American History25 Jan 2008 12:59 am
In presidential politics, the common wisdom does not favor senatorial candidates—long legislative records leave long, often compromising paper trails. By extension, it is possible to see how this same rule applies to any institution with something like a history. The longer you’ve been around, the more exposed you are. No surprise then that the oldest institution for higher learning in the United States, Harvard University, has some black marks on its past.
When it comes to admissions policy, Harvard looks pretty enlightened set in the context of its peer institutions like Yale and Princeton. It set up a school for Native Americans in the 17th C (admittedly, in order to convert them), had alumni like Ralph Waldo Emerson who were prominent in the Abolition movement, and accepted non-Protestant and non-white students in the mid 19th C (which constitutes very early, sad to say). Of course, a student here or there or a distinguished alumnus must be taken with a grain of salt—Harvard was merely the most tolerant of prominent universities and quite the bastion of white Protestant male authority. Truth be told, earlier notions of tolerance resound quite poorly in our own times: a case in point would be the quota for Jewish students instituted at the turn of the 20th C, actually designed to combat anti-Semitism. Harvard accepted far more Jewish students than other Universities and this led to rancour in racist quarters of its student body. The quota was meant to allay the fears of anti-Semites while not backing away from having a sizable Jewish student population.
One of Harvard’s most shameful moments was, perhaps, in 1920 with the establishment of a “Secret Court” expressly for the expulsion of gay students. Following revelations arising from suicide of Cyril Wilcox, who was involved with a number of other gay undergraduates and professors, the president of the University, A. Lawrence Lowell, and a body of five other administrators held trials for fourteen men. All of the men, mostly students, were expelled not only from the school, but the city of Cambridge as well. In fact, Harvard went so far as to actively block several of the men in their attempts to enroll elsewhere.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.