Faustian Bargain: Harvard Removes Reference To “Pilgrims” In 181-Year-Old “Fair Harvard” Hymn As “Insufficiently Inclusive”

We recently discussed how Harvard dropped its long use of “House Masters” as racially insensitive.  Now it is dropping the last line of its 181-year-old “Fair Harvard” hymn as “insufficiently inclusive.”  The line refers to “Till the stock of the Puritans die” and some feel the reference is problematic because it refers to white ancestors.  As many on this blog know, I am an ardent traditionalist and oppose such revisionist moves whether it is the removal of names or portraits or seals.  The change at Harvard is the result of the work of the Presidential Task Force for Inclusion and Belonging created by University President Drew G. Faust.  Frankly, it is a Faustian bargain for Harvard in further stripping away historical elements to satisfy contemporary attitudes.  I do not believe such changes are nearly as beneficial as teaching students to use history with an understanding and perspective of institutional change.

“Fair Harvard” anthem has been used at key events since the 1800s.  The final verse states:

Farewell! be thy destinies onward and bright!

To thy children the lesson still give,

With freedom to think, and with patience to bear,

And for Right ever bravely to live.

Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,

As the world on Truth’s current glides by,

Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,

Till the stock of the Puritans die.

 

There should be nothing wrong with a song that reflects the long and proud history of Harvard.  The faculty and students are now thankfully more diverse and that is something to celebrate. However, you can celebrate your diversity while maintaining your history.  Written by the Reverend Samuel Gilman (class of 1811) for the university’s 200th anniversary in 1836, the song is filled with dated references.

Yet, Danielle S. Allen, a professor in the department of government insists that the last line makes the pursuit of truth only a matter for one group.  That is, in my view, ridiculous.  I doubt seriously that anyone at Harvard identifies today as a “Puritan.”  It is an archaic reference that captures the period of the writing of the song.  Indeed, the song itself makes clear that it is referencing the history and “relics” of the institution in the very first verse:

Fair Harvard! we join in thy Jubilee throng,
And with blessings surrender thee o’er
By these Festival-rites, from the Age that is past,
To the Age that is waiting before.
O Relic and Type of our ancestors’ worth,
That hast long kept their memory warm,
First flow’r of their wilderness! Star of their night!
Calm rising thro’ change and through storm.

 

The school released a statement that “The Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging launched this competition to affirm that Harvard’s motto, Veritas, speaks to and on behalf of all members of our community, regardless of background, identity, religious affiliation, or viewpoint.”   However, Veritas means truth and the best path to truth is not the denial but recognition of the institution’s history.  The song captures the historical roots of Harvard while the faculty and students reflect its future.

43 thoughts on “Faustian Bargain: Harvard Removes Reference To “Pilgrims” In 181-Year-Old “Fair Harvard” Hymn As “Insufficiently Inclusive”

  1. And they call themselves an institution of higher education? They are trying to eliminate history. Selective history. To understand today, one must understand yesterday. Harvard is hiding from its past. Sad.

    • The “wipers” should ponder potential unintended consequences Writing history should be based upon all the facts and not just the ones which pleases us. What message do we send to the young with these erasures? Ignore what displeased you? People are being vilified with little information. The Confederates are deemed to be the bad guys in the Civil War. To the “wipers” this means tributes to the men in gray are okay to erase. Take down the statues. Change the names of streets, buildings, schools, etc. Who cares why they did what they did. Leave their existence as a big void. Afterall, who learns from the lessons of history?

        • True that, but part of communicating is using words which are understandable to those you are trying to reach. Those people have no clue as to which war is being referred to with the words: War of Northern Aggression. 😉

    • The “wipers” should ponder potential unintended consequences Writing history should be based upon all the facts and not just the ones which pleases us. What message do we send to the young with these erasures? Ignore what displeased you? People are being vilified with little information. The Confederates are devil incarnate and to be wiped from the face of the earth. Statues smashed. Street, park, air port, building names change. No reminder should be left. Matters not why. The war was a blight on the soul of the nation and that was the fault of the Confederates. Question: how will you teach about the Civil War and the reasons for it? Oooops.

      We will repeat our mistakes (both sides) if we do not understand the cause and effect of decisions made and actions taken. Erasing does not mean it did not happen.

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