Freshman PT Requirement -- Why Bother?

In the basement of the Harvard Athletic Association building at 60 Boylston St. is a small office. With its pink walls, potted plants and a Fogg reproduction over the fireplace, the room is a rather unlikely rendezvous for budding athletes. It is the home of the Physical Training program.

According to Harvard tradition, every freshman must prove his manhood in three great trials. He must survive the Radcliffe mixer, he must pass freshman English-- and he must get 30 PT's each semester.

This final trial--60 hours of physical training--is by far the most painful. "Everyone complains about PT's," says a Dunster House sophomore who still hasn't put in enough hours, "but nobody ever does anything about them."

Last spring, the Faculty Committee on Sports appointed a ten-member subcommittee to do something about the entire freshman physical training program. So far, it has done nothing. "Most of us agree that it would not be good to do away with the PT requirement," says Eric Cutler '40, Assistant Director of Athletics and chairman of the subcommittee. "We're just looking to improve the program."

As the program now stands, some form of athletics, however loosely defined, is required of all Harvard freshmen. Those not in intercollegiate sports as players or managers must spend 30 hour-periods each semester in an activity approved by the Physical Training Office.


This requirement has remained unchanged since 1914, when Dr. Roger P. Lee '02, University Physician, prescribed a compulsory program of three hours of exercise each week for freshmen. Harvard's other physical training requirement--that every graduate must be able to swim 50 yards--dates back to 1882.

Assistant Director Cutler believes that the original purpose of physical training was to make freshmen "more conscious of their general health," and that this remains the chief aim of the program. "President Kennedy's fitness campaign has not reached very many," he says. "Television has made us a spectator nation. Freshman must be taught that they look and feel better if they exercise regularly." The fact is that most freshmen come to Harvard as schoolboy athletes. As former Assistant Dean of Admissions for seven years, Cutler realizes this. "Two-thirds of each class have earned varsity letters in high school," he says. "These 800 boys would exercise even without PT requirements."

Last year, 779 freshmen spent 2232 hours in the freshman intramural program. Whether intramurals would be this popular if they were not a means of getting PT credits is one question people raise when considering dropping the PT requirement.

"I wouldn't say there'd be as many boys in intramurals if PT's were dropped," says Rufus W. Peebles Jr. '61, freshman proctor and intramural director. "But the program would certainly survive. The PT requirement exists for only about ten per cent of the class, but just like Gen Ed, this area is important enough to make everybody fall in line."

The trouble is that even former athletes don't stay in line. "Once they have done their PT's," says an Eliot House junior, "upperclassmen are going to get out of shape anyway. My roommate was captain of three sports back in St. Louis. Now he's just getting fat."

If the Physical Training program achieves any lasting good, it is to encourage high school athletes to take up more "sociable" sports. "Boys who letter in football in high school must realize that they can't continue to play when they're 40," Cutler says. "The PT program creates new interests in such sports as squash, swimming, tennis and golf. For this reason alone, the program probably has been a good thing." Y.C. Burriss Young '51, Assistant Dean of Freshmen, agrees that the real value of physical training is that it encourages what he terms "carry-over" sports.

Nathaniel A. Parker, Director of Physical Training, already allows PT credit for such "carry-over" sports as pistol and rifle, cricket and karate, and, upon application, for such other esoteric activities as Radcliffe volleyball and dancing classes, Loeb Theatre musical productions and donations to the PBH blood drive. Two freshmen received credit for SCUBA diving in the IAB pool last year, a third for his riding lessons at Beverley.

Although Parker gave PT-credit for the freshman ping-pong tournament, he refused the Gargoyle tiddly-wink team similar recognition. He also balked when a freshman expressed interest in a 100-mile run sponsored by the YMCA.

PT-credit is automatically given to freshmen who march in ROTC or the Harvard Band, or who serve as intramural secretaries for their dorms. Most of the rest of the class participate in swimming and tennis in the fall, squash and basketball in the winter, and tennis and squash in the spring. Football and basketball are the most popular intramural sports. Last year, only 22 freshmen signed up for baseball--supposedly America's National Pastime.

The PT Office gives instruction in water safety and life-saving, tennis, squash and rowing. For the second year, skiing classes are being held on Boston Hill in North Andover, with an enrollment of over 200. Cutler feels that this kind of general instruction is important for non-athletes, and hopes to expand the list of offerings. "Bowling might be popular," he says, "but right now we lack the facilities."