Harvard Society of Fellows

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The Harvard Society of Fellows is a group of scholars selected at the beginning of their careers by Harvard University for extraordinary scholarly potential, upon whom distinctive academic and intellectual opportunities are bestowed in order to foster their individual growth and intellectual collaboration. Membership in the society is for life.

Junior Fellows are selected by Senior Fellows based on their potential to advance academic wisdom, based upon previous academic accomplishments, and are generously supported financially for three years to do independent research at Harvard University in any discipline, without being required to meet formal degree requirements or, indeed, to be graded in any way. The only stipulation is that they remain in residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the duration of their financial support.

Before he stepped down as Harvard's president in 1933 and with Nazi rumblings overseas in Germany, Abbott Lawrence Lowell wished to break the stranglehold of the German Ph.D. degree on American academic life, believing it stifled creativity with its overlong list of formal requirements. Lowell designed the Society of Fellows as an alternative to the Ph.D. Its relative freedom encourages members to pursue lines of thinking that transcend traditional academic disciplinary boundaries and allow them to focus their attention on larger questions more fundamental to society.

The Society, which was originally headquartered in a two-room suite at Eliot House, one of the university's twelve residential colleges, has become known for the large number of scholars it has contributed to the Harvard faculty over the years and thus for the way it has influenced the tenor of discourse at the university. Among its best-known members have been philosopher W. V. Quine, Jf '36; behaviorist B. F. Skinner, Jf '36; double Nobel laureate John Bardeen, Jf '38; economist Paul Samuelson, Jf '40; historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Jf '43; presidential advisor McGeorge Bundy, Jf '48; historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, Jf '51; linguist Noam Chomsky, Jf '55; biologist E. O. Wilson, Jf '56; cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, Jf '57; former dean of the Harvard faculty, economist Henry Rosovsky, Jf '57; philosopher Saul Kripke, Jf '66; Fields Medal-winning theoretical physicist Ed Witten, Jf '81; and writer, critic, and editor Leon Wieseltier, Jf '82.

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