For those who assume that Harvard is bubbling over with currency, let the Divinity School stand as a memorial to their error. For years now, income from the School's small and static endowment has failed by around $25,000 annually to cover the cost of religious instruction, and the Corporation has sweat blood over that. Unallocated funds, which the Corporation uses to cover this deficit, are the scarcest item in modern education, and the Governing Board cannot afford to spend them on anything but the most vital needs. Graduate schools ordinarily do not qualify. As a matter of policy they must muster their own funds, pay their own way.
The Corporation's problem, then, is to rid itself of that nagging drain on its cherished and fast-diminishing hoard. A vigorous appeal for more endowed funds is the most obvious solution, and, assuming success, by far the best. A band of faithfuls, talking briskly in terms of millions, began such a drive last year, hoping to raise $2,000,000 by the January, 1954 deadline. Despite all the trumpeting throughout the nation about returning Faith to education, only a pitiful $600,000 has been pledged so far. There is no use in analyzing this gloomy result, nor is anything gained by premature celebration over the "Big Things to come from the Foundations." When all indications suggest that the drive is a failure, the essential question is what should the University do about it.
There are only two alternatives: either shave down the School to a point where its scant endowment is adequate, or jettison it altogether.
The University prefers the first scheme, and what with the tradition and the money bound up in the School, it is not difficult to see why. It's not impossible, says the Administration, pointing to the tailoring job it accomplished on the School of Education. There, by shifting the curriculum from a teachers training affair to the study of school administration, it both shriveled costs to manageable proportions and maintained the School's high rank in educational circles. Why not do the same with Divinity?
For one thing, Divinity is not, like Science, easily divided into specialties; a school devoted wholly to the Book of Ecclesiastes, say, is not much of a contribution to religious education. For another, there are no shifts in emphasis which Divinity can make and still constitute a first-rate institution. It might be mctamorphosed into a sort of trade-school, dealing in the arts of pulpil manship and clambake arrangement, but this is hardly proper for a University of higher education. Any shift to a denominational school whould be equally unsatisfactory, since Divinity's one great value, its one advantage over more renowned theological schools, is its nonpartisan status.
Further, the question of money would remain just as much an ogre no matter what the University did for in any case Divinity needs more professors (at present there are eight professors to teach 103 students), better equipment and maintenance (it's a rare day when the grass is cut, not to speak of the School's general physical wretchedness), and it needs higher entrance standards (there are no admissions tests). Of what channels the Corporation pushes it toward. Divinity needs renovation, and renovation costs money that a $900,000 endowment won't cover.
Unless the University is content with a third-rate then, there is only one choice, an inescapable one, we fear. The Divinity School might as well be closed down and its trusts put to more fruitful use. We can hear gasps from the Law School's direction over this, for it is no simple matter to play about with endowments. Yet, though mere convenience is not sufficient legal excuse' for transferring trusts, a charitable or educational institution can still make necessary adjustments. If the University proves that it cannot operate Divinity without loss, that any attempt would be impracticable or impossible, the Court will invoke the Cy Pres doctrine. Under this, if a long-established fund is not sufficient to accomplish the precise object for which it was granted, the Court can approve its use for a different, though related, purpose. This would probably be the case if Divinity's drive fails.
It is hardly our place to decide on the many legal and other problems involved in transferring this endowment, but we have a suggestion nonetheless. The Corporation should use the $900,000 and whatever else it has received for divine purposes to set up a foundation akin to the Nieman Foundation. Its purpose would be advanced study of theology and its participants ordained ministers who wish to leave their flocks for research into fine theological points. The Administration should limit the number of students to a point where the present number of professors are adequate and where classes are beneficially and inexpensively informal.
Doubtlessly there are severe objections to this, not the least the effect it would have on prospective donors to the University. People do not grant money, after all, without assurance that it will be used as they wish and as agreed on by the Administration. Yet, any attempt to avoid this would result in the maintenance of an undistinguished institution, incapable of improvement. Neither alternative is particularly tasteful, but of the two surely the former is the better.