The College Scene was initiated as an attempt to examine and evaluate the academic and social environment of the individual in Harvard College. Previous editorials have undertaken a preliminary examination. From these editorials conclusions are now to be drawn; these conclusions, in turn, will form the basis for recommendations.
Traditionally, Harvard makes little effort to "integrate" its student bodies, whether in the class room, the Houses, or the football stadium. The effect of this policy is the "individualism" that is the outstanding characteristic of the Harvard College environment. The questions now to be answered are these: to what degree and in what ways does this "individualism" affect undergraduates, and to what extent is it desirable or undesirable.
It must first of all be asserted that the freedom to do as you wish at Harvard--the freedom to work as you will and to relax as you will without the fear of becoming the sort of outcast that is always the unfortunate by-product of cohesive groups--this freedom cannot be abridged without injuring one of the College's oldest and best attributes. William James, writing about Harvard students in the first decade of this century, said that "When they come to Harvard, it is not primarily because she is a club. It is because they have heard of her persistently atomistic constitution, of her tolerance of exceptionality and eccentricity, of her devotion to the principles of individual vocation and choice."
Desirability of Individualism
That Harvard's "tolerance of exceptionality and eccentricity" still exists as an integral part of the disunity of the College's organization is undoubtedly true; to this extent, individualism is highly desirable. But the Harvard College of 1948 is substantially different from the Harvard College of the 1900's; the growth both in the size of the curriculum and the size of the student body has created evils within the traditional laissez-faire of the College.
The lack of guidance toward choosing a curriculum, the awesome impersonality of the instruction-examination system, the absence, where tutorial has passed away, of any help in molding course material into a meaningful education--these indifferences combine into a nebulousness in which many students can find little satisfaction and less inspiration. The fundamental result of these evils is that students in general prefer to spend their time doing almost anything but learning. Rather than learn, they devote themselves to organizations, perhaps, or to drinking beer, or to almost any sort of life in which they can find more stimulation than in Harvard's academic routine.
Devotion to Study
Other students devote themselves, equally barrenly, insofar as learning is concerned, to their studies. Such students, Stephen Leacock has observed, "all go humping together over the hurdles with the professor chasing them with a set of 'tests' and 'recitations,' 'marks' and 'attendance,' the whole apparatus obviously copied from the time-clock of the businessman's factory. This process is what is called 'showing results' ...It circumscribes the latitude of mind which is the real spirit of learning."
Except in rare cases, this "spirit of learning" seems to be a very weak spirit in Harvard College today. It is probably no weaker than in other American colleges; but this is a fact that magnifies rather than minimizes the problem. If Harvard, as a leading liberal arts college, cannot inspire its undergraduates with the desire to learn, then liberal education would appear to have no place in American life. Surely, unless some way is discovered to light the desire to learn, we will soon no longer be able to assert, along with William James, that students do not come to Harvard primarily because she is a club.