Harvard Society of Fellows

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You have been selected as a member of this society for your personal prospect of serious achievement in your chosen field, and your promise of notable contribution to knowledge and thought. That promise you must redeem with your whole intellectual and moral force.

You will practice the virtues, and avoid the snares, of the scholar. You will be courteous to your elders who have explored to the point from which you may advance; and helpful to your juniors who will progress farther by reason of your labors. Your aim will be knowledge and wisdom, not the reflected glamour of fame. You will not accept credit that is due to another, or harbor jealousy of an explorer who is more fortunate.

You will seek not a near but a distant objective, and you will not be satisfied with what you may have done. All that you may achieve or discover you will regard as a fragment of a larger pattern of the truth which from the separate approaches every true scholar is striving to descry.

To these things, in joining the Society of Fellows, you dedicate yourself

—The Society's "Declaration of Principles"[1]

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. Junior Fellows were required to be male until 1972, when Martha Nussbaum was selected as the first female Junior Fellow.

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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  1. ^ Tenner, Edward. "Environment for Genius? Harvard University's Society of Fellows". Harvard Magazine, November/December, 1998.

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