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For the record, we present excerpts from the principal speeches and the historical reading at Harvard Magazine's centennial celebration on November 7, 1998, at the Fogg Museum.
~ THE EDITORS
Daniel Steiner '54, LL.B. '58
President, Harvard Magazine Inc.
The first issue of the Harvard Bulletin, as it was then called, was published 100 years ago this very day.
The frequency of publication, the circulation, and the coverage of the magazine have changed from time to time as the magazine's objectives have been refined and restated. The editors have tried in different ways to inform the alumni about their fellow alumni and about what is happening at Harvard, and have tried to maintain an ongoing relationship between the alumni and the teaching and research activities of the University--or, in the words of Theodore Morrison, "seeking to bring the resources of knowledge...to the audience best prepared to receive them."
Allow me to comment about a salient feature of the magazine--and one that is unusual for an alumni publication. I refer to the magazine's editorial independence. President Lowell, among others, recognized the importance of this independence when he wrote, "It would be highly unfortunate if the Bulletin should not feel perfectly free to publish any criticisms upon the University, its administration, or its officers." [For the Bulletin's editorial criticism of Lowell himself, see page 73.] There have, of course, been some tense moments from time to time when the magazine has run articles or contained elements that the administration would have omitted.
In my judgment this independence has been essential in enabling the magazine to be effective in communicating with alumni. Alumni view the magazine as a credible, interesting, and thoughtful source of information about the University. That the system has worked is a credit to the editors of the magazine, who have used the independence responsibly, and to the leadership of the University, who--despite the irritations that inevitably occur--have seen the wisdom of the arrangement and remained true to the principle. And I would particularly like to thank the current leadership of the University, who have respected the independence of the magazine and who have supported us in so many ways.
Neil L. Rudenstine, Ph.D. '64
President, Harvard University
Harvard Magazine is far and away the best publication of its kind, anywhere, associated with any university: I have felt that since 1973, when its first issue in its new incarnation arrived in my mailbox, and I continue to feel it.
Nonetheless, it would have been hard to predict that this journal would have had such a happy sequel, given the dubious circumstances of its birth.
Whatever the explanation, things have obviously become better and better and better with time--against what would normally be considered very heavy odds, because there are at least two significant hazards that any university publication of this kind has to survive--and very few manage to do so.
First, there is the simple fact that the magazine must be genuinely independent, and yet it is also somehow yoked--sometimes quite inconveniently--to the University whose name it bears.
Curious strains in the relationship can sometimes arise. I remember well, when I was a young dean in 1968, that a number of writers for alumni magazines seemed to derive inordinate pleasure from the spectacle of student protests and demonstrations, from the éclat of building takeovers, and from any sign of increasing participatory democracy in university governance.
Attitudes toward such writers (and their editors) were roughly what Sir Maurice Bowra, when he was the Warden of Wadham College at Oxford, is alleged to have said about one of his rivals: "The Master of Balliol College is very ill, but is unfortunately getting better."
I can say candidly that Harvard Magazine has not hesitated to report controversy--or even disruption--faithfully, but it has, in my experience, done so in a way that invariably promotes the actual understanding of situations, and fosters what Harvard needs and wants: illumination, stimulating commentary, reflection, and intelligent response.
The second hazard of any university publication is that it has only academic material to write about--no foreign affairs, no national catastrophes or natural disasters, not even any comic strips. This fact alone would serve to create ample despair in almost any journalist. The Comte du Rivarol was once sent a two-line poem, an attempt at a witty aphoristic couplet by one of his more scholarly acquaintances, and was asked for his opinion. "Very nice," said the comte, "but there are some dull stretches."
One might assume there would be kilometers of dull stretches in any magazine doomed to write about university scholarship and its labyrinthine pursuits. Not so. Harvard Magazine has proven the truth of Mencken's remark that there is no such thing as a dull subject. And under its various editors, the magazine has indeed managed to make everything from mollusks to Mayan glyphs interesting, provocative, and informative.
So let me conclude by thanking Harvard Magazine. It has become, in recent years, a truly University-wide publication. For tens and tens of thousands of alumni around the world, it is their primary, most comprehensive, and liveliest source of information and ideas about Harvard. You may remember the line in Waiting for Godot, where one of the two main characters turns to the other--out in no-man's-land--and says, "We always do find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression that we exist." In our own case, Harvard Magazine--especially, but not only, for graduates in remote places--gives one of the strongest, most continuous, and vivid impressions that Harvard does, indeed, exist.
Jeremy R. Knowles
Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
This is surely an historic occasion. How often do so many of us gather together to say so many nice things about the fourth estate? Journalists often salute themselves, but what are we doing here? We, who are so often the innocent victims of misunderstanding by the press; we, whose carefully crafted statements are so distressingly quoted out of context; and we, whose wonderfully supportive and thoughtful decisions are so often sadly mischaracterized. Why are we here? Is this not a case of feeding the hand that bites us?
No. We are here tonight because Harvard Magazine is different. Long ago, it decided how to cope with the three words that are key to a successful relationship: love, honor, and obey. The magazine has chosen to give us a reasonable amount of love, some honor, and rather little obedience. But I hope I can be forgiven for imagining how it could have been otherwise. Our athletic teams would never have been criticized for having a losing season. Every decision by the dean would have been applauded as prudent and far-sighted. Occupations of University Hall would have been reported as healthy dialogues between thoughtful students and enlightened administrators. And our alumni would have learned in each issue of some new entreaty from our Cambridge neighbors that Harvard should acquire more local real estate.
Gentle readers, I'm afraid that you know the truth. You know that the magazine has never failed in its responsibility to provide a complete and balanced picture of our affairs. Take the report on a football game, for example, from the magazine's predecessor, the Harvard Bulletin, in 1901:
Harvard defeated Brown on Saturday, by a score of 48 to zero. Nevertheless, the game was by no means encouraging...Harvard gained, but in an awkward and faulty way that would have been of little use against a good team.
Or take the supportive approval of our alumni for everything that we do. Mr. Eldon Bisbee (class of 1887) wrote to the magazine about the plans for the Tercentenary Celebration in 1936:
Thus the sons of our leading University...are requested to journey to Cambridge on the occasion of the completion of her third century, to listen to endless orations, themselves to be mute and to contribute absolutely nothing (unless it be money and parades) to her future welfare.
This reaction to one of Harvard's proudest moments was perhaps surpassed only by George Bernard Shaw's now infamous reply to an offer of an honorary degree at the Tercentenary, which the magazine dug out of our slumbering archives in about 1985:
If Harvard would celebrate its three hundredth anniversary by burning itself to the ground and sowing its site with salt, the ceremony would give me the greatest satisfaction as an example to all other famous old corrupters of youth, including Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne, etc.
Honest reporting in Harvard Magazine's pages, even if not targeted quite as Shaw would have liked, is part of what has made the magazine a cerebral small-town journal: the place where we turn to discover what the locals have been up to, to be enlightened by a new discovery in science or medicine, or to hear how our favorite great book must now be deconstructed. Without the magazine, this sense of an academic and intellectual community would not exist, and the University would be impoverished.
Derek Brewer, LL.D. '84
University of Cambridge
The principal source of Harvard Magazine's strength has been the intentional aim, from the very first, to address the alumni. There can be no more starry collection of alumni of any university in the world, but what also impresses me is the strength of the alumni as a group.
As alumni you are more than just yourselves. You represent all your predecessors, going back to the seventeenth century. It was the special character of early New England to be both rebellious and traditional. There was surely no more argumentative community in the whole world than the one which founded the many towns of New England.
Divisions multiplied amongst the brethren because they were intensely rational, argumentative, and serious people who believed in individual salvation and in getting it right. Nowadays, while we can easily see the virtues of individualism we can also see the dangers, and the need for community. Harvard College, and University, has been one of the great unifying elements from the very first that has also allowed for a good deal of individualism, achieving, usually, that difficult balance between authority and freedom that every thriving society needs.
What has always struck me about the early settlers from England is that as soon as they had acquired the first necessities of life, they set up a school and a church, both of them essential to the needs of a true community. They valued learning and argument whether or not they themselves were university trained. They were of course Puritans, or as the new scholarly term is, "hot Protestants," and toleration was not one of their virtues, but they had to get along with each others' differences, and their devotion to freedom of thought and expression has made the United States of America the magnet of the world, as well as its only superpower.
The first alumni association was not formally created until the 1840s. The first formal Alumni Day met on November 8, 1886, on your 250th anniversary, 112 years ago almost to the day. The Alumni Association is first and foremost a continuing association, not a short-term device for raising funds. And it emphasizes the most important thing about alumni, which we academics may too easily forget, that the alumni are still part of the University. In Harvard you have always assured the recognition of this by the early creation of the Board of Overseers. Since the charter of 1650, the Board has shared the governing power with the Corporation of President and Fellows. So nonacademics--eventually all of them alumni--share the general guidance of the University with academics. We alumni all have a vote in electing Overseers so they represent a cross-section of the Harvard community.
One of the greatest values of a substantial nonacademic presence in the governance of the University is paradoxically that it helps to preserve the University's independence from interference from other nonacademics outside, especially political forces.
And this brings me again to the significance of an active body of alumni. One of the strengths of democratic civil society is the existence of a huge number of independent organizations within it. A good society is like a honeycomb made up of a lot of cells. Universities with their alumni are significant cells within that conglomerate. The alumni are part of the university. We cherish our individuality and individualism, but we perish if alone. We must have communities, and the alumni association is an important group within the larger communities of university and nation.
Harvard Magazine was from the first published for the alumni. It has never looked back. Its content still serves that remarkable group of educated nonspecialists, the Harvard alumni, and many others, too.
In conclusion, let me quote some words of President Pusey. Touching on the relation of intellectual advance to ethical awareness--the central problem of modern education--Pusey said in 1962:
What Harvard wants more than anything now to give to our country and the world is educated men and women of character.
It is the alumni who must carry that education and character into your country and into the world. It is Harvard, and what the alumni do to support Harvard, that makes that noble ambition credible and possible. Harvard Magazine, starting from modest beginnings, is now a vital element in realizing that ambition.
John T. Bethell '66 and Anne Fadiman '74
In introducing Anne Fadiman and John T. Bethell, Daniel Steiner reviewed Bethell's service as editor from 1966 through 1994. Recalling the tumultuous days early in Bethell's editorship, Steiner returned to the theme of the magazine's "unusual" status: "John's skills as a writer and editor and his independence were tested, and John came through in the best traditions of Harvard Magazine. In 1969, I was living in Washington and could gain no understanding from the New York Times what the extraordinary events at Harvard meant....It was John's long, carefully written, thoughtful, and critical reporting of events that gave me an understanding and an appreciation of the complex problems that the University faced in those days. His editorial independence served the University well then and on many other occasions." The reading provided another example of that independence.
A.F. Hostility is pervasive in postwar America. Anti-Semitism is openly expressed. The Ku Klux Klan is revived. Congress enacts restrictive immigration laws. At Harvard, President Lowell proposes a quota for Jewish applicants to the College, and defends the exclusion of black students from the new freshman residence halls. Bulletin editor John D. Merrill weighs in with a strong editorial.
J.T.B. "For Harvard to deny to colored men a privilege it accords to whites appears inevitably as a reversal of policy, if not as positive disloyalty to a principle for which the University has taken an open and unshaken stand.
"Harvard played a conspicuous part in the Civil War as she did in the World War....The name of Robert Gould Shaw, who died at the head of his colored troops before Fort Wagner and was buried there with them, has become a symbol which cannot be disowned without the loss of something very substantial from the life of the larger Harvard community....The American public has taken Harvard at her word, and expects Harvard to be true both to her own heroic past and to her reputation for moral leadership. We do not see how any Harvard man can expect less."
In 1918, a Bulletin editorial suggested that the publication would never outgrow its function as a means of connection among Harvard people, for better or for worse. To illustrate the point, Bethell and Fadiman began with "for worse"--a fiftieth-reunion report from a member of the class of 1932, reprinted in the magazine's "College Pump" column.
J.T.B. "For 45 years I have had the same wife, whom I dislike, as well as our children (one in the penitentiary and another close to it). I also dislike my work (I am not retired and only slightly retarded). I don't jog, travel, garden, paint, do woodwork, play outdoor or indoor games, or participate in rewarding community activities. I am not looking forward to our fiftieth reunion and hope that none of my classmates will stop in on me if they happen to be in our vicinity. I have yet to see the advantage of a Harvard education. The years have not treated me kindly, and I have been completely unable to develop a philosophy as to what life is about."
For "better," Bethell and Fadiman found "a little more positive" note to end on, from a member of the class of 1971, as printed in "The Classes" in 1973.
A.F. "Sirs: You ask for news of me. Very well. At present I am in Kaiser Hospital, San Francisco, recovering from a motorcycle accident on the Golden Gate Bridge that nearly took my life. As it is, I only lost my spleen and a great deal of blood. This is my second such accident in five weeks. After the first one, on October 31, I went in debt to the tune of $500 to have my bike repaired. The bike is now destroyed. I am employed as a teacher's aide in San Rafael, a suburb of San Francisco, and I bring home the princely sum of $175 a month. My indebtedness from the first accident now cuts this in half. A few weeks ago the woman I have loved for over a year left me for another man. Trite as this sounds, that's what happened. Last summer my most prized possession, my hi-fi system, was stolen.
"On the other hand, people are still impressed when I tell them I went to Harvard."
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