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Academia's Golden AgeUniversities in Massachusetts, 1945-1970$
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Richard M. Freeland

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780195054644

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195054644.001.0001

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Emergence of the Modern Research University: Harvard and M.I.T., 1945-1970

Emergence of the Modern Research University: Harvard and M.I.T., 1945-1970

(p.123) Chapter Three Emergence of the Modern Research University: Harvard and M.I.T., 1945-1970
Academia's Golden Age

Richard M. Freeland

Oxford University Press

Harvard and M.I.T. were ideally positioned to exploit the advantageous possibilities for development that arose after World War II. Both did so, pursuing routes that reflected their different histories, stages of development, organizational characteristics, and current priorities. Both became, in the process, contrasting versions of a modern research university, together helping to define a new institutional model for the nation’s academic community. For most universities, World War II continued the difficult circumstances of the Depression, but the wartime role of academics also fostered hopes for recognition and growth in the postwar years. This optimism prompted organized planning for institutional development well before the end of the war. As Conant put it in 1943: “The period immediately following the cessation of hostilities ... will be a time when [Harvard’s] educational house can be put in order, when changes perhaps long overdue can be made most readily.” The leaders of M.I.T. anticipated even more dramatic gains. Referring in 1944 to the Institute’s contributions to the war effort, Compton observed that “the value, effectiveness and prestige of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have never been at so high a level; this is certainly a strategic vantage point from which to initiate the next advance.” The prewar years at Harvard had left little doubt about the “changes ... long overdue” on which Conant would focus. From the beginning of his presidency, he had insisted that Harvard’s goal should not be expansion but “intensification”: the raising of intellectual standards within established programs and the reducing of concern with the social, localistic values associated with Harvard’s Brahmin traditions. The two major expressions of these policies prior to 1940 had been the efforts to tighten scholarly standards for promotion in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and to attract more able undergraduates by recruiting in public and non-northeastern secondary schools. As Conant anticipated the postwar years, especially in the context of the veterans’ program, he was aware that the new popularity of higher education might support a level of growth that had not been possible during the Depression, but he continued to oppose expansion. If demand for admission increased, Conant argued in the mid-1940S, Harvard should raise standards, not increase in size.

Keywords:   Free Speech Movement, Holocaust, Stanford University, Cambridge Electron Accelerator, Dow Chemical Corporation, Korean conflict, Lawrence College

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