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State of the College

1. Panorama


With the tutorial cutback apparently here to stay, undergraduate dependence on formal courses for a firmly grounded knowledge of a particular field of concentration has increased acutely. The added responsibility thus assumed by the Faculty necessarily forces an explanation of its powers to assume that responsibility as well as a consideration of the course catalogue offerings of that Faculty.

An overall look at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 1946 is no Pisgah sight. For although the Harvard faculty is rivalled by no other American college with the possible exception of Chicago, it is surprisingly spotty and contains astonishing lacks. By and large, the Faculty's principal weakness seems to lie in its younger men, a weakness which is particularly poignant inasmuch as the continued supremacy of the Harvard Faculty is predicated on its ability to replenish itself through the appointment of the very best of the young teachers and scholars. In addition, discrepancies exist among the ranks of associate and full professors, discrepancies which are reflected in the course catalogue by the absence of either more than one course in certain areas or, as in some instances, the complete absence of particular vital subjects.

The onus of responsibility for the declining standard of a Harvard undergraduate education cannot be laid at any one doorstep. But perhaps part of it is inherent in the ad hoc committee system of appointments, and the yardstick employed in those appointments. Under the present method of appointments, a particular Department within the Faculty which possesses a vacancy enjoys only the power of making a recommendation for the vacancy, which must finally be approved or disapproved by a secret, Administration-selected, ad hoc committee of scholars most of whom are drawn from other universities. Such a committee visits Harvard for one day, makes its recommendation and departs. Although other considerations are present, the principal measuring device by which the ad hoc committee judges the relative merit of the several candidates for a Department vacancy is the amount of published research each candidate has under his own belt.

Although no alternative system which is any better than the ad hoc method of appointments has been advanced, nevertheless the disadvantages of the Harvard system are manifestly apparent. The hastiness of the ad hoc committee's meeting results in a tendency to magnify the importance of visible, tangible scholarship over teaching, a magnification which the Administration itself has been liable during the past thirteen years. This has often resulted in making the contest for a departmental appointment a mere assaying of foot pounds of published work.

Meantime, these young teachers who are primarily interested in teaching, or who refuse to meet an arbitrary deadline on when their books should get to the publishers, go elsewhere.

Weaknesses among older members of the Faculty and the course catalogue are also in part a result of the appointment system by which Harvard has found itself unable to retain its bright young men. The same discrepancies, however, are not germane to all Departments. Subsequent editorials will examine various Departments in an attempt to discover their individual weaknesses.

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