Battling A Harvard Tradition


Legend has it that Harvard had a chance to have what became the Yale Drama School, but turned it down; figuratively speaking, the legend is true. In 1924 George Pierce Baker, professor of English and class of 1888, left Harvard after 36 years of trying to establish a drama department here, 36 years of frustrated efforts to win recognition for drama as a respectable field of study for ladies and gentlemen. As a director, producer, dramatist and playwright he struggled to bring Harvard into the forefront of the revitalized interest in theater which was developing during the first decades of this century. Baker left to found the Yale Drama School when Yale secured funds for the construction of a new theater and the endowment of a drama school, both projects which Harvard had refused to undertake. He left Harvard out of bitterness and frustration with the University's treatment of the performing arts as a second-rate discipline, a policy that persists to this day. Drama, dance and music are now accepted as means of entertainment and relaxation for well-bred scholars, but they have made little headway in the academic curriculum.

Advocates of academic recognition for the performing arts compare the situation to that of the sciences, where lab work is an integral part of scholarly achievement. Archie C. Epps III, dean of students and a member of the Faculty Standing Committee on the Arts, says that the analogy is apt. "If you look at the history of science," he says, "you find that the same arguments used against the inclusion of practical lab work as part of the science curriculum" are now employed against credit for artistic practice.

Music 180r, "Seminar in Performance and Analysis," is often used as an example of how performance can be integrated into scholarly studies. Students, who are admitted to the course after an audition, study chamber music through discussion and performance, using performance to supplement their understanding of the scholarly value of the works. Unfortunately, similar courses are few and far between in the University, and rarely available to more than the few devoted students who aggressively seek them out. And the strict intellectual framework of Music 180r reflects a common complaint against Harvard art courses; creative art is taught as an academic discipline which must be justified on intellectual or functional grounds.

The current bias against the performing arts seems to reflect a persistent fear that Harvard might become a trade school, a professional school training craftsmen, not "scholars." Myra Mayman, director of the Office for the Arts, says Harvard is "a verbal place," and disregards non-verbal creative performance.

In 1971, President Bok formed the Committee for the Practice of the Arts to report on the condition of the arts at Harvard and Radcliffe; the committee's report, released two years ago, recommends including the arts in the academic fold, saying. "Only courses in the regular curriculum can demand of the student the time, the effort and the self-discipline required to make the experience educationally valuable to him." The chief argument for granting credit for performance is that this work is as intellectually and educationally important as any that students do Committed artists can continue to practice and perform only with great difficulty while carrying a full course load.


The arts committee recommended the formation of a Committee on Drama and Dance to offer courses in the College but not to grant degrees and an Office for the Arts to coordinate the loose network of extracurricular programs. The arts office has been established and now prints a bi-monthly newsletter, which serves as a clearinghouse for upcoming artistic events, and is involved in the never-ending search for funding for future events. The drama and dance committee, however, has never been officially proposed to the Faculty Council, and Epps says a decision will probably await Dean Rosovsky's proposed review of general education.

Rosovsky told The Arts Spectrum this fall that the majority of the Faculty is "fairly negative" to the concept of including the arts in the curriculum, no action may be years away.

Opportunities for extracurricular involvement in the performing arts do abound at Harvard, and a compromise solution for the arts problem might lead to a program similar to the Athletics Department's: completely separate from the academic departments, it supports a wide range of extracurricular activities.

A major difference between the two areas, however, lies in the precarious state of funding for the arts at Harvard. Although President Bok funds some programs with money, from his discretionary funds, and the Radcliffe budget supports others, economic straits of the Faculty budget preclude help from traditional University channels. As Dean Rosovsky told The Arts Spectrum last November, the Faculty is projecting a huge deficit for next year and, "That simply can't go on very long. For the next two or three years I don't foresee major resource increases going to anything," Epps says that the faculty arts committee is planning an alumni fund raising drive this spring, and the Office of the Arts is also soliciting funds, but the condition of the economy makes all such efforts difficult. Epps envisions "a lobby to support the arts as strong as that which now supports athletics" at Harvard, and it seems likely that only a combination of such strong support and an improvement in the overall economy will stimulate an influx of money to extracurricular art programs and funding for experimental curricular offerings.