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Harvard University

Harvard redirects here. For information about undergraduate education at Harvard University, see Harvard College. For other uses of the name Harvard, see Harvard (disambiguation).

Harvard University is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA and a member of the Ivy League. It was founded on September 8, 1636 by a vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, making it the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. Originally called simply the New College, it was named Harvard College on March 13, 1639, after its first principal donor, a young clergyman, John Harvard, a former student of Cambridge University. John Harvard contributed a few hundred books to form the basis of the college library collection and several hundred pounds. The earliest known official reference to Harvard as a "university" rather than a "college" occurred in the new Massachusetts constitution of 1780.



Measured purely by objective numbers, Harvard is one of the world's most prominent universities —as Baedeker's guidebook phrased it in 1893, "the oldest, richest, and most famous of American seats of learning." Since 1974, for example, nineteen Nobel Prize winners and fifteen Pulitzer Prize winners have served on the Harvard faculty. With more than 15 million volumes, Harvard's library system is surpassed in size and scope only by the Library of Congress and the British Library. The university has the largest financial endowment of any academic institution in the world ($22.6 billion as of 2004 [1], nearly double the next most-endowed, Yale). With 41 official sports teams, Harvard has the widest-ranging athletic program in the NCAA. All these resources make it attractive to potential students; year after year, for example, the college attracts more National Merit scholars than any other institution in the country.

Where the more subjective question of "prestige" is concerned, Harvard also fares well. For example, in the faculty reputational surveys which form a key component of the college and university rankings published annually by US News & World Report, Harvard consistently ranks in the top echelon (along with Princeton, Yale, MIT and Stanford). Harvard's fame extends worldwide as well; from the UK, for example, the 2004 Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings placed Harvard University in sole first place [2]. For more information, see a list of quotations regarding Harvard's prestige.

A faculty of about 2,300 professors serves about 6,650 undergraduate and 13,000 graduate students. Admission to Harvard is extremely competitive, and its overall undergraduate acceptance rate for 2005 was 9.1% [3]. According to The Atlantic Monthly in 2003, it was the fifth most selective undergraduate program in the United States, after MIT, Princeton, Caltech, and Yale [4]. Harvard's graduate schools are also very selective: the 2006 figures from U.S. News indicated that the business school admitted 14.3% of its applicants, the law school admitted 11.3%, the education school admitted 11.2%, and the medical school admitted 4.9%.

The school color is a shade richer than red but brighter than burgundy, referred to as crimson, which is also the name of the Harvard sports teams and the daily newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. The color was unofficially adopted (in preference to magenta) by an 1875 vote of the student body, although the association with some form of red can be traced back to 1858, when Charles William Eliot, a young graduate student who would later become Harvard's president, bought red bandanas for his crew so they could more easily be distinguished by spectators at a regatta.

Harvard today has nine faculties, listed below in chronological order of foundation:

Gore Hall, the former Library (no longer standing)
Gore Hall, the former Library (no longer standing)

In 1999, the former Radcliffe College was reorganized as the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The Harvard University Library System, centered in Widener Library and comprising over 90 individual libraries and over 14.5 million volumes, is the largest university library system in the world and, after the Library of Congress, the second-largest library system in the United States. Harvard also has several notable art museums, including the Fogg Museum of Art (with galleries featuring history of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present, with particular strengths in Italian early Renaissance, British pre-Raphaelite, and 19th-century French art); the Busch-Reisinger Museum (central and northern European art); the Sackler Museum (ancient, Asian, Islamic and later Indian art); the Museum of Natural History, which contains the famous glass flowers exhibit; the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; and the Semitic Museum.

Prominent student organizations at Harvard include the aforementioned Crimson; the Harvard Lampoon, a humor magazine; the Harvard Advocate, one of the nation's oldest literary magazines; and the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, which produces an annual burlesque and celebrates notable actors at its Man of the Year and Woman of the Year ceremonies; and the Harvard Glee Club , the oldest and one of the most prestigious college choruses in America. The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra , composed mainly of undergraduates, was founded in 1808 as the Pierian Sodality and has been performing as a symphony orchestra since the 1950s. Let's Go Travel Guides, a leading travel guide series and a division of Harvard Student Agencies, is run solely by Harvard students who research and edit improved versions of the books every summer. Harvard student organizations run the gamut, from publications, to political clubs, ethnic and religious associations, special interests, community service, and so on.

Weld Hall, a freshman residence dormitory in Harvard Yard
Weld Hall, a freshman residence dormitory in Harvard Yard

The radio station WHRB (95.3FM Cambridge), is run exclusively by Harvard students, and is given space on the Harvard campus in the basement of Pennypacker Hall, a freshman dormitory. Known throughout the Boston metropolitan area for its top-notch classical, jazz, underground rock and blues programming, WHRB is also home of the notorious radio "Orgy" format, where the entire catalog of a certain band, record, or artist is played in sequence.

Harvard's principal athletic rival is Yale University, including the nation's oldest football rivalry, dating back to 1875. While the Harvard football team was one of the best in the beginning days of the sport, today Harvard fields top teams in ice hockey, crew, and squash. As of 2003, there were 43 Division I intercollegiate varsity sports teams for women and men at Harvard, more than at any other college in the country.

Harvard College has traditionally taken many of its students from private American preparatory schools such as Phillips Exeter Academy, the Lawrenceville School, Groton School, St. Paul's School, Milton Academy, and Phillips Andover Academy, though today most undergraduates come from public schools across the United States and around the globe. Harvard has traditionally had close ties to Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the United States, founded in 1635. Early incoming Harvard classes were predominantly from Boston Latin; still today over a dozen students each year matriculate to Harvard from this inner-city magnet school.

Harvard contains many strong departments that are ranked among the best in the world. Some lesser known departments also have significant global influence. For example, the Department of African and African-American Studies is widely recognized as the foremost in the world, notwithstanding the recent departure of Cornel West for Princeton University. Another example is Harvard's Judaic Studies Department, which was headed by Professor Harry Austryn Wolfson. Harvard boasts a unique $5 million Judaica library which has identified and categorized books by ink type, font type, paper thickness, pagination style, binding method and numerous other categorizations.

Harvard has a friendly rivalry with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which dates back to 1900, when a merger of the two schools was frequently mooted and at one point officially agreed upon (ultimately cancelled by Massachusetts courts). Today, the two schools cooperate as much as they compete, with many joint conferences and programs, including the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and the Harvard-MIT Data Center. In addition, students at the two schools can cross-register (i.e., Harvard students can register for courses offered at MIT, and vice versa) without any additional fees, for credits toward their own school's degrees. The city of Cambridge is notable for the presence of two major research universities within two miles (3.2 km) of each other. A third major research university, Boston University, is located between Harvard and MIT on the Boston side of the Charles River. These three schools jointly participate in many programs, such as the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology hosted at MIT.

Famous Harvard alumni include seven U.S. Presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and George W. Bush), philosopher Henry David Thoreau, comedian Conan O'Brien, and actor Tommy Lee Jones. See also: List of Harvard University people.

Harvard is known for its liberal left-wing politics. Richard Nixon famously called it the "Kremlin on the Charles" (note that the city in which Harvard is located is sometimes called the "People's Republic of Cambridge").

Though Harvard has been featured in many films, including Legally Blonde, The Firm, Good Will Hunting, With Honors, and Harvard Man, the University has not allowed any movies to be filmed on its campus since Love Story in the 1960s. Many movies have characters identified as Harvard graduates, including A Few Good Men, American Psycho, and Two Weeks Notice.


Harvard's foundation in 1636 came in the form of an act of the colony's Great and General Court. By all accounts the chief impetus was to allow the training of home-grown clergy so the Puritan colony would not need to rely on immigrating graduates of England's Oxford and Cambridge universities for well-educated pastors, "dreading," as a 1643 brochure put it, "to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches." In its first year, seven of the original nine students left to fight in the English Civil War.

The connection to the Puritans can be seen in the fact that, for its first few centuries of existence, the Harvard Board of Overseers included, along with certain commonwealth officials, the ministers of six local congregations (Boston, Cambridge, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury and Watertown), who today, although no longer so empowered, are still by custom allowed seats on the dais at commencement exercises.

However, despite the Puritan atmosphere, from the beginning the intent was to provide a full liberal education such as that studied at European universities, including the rudiments of mathematics and science ('natural philosophy') as well as classical literature and philosophy.

Criticism of Harvard

Throughout the years, Harvard has been criticised on a number of fronts. The value of its education has been tarnished by scandals such as rampant grade inflation [5] [6] relative to peer schools, while its students have inherited a reputation for arrogance [7]. Its admissions preferences for children of alumni and wealthy benefactors, known as legacy admits [8], has also been the subject of debate. The Harvard Business School has been criticized for overreliance on the case method [9].

Recent Developments

In a move unprecedented in the history of Harvard on March 15, 2005, members of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which instructs graduate students in GSAS and undergraduates in Harvard College, passed 218-185 a motion of "lack of confidence" in the leadership of the current president Lawrence Summers, with 18 abstentions. A second motion that offered a milder censure of the president passed 253 to 137, also with 18 abstentions. Although the immediate cause for disapproval were Summers' controversial statements about women, the resistance against Summers is said to express reservations about the changes he wants to implement that according to his opponents would weaken the position of the liberal arts and favor a conservative curriculum. The resolution has no immediate formal effects since the president is not elected by the professors nor by the students but by the Harvard Corporation and can therefore only be discharged by this body.


The main campus is centered around Harvard Yard in central Cambridge, and extends into the surrounding Harvard Square neighborhood, approximately two miles (3.2 km) from the MIT campus. The Harvard Business School and many of the university's athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located in Allston, on the other side of the Charles River from Harvard Square, and the University has plans to move more of its facilites to recently-acquired land in Allston. Harvard Medical School is located in the Longwood district of Boston.

Harvard Yard itself contains the central administrative offices and main libraries of the University, several academic buildings and the majority of the freshman dormitories. Upperclass students live in twelve residential Houses; three Houses are located at the Quadrangle, in a residential neigborhood half a mile northwest of the Yard, and the other nine are in a largely commercial district south of the Yard, situated along or close to the banks of the Charles River.

Radcliffe Yard , the center of the campus of the former Radcliffe College (and now Radcliffe Institute), is west of Harvard Yard, adjacent to the Graduate School of Education.

Harvard University people

Further reading

  • John T. Bethell, Harvard Observed: An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth Century, Harvard University Press 1998
  • John Trumpbour, ed., How Harvard Rules, Boston: South End Press 1989
  • Hoerr, John (1997): We Can't Eat Prestige: The Women Who Organized Harvard; Temple University Press, ISBN 1566395356

External links

Last updated: 10-17-2005 08:26:04
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