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A 1643 publication gave the school's purpose as "to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust."
It trained many Puritan ministers in its early years
and offered a classic curriculum based on the English university model—many leaders in the colony had attended the University of Cambridge—but conformed to the tenets of Puritanism. Harvard has never affiliated with any particular denomination, though many of its earliest graduates went on to become clergymen in Puritan churches.
Increase Mather served as president from 1681 to 1701. In 1708, John Leverett became the first president who was not also a clergyman, marking a turning of the college away from Puritanism and toward intellectual independence.
In the 19th century, Enlightenment ideas of reason and free will were widespread among Congregational ministers, putting those ministers and their congregations in tension with more traditionalist, Calvinist parties.: 1–4 When Hollis Professor of Divinity David Tappan died in 1803 and President Joseph Willard died a year later, a struggle broke out over their replacements. Henry Ware was elected to the Hollis chair in 1805, and the liberal Samuel Webber was appointed to the presidency two years later, signaling the shift from the dominance of traditional ideas at Harvard to the dominance of liberal, Arminian ideas.: 4–5 : 24
Programs in the study of French and Spanish languages began in 1816 with George Ticknor as its first professor.
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Richard Rummell's 1906 watercolor landscape view, facing northeast.
In the 20th century, Harvard's reputation grew as a burgeoning endowment and prominent professors expanded the university's scope. Rapid enrollment growth continued as new graduate schools were begun and the undergraduate college expanded. Radcliffe College, established in 1879 as the female counterpart of Harvard College, became one of the most prominent schools for women in the United States. Harvard became a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900.
The student body in the early decades of the century was predominantly "old-stock, high-status Protestants, especially Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians." In 1923—a year after the percentage of Jewish students at Harvard had reached 20%—President A. Lawrence Lowell supported a policy change that limited Jewish students to 15% of the undergraduate population. While Lowell's idea was rejected, he did manage to ban black students from freshman dormitories.
President James B. Conant, who led the university from 1933 to 1953, reinvigorated creative scholarship to guarantee Harvard's preeminence among research institutions. He saw higher education as a vehicle of opportunity for the talented rather than an entitlement for the wealthy, so Conant devised programs to identify, recruit, and support talented youth. In 1943, he asked the faculty to make a definitive statement about what general education ought to be, at the secondary as well as at the college level. The resulting Report, published in 1945, was one of the most influential manifestos in 20th century American education.
Between 1945 and 1960, admissions were opened up in a variety of ways to bring in a more diverse group of students; for example, after World WarII large numbers of veterans were admitted through special entrance exams. No longer drawing mostly from select New England prep schools, the undergraduate college became accessible to striving middle class students from public schools; many more Jews and Catholics were admitted, but few blacks, Hispanics, or Asians.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century, Harvard became more diverse. However, it is still noted that Harvard largely favours white admits. When it comes to athletics, the share for African American, Asian American, and Hispanics is less than 16% and if it were not for their racial status, a large number of those students would have been rejected.
Harvard's graduate schools began admitting women in small numbers in the late 19th century. During World War II, students at Radcliffe College (which since 1879 had been paying Harvard professors to repeat their lectures for women) began attending Harvard classes alongside men.
Women were first admitted to the medical school in 1945.
Since 1971, Harvard has controlled essentially all aspects of undergraduate admission, instruction, and housing for Radcliffe women. In 1999, Radcliffe was formally merged into Harvard.
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The university is actively expanding into Allston, where it now owns more land than in Cambridge.
Plans include new construction and renovation for the Business School, a hotel and conference center, graduate student housing, Harvard Stadium, and other athletics facilities.
In 2021, the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will expand into a new, 500,000+ square foot Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) in Allston.
The SEC will be adjacent to the Enterprise Research Campus, the Business School, and the Harvard Innovation Labs to encourage technology- and life science-focused startups as well as collaborations with mature companies.
Harvard has the largest university endowment in the world, valued at about $41.9 billion as of 2020.
During the recession of 2007–2009, it suffered significant losses that forced large budget cuts, in particular temporarily halting construction on the Allston Science Complex.
The endowment has since recovered.
About $2 billion of investment income is annually distributed to fund operations.
Harvard's ability to fund its degree and financial aid programs depends on the performance of its endowment; a poor performance in fiscal year 2016 forced a 4.4% cut in the number of graduate students funded by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Endowment income is critical, as only 22% of revenue is from students' tuition, fees, room, and board.
In the late 1980s, during the divestment from South Africa movement, student activists erected a symbolic "shantytown" on Harvard Yard and blockaded a speech by South African Vice Consul Duke Kent-Brown.
The university eventually reduced its South African holdings by $230 million (out of $400 million) in response to the pressure.
Harvard is a large, highly residential research university
offering 50 undergraduate majors,
134 graduate degrees,
and 32 professional degrees.
During the 2018–2019 academic year, Harvard granted 1,665 baccalaureate degrees, 1,013 graduate degrees, and 5,695 professional degrees.
The four-year, full-time undergraduate program has a liberal arts and sciences focus.
To graduate in the usual four years, undergraduates normally take four courses per semester.
In most majors, an honors degree requires advanced coursework and a senior thesis.
Though some introductory courses have large enrollments, the median class size is 12 students.
Harvard is a founding member of the Association of American Universities and a preeminent research university with "very high" research activity (R1) and comprehensive doctoral programs across the arts, sciences, engineering, and medicine according to the Carnegie Classification.
With the medical school consistently ranking first among medical schools for research, biomedical research is an area of particular strength for the university. More than 11,000 faculty and over 1,600 graduate students conduct research at the medical school as well as its 15 affiliated hospitals and research institutes. The medical school and its affiliates attracted $1.65 billion in competitive research grants from the National Institutes of Health in 2019, more than twice as much as any other university.
Houghton Library, the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, and the Harvard University Archives consist principally of rare and unique materials. America's oldest collection of maps, gazetteers, and atlases both old and new is stored in Pusey Library and open to the public. The largest collection of East-Asian language material outside of East Asia is held in the Harvard-Yenching Library.
Henry Moore's sculpture Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, near Lamont Library
Both the undergraduate College and the graduate schools have intramural sports programs.
Harvard College fields 42 intercollegiate sports teams in the NCAADivision IIvy League, more than any other college in the country. Every two years, the Harvard and Yale track and field teams come together to compete against a combined Oxford and Cambridge team in the oldest continuous international amateur competition in the world. As with other Ivy League universities, Harvard does not offer athletic scholarships. The school color is crimson.
Harvard's athletic rivalry with Yale is intense in every sport in which they meet, coming to a climax each fall in the annual football meeting, which dates back to 1875.
The perception of Harvard as a center of either elite achievement, or elitist privilege, has made it a frequent literary and cinematic backdrop. "In the grammar of film, Harvard has come to mean both tradition, and a certain amount of stuffiness," film critic Paul Sherman has said.
The Second Happiest Day (1953) by John P. Marquand Jr. portrays the Harvard of the World War II generation.
Harvard permits filming on its property only rarely, so most scenes set at Harvard (especially indoor shots, but excepting aerial footage and shots of public areas such as Harvard Square) are in fact shot elsewhere.
^An appropriation of £400 toward a "school or college" was voted on October 28, 1636 (OS), at a meeting which convened on September 8 and was adjourned to October 28. Some sources consider October 28, 1636 (OS) (November 7, 1636 NS) to be the date of founding. Harvard's 1936 tercentenary celebration treated September 18 as the founding date, though 1836 bicentennial was celebrated on September 8, 1836. Sources: meeting dates, Quincy, Josiah (1860). History of Harvard University. 117 Washington Street, Boston: Crosby, Nichols, Lee and Co. ISBN9780405100161.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link), p. 586Archived September 6, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, "At a Court holden September 8th, 1636 and continued by adjournment to the 28th of the 8th month (October, 1636)... the Court agreed to give £400 towards a School or College, whereof £200 to be paid next year...." Tercentenary dates: "Cambridge Birthday". Time. September 28, 1936. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2006.: "Harvard claims birth on the day the Massachusetts Great and General Court convened to authorize its founding. This was Sept. 8, 1637 under the Julian calendar. Allowing for the ten-day advance of the Gregorian calendar, Tercentenary officials arrived at Sept. 18 as the date for the third and last big Day of the celebration;" "on Oct. 28, 1636 ... £400 for that 'school or college' [was voted by] the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony." Bicentennial date: Marvin Hightower (September 2, 2003). "Harvard Gazette: This Month in Harvard History". Harvard University. Archived from the original on September 8, 2006. Retrieved September 15, 2006., "Sept. 8, 1836 – Some 1,100 to 1,300 alumni flock to Harvard's Bicentennial, at which a professional choir premieres "Fair Harvard." ... guest speaker Josiah Quincy Jr., Class of 1821, makes a motion, unanimously adopted, 'that this assembly of the Alumni be adjourned to meet at this place on September 8, 1936.'" Tercentary opening of Quincy's sealed package: The New York Times, September 9, 1936, p. 24, "Package Sealed in 1836 Opened at Harvard. It Held Letters Written at Bicentenary": "September 8th, 1936: As the first formal function in the celebration of Harvard's tercentenary, the Harvard Alumni Association witnessed the opening by President Conant of the 'mysterious' package sealed by President Josiah Quincy at the Harvard bicentennial in 1836."
Spaulding, Christina (1989). "Sexual Shakedown". In Trumpbour, John (ed.). How Harvard Rules: Reason in the Service of Empire. South End Press. pp. 326–336. ISBN0-89608-284-9. ... [Harvard's] tremendous institutional power and prestige [...] Within the nation's (arguably) most prestigious institution of higher learning ...
Leonhardt, David (September 17, 2006). "Ending Early Admissions: Guess Who Wins?". The New York Times. ISSN0362-4331. Archived from the original on March 27, 2020. Retrieved March 27, 2020. The most prestigious college in the world, of course, is Harvard, and the gap between it and every other university is often underestimated.
Wong, Alia (September 11, 2018). "At Private Colleges, Students Pay for Prestige". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on February 26, 2021. Retrieved May 17, 2020. Americans tend to think of colleges as falling somewhere on a vast hierarchy based largely on their status and brand recognition. At the top are the Harvards and the Stanfords, with their celebrated faculty, groundbreaking research, and perfectly manicured quads.
^Story, Ronald (1975). "Harvard and the Boston Brahmins: A Study in Institutional and Class Development, 1800–1865". Journal of Social History. 8 (3): 94–121. doi:10.1353/jsh/8.3.94. S2CID147208647.
^Farrell, Betty G. (1993). Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston. State University of New York Press. ISBN0-7914-1593-7.
^* Universities all adopt different metrics to claim Nobel or other academic award affiliates, some generous while others conservative. The official Harvard count (around 40) only includes academicians affiliated at the time of winning the prize. Yet, the figure can be up to some 160 laureates if visitors and professors of various ranks are all included (the most generous criterium), as what some other universities do.
^Harvard, John. "John Harvard Facts, Information". encyclopedia.com. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Archived from the original on July 15, 2009. Retrieved July 17, 2009. He bequeathed £780 (half his estate) and his library of 320 volumes to the new established college at Cambridge, Mass., which was named in his honor.
^Wright, Louis B. (2002). The Cultural Life of the American Colonies (1st ed.). Dover Publications (published May 3, 2002). p. 116. ISBN978-0-486-42223-7.
^Schwager, Sally (2004). "Taking up the Challenge: The Origins of Radcliffe". In Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (ed.). Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 115. ISBN1-4039-6098-4.
^Thomas, Sarah (September 24, 2010). "'Social Network' taps other campuses for Harvard role". Boston.com. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 20, 2020. 'In the grammar of film, Harvard has come to mean both tradition, and a certain amount of stuffiness.... Someone from Missouri who has never lived in Boston ... can get this idea that it's all trust fund babies and ivy-covered walls.'
^King, Michael (2002). Wrestling with the Angel. p. 371. ...praised as an iconic chronicle of his generation and his WASP-ish class.
^Halberstam, Michael J. (February 18, 1953). "White Shoe and Weak Will". Harvard Crimson. The book is written slickly, but without distinction.... The book will be quick, enjoyable reading for all Harvard men.