With the same thoroughness it applied to its wartime job of training men to fight during the crucial years immediately following Pearl Harbor, the University planned ahead for the brighter days which would come, when it would help prepare veterans to assume their places once again in a civilian would.
Joining other educational leaders, President Conant early endorsed a plan of government-sponsored training for men who wished of return to college upon their release from military duty; and, by 1945, the University had adopted what was known as a "flexible" plan to assist the veteran in getting his education:
1. A more flexible calendar, with three terms instead of two each year.
2. A more flexible system of admission, both to college and graduate and professional schools.
3. A more flexible system of credits toward A.B. and S.B. degrees, under which many members of the armed forces found they had already earned some credits toward these degrees.
4. The appointment of the Counsellor for Veterans, to consult in detail with service men interested in entering the University and the guide them after admission.
Close on the heels of the passage of the GI Bill of Rights and Public Law 16, under which veterans are allowed educational benefits, 173 veterans enrolled in the University for the winter term 1944-1945. These first ex-GI's were registered in 18 departments including 60 in the College, 15 in the Freshman class, 35 each in the graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Law School. Most of them were from the Army, although the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and the Canadian and Mexican armies were represented. Only a few had been in service overseas.
Designated the first Counsellor for Veterans, in November 1944, was Payson S. Wild, associate professor Government. His staff consisted of one assistant counsellor and two secretaries. By December his office, which had moved to Weld Hall where more space was avaliable, was receiving 100 letters daily, from veterans.
Conant Sees Dangers
But, although the University's plan for educational rehabilitation was beginning to function smoothly, all was not well according to President Conant. In his annual report for 1943-44, he warned of the educational dangers of the G.I. Bill, in that the length of education allowed a veteran at government expense was measured by the length of his military service rather than by his capacity to benefit from education.
"Unless the law is subsequently modified," President Conant declared, "all our colleges, universities, and technical schools will have heavy responsibilities when the wave of demobilized veterans 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 severs indeed."
Also announced in President Conant's report was the inauguration of a three-term calendar, to begin September, 1945. "The exigencies of war or the needs of returning service men will determine the schedule of our operations," said the President, establishing fall and spring terms of 16 weeks each and summer terms of 12 weeks. Credit would be granted for work done while in the armed forces, he said.
Commenting editorially on the President's report, the Harvard Alumni Bulletin said: "President Conant hoped that the faculty, looking forward to receiving returning service men, would be guided in their counsels by a 'determination to be flexible.' It is now clear that this hope has been realized. Flexibility in admission policies in selecting men who show the greatest educational promise, rather than those who most nearly satisfy pre-war conditions of academic credit. Flexibility in granting academic credit for various types of study completed by candidates while serving in the armed forces. Flexibility in the three-term 44-or 45-week calendar...."
According to an information pamphlet issued by the Counsellor, "Requirements for admission have been made more elastic, not to relax standards, but to clear away unnecessary red tape which might work against men who have been fighting instead of studying." The object of this action, said the bulletin, is the University determination to keep education in Cambridge open to qualified men on the most flexible basis possible and to provide--to all veterans who apply disinterested and purposeful advice.