Since its creation early in 1947, Senator Saltonstall's War Memorial Committee has considered a flock of large scale plans for a commemoration of the University's World War II dead. They have included a $500,000 scholarship fund, a new medical center, and a $2,500,000 activities center. These were all projects of recognized merit. But now the Committee apparently has scrapped them for all time. Instead it has urged alumni to buy a $50,000 plaque in Memorial Church, and as far as a memorial goes, to call it a day.
In many quarters this news will come as an unpleasant and unexpected blow. Only a short time after the Saltonstall Committee was set up, in the Spring of 1947, a Student Council poll showed that 98.2 per cent of the College favored a utilitarian memorial, and that 50.4 per cent specifically wished for an activities center. Thirty-seven out of 43 undergraduate groups endorsed such a project. From that Spring forward, the Council and other College groups have pushed for a home for displaced College organizations.
Last October, the Committee rejected the plan as too costly, and gave a tentative nod to a $700,000 program of scholarships and a plaque. A large group of young alumni banded together to express its approval of the activities center, and successfully stimulated additional alumni interest. The Alumni Bulletin also came out for a large-scale memorial. At its next meeting on February 29, the Saltonstall Committee recognized alumni sentiment. It lent preliminary approval to a $750,000 scheme for an auditorium attached to Memorial Hall and meeting rooms in the building's basement--all in addition to the plaque. In April it was found that the center would cost more than $750,000, and Sonator Saltonstall promised that his group would continue to work on the plan.
Now the bubble has burst. First of all, the Committee says that it would be too difficult to raise the money. Including the cost of endowment, an item which was for some reason not considered last February, the building might now cost close to $1,500,000. But Yale has set a $10,000,000 goal for its memorial, and Dartmouth, considerably smaller in size, has already raised close to $1,600,000 for a $4,000,000 project. Harvard has never been a poor man's school.
It has been said that the Committee is fearful that a drive for an activities center would snarl the University's long-term push for a $90,000,000 general endowment fund. If this is so, the Committee should explain its misgivings to the Harvard community, which otherwise may well remain unconvinced.
The Committee's second stated reason for its action is bewildering. It says that the center would not be a proper memorial and would be outmoded in a few years anyhow. This is certainly a changed view from that of February 29.
Senator Saltonstall's group undeniably has worked faithfully and has sacrificed valuable time to arrive at its recommendation. But when the Alumni Associations and the Associated Harvard Clubs set up the group in 1947, it appeared that they had much more in mind than a $50,000 inscription. Such a plaque would scarcely be appropriate as a memorial to the men that Harvard lost in World War II. Officers of the alumni groups should without failurge the Saltonstall Committee to meet again. And the Committee should reconsider proposals for a more fitting memorial.