies, his report stated.
"Granted that this telescoping of the college and graduate professional study will result in the loss of much that is extremely precious in normal times, we shall be confronted by a fact and not a theory when the troops come back from overseas.
"I am firmly convinced that the ambitious, imaginative student whose college education has been interrupted by two, three, or perhaps even five years of war will be sorely tempted to forego further study and get established in a job. The evidence from letters of inquiry received daily here and in other colleges can be cited to the contrary. But there is a vast difference between what a young man now immersed in the task of fighting a war thousands of miles away from home thinks he will do when he returns, and what he in fact will then decide to do.
"Not that I anticipate any lack of students either here or in other institutions in the demobilization period, nor do I question the assumption that there are a large number of our fighting men who if they so desire could complete professional studies with distinction; but I do have the most serious apprehensions lest academic formalities and institutional rivalry drive away those who have the most ambition and imagination: The man with brains and initiative may take one glance at the conventional course which leads to a profession and decide it is not for him.
"We run the risk of losing the very men we need in law and medicine, for example,--men of personal force--unless we can shorten the road that leads to a professional career. To do this we must sacrifice with reluctance some of the values inherent in a four-year college education which in normal times is a prerequisite for later work in almost all of our professional schools.
"Harvard's major contribution to the education of the veteran will be measured, I believe in terms of professional training. My emphasis on this fact might leave in the minds of some the impression that we are indifferent in these days to the fate of the educational program of the college. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Like many another university, Harvard has been deeply concerned in the past twelve months with the question of the objectives of a college education--of a general education or a liberal education as apart from professional or preprofessional training."
President Conant noted a particularly difficult situation in the graduate schools of arts and sciences in the country, since recruiting of outstanding men for advanced training in the humanities, physical sciences and social sciences has always been more difficult than in the case of law, medicine, and business. The condition has been further worsened, he said, by "the unprecedented gap which is being cut by the war in the column of students marching forward year by year to become the subsequent scholars, teachers and research workers of the country. . . ."
"Unless each department concerned with these problems, from physics through economics to history and the classics, can devise methods of attracting the men of brilliance and energy into their respective spheres of influence and unless such men can be launched on careers as independent scholars with the minimum of elapsed time, we shall pay heavily as a nation in the years to come.
"There are always plenty of time servers and men with good intellects, but with little imagination and less ambition, and these men alone might well fill our graduate schools of arts and sciences unless we are on guard. But from such a crop few professors will develop who can nourish and inspire the students one and two decades hence. From such a group few original investigators or scholars will arise to enrich the stream of civilization by their discoveries and their thoughts."
"It should be a matter of record," President Conant concluded, "that in the United States our educational institutions proved themselves to be so flexible and adaptable that they could render important assistance to the government in the prosecution of the war."
"It is a pity that because of the necessary secrecy surrounding much of the work the significance to the nation of vast mobilization of academic talent can-
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