Two years ago the Corporation's Commission to study the Divinity School recommended a revitalization of the institution aimed towards the establishment of a new center of religious learning. Since then the University has taken no action on the proposals, and the situation at the Divinity School has grown increasingly worse.
Harvard will never do away with its Divinity School, first because of the $900,000 that is irrevocably tied up in funds for clerical instruction; secondly because of the school's long tradition and reputation as one of the few religious institutions where each student is free to search and judge for himself.
But before the Divinity School can regain its shattered reputation and usefulness, a complete overhauling of the faculty, the curriculum, the entrance requirements, and the buildings themselves is imperative.
With only eight permanent faculty members, most of whom are close to or beyond the retirement age, to 103 students, where a century ago there were three men to 19 students, the Divinity School is badly understaffed. Because of this, it is also justifiably criticized for the lack of a strong student-faculty relationship. The men at the school are the best for the type of instruction offered, but, for example, when one man teaches five courses and a seminar at the same time his efficiency and scope are obviously impaired. The Corporation should appoint a large number of younger men who will be able to take over when these professors retire.
In addition to this problem, the curriculum of the school is largely behind the times and should be over-hauled. The school places its greatest emphasis on the objective, historical approach to religion, and when men receive their degree they lack the preparation to meet and solve the pressing problems that face the modern minister and his church. Although students can take courses in the Social Relations department and do a great deal of outside practice work, this is not enough. No one wants the Divinity School to become a trade school, but there is a dire need for courses that deal specifically with the minister's relation to the congregation, his need and use of psychological techniques, the problems and practice of religious education, and other questions. Harvard is far behind other institutions in this respect.
With the revitalization of the faculty and curriculum there must follow an overhauling of admissions policy. Now no entrance exam is required. Applications are few, and practically everyone who applies is accepted. Admissions standards must become more rigid, and there should be a vigorous program to draw more and better applicants.
Ambitious and valid though it may be, this revitalization program is contingent on a tremendous increase in Divinity School Funds. The school has a relatively small endowment and operates now with a $25,000 deficit. $750,000 is needed for immediate improvement, while some $6 millions would take car of the entire re-habilitation.
Unfortunately, because of their poorly-paying positions, the school's alumni are in no position to make large financial contributions. The large churches do not want to give much support because of the school's non-denominationalism, and because of its dropping reputation. Many sources of University funds will not contribute to the establishment of a religious program. And' there are also many more important projects, such as scholarship, which have a prior claim on Harvard funds.
Nevertheless, it is up to the Corporation not only to adopt this rehabilitation program for the Divinity School, but to get the necessary funds for putting the program into effect. The Corporation can do this if it really feels as it claims, that the Divinity School is an important and integral part of the University.
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