Recent publicity for the 1934 Faculty vote eliminating the Seven Weeks' Grade" has brought to light another policy decision announced at the same time, one which has faded so completely since the war that few people known that it ever existed. This ruling, made by the Faculty after a suggestion from Dean Hanford, provided that "the return to the Dean's Office of attendance in courses taken primarily by Juniors and Seniors should be given up expect at the last meetings before and the first meetings after the Christmas and spring recesses."
At the time this announcement was made, it represented only an additional step in a direction in which the College had been heading for some time. In 1905 the privilege of voluntary attendance had been extended to men on the Dean's List; in 1926 the same permission had been granted to all Seniors in good standing. The new decision extended the rule to Juniors and to Sophomores in "chiefly Junior-Senior" courses, for which even the mechanical form of attendance-taking was to be dropped.
Specific reasons and background for the move were given the day it was reported to the College, "Class attendance," it was said, has been regarded "as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
Little attention is paid to cuts if a student keeps up in his College work. Recording attendance also involves an elaborate and expensive monitorial system, additional clerical assistance, and the time of administrative officers which might better be devoted to other duties.
"It (taking attendance) also seems to be inconsistent," Faculty spokesmen said, "with our aim of making a student more responsible for his own education and of treating him as a member of a university rather than a school boy."
Change Nine Years After
Ideals seem to have fled a near-decade later, on February 11, 1943, when the Faculty passed a strongly-worded resolution reinstituting attendance-taking in all courses. The Administrative Board, the decision said, will 'exclude persistent offenders from their courses or take other disciplinary action." An accompanying statement by Dean Hanford indicated that a big increase in cutting during the previous term has spurred the Faculty to its decision, but certain sections of Mr. Hanford's text made it clear that the war situation had set the stage for the action.
"A student," he said "who wastes his opportunities in college in these critical times when one's country is fighting for survival had better be in the armed services or in some essential war work where he can be of more help to his country and himself."
1948 and 1934
From an idealistic point of view it seems apparent that most of the motivating factors that precipitated the 1943 action have disappeared. On the other hand there is equally little doubt about the permanence of the logic of the 1934 decision, in its call for student maturity and independence and elimination of wasteful clerical processes--theories backed strongly at the time by the Council and other College groups.
The taking of attendance seems as incongruous in 1948 as it did in 1934. Monitors do not begin to operate until the first month of the course is almost over, and even after that they are far from perfection--being subject as they are to mechanical flaws and bribery on the grounds of friendship.
The presence of large numbers of veterans under the G.I. Bill of Rights may make it wise for the Faculty to delay temporarily any definite change, but policy discussions should start as soon as possible to allow for expression of opinion from all the student and faculty groups who will want to heard. It is never too soon to revive one of the deadest elements of Harvard's not over-lively academic liberalism.