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Overworked and Misdirected

By Jennifer L. Mnookin

Mixing personal and affectionate reminiscences and lively criticism, three professors yesterday compared the Harvard University of 50 years ago to the Harvard of today.

L. Fred Jewett '57, dean of the College, moderated the symposium, titled "Harvard College, Change and Continuity: 1936-1986." Jewett asked the panelists whether today's Harvard is "better or different" than the Harvard of yesteryear.

All three speakers agreed that Harvard has, over the years, become more diverse and more international.

"Incrementally yet relentlessly, Harvard today has become a national magnet, a model for imitation, and a target. Moreover, the trans-Atlantic orientation in 1936 has in 1986 become more widely international," said David Riesman '31, Ford Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus.

Master of Eliot House Alan E. Heimert '49 said that in the last 50 years he has seen "a remarkable shift in faculty members' self-identification." He said that "it used to be that the primary loyalty of professors here was to the institution. Now it's to their profession, not the institution."

Heimert, Cabot Professor of American Literature, said he also thought Harvard had lost some of its focus. "There used to be a sense on the part of the faculty and the students that they were engaged in a common emterprise and this enterprise had a specific purpose," he said.

"Today, I don't think you could get the faculty to agree on the purpose of being a Harvard undergraduate, and if you could, the students wouldn't agree," he said.

Riesman said that the students of 1986 are noticeably different from those of 1936. Then, he said, students "grew up in a world of longer childhoods, maintaining innocence if not always virtue. This is in sharp contrast to the Harvard and Radcliffe students of today who arrive with a superficial sophistication, guarded if not impregnable."

Today's "undergraduates are quite a decent lot. They're overworked, but they should be--they're paying a lot of money for it," said Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals. "Many of them are misdirected, but that's why they're students and not professors," he added.

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