Skip to content Skip to navigation
Skip to global navigation Menu

January 29, 1938

President MacCracken defended modern education from critics on the right and on the left in an address at the annual New York Vassar Club luncheon. Vassar’s progressive curriculum had recently drawn fire from intellectuals at, for example, the University of Chicago, where President Robert Maynard Hutchins and philosopher Mortimer Adler had condemned such relatively pragmatic studies as modern languages and social sciences as not classically collegiate. Other conservatives had criticized the college’s political activism, while critics on the radical left were claiming the college was out of touch with the real world. But President MacCracken, sharing the podium at the Waldorf Astoria with Chancellor Harry W. Chase of New York University, told the alumnae that criticism of the college from the right, the center and the extreme left helped to focus the efforts of Vassar students, faculty and trustees.

Of critics on the left he said, The New York Times reported, “While we cannot agree with their point of view, we can respect them for the new life they have brought into the college atmosphere. However, criticism from the left falls to the ground because they fail to apply to others the freedom they demand for themselves.” Such criticism, he told over 300 alumnae “only makes us more than ever aware of the responsibility of placing before the students the historical background which justifies our belief in democracy. If there is any unifying principle in the college we will not seek it out in humanism, metaphysics or revolution, but we must seek it in democracy.”

Chancellor Chase agreed, but with a demurral. “Democracies have come to the point at which they have to defend themselves against a resurgence of barbaric ideas not felt for generations,” he said. “More and more it seems to me that colleges are our strongest bulwarks of democracy, but their importance as an agency for civilization has dropped in the background.”

The New York Times

The Years