Harvard to replace ‘Puritans’ reference in alma mater

Harvard University announced this week it will hold a contest to rewrite the final line of its alma mater to remove a reference to "Puritans" some deem exclusive of other religions. File Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo

April 7 (UPI) — Harvard will hold a contest to tweak its 181-year-old alma mater to drop a reference to “Puritans” in its closing line, a change the university said would represent its modern day vision of inclusion.

The line in question ends the song “Fair Harvard,” which incoming freshmen are taught upon arrival and is known by rote by the time students graduate. It references the school’s founders, Puritans who created it in part to help train clergy in 1636.

The closing line as written in 1836, reads: “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 line references the school’s founders, but for centuries it has been open to students and professors regardless of religious belief. Critics said the line in the alma mater could be taken to mean only Puritanical protestants are capable of pursuing truth.

Harvard President Drew G. Faust created a committee to examine changes to the alma mater. A contest open to Harvard employees, students and alumni will be held to tweak the final line. Suggestions will be taken through September and the winner will be announced next spring, the university said.

“Diversity, inclusion and belonging are fundamental to our missions and to our identity and essential for creating a better university, and the responsibility for that is one shared by students, faculty, and staff,” Faust told the Harvard Crimson.

It would be the second time the Harvard alma mater has been tweaked to reflect modern sensibilities. A reference in the opening stanza to “sons” was later changed to “we” to avoid the appearance female students were being excluded.

In addition to the lyric change, the school is also holding a contest for an alternate performance of the song. Taking inspiration from the hit musical Hamilton, the committee encouraged contestants to explore modern forms of music including hip-hop as a way to modernize the traditional performance.


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