Thirty years of confusion over an educational symbol should come to an end tomorrow when the Faculty meets to consider the College's incongruous distinction between "arts" and "sciences" in the award of the bachelor degree. It has frequently been suggested that a college education by any name would stand on its value as education, but upon whatever scrawlings appear on one's final sheepskin, and that the whole controversy is wasted energy. But a downy thistle can be as annoying as a full-grown bramble, especially when the whole field includes thorny questions of the value of the ancient languages, standards of admission requirements, and the theory of mental "discipline" generally.
The problem of whether or not an A.B. degree should be distinct from an S.B., and perhaps be further subdivided according to fields of concentration, finds pressure bearing down on it from at least two sides. On one hand, answers to the Student Council poll of two weeks ago show that 85 percent of the College want a revision of the present system, and a majority of those would prefer the single degree in some form. Sixty-five percent of the student body definitely prefers the A.B. while only ten percent stands by the S.B. On the other hand, the College's long run educational philosophy being developed in the General Education plan will increasingly emphasize the basic unity of all learning on the college level, pointing logically to one bachelor degree.
Given a single A.B., the retention of the ancient language requirement becomes absurdly inconsistent with present admission policies. Although the deterioration of secondary school education everywhere is a matter of concern to the College and one over which the College has a certain influence, the faculty should take care, in attempting to force a rise in standards, not to force the exclusion of academically able students from sections of the country which care little and know less about Harvard. Much can be said for both Latin and Mathematics as two of the best subjects for developing the incisiveness in thinking basic to all advanced study. But almost any one of the major fields of learning--history, modern languages, English, natural sciences--are capable of being taught as mental disciplines It is also conceivable that a candidate for admission may have himself developed his innate faculties to the required level in spite of inadequate formal schooling. The Committee on Admission's liberal power of discretion under a general commitment to emphasize "quality of work in a well-rounded program suited to the abilities of the individual" has been eminently satisfactory. If the University can induce secondary schools to include more protein and less sugar in their curricular diet without hindering the trend to democracy in higher education, learning every where will be the gainer.
Some of the Faculty favoring strict adherence to the classics or to the status quo have been emotional and narrow, but most have attempted serious suggestions to improve the quality of students and instruction in the College. After many decades of confusion, the objectives of education in the "free society" of today have been clearly and ably defined. The realization in the College of the importance of all learning to all people calls for the award of a single degree to all who are graduated. Finally, an arbitrarily-strict admission requirement should not be encouraged by teachers whose ideal is a people among whom education is general and equally available.