Class of 1961: Disappointment To High Honor in Academics

An Example of Harvard's 'Customary Magic'

Harvard classes traditionally are nebulous entitles--at least until the alcoholic camaraderie of the 25th reunion instills a feeling of class togetherness. To write a class history thus presents formidable problems: the author must overlook great differences among the 1,000-plus individuals contained in a class and make dubious generalizations about a non-homogeneous group. In spite of the many divisive factors at the College, particularly the House system, 1961 has manifested some indications of class unity. The Class of 1961, for better or worse, has built up its own ethos in the last four years.

The frustrating experiences of freshman year brought the first twinges of class feeling. After all, students shut up in the (then) dilapidated Yard, lacking the intellectual life of the Houses and suffering from compulsory PT, naturally commiserated. An unsuccessful riot--"Fight Mental Health"--expressed 1961's dissatisfaction during the freshman year spring; a flu epidemic, Coach John M. Yovicsin's disappointing first season with the balanced-T, and a tuition hike added further woes. The members of the class could also take perverse pride in an academic record Dean of Freshmen F. Skiddy von Stade deemed "disappointing, and, to a great extent, baffling." 1961 placed the lowest percentages on the Dean's List in ten years--35.3 per cent--and gained the highest percentage of drop-outs in four years--2.8 per cent. The "diamonds in the rough" failed to glitter, at least during the first year.

In 1961's four years in Cambridge, the Program for Harvard College was the most important physical factor. The Program reached its stride in late March, 1958, when a nationally-broadcast show, "The Case for the College," emphasized Harvard's need for unlimited wealth, conveniently limited to $82.5 million. As money flowed in, old buildings disappeared: the Mather squash courts, Cambridge tenements behind Dunster, the Radcliffe Health Center, and, most lamentably, Cronin's, fell to the wreckers. The University expanded upward, with seven-story Quincy (irreverently dubbed the "aircraft carrier by the Charles"), 12-story Leverett, the ten-story Health Center, and the proscenium of the Loeb. In addition to buildings, the Program elicited funds for new professorships, athletic fields and endowment--but could not keep tuition down. The class started at $1,000 and continued for three years at $1,250, but escaped the $1,520 rate announced last December.


For the individual members of '61, however, the major changes were not wrought by the Program but by the curriculum, or the "customary magic of Harvard" cited by President Pusey this year in his Baccalaureate remarks. The continual intellectual immersion changed the outlooks of nearly every student, entrancing about 62 per cent into the vale of academe for further study. For 1961 more than ever before, Harvard College became a way-station on the road toward graduate school, law, medicine, or foreign universities. According to a preliminary study by the Office of Student Placement, 15 per cent plan to enter the military, ten per cent have accepted jobs (30 will teach next year--twice the number entering banking, the next most popular profession), seven per cent indefinite, three per cent travelling, and three per cent unreachable. Many members of 1961 admittedly will enter graduate work lacking a clear idea of future profession; the combined comforts and challenges of academic life exercise a powerful attraction. Primum cognoscere, deinde laborare.

Educational changes may well have enhanced the trend toward graduate work. In spring, 1958, Dean Bundy announced the new plan proposed by the Committee on Educational Policy: every student would be considered an Honors candidate until he flunked a qualifying test or received inadequate grades. Tutorial instruction gained importance, since, according to the Faculty vote, as many junior and senior Honors candidates as possible would receive individual instruction. Such new curricular hurdles as the Junior essay or sophomore year generals entered the academic program. Although the plan opened an unfortunate gap between Honors and non-Honors candidates (a hiatus corrected only a few months ago), it attracted more students into thesis writing and independent research. More than half the class will graduate with distinction; of a total of 970 degrees, there will be 28 summa, 13 magna with highest honors, 158 magna, 251 cum, and 52 cum in general studies. 468 students will receive an A.B. unadorned.


The academic leanings of 1961 did not by any means overshadow the class's athletic achievements. During the freshman year, the various squads gave notice of future prowess by winning 106 games or meets, losing 37 and tying 2. Four years later, varsity squads, anchored by members of 1961, achieved an enviable 137-59-3 record, including Ivy League champions in hockey and outstanding squash, track, lacrosse, and tennis teams. Although the Yale football and swimming juggernauts could not be stopped in 1960-61, other teams compiled eminently satisfactory records against Yale. In 1958, the lightweight crew won the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley, and repeated the feat in 1959 and 1960, the first three-straight victory in 92 years.

Neither academics, nor athletics, nor dramatics could alone explain the slight feeling of unity that seems to permeate 1961. For an explanation of this phenomenon, one must turn to the major event of Spring, 1961: the riots.

Late in that month, a 'Cliffe heard at demitasse that diplomas had been switched from hallowed Latin to upstart English. She passed on the information to her roommate, a member of the CRIMSON, who promptly printed the story. President Pusey's widest nightmares were more than fulfilled by the ensuing controversy. The Administration's rational arguments made little sense to students: the Permanent Class Committee's plans made little sense to Massachusetts Hall. Undergraduates protested the switch mildly at first--the CRIMSON received nearly 50 letters in two days--and then they emphasized their dislike for the Faculty decision by surging through the streets and finally forcing Cambridge gendarmes to use tear gas. The Board of Overseers met, Reading Period had started, and rioting energy was sublimated into study.

National events impinged up on 1961 in many different ways. Most spectacular may have been President Kennedy's proposal for a Peace Corps, which met an immediately favorable response. Before the Federal project started, PBH announced "Project Tanganyika" to train students in Swahili and permit them to teach for a summer. Eastern Nigeria officials talked with Dean Monro, in an effort to obtain teachers. The popularity of the Corps scheme was manifested first in a poll circulated among 1961 members, and secondly by the number of students planning to visit Africa.

National events also impinged upon 1961 by removing some of the College's leading professors. Perhaps the 62 per cent of 1961 who voted for JFK '40 in a CRIMSON poll regretted their action when Bell, Bundy, Cox, Chayes, Galbraith, Reischauer, Schlesinger, et al departed for Washington. Among most, however, the reaction was merely a shrug of the shoulders--after all, most seniors need not worry about particular professors next year.

The past four years have been eventful at Harvard, more so, perhaps, than most other spans. 1961 has reacted in part with a feeling of class unity. No other class in history, for example, has already had more than one-third of its members pledge to support the College financially in the next three years. Few other classes have compiled as distinctive an academic record, ranging from a freshman nadir to an unprecedented number of degrees with Honors. Although no Harvard group could claim unity, 1961 has gained a significant fraction