Samuel Gilman, who graduated from Harvard University in 1811, penned the school's alma mater, and aside from a slight revision in 1998, the song has remained the same for over 200 years.
The lyrics are as follows:
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 throv storm.
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.
The New York Times writes:
Originally, the opening line was “Fair Harvard! thy sons to thy Jubilee throng.” But by 1998, the school, of course had daughters, so “thy sons” was changed to “we.”
Not content to stick with their 206-year-old anthem, Harvard is holding a contest to change the final line, "Till the stock of the Puritans die," because it could be seen as exclusionary or racist.
The New York Times spoke with English Professor Stephen Burt, who will be one of five individuals judging the revised lyric competition, as well as a sister competition that invites members of the Harvard community to create new music for the school's anthem. The professor believes the final line is problematic because it implies "'Harvard’s power and glory will last as long as but no longer' than the 'bloodline of the descendants of the Puritans.'"
NYT further quotes Burt:
"That’s obviously not a message we want to send,” he said, specifying that the line could be interpreted as being “complicit with racism.”
Unsurprisingly, President of the Harvard Republican Club, Kent Haeffner, thinks the revision is foolish:
"[The line] pays homage to the history of the university, and so to be spending time on this when there are more important issues to handle in the university is a sign of priorities being in the wrong place."
Harvard's lyric contest is an example of a larger trend being seen at universities across the United States. Rather than examine and find solutions for issues of consequence, university students are participating in a whitewashing of history that has no material benefit.
Replacing texts, or removing statues and building names associated with imperfect, but nevertheless critical historical figures does nothing to benefit various student bodies. However, it does help universities and their faculties accrue virtue credits.
As American society - specifically the 18-30 generation - increases its focus on social justice, virtue is becoming a valuable currency, which can be used in a variety of ways by universities.
Virtue currency can be used proactively in order to lure students to a particular school; it can also be used defensively, as a shield against harassment, or as a bandage for social wounds. Universities can also spend the interest accrued on defensive virtue currency at a later date.
A recent example of virtue currency being used defensively was when Yale changed the title of "Master" to "Head of College" following protests in 2015 over an "insensitive" email sent by former associate master of Silliman College, Erika Christakis. The university also changed the name of Calhoun College less than a year after announcing it would stay as is.
Now, Yale can use this currency as a light to draw prospective students, as well as donors, to the university.
This kind of virtue signaling is destructive because it sends a chilling message that diversity of opinion will not be tolerated. The pendulum has swung so far to the left that diversity of color, sexual orientation, and national origin are prized despite the fact that such diversity has no value if administered for its own sake.
Diversity of thought, which helps develop the human mind - allegedly a principle goal of higher education - has been supplanted by a heterogeneity of much less value. Harvard's lyric contest is one more symptom of this illness.
Follow Frank Camp on Twitter @FrankDCamp