Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University

By Morton Keller; Phyllis Keller | Go to book overview

1
JAMES BRYANT CONANT
AND THE MERITOCRATIC UNIVERSITY

T he Harvard that James Bryant Conant inherited when he became president in 1933 was the creation of his Boston Brahmin predecessors Charles W. Eliot (1867–1908) and Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1908–33). Under Eliot, Harvard became a university, and not just a college with some ancillary professional education. As he said of the various fields of higher education in his inaugural: “We shall have them all, and at their best.” The Law and Medical schools became world-class. Major scholars began to be more than an occasional fluke in the faculty lineup. And Eliot was the first American university president to become a significant public figure.

No less revolutionary was what he did with undergraduate education. His elective system replaced the former tightly regulated curriculum, a laissez-faire approach to education in full accord with the prevailing beliefs of the Gilded Age. It was also a brilliant piece of educational politics. At one stroke it freed students and teachers from the tyranny of each other's presence. It lulled the undergraduates into thinking that they were free to choose their curriculum when in fact most of them rushed, lemminglike, into a few massively popular courses taught by faculty crowd pleasers dubbed “bow-wows.” This freed research-minded professors to pursue their work relatively unencumbered by undergraduate obligations. 1

At the same time the social character of Harvard College became increasingly “Brahmin, ” in the sense of domination by Boston's social and economic elite rather than by Unitarian or Congregational ministers. Much of Eliot's Harvard was seriously intellectual; more of it was socially snobbish. Its faculty consisted of a few major figures such as the Law School's Christopher Columbus Langdell and Philosophy's William James and Josiah Royce, and a majority who were gentlemen first, teachers second, scholars (perhaps) third. Its student body, over

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Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Prologue - Fete Accompli, 1936 3
  • Part I - The Meritocratic University 1933–1953 11
  • 1 - James Bryant Conant and the Meritocratic University 13
  • 2 - The College 32
  • 3 - “lesser Breeds” 47
  • 4 - The Faculty of Arts and Sciences 64
  • 5 - The Professional Schools 110
  • 6 - Managing Harvard 134
  • 7 - Harvard and the Real World 152
  • Part II - “an Engine of Power and Responsibility”: 1953–1971 171
  • 8 - Nathan Marsh Pusey and the Affluent University 173
  • 9 - Governing the Affluent University 189
  • 10 - The Ascendant Faculty 211
  • 11 - The Professional Schools 252
  • 12 - A Plurality of Minorities 276
  • 13 - The College 290
  • 14 - Crisis and Recovery 307
  • Part III - “a Buzzing Confusion”:1971–2000 339
  • 15 - Derek Curtis Bok and the Worldly University 341
  • 16 - Governing 359
  • 17 - The Faculty of Arts and Sciences 383
  • 18 - The Professional Schools 432
  • 19 - The College 464
  • Epilogue 481
  • A Note on the Notes 495
  • Notes 499
  • Acknowledgments 565
  • Index 567
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