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Making Harvard ModernThe Rise of America's University$
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Morton Keller and Phyllis Keller

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195144574

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195144574.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use.date: 05 July 2022

The college

The college

19 (p.464) The college
Making Harvard Modern

Morton Keller

Phyllis Keller

Oxford University Press

What place did Harvard College have in the modern University, with its expansive central administration, research-driven faculty, ambitious and high-powered professional schools? A much more important one than this litany of potential threats might suggest. The College remained the most conspicuous and prestigious part of the University. It produced the most generous donors; it outclassed its rivals in attracting the most sought-after students; it exemplified Harvard in the public mind. And it shared in the worldly ambience of the late-twentieth-century University. For decades, Harvard College admissions was a battleground over who would be accepted and on what grounds access would be granted. The admission of Jews was a touchstone issue in the conflict between the Brahmin and meritocratic impulses from the 1920s to the 1950s. Then another problem came to the fore: how to choose a freshman class from a swelling number of qualified applicants. As selection became ever more complex and arcane, the sheer size and quality of the applicant pool enabled the dean of admissions and his staff, rather than the faculty, to define the terms of entry. The result was that classes were crafted to be outstanding in more than purely academic-intellectual terms. Intellectual superstars were a small group of near-certain admits. After that, a solid level of academic ability set an admissions floor, above which character, extracurricular activities, artistic or athletic talent, “legacy” status, and geographical diversity figured in the admissions gene pool. After the 1960s, diversity came to embrace race and gender. Chase Peterson, who was dean of admissions during the tumultuous years from 1967 to 1972, thought that during his time the criteria for selection broadened to include tenacity, perseverance, having learned something deeply and well, social generosity, intellectual openness, and strength of character. A statement on admissions desiderata in the 1990s included “honesty, fairness, compassion, altruism, leadership, and initiative” and stressed: “We place great value in a candidate’s capacity to move beyond the limits of personal achievement to involvement in the life of the community at large.” One of Dean of Admissions Wilbur Bender’s 1950s ideal admits, a “Scandinavian farm boy who skates beautifully,” had better have headed his local skating club or taught skating to inner-city youth if he hoped to get into Harvard at the century’s end.

Keywords:   Beth Israel Hospital, Care Group, Critical Legal Studies, Danforth Center, Engelhard Foundation, Gund Hall, Harvard Business Review, Kennedy Library, Legal Realism

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