5/24/10 - yale university

In today's excerpt - in the early 1900s, when Time magazine founder, Henry Luce entered Yale, the U.S. had become the world's industrial powerhouse, and so America's universities were beginning to change from finishing schools for gentlemen to training grounds for the new economy—and from evangelical institutions to places where elitist social societies like the Skull and Bones held sway:

"The Yale Henry Luce encountered in the fall of 1916 was a very different place from the college his father had entered twenty-eight years earlier. For one thing it was more secular. The evangelical fervor that had inspired the Student Volunteer Movement and that had made conspicuous piety a common and respected characteristic of college life in the 1880s was now spent. Religion had become a routine but far from fervent part of student culture. Henry's [who was the son of a missionary] own faith was almost certainly stronger than that of most of his classmates, but he usually gave scant evidence of it. 'All this publicity of Christianity, this carrying Christ around in public like a circus sideshow, is highly repulsive to me,' he wrote after a first meeting at Dwight Hall, a campus religion center. 'And young men that talk too much about the man Jesus—I wonder, do they know of what they talk, or are they only religiously drunk?' ...

"Yale was also a very different place academically from what it had been a generation before. Like colleges and universities across the nation, it had transformed itself in response to the burgeoning of new scholarly interests, which were, in turn, arising out of the rapid social and economic development of the United States. No longer were American colleges simply finishing schools for gentlemen, educating them in the classics, theology, and languages. They were becoming training grounds for the professions and the new economy. They were offering instruction in the social sciences and the natural sciences alongside the traditional disciplines. Faculties were organizing into 'departments,' and many universities, Yale among them, were now offering graduate degrees. Although traditional requirements remained, there were now also many new choices open to undergraduates—including the choice of concentrating in an area of knowledge of particular interest or value to the individual student.

"For all the changes, however, Yale remained a small and fairly provincial college, drawing students mainly from the social and economic elites of the Northeast and the industrial Midwest. And despite the modernity of much of its new curriculum, the character of student life was much as it had been in the 1880s. The great badges of achievement were not academic honors. Success at Yale came from such things as playing varsity football, heeling the Daily News, winning election to the board of the literary magazine, and gaining admission to the prestigious clubs and senior societies that dominated the social life of the campus. Owen Johnson's classic novel, Stover at Yale, published in 1912, provided a mostly accurate picture of life in New Haven in 1916. From the moment they arrived, ambitious students were encouraged to succeed by 'working for Yale' and striving for the distinctions that campus activities offered. 'You may think the world begins outside of college,' an upperclassman explained to DinkStover his first night on campus. 'It doesn't; it begins right here,' in the struggle to get in with 'the real crowd,' to become 'one of the big men in the class.' 'The immediate goal was to be regarded as a success by your friends ... to be known as the big men,' recalled Henry Seidel Canby, who had graduated from Yale a few years before Henry arrived and later served briefly as an instructor in English there before becoming a distinguished magazine editor. These were things Harry already knew, having come from a school almost all of whose graduates went on to Yale. He also knew what Stover had to be taught: that the most important badge of success at Yale was election to one of the elite senior societies—and above all to the most prestigious of them, Skull and Bones."


Alan Brinkley


The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century


First Vintage Books a division of Random House, Inc


Copyright 2010 by Alan Brinkley


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