“Fair Harvard,” Harvard’s official song, croons a story of joy and scholarly enlightenment. Its lyrics—written in 1836—end with the following:
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.
Two centuries later, the university’s administration is taking issue with the last line. Specifically, the mention of Puritans.
“We think it’s time for a change,” Harvard officials on a task force for inclusion and belonging announced last week. The school is now holding two campus-wide competitions: one to submit a rewrite of the Puritans line, and another to make an entirely new song that will “henceforth be preserved by the university as an endorsed alternative mode of performance.”
The task force noted that all genres of music are welcome for the new song, and that the inspiration for the solicitation is none other than Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wildly successful musical twisting the tale of America’s founding fathers.
Demonstrating an openness to diversity may be Harvard’s intent here—but students themselves are none too moved. According to student newspaper The Harvard Crimson yesterday, most either don’t know or don’t care about the song. Some students see the lyric change as an administrative concern over appearances alone.
That charge is fair. Elite US universities, battered over the last few years with racial unrest, are wrestling with their own histories right now. Yale recently scrubbed a white supremacist’s name from a building, and Harvard dropped a slavery-associated shield; both schools renamed a residential faculty role known as “master” to “head.”
While these moves have drawn applause from some, they’ve also been called revisionist—particularly by older alumni—and have launched a debate over the role colleges should play in social activism. It’s a bit on the nose, then, that Harvard now wants its own Hamilton: a play that literally revises history, telling America’s founding story with actors representing what the country looks like today.
Students, staff, faculty, and alumni can submit lyrics and music to Harvard’s two competitions until September.