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March 13: Harvard’s Jewish Problem

March 13, 2013
1954930211e08d2ba39bb6a670049eb3Harvard College was named for clergyman John Harvard, its first benefactor, on this date in 1639, three years after its launch by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The oldest corporation and first institution of higher learning established in what is today the United States, Harvard took eighty-three years to appoint its first Jewish faculty member, Judah Monis, on condition that he convert to Christianity. Harvard’s first Jewish full professor was Harry Levin, an English scholar, who graduated from Harvard in 1933 and began teaching there in 1939. (He was preceded by Harry Wolfson, who joined the faculty in 1915 but was required to raise his own salary from outside sources, and by Horace Kallen, who was a lecturer at Harvard for three years.) In 1922, Harvard’s president, A. Lawrence Lowell, proposed a 15 percent quota on Jews in the student body, arguing that anti-Semitism “grows in proportion to the increase in the number of Jews.” The quota’s opponents were led by Harry Starr, an undergraduate (who later became director of the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, a generous funder of Harvard). Starr recalled in 1985 that “bad or good, too many Jews were not liked. Rich or poor, brilliant or dull, polished or crude — too many Jews.” The quota was rejected but “geographic diversity” was embraced as desirable for Harvard, and by 1931, Jewish students at Harvard were cut back to 15 percent of the student body. Today, they number about 25 percent. “Tolerance is not to be administered like castor oil, with eyes closed and jaws clenched.”—Harry Starr JEWDAYO ROCKS! Mike Stoller of the immortal songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller was born on this date in 1933. To see them on “What’s My Line?” see below.
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