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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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Academic Development and Social Change: Higher Education in Massachusetts before 1945

Academic Development and Social Change: Higher Education in Massachusetts before 1945

(p.17) Chapter One Academic Development and Social Change: Higher Education in Massachusetts before 1945
Academia's Golden Age

Richard M. Freeland

Oxford University Press

In October 1948, James B. Conant, president of Harvard, journeyed from Cambridge across the Charles River to address the fiftieth anniversary convocation of Northeastern University. Though the ceremonies on N.U.’s new Hungtington Avenue campus occurred only two miles from Conant’s offices in Harvard Yard, in academic terms the two settings could not have been separated by a greater distance. Harvard was the nation’s richest and most distinguished institution of higher education, the alma mater of generations of regional and national leaders in government, business, and academia. Northeastern, only recently cut loose from the Y.M.C.A., still struggling to obtain proper facilities, was an obscure, local school offering practical training to working-class students. Indeed, Conant’s appearance at Northeastern eloquently symbolized the variations that existed among institutions that called themselves “universities” in the United States at the end of World War II, and Harvard’s president made these differences the subject of his talk, which he titled “Diversity in American Education.” Conant’s speech was a hymn to institutional variety as an academic characteristic particularly appropriate for a democracy. “There would be a contradiction in terms,” Conant said, “if we had an American system,” in the sense of an organization “logically constructed, well-integrated ... and administered from the top down” like those of continental Europe. The opportunity of individuals from any background to better their positions in this country’s “fluid and free society” would be inhibited by centralization. For Conant, the colleges and universities of Massachusetts illustrated democratic higher education at its best. “We have here in this section of New England,” he observed,...a number of academic organizations designed to provide educational facilities for young men and women... These institutions are diverse in their history and their specific objectives and cover a wide spectrum of educational opportunity. Between us there are but few gaps in the type of advanced instruction we offer. We each have our own mission.. . Taken as a whole [we] represent as diversified a program of post-high school education as can be found in the United States. In celebrating the variability of the nation’s universities, Conant found an ideal way to narrow the embarrassing difference in status between himself and his hosts.

Keywords:   Civil War, Coeducation, Feminism, Hatch Act, Holocaust, Lowell Institute, Merrill Act, Suffolk University

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