Tag Archives: freshman

Harvard Tells the Freshmen What to Read

Harry
Lewis, a professor and former dean of Harvard College, wrote
yesterday
that the texts Harvard freshmen are reading this year “are more
politically correct and less challenging than they used to be.” Yes, it would
seem so. 
Here
are this year’s readings:


A More Perfect Union, Barack Obama

Whistling
Vivaldi , 
Claude
M. Steele

Choosing
the Color of My Collar, 
David Tebaldi ’10

Every
Asian American I Know Is Smart, 
Frank H. Wu

Who
Is the Surgeon? , 
Chris Barrett, GSAS ’12

Psalm, Wislawa Szymborska

Demographic
Snapshot of the Harvard Class of 2016 

The
first thing to note is that the inclusion of President Obama’s famous speech
carries a political  and partisan weight
this year that it would not have had last year or next. Lewis writes: “Was
there really no alternative to including the Obama text as required reading for
all freshmen, two months before the first election in which many of them will
vote?”

Worse,
this year’s texts give new Harvard students clear clues on what grievances they
ought to feel and which class and racial resentments are deemed proper on this famous
campus. And the emphasis on stereotypes is heavy: Claude Steele’s depiction of
stereotype threat as a reason for lack of success by many qualified women and minorities;
Frank Wu’s complaint that Asian-Americans are conventionally stereotyped as
smart and successful; David Tebaldi’s discomfort as a black student of humble
means at Harvard confronted by bewildering expectations and, yes, stereotypes;
and Chris Barrett’s rambling complaint that people always think of surgeons as
male and heterosexual.

These
readings are thin gruel indeed, saying the same thing over and over and shaping
discussions scheduled to be based on these readings the same way. Claude Steele’s
controversial theory of stereotype threat, to give one example, might have been
balanced by inclusion of a piece by his brother, Shelby Steele, an equally
prominent scholar who disagrees.


The last text on the list is a poem by the late Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska,
which begins (in translation): “Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!,” and
ends “Only what is human can truly be foreign. The rest is mixed vegetation,
subversive moles and wind.”

A
final note: though the readings were presented in the name of “diversity,” no
white male made the list. 

Harvard, Where Civility Trumps Free Speech

shake.jpg

Harvard’s Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman has managed to circumvent the brouhaha he created last year with his “kindness pledge.” To recap: In the fall of 2011 Dean Dingman drew the wrath of former Dean of Harvard College Harry Lewis, as well as the mockery and criticism of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE) and the media, when he pressured incoming students to sign a pledge to “act with integrity, respect, and industry, and…civility” and to believe that “the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” Dingman posted the pledge with signatures affixed near dormitory entrances where all could see who had surrendered to this strange attack on freedom of conscience and who had not. Dean Dingman eventually caved under the pressure and agreed to take down the signature lists, although not the text of the pledge itself.

We now know that Dean Dingman’s retreat was merely a tactical one. He was not persuaded by his critics’ arguments against pressuring college students to publicly display their personal and ideological opinions, especially when the pressure was to announce belief in the Dean’s own personal views. Dingman must be unfamiliar with the sordid centuries-long history of authoritarian figures requiring the less powerful to mouth officially-approved views. And so this year, without any public pre-announcement (which doomed last year’s thought-reform efforts because it gave opponents time to mount an attack),Dean Dingman managed to slip a stealth re-education program into Harvard’s freshman orientation week. It was essentially the same stuff recycled in a format where he did not have to get the students to actually sign, and so where there was no clear forum or trigger for dissent.

Continue reading Harvard, Where Civility Trumps Free Speech

Harvard Pressures Freshmen to Sign a Moral Pledge

Taking a pledge.jpgHarvard College’s Class of 2015 found something unprecedented awaiting their arrival on campus: an ideological pledge. It was framed as a request for allegiance to certain social and political principles. No such request had been made of Harvard students since the college’s founding by Puritans in 1636.

First-years are being pressured to sign a “Freshman Pledge” committing them to create a campus “where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment” — all in the name of “upholding the values of the College” including “inclusiveness and civility.”

The request – originating from the Dean of Freshmen, in consultation with the secretary of Harvard’s feared disciplinary tribunal, its Administrative Board, and communicated via dormitory tutors who are the students’ main liaison with the administration – asked that students commencing their four-year journey of intellectual and spiritual awakening take a position on social and political issues that are much debated in our contentious times. “Inclusiveness” and “civility” have become, for better or worse, buzz words among those who argue over the extent to which harsh rhetoric should be avoided in the name of providing students protection from the hurt feelings that often result from vigorous arguments.

Continue reading Harvard Pressures Freshmen to Sign a Moral Pledge

Guess What College Freshmen Think

News reports on UCLA’s latest annual survey of college freshmen have focused on worries about financial aid as a factor in choosing which college to attend. Well, yes. But there are brighter nuggets to be mined here.
How about this one: partying and beer-drinking in general continue their dramatic decline among incoming students. Reporting on their senior year in high school, 38 percent of students said they drank beer occasionally or frequently, the lowest figure in the 43 years of the survey and less than half of the beer-guzzling rate of the late 1970s. Reported consumption of wine and liquor are also at an all-time low. A total of 18.8 percent of new freshmen said they partied 6 or more hours a week. That’s half the 1987 rate.
The annual national survey of, run by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), reached 240,580 first-time full-time students at 340 baccalaureate colleges and universities around the country.
Political engagement is up, at least measured by the number of students who said they frequently discussed politics in the past year—35.6 percent, the highest in any presidential election in the more than four decades of the survey, exceeding 1968, the previous all-time high. The percentage of freshmen saying it is essential or very important to keep up with politics (28.1 percent in 2000—a record low) rose to 39.5 percent in 2008.

Continue reading Guess What College Freshmen Think