Tag Archives: Harvard

No Sex Talk, Please—This is Harvard

Harvard’s men’s cross-country team has been put on probation because members of the 2014 team made strong judgments on the sexual attractiveness of members of the women’s cross-country team.

What?

We wonder if male college students anywhere else have ever engaged in this kind of behavior—noticing that females often differ in their degree of attractiveness, thus generating male commentary, some of it tacky, even smarmy and probably not in the language that the commenters might use in speaking to their mothers.

Our guess is yes, other young men, perhaps even at Harvard, have concluded that sexual appeal is unevenly spread throughout the female population, and they have not always refrained from speaking out on the matter. Another guess of ours is that only at Harvard would men write down these sometimes crude, offhand judgments and file them away on spreadsheets for detractors to find.

Indeed, some of those detractors are descending on Harvard’s men’s sports teams with the grim zest of PTA mommies eager to deal with the pigtail-pulling behavior of eighth-grade boys. Pigtail-pulling of some sort is likely involved in other mommy interventions at Harvard, including the cancellation of this season’s men’s soccer team, not to mention the campaign to punish the mostly male members of various clubs and fraternities that have variously irritated large numbers of campus mommies, who are mysteriously determined to prove something or other.

Mommy spokespeople say the comments by the current cross-country team are not so bad, but comments by the 2014 team were horrible, though hard to punish since most of those team members are gone and unavailable for punishment. But current members will have to suffer training by the much-feared mommies of Title IX, plus another trainer, maybe even a male, who will help the errant cross-countrymen to shed as much maleness as possible. Apparently, this has already been accomplished at the Harvard Crimson, whose editors have expressed no reservations about all this.

Will Princeton Change Its Name?

Elle Woods, the sexy Harvard Law School student from la-la land in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde, got a taste of what has become a daily diet of politically corrected speech.

In that movie, Enid, the super-smart lesbian in the study group from which Elle was excluded, was lobbying to change the word semester to “ovester.” The reason: semester sounded like semen, which was offensive to women.

Today, PC language is causing a ruckus at Princeton and many other private and public universities. Some administrators want to ban what they claim is sexist terminology from official campus communications. Fireman, freshmen, and policewoman become firefighter, first-year students and police officer.

“Manning” the front desk is unacceptable. Employees must “staff” the front desk. This language war dates back to the early 1960s when feminists began writing irate letters to the editor complaining about words such as mankind. Today, those letter-writers are college administrators, determined to change the language by decree.

princeton-man-out

At Yale and Harvard, the undergraduate residences are overseen by faculty members known as “masters of residential housing.” Oops. Not anymore. The term master offended people of color, even though it was derived from schoolmaster or headmaster — the latter a term derived from Oxford and Cambridge.

One of two things are apt to happen next: abolishing the Master’s degree or implementing the Mistress degree. Wait. That doesn’t sound right.

There is a glimmer of hope for Princeton, as The Daily Princetonian is fighting back. A recent editorial said, “Censoring the English language through the dissemination of lists of acceptable vocabulary is contrary to the values of the University and a sinister first step towards Orwellian restriction of language and speech.”

In previous outbursts over this issue, some worried about what to do with terms such as “manhole.” Somehow person hole doesn’t sound right. “Mankind” should yield to “humanity,” but the word man is embedded in humanity, just as “son” is right there in “person” and “male” is buried in “female.”

And how about the sexist “Prince” in Princeton?

What if you are on a ship, maybe a Princeton cruise, and someone falls overboard? It would be sexist, of course, for Princetonians to shout, “Man overboard!” A quick poll among people on deck could settle whether most observers thought the unlucky person was male or female.  Couldn’t they just yell, “Person overboard”? Not really.

A generic shout for help could be taken as a subtle rejection of the falling person’s private gender choice. Not everyone who appears to be a man considers herself a male, even during a fall overboard. “Possible male or female overboard” wouldn’t work either, since everyone knows there are somewhere between two and 32 genders and failing to acknowledge them all before attempting a rescue would surely be seen as non-inclusive and therefore micro-aggressive.

Since nomenclature is so difficult in this case, it might be just as well to let the individual drown and get the gender right later. The Princeton administration would know.

Harvard Allows a (sort of) Single-Sex Organization

Harvard, which announced severe penalties on members of single-sex student groups in May, may have almost lived up to the ban in principle for as much as a couple of days. The Harvard Crimson revealed on August 15 that the College had assured the all-female Seneca organization in May that it could “continue to operate as it always has” if it simply removed gender requirements from its charter and bylaws without necessarily admitting any males. So the Seneca can remain all female. No such exemption from the rules was granted to all-male groups.

Cambridge attorney Harvey A. Silverglate, a longtime critic of the Harvard administration and a reliable foe of hypocrisy and dishonesty in campus procedures, said he has been “retained to consult” with at least one group opposing the sanctions. He called the Seneca’s agreement “a very convenient carve-out” and “a bit of realpolitik” aimed at pacifying women’s groups, who have been among the most vocal opponents of the administration’s policy. Others argued that the Seneca exemption will allow the group to be both a single-sex and non-single-sex organization at the same time.

The Seneca will continue to invite only women to their first recruitment event of the semester, but men will be allowed to attend the event without an invitation and participate in the subsequent parts of the selection process should they wish, said undergraduate co-president president Avni Nahar ’17 in an interview with the Crimson.

Starting with Harvard’s Class of 2021, undergraduate members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations will be banned from holding athletic team captaincies and leadership positions in all recognized student groups. They will also be ineligible for College endorsement for top fellowships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

Voices in the Harvard Final Club Debate

Richard A. Epstein, Defining Ideas, the Hoover Institution

These final clubs enjoy widespread acceptance among their members because some young people prefer to organize their social lives around single-sex organizations. To a classical liberal like myself, these revealed preferences count a great deal…. But in the eyes of progressives like Faust, these preferences should be dismissed as inconsistent with a bigger vision of a “campus free from exclusion on arbitrary grounds”… .

We should urge them instead to gain experience in both single-sex and more open environments, because no matter what the high priests at Harvard decree, virtually all normal people will be required to move seamlessly between both types of environments in their personal and professional lives. Harvard has no desire to encourage a portfolio of diverse activities. Instead, its chosen form of diversity is really a new form of totalitarian excess that limits student choice, insisting that everyone at Harvard dance to the administration’s martial music.


Robby Soave, Reason.com

Reading between the lines, it seems like “reducing sexual assault” is actually just an excuse for Harvard to take action against groups it doesn’t like—for reasons that are implicitly political….  Harvard is a private organization, and is entitled to place as many ridiculous limitations on students’ lives as it wants. But it doesn’t get to discriminate against students who join finals clubs while simultaneously touting itself as an institution that respects liberal values. There’s nothing liberal about discouraging free association.


Sasha Volokh, The Volokh Conspiracy, Washington Post

… for those who take an interest in what Harvard does as part of the enterprise of a liberal university, there’s a lot that’s troubling about the idea of penalizing people for their off-campus memberships by denying them a privilege (student organization leadership) that’s available to everyone else…. Fortunately, if you’re a Harvard alumnus, you can do something about it: vote for a slate of candidates for Harvard’s Board of Overseers. The slate consists of Ralph Nader, Ron Unz, Stuart Taylor, Lee Cheng, and Stephen Hsu. Here’s a Harvard Crimson article about their candidacy, here’s a New York Times article, and here’s a debate about their platform.


Elliot Gerson, The Crimson

The Spee Club has long prided itself for being perhaps the most progressive final club, consistently the first to champion a more diverse membership—and diverse in virtually all dimensions before this last and critical one. Indeed, fellow graduate members of the club had long advocated women membership; it was the undergraduates who until recently largely opposed it.

They are now, by my own observation, delighted….Someday, most Harvard final club alumni will look back and wonder how we could accept gender discriminatory membership for so long. Our colleagues at Yale and Princeton, in somewhat similar institutions, made these transitions some time ago and undergraduate life for members and nonmembers alike has only improved

 

An Interview with Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield

Harvey Mansfield is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1962. He has written or translated works on Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Alexis de Tocqueville and Edmund Burke as well as a book on Manliness. His notable former students include: Andrew Sullivan, Alan KeyesWilliam KristolClifford OrwinPaul Cantor, Delba Winthrop, Mark LillaFrancis Fukuyama, and Shen Tong.

JOHN LEO You’re known for giving two sets of grades to your students. Why do you do this?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: One set of grades is my private opinion of the work they’ve done. And the other, a higher, official grade that goes to the Harvard registrar, is at or near the Harvard average. Right now, A is the most frequently given grade at Harvard, and A- is the median grade.

JOHN LEO: So this is your kindly answer to grade inflation. You pump up the official grades so your students can compete fairly for jobs with graduates of other colleges that dole out equally inflated grades. Have you had any kickback on that? Anybody protest it?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Never. At first, I thought students might be upset. But they sort of laugh. It’s obvious to them that the purpose of this is to prevent my having to punish them for taking my course,

JOHN LEO:  Let me ask you about the state of the colleges in general. Never before have we had so many students in college. And yet the signs of actual learning are slim. In fact, there’s a body of research about how little college students learn. The most resonant of those studies is the 2011 Richard Arum-Josipa Roksa book, “Academically Adrift.”

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  I think that is so. I haven’t been a student of it, but I did read that book, and it was quite convincing to me. The reason for it, I think, is that the universities have stopped pursuing truth for its own sake. They don’t think that there is such a thing as truth, or at least they have grave doubts about it. And that leaves everyone free to do his own thing. Harvey Mansfield

Then there is multiculturalism, the belief that all cultures are equal. So none is better than any other is. And that’s because there isn’t really any true culture or a culture higher or better than any other is. And so while many professors do their best, students are misled and generally demoralized by the view that learning fundamentally isn’t possible. All you can do is indoctrinate. And indoctrination is unprovably good, unprovably true. And that, I think, is why you’re seeing that lack of devotion to learning, and lack of accomplishment in learning seem to go together.

JOHN LEO:  So you think that the de-emphasis on learning is a direct result of relativism?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Yes, I do. This relativism is a sort of liberal view in a general political sense, but it’s been made much more specific by what’s called postmodern thinking.

JOHN LEO:  And do you think the shift toward activism on campus might have something to do with that? Because if you’re not studying and you want to apply things to get a better world, it seems to me, you’re pushed in the direction of activism instead of study.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   Right. It can be activism, and it can also just be extracurricular activity, which is not as toxic as activism. The Harvard students that I see are sometimes more devoted to their extra-curriculars, as they call them, than to the courses they take. The courses they take are not very challenging, whereas extra-curriculars do challenge them, either in athletics or in competing with other ambitious students to get an impressive resume. The less presentable aspect of all the leisure time, which students have right now, is to protest in such a way as to try to force the university to adopt your politics or your policies.

JOHN LEO: How do you account for the emphasis on hurt feelings and aggression, micro-aggression, the resentment of people who are bent out of shape having to hear things they  don’t already agree with?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Well, again, students doubt that there really is anything fundamentally that they need to learn. And they look at themselves and say, if I don’t need to learn anything fundamentally, my attitudes deserve to remain as they are right now. And I’ll defend those attitudes, and defend them by feeling offended, rather than reconsider or stop and reflect and wonder if what I’m listening to in the classroom has any effect on my life.

JOHN LEO:  How do they become that touchy?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: This idea of being offended gains momentum from feminism, because feminism has used the notion of sexual harassment to establish something called a hostile environment, which had been applied to the workplace, but now also to universities. So women are entitled to be at a university which is welcoming to women, has safe spaces and which doesn’t require them to hear things that they don’t want to hear.

JOHN LEO: Right. A hostile environment now seems to include any difference of opinion, or even the slightest twinge of a hurt feeling.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes, I think that’s right. Because it becomes one’s moral duty to look for offenses. [laughs] And the people who give offense, even though they may be innocent or not ill meaning, still deserve to be smoked out, reproached and told that they are wrong.

JOHN LEO: At Yale it was the taking of offense at a very polite email from a professor disagreeing with the Halloween costume policy of Yale.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes. That professor wasn’t even a dissenter from the university policy.

JOHN LEO:  Many people have begun to use the word monoculture to describe the social sciences and the humanities, and sometimes the entire undergraduate machinery of colleges. Is that fair?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Yes, I think so. A monoculture’s the same thing as a multiculture [laughs]. And the reason is that the monoculture thinks that everything that deserves to be included in our culture has already been included.

JOHN LEO:  Right.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   And that especially means the cultures or opinions of groups that  are oppressed in some way.

JOHN LEO:  Yes.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Well, there’s an official list of oppressed minorities, led by the gays, blacks, women, and others too. And, and once you’ve accommodated all these, then that’s sufficient to call yourself a multiculture. And a multiculture is that which…lifts or elevates diversity to monoculture.

JOHN LEO: Well, if there is a monoculture, those who resist it must have a tough time on most campuses. As you know, the rule of thumb is that each major campus is allowed one conservative – at Yale it’s Donald Kagan; at Princeton, Robbie George; and at Harvard, you.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yeah [laughter]. That’s an exaggeration, but I’m afraid only a slight one.

JOHN LEO:   How has your experience been, being the house conservative at Harvard?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Not all that unpleasant, actually. I can’t say that I’m embattled. In fact, people do want to patronize me – [laughs] in a way that pleases them. They like me because I’m a kind of mascot, which proves that everything I say is false. If I can say it, then it must be sayable by anyone, and that means that conservatives or other minority viewpoints are not being overlooked, or disregarded.

JOHN LEO: Right. Well, is it harder for a young conservative or libertarian to get hired at Harvard?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Of course it is. Yes, it’s really very difficult for any conservative to get hired, especially in a field where politics matters, or which is close to politics, like my field.

JOHN LEO:  Yes, government.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   or political science.

JOHN LEO:  Let me talk about this new book, Passing On the Right.  Are you familiar with it?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  No

JOHN LEO:  It’s by two self-identified conservatives who say conservatives should keep their heads down and be happy to paddle along in a pseudo-liberal way until they get tenure.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: [laughs] That, they should be perhaps content if not happy to do that. I mean, that’s a kind of damnation that I’m not prey to — that one has to go along and pretend to be something other than what you are and believe. So I wouldn’t be consoled by that. There is this kind of mascot aspect that I just spoke of in which the universities pat a conservative on the back and say, we’re so glad we have you.

This happened once some years ago when I got an offer to go to the University of Chicago. And the chairwoman came up to me and said, “Oh, Harvey Mansfield, you mustn’t go. You’re our balance.” [laughter] And so I was one person, and I was the balance. That was also when I learned the difference between balance and diversity. Balance is what a conservative gives. And diversity is what liberals supply.

JOHN LEO:  In some of your profiles, I’ve sensed an attempt to be fair, along with this quizzical attitude of, why does he have such an undesired approach to academic work?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Right.

JOHN LEO: Given what you believe about the curriculum and how it’s constantly being watered down, why is it that administrators are so afraid to defend free speech on campus these days? If the curriculum doesn’t matter, why does incorrect speech?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Their understanding of free speech is dissenters’ speech, and dissenters are always on the left. So that simply adds to the monoculture that already exists. But they can’t think of conservative speech the same way.

JOHN LEO:  One example on the internet today — the pro-Trump chalking at Emory University has everyone in a lather. And one of the students who wanted the chalking removed and the perpetrators punished said, “Don’t they feel our pain?”

HARVEY MANSFIELD: [laughs] That’s really not a legitimate pain, when your fellow citizens disagree with you.

JOHN LEO:  Many think there’s an authoritarian tone growing on the campuses.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   Well, yes. This is a tone of superiority and of disbelief that reasonable people could hold a different opinion. Diversity is everybody’s goal except when it comes to diverse opinions, or viewpoints.

JOHN LEO: Of course. Do you sense that it’s usually accompanied by a demand for a remedy or punishment of those who have upset your feelings? I mean, that would be more authoritarian than just censorship.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Well, that’s happened to me. A Harvard student two years ago called for me to be fired. This was a student who was a protester in Occupy Harvard. And it wasn’t listened to. But I don’t know any other professor in my time who’s ever had to face that sort of student’s demand.

JOHN LEO: College presidents as a group are not exactly profiles in courage. I notice only one college president in the last three or four turbulent months has said no to the protesters. And that was Krisov at Oberlin, who was confronted with a long list of non-negotiable student demands. And he said no. He said, “I’m happy to talk to you, but we don’t deal with non-negotiable demands here.”

HARVEY MANSFIELD: I’d have to say in defense of Harvard that our president, Drew Faust, said no to divestiture of fossil fuel investments, and to Israeli-related investments. So, you know, it is possible for dissenters to go too far.

JOHN LEO: Well, what about the rising demand from the left that Israeli professors not be invited over or be dealt with in any way?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes, that seems to me totally outrageous.

JOHN LEO: Well, I don’t think it’s in full bloom yet. But a few years ago, it was just laughed out of court. Now it’s not.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Right. But the pressure should be rejected loudly.

JOHN LEO:  Okay. Here’s the big question. Given the perilous state of the universities as you describe it, what can be done? What reform movement would you recommend or do you see coming at all?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: It’s very difficult. Because universities give tenure, and that means it’s very hard to remove or replace the faculty. In fact, it’s impossible. Also, supporting agencies exist. All the professional associations are politically correct, even more so than the universities themselves. The American Political Science Association is a good deal to the left, certainly of our Department of Government at Harvard – and I think that’s generally true of the professional associations. Those institutions are dominated by the most fervent activists on the left. And so they are not going to object to the monoculture in the universities. And so far, the universities are getting some criticism, but not very much.

I would say, the level of criticism should be raised and be made loud and clear to alumni associations and trustees. Otherwise, one hopes for a change of opinion perhaps from students. I find that students are much more reasonable and actually more tolerant than either the faculty or the administration. They may seem to be less tolerant, but that’s only because a small minority of them are protesters. Students can be riled up. But the students in my classes are much more reasonable than my colleagues and the administration.

JOHN LEO: Do you think the last few months have pushed people away from conventional campus liberalism?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: I think the rise of Donald Trump has not been helpful to conservatism. It makes the universities feel self-righteous and just confirms them in their uncomprehending and stagnant liberalism.

JOHN LEO: Is there anything else you want to say here ?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: All the universities face what you might call a crisis of the humanities–and that is the difficulty that the humanities have in defending themselves or explaining themselves where science is dominant. All knowledge today is taken to be scientific knowledge. And that’s true as against religion, but also against the knowledge that comes from study of literature and of humane topics. And this I think is the issue behind the flight from the humanities by students, from majoring in English and other literatures into fields concerned with moneymaking.

JOHN LEO:  So in response to this, the humanities seem unable to defend themselves and to explain why it’s good to be at a liberal arts university, why students should major in something else besides engineering, accounting or computing.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: That’s right. The humanities have come to be dominated by so-called postmodern thought. And postmodern really means against science and against the benefits or alleged benefits of progress and technology especially.

JOHN LEO: Let me ask you one last question. And that is, do you sense a rising disdain, if not contempt, for the West and the United States on campuses?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Well, I do. That’s right. And the troubles we’re having over Islam, our inability to identify an enemy, and to move against it with determination. So, I do see that and it’s something we have to deal with.

Harvard to Supply Life’s Meaning To Students

Since the dawn of time, humankind has sought an explanation for our being on this planet, and some have looked for an answer in “liberal arts” education. But now – at Harvard at least – this profound search for meaning has apparently been transferred from the liberal arts department, where definitive answers have been rare, over to the student life bureaucracy, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Crimson staff writer Jamila M. Coleman, wrote that. The Freshman Dean’s office, which for several years has been under the leadership of Dean of Students Thomas Dingman, is focusing on “reflective programming” for Harvard’s presumably benighted and meaning-bereft undergraduates. The most recent step is the creation of a position for a “Fellow for College Programs and Initiatives.” According to the Crimson, this new hire will “attempt to enhance the experience of students by working…on ways to foster personal growth during their four years as undergraduates.”

One of Dean Dingman’s proliferating underlings, Director of College Initiatives and Student Development Katherine W. Steele, explained that the purpose of this new administrator’s work would be to “create experiences where people can dig into these questions of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What’s my purpose?’”

What does this position entail? An explanation was given to the student paper not by Dean Dingman himself, but rather by one of his countless assistants. Reported the Crimson:

The fellow will attempt to enhance the experience of students by working closely with Katherine W. Steele, the Director of College Initiatives and Student Development at the FDO [Freshman Dean’s Office], on ways to foster personal growth during their four years as undergraduates.

“What does this mean?” you understandably ask. The Crimson continues:

We realized that through doing this kind of programming, you can really create experiences where people can dig into these questions of ‘Who am I?’ and ’What’s my purpose?’” Steele said. “Thinking about those questions now may help you later when you’re deciding what to do after you graduate.”

Of course, guiding students in such a profound pursuit is too large a task for one bureaucrat. So the Freshman Dean’s Office plans to ensure that “[t]he Fellow will work closely with Resident Deans, Faculty Deans, Tutors, and Proctors to provide reflective guidance for students and formulate new approaches to community conversations, a required program during Opening days,” according to Steele. “It’s brand new,” Steele gushed to the Crimson reporter. “This job’s never existed before…we’re going to be a start-up basically, within Harvard.”

And therein lies the value of this initiative: As a start-up, it will doubtless require the hiring of many more administrators to assist the illustrious ranks of Resident Deans, Faculty Deans, Tutors, and Proctors, plus student-life administrative staff. As the Crimson reports, Steele hopes “to run focus groups with recent graduates during the summer, using their reflections to provide direction for new programming.”

The philosophical justification for this new, personnel-heavy and likely expensive initiative is, according to Steele, rooted in a 2006 study by Graduate School of Education Professor Richard J. Light. “Seniors said they learned a lot from chemistry and history and whatnot, but never really learned how to live life,” Steele told the Crimson. Hence the need for this profound new initiative headed by the student life bureaucracy. “The position is a very college focused role and is not necessarily just a response to a need that we’re seeing here at the Freshman Dean’s office,” Steele assured the reporter. And because this lacuna in Harvard’s curriculum “is not isolated to freshman year, this person will focus on personally transformative programming across the four years,” she said.

Of course, such a profound four-year initiative cannot be the sole province of Director Steele and the soon-to-be-hired Fellow for College Programs and Initiatives.  And so the Crimson reported that Dean for Administration and Finance Sheila C. Thimba “wrote that she approves of the new position’s goal of fostering personal growth among students.” “I’m glad we can support this nascent programming in personal transformation,” Dean Thimba said.

This new initiative is not altogether unexpected, but rather is the latest piece of a larger and longer-standing effort to direct students’ personal growth.

Reports the Crimson:

“Administrators have in recent years attempted to bolster College programming focused on student reflection. In 2015, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana pushed for additional reflection seminars and retreats during winter session.”

And, of course, when the powerful Dean of the College pushes, the rest of the ample bureaucracy responds with creative new initiatives, and, of course, new hires.

All of this makes for rather interesting reading. But it does appear that certain fundamental questions are not being asked, much less answered: Is it not the role of the faculty of a liberal arts college to spend four years helping students think about questions such as “Who am I?” and “What’s my purpose?” And is it not the province of the students to answer these highly personal questions themselves, without micromanagement by student-life administrators? With these fundamental questions asked and presumably answered by the bureaucrats assembled by the Freshman Dean’s office, what role will remain for the learned Harvard faculty, or indeed, for the student meaning-seekers themselves?

It’s a troubling – if not entirely surprising – fact that administrators now vastly outnumber faculty members in our institutions of higher education. According to one analysis, the ratio of full-time administrators to tenured or tenure-track professors in 2008 was roughly 2:1. I’d bet that in the past eight years since this study was done, the ratio has tilted even more dramatically in favor of administrators. What we don’t know is why this has come to be. Perhaps an inquiry into administrative bloat should be the next focus of the Harvard Freshman Dean’s office. This weighty task will, of course, doubtless require several new administrative hires.

A version of this article ran on WGBF News, Boston and is reprinted with permission.

A Harvard Endorsement of Black Protests?

A retired Harvard professor received this email today from Harvard’s Dean of Undergraduate Education, Jay M. Harris:

“To Faculty of Arts and Sciences: I am writing to let you know that many of our students plan to leave their classrooms today at 3:15 in a show of solidarity with Black students nationwide. They will gather in the Science Center Plaza at 3:30 and then march to Porter Square to join with students from Tufts. Please make sure to inform your TFs/TAs who may be with them at that time. We know that many of you will want to join with our students in these challenging times.”

My professor-friend added this: “In my forty-plus years at Harvard, which included some “challenging times,” I don’t recall any student protest activity that was in effect endorsed by the administration in a communication sent to the entire faculty.”

WHY ELITE STUDENTS GET ELITE JOBS

The conventional meritocratic recipe for success is simple enough: study hard in school, get good grades, be involved in one’s community, find an appropriate college, apply for jobs in your field of study, and everything else falls in place. But that’s not how it really works says Lauren A. Rivera, author of Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs.

The path to success she sees is this:  Be born to upper-middle-class or wealthy parents. Know what academic tracks to be on by the end of middle school — knowledge that one acquires from well-educated parents and school counselors with low caseloads. Get involved early in the competitive sports favored by elites, such as lacrosse, tennis, sailing, skiing, golf, cycling, climbing, soccer, and running. Test well enough to get into an elite university.

Apply for a first job in an Elite Professional Services Firm (EPS), the “finishing school” for American elites. They include Wall Street, top management consulting, and exclusive law firms. After you’ve demonstrated that you’re “one of us” in the interview get on the EPS launching pad, which eventually leads to a high-status career in corporate America, politics, or the nonprofit world. Eventually, have children with a spouse of a similar class background, raise them in fine neighborhoods with top schools, sent them to elite universities, and the “virtuous” cycle of elite reproduction continues.

The book offers a rare glimpse into the hiring practices of EPS firms and how they differ from “the dominant theory of hiring” in the United States. The dominant model holds that employers hiring decisions are based largely on “estimates of human capital, social capital, gender and race. But that model is inadequate, she argues, because it fails to account for the increasingly powerful role that one’s class background plays in the recruiting and hiring practices firms that prepare one for leadership roles in society.

Rivera, a management professor at Northwestern University, acknowledges these trends with alarm. Her book goes further than most in that she looks beyond elite college admissions to how elite students find high-status jobs. As a direct observer and participant in the hiring process at an unnamed EPS firm, Rivera shows that elite education is a virtual prerequisite for entry into high-status jobs — jobs that according to the commonly viewed ideal of meritocracy should be available to any competitor on the basis of ability and experience. She demonstrates, convincingly, that’s not the case.

Raised working class in Los Angeles by an immigrant single mom while her father was in prison, Rivera says she was able to penetrate this rarified atmosphere due to her own experiences attending elite prep schools, colleges and graduate school.  She describes being “checked out” by the insiders of the firm in which she carried out her case study, who determined that she was “one of us,” before agreeing to be interviewed for her study.

The author says she did not set out to prove any particular theory, but allowed the data to drive her interpretations.  She concludes that the hiring practices of certain employers — ones that are pivotal in shaping the nation’s future leaders — are driven by considerations of class status. Class, she argues — and the social capital associated with class, is more important than virtually any other factor in whether certain high-statues employers will even consider an applicant for a job.

The key word is pedigree: the array of background traits, including the cultural, social, and educational capital passed from one generation to the next, which EPS candidates bring to the competition for elite jobs. But it’s a closed competition.  One must get through the gates first.  A candidate’s pedigree determines whether his or her application to an EPS firm is legitimately considered in the competition, or tossed in a slush pile of candidates who have no realistic chance to even compete for such jobs.

Of course, pedigree has always been influential in hiring decisions for first jobs at elite professional service firms.  While Rivera acknowledges this, she contends that the rules surrounding pedigree have changed over the generations.  Although elite employers have always hired on the basis of pedigree, the mechanism is now far more indirect. Finding young talent to fill society’s most important and highly paid jobs once was based on descent, the handing over of familial economic power from one generation to the next.

Today, elites have modernized the rules of entry. Rather than explicit bloodlines being the determining factor, the outcome biased toward elites is interpreted as just the rational outcome of the “meritocracy” at work.  Now, just as elite colleges contend that they admit students on the basis of cognitive talent, elite employers claim their highly competitive hiring practices lead to finding the best and brightest young employees.

But the way elites choose talent is hardly an open competition, Rivera argues. Rather, EPS hiring is a “sponsored contest.” While any college graduate is free to apply for a position, only those who are pre-qualified are actually permitted to compete.  The most important pre-qualification is earning a degree from one of two types of schools.  Generally, EPS firms maintain two lists of colleges from which they draw the applicant pool.  First is small list of so-called “core” schools that have fed firms’ talent requirements for decades.  The relationships are historic, steadfast, and habitual. Think Ivy League, especially colleges that are within a few hours drive from power centers of finance, banking and law.

Next is a list of “target” schools that firms have relied on for talent, but to a far lesser extent than core schools.  The pivotal difference between a sponsored and an open competition is the behavior of gatekeepers in seeking talent.  EPS firms go to great efforts to seek out the kinds of college graduates that fit the firm’s culture.  The firms go to the students, spending valuable time and money traveling to the listed campuses and recruiting for their applicant pool.

There is one noteworthy exception, Rivera says.  If a highly regarded EPS firm happens to occupy a booth at a “diversity” job fair, that’s likely no more than a show and tell, serving the firms’ needs to convey itself as an equal opportunity employer, which enables them to compete for federal contracts.  An open competition for jobs is far different: in almost no instance does a gatekeeper for an open contest seek out applicants. In this sense, then, a competition for jobs at the post office is far more competitive than hiring the chosen candidates for any EPS firm.

Then comes the sorting of resumes and the interview process.  At these stages, evaluators at EPS firms, often busy staffers and analysts who work with high workloads, are pretty much left to their own preferences without any firm guidelines from lowly valued human resource departments.  A typical evaluator will spend no more than 60 seconds per resume. In that brief moment, the evaluator scans resumes for positive signals of fit with the firm or red flags that suggest a bad fit.  These decisions are often based on personal biases, reflecting the evaluators’ own background.  Rivera calls this “looking glass” merit: evaluators choose candidates like themselves, with similar family backgrounds and cultural habits, down to the sorts of recreational activities and sports they might share in common.

For example, in the off-chance that a candidate at this stage had graduated with high honors at, say, the University of North Carolina, that would be considered a red flag.  “State schools,” as public universities are called in this competition, would be considered a sign of “intellectual failure.”   Candidates who’ve graduated form a core school are presumed to have the cognitive ability to do the job — although no actual evidence of this presumption exists, Rivera says.

One example stands out.  Rivera interviewed a hiring consultant named Natalie, who examined an application from Sarah, a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business.  Natalie noted that Stern was a top ten business school, but not a top three school. “She’s there either because her husband is in New York or she applied to business schools and she didn’t get into Harvard or Stanford.”  For Natalie, Sarah’s graduating from NYU’s Stern School of Business was a red flag, indicating some kind of intellectual failure.

Another red flag is whether the candidate happened to participate in the wrong types of sports in school. Evaluators often looked for similarities in recreational activities as a signal for shared interests and comfort level. One evaluator told Rivera he always asked a job candidate what he or she did for “fun.” The answer wasn’t acceptable if the activity were not something that was fun to him.  One candidate told the evaluator that he liked reading the Wall Street Journal for fun. An EPS evaluator told Rivera, “Nobody reads the Wall Street Journal for fun. And if they are unable to come up with something they do for fun, they are done.”

The classed-based hiring practices of EPS firms might not be so unsettling if such firms had not achieved the level of status, economic power, and influence that they currently enjoy in American life, Rivera contends.  Owing to the high pay and high status that EPS firms use to tantalize graduates, significant numbers of elite college graduates have turned to EPS firms for their first jobs out of college, ignoring opportunities at other types of employers such as manufacturing and educational institutions.  At Harvard alone, more than 70 percent “of each senior class typically applies to investment banks or consulting firms,” Rivera says.  In addition to the highly skewed demand for EPS jobs, this “holy trinity,” has become a well-traveled springboard to leadership positions in all aspects the United States.

Rivera cites research that America is unique among other advanced nations in the extent that people care about the reputation and prestige of one’s alma mater. In few other countries has one’s potential for leadership been so closely tied to where one attended college. As Rivera demonstrates, that has become a self-fulfilling prophesy of the new meritocracy. Exceedingly influential firms have uniquely positioned themselves as “finishing schools” for America’s elites, and yet there is virtually no evidence to suggest whether the system selects for the best, or simply the more well-positioned and well-polished.

For the most part, Rivera’s analysis is believable and compelling. We’ve always known such discrimination along class lines exists at elite professional firms, but she may be the first to inspect the detailed mechanisms that perpetuate the practice.  She fails, however, to address other types of superficially open, but actually closed competitions in which insiders are known to have unfair access to certain jobs in the United States.  The practice is not uncommon. These jobs would include children of police officers, firefighters, union tradesman and similar careers.  Remember?  “It’s who you know, not what you know.”

What’s more, one could argue that EPS firms are selecting candidates most equipped — intellectually, socially and behaviorally — to succeed in jobs that require an unusual ability to communicate and be comfortable with high-status clients in the corporate world.  Evaluators would naturally doubt, for example, whether a first generation college or professional school graduate attending a modestly selective university would have the polish to succeed.

Still, the classed-based hiring practices of EPS firms is unsettling, compared to the semi-open competitions for, say, police or union jobs.  EPS firms are unique in that they occupy far greater status, economic power, and influence than many careers. Owing to the high pay and high status that EPS firms use to tantalize graduates, significant numbers of elite college graduates have turned to EPS firms for their first jobs out of college, ignoring opportunities at other types of employers such as manufacturing and educational institutions.  At Harvard alone, more than 70 percent of each senior class typically applies to investment banks or consulting firms, says Rivera, quoting Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker.

In addition Americans love a competition that’s open to all comers, like the “Open Championship” in Great Britain and the U.S. Open here. The purpose of these tournaments is to identify the best golfer on the planet during a week’s competition, based strictly on performance.   The opportunity is open to any golfer, not just to those from private country clubs. Indeed, a competition rigged to pick the privileged few is abhorrent to our collective sensibilities. Exclusion based on the conceit that graduates of certain American colleges and universities are intellectually deficient is reminiscent of the days when the U.S. Army rated recruits on the basis of IQ tests.  Those tests purportedly demonstrated the intellectual superiority of immigrants from Arian nations over cognitively deficient immigrants like Jews and Italians.

“Because of the way they hire,” Rivera writes, “these employers end up systematically excluding smart, driven, and socially skilled students from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds from the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the United States, positions that serve as gateways to the country’s economic elite.”

‘Diversity’ at Harvard: 96% of Profs’ Donations Go to Dems

The Crimson published a lengthy study last week analyzing the contribution patterns of Harvard professors in recent campaigns (2011-2014). The tally: 96 percent of the donations from the arts and sciences faculty went to Democrats. These results shouldn’t come as much surprise at this stage, but they’re a reminder of just how limited the ideological perspective is on the nation’s campuses.

As always, a disclaimer is needed when discussing the relationship between political affiliations and the campus atmosphere. There isn’t necessarily any linkage between the two; Democrats can be critics of the campus status quo (I’m, obviously, an example of this), and Republicans can support the current climate. A margin of 60-40 or even 70-30 in one direction or the other would deserve little comment. But a breakdown of 96-4 has to raise some questions. Even Harvard dean Michael Smith remarked, “I am amazed at how high that number is.” The dean gave no indication, however, that the high number would trigger any changes in hiring patterns.

Four broader points emerge from the Crimson’s figures. First, and perhaps most important, the data exposes the hypocrisy of many “diversity” advocates, who demand certain types of diversity (but never intellectual or most types of pedagogical diversity) allegedly to ensure that students encounter a wide array of perspectives on campus. Here’s Lawrence Bobo, chair of the African-American Studies Department, minimizing the significance of the findings: “I think that this is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach . . . It is one of the great virtues of the University.”

Imagine if instead of a 96-4 split in favor of Democratic donations, the Crimson had revealed a 96-4 split in terms of white faculty members. Does anyone believe that Prof. Bobo would have dismissed these figures on grounds that Harvard “is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach”?

Second, the figures should (but almost certainly won’t) prompt Dean Smith to more closely examine hiring patterns, to ensure that groupthink isn’t excluding certain pedagogical perspectives. Again, there’s a difference between what might be expected from a slight imbalance and a ratio in some departments of 25- or 30-to-1. To take examples from history: it’s certainly possible that a professor whose specializes in, say, African-American women’s history will be a Republican, and a military history expert will be a Democrat. But all other thing being equal, neither outcome (especially the first) is all that likely. To what extent, then, does the 96-4 split indicate that Harvard is excluding certain types of more “traditional” pedagogical approaches from its hiring patterns, or that groupthink has caused the institution to seek to replicate existing professors in new hires?

Recall the sort of answers that asking that question often reveals. For instance, during the Mark Moyar case, it was revealed that the University of Iowa’s History Department had more than 20 registered Democrats and zero registered Republicans. (Moyar’s work, which defended the U.S. approach in Vietnam, made clear his conservative bent.) The then-chairman dismissed the relevance, by arguing that two-thirds of the registered voters in the university’s home county were Democrats—as if 67 percent and 100 percent were the same, and as if the university only recruited from Johnson County, Iowa.

Third, the Crimson data shows that many Harvard science professors made large donations to Democrats, and there appears to have been scant difference between the donation patterns of science professors and those of their colleagues in the humanities. I suspect that even a decade ago, these figures would have been much more balanced. But in the past ten years, political culture has featured two highly-charged debates over science issues—the teaching of intelligent design; and the reliability of climate change science. The Republicans’ position on the latter in particular has served the political interests of the party well, but it seems to have come with a cost on campus.

The science figures, however, are all the more striking when compared to the donation patterns of faculty at the Harvard Education School, one of the leading such institutions in the country. As Jon Chait has frequently observed, a tense relationship exists between teachers’ unions and the Obama administration’s education reform efforts; the unions seem eager for a return to Clinton-style deference to their wishes. And yet 100 percent—100 percent—of the Ed faculty who donated did so to Democrats.

That figure, of course, recalls the efforts of FIRE and ACTA against NCATE’s “dispositions” standards, in which the accrediting agency sought to require all Ed schools to certify that prospective public school teachers had a “disposition” to promote social justice. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out whether a faculty that gives 100 percent of its donations to a single party will take an ideologically balanced approach to such a politically charged concept.

Three Cheers for Ira Stoll

On “Future of Capitalism,” Ira Stoll has excoriated two anonymous Harvard Kennedy School professors for their allegedly candid assessments of Paula Broadwell, who is at the center of one of those recurring sex and government scandals. Stoll’s account takes the anonymous professors to task for violating a trust, he insists, that is supposed to be implicit in the student-teacher relationship. He calls these professors hypocritical for condemning in Broadwell what they and others routinely do to promote themselves to the larger public. What Stoll does not observe is that by remaining anonymous, they do the sociological dirty work of institutional distancing, which can only be accomplished by holding the individual responsible for everything, despite the institution’s relentless efforts to take credit for anything that the individual did that positively accrued to the institution.

As simple as this may sound or appear, another layer beneath the surface of institutional embarrassment is also operating, and in full force. President Obama decided to define the consequences of adultery as a family matter, which it certainly is. The press has mostly focused on these consequences as a matter of concern for national security. Neither perspective captures the full force of the consequences of what is at stake in the kind of trust abrogated in what is still mostly recognized as adultery. Within the family, or more precisely, within a marriage, any manner of arrangements pertaining to judgments about sex may exist by consent, and this is why the President could conveniently avoid being “judgmental” except to infer without any concrete knowledge that pain had been caused in this “private” matter. Let’s assume that is true: why would inquiring minds want to know about the pain? On the other hand, the issue of national security is obviously about an entirely different scale of trust, but also about how when one is at the top, one is the institution, not simply its representative. General Petraeus’s position was the merging of individual and institution, what sociologists used to call “role models,” a term that had invested in it a moral meaning about obligations, responsibilities and integrity. All these terms have been effaced in the intense lights that shine on “roles” these days.

What does any of this have to do with higher education? Ira Stoll was incredulous about professors hiding behind their anonymity to trash a former student. But the real sin is the silence about what now is quaintly referred to as sex out of wedlock. To be opposed to sex out of wedlock means coming to terms with what also used to be called “premarital sex” and is now reduced to “hooking up”. The new so-called freedoms are heralded every day, even as real life and its personal and professional disasters play out for a public uncertain about what to make of its own incomprehension of what, if anything, is wrong with this picture.

—————————————————

Jonathan B. Imber is Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and Editor-in-Chief of Society.

Harvard Botches a ‘Cheating’ Scandal

HArvard.png

By
Harvey Silverglate and Zachary Bloom

At first blush, the ongoing cheating scandal at Harvard
College appears to raise serious questions about academic integrity at that
fabled institution. If the allegations that 125 students inappropriately shared
notes and answers for a take-home exam in violation of the exam’s rules prove
true, the result will be a massive blot on Harvard’s near-perfectly manicured
public  image–especially now that top 
athletes have been implicated.

But let’s remember that because of the course’s confusing rules and guidelines concerning collaboration, no one, likely not even the
students themselves, can say right now whether their conduct was illicit. Worse
yet, we may
never know the truth, much less have a just verdict on the
propriety of the students’ actions, now that the case is securely in the hands
of the spooks haunting Harvard’s notorious Administrative Board.

Continue reading Harvard Botches a ‘Cheating’ Scandal

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. 

How Group Learning Invites Cheating

The most shocking thing about the Harvard cheating scandal was not that 125 students out of a class of 279 were found to have “committed acts of academic dishonesty” on an exam last spring, or even that the exam was for a course that was supposed to be an easy mark. It was that it happened at Harvard, the elite of the elite, where it is understood that only the smartest kids are accepted. Why would they have to cheat?

As the details became clear (at first, significantly enough, in the sports magazines), it developed that the course, Government 1310: Introduction to Congress, had the reputation of being a cinch to pass. But last spring the exam was harder.  It was a take-home open-book and open- Internet assignment over a weekend, but this time students were expected to write essay answers, not just select answers from multiple choices. And when the papers were graded, more than half were found to have given answers that were the same as another student’s, word for word.

When the facts became public, there was no joy in Cambridge. The stars of Harvard’s outstanding basketball team were among the large proportion of athletes taking the course. It remained unclear what punishment awaited the guilty as it could not be determined whether students had been collaborating on answers or plagiarizing outright from the Internet or each other.

Generosity Was the Excuse

One indignant Harvard student maintained that collaboration was “encouraged, expected.” That attitude also seemed to apply at Stuyvesant High School, New York City’s outstanding school, where a similar scandal was revealed. This time 140 students were involved, all receiving help from a classmate using his cell phone to send answers to his friends and those he wanted to become his friends.  The tests (the system was applied to several of them) were the prestigious Regents exams, important factors in college acceptances.  Ironically, the admitted aim of most Stuyvesant students, who face stiff competition getting into Stuyvesant and maintaining high grades once they get there, is to be admitted to Harvard.

Continue reading How Group Learning Invites Cheating

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

Ten Reasons to Ignore the U.S. News Rankings

USNWR.jpg

There are certainly some good reasons for
some people to take the U.S. News college rankings seriously. Presidents of
schools that went up a notch or two can trumpet the fact to their trustees
while noting modestly, of course, that “we don’t really pay them any heed.” But
if you are a college-bound student or the parent of one, there are lots of
reasons not to give them any
credence. As a starter, and in the spirit of my editorial friends at U.S. News,
here are my Top 10:

Continue reading Ten Reasons to Ignore the U.S. News Rankings

Harvard Won’t Stop Pushing ‘Community Values’

After pushing freshmen
to “pledge” to official Harvard values last
year, this year the college is training students that there is One Right
Ethical Way to Live Here at Harvard. 
“We did not have
[freshmen] sign pledges,” Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman told 
The
Harvard Crimson
 for a Sept. 7 article, “but we pushed
every bit as hard on how important it was to consider their growth on all
fronts.” Dingman described as having “potential for insensitivity”
situations, such as a wealthy roommate purchasing a large TV that other
roommates cannot afford to chip in for. 
So, Harvard College
thinks it must protect freshmen from the hurt feelings of having a wealthy
roommate. There’s a cruel world ahead, but at least Harvard can be their mom for four
more years.

Every academic
community lives by moral values. In the United States, these values often
include proscriptions against plagiarismfalsifying datacheating on exams, and revealing private information.
Harvard still has trouble with each of these values sometimes.

Although everything
should be up for debate at a university, academic morals are rarely (yet occasionally) up for debate
in the United States because few people argue that such practices are morally
acceptable. 
But many universities
go much farther and apply great pressure upon students to adopt specific
positions on much more controversial values. Even such oft-lauded ideals as
“tolerance” and “diversity” should be open to serious debate and not pushed as
official university values. 
Yet, the Crimson adds:
“Proctors [RAs] were provided with a list of goals for their
students, including honoring diversity, recognizing the value of honesty, and
being aware of unhealthy competition.”

Dingman still doesn’t
quite get it. Last year when Harvard pushed students to pledge to particular non-academic
moral values, such as the idea that kindness was “on a par” with intellectual
attainment, 
it was the opposite of respecting freedom of conscience. This year, it’s still
backwards. It’s antithetical to the values of a great university to tell freshmen on the first day that they don’t need to study moral reasoning since Harvard College already knows what is right and
will show the way to goodness. I
t’s backwards to
teach freshmen an official line on morality rather than to help them inquire about what is just. It’s 
also mistaken to put proctors in the position of teaching justice, moral reasoning,
sociology, cultural analysis, and the other subjects that students can learn
with much greater sophistication and open-ended investigation from world-class
teachers and researchers.

“Student life”
professionals might feel good that they are important than
professors because professors fail to teach and preach virtue. But
this desire to preach merely proves how far from the professoriate these
professionals are. Too many residence life folks think their job is to
inculcate specific virtues, but professors — the good ones, at least — present evidence in ways that permit students to think for themselves and draw
their own conclusions. That’s a far cry from the new policy of imposing
Harvard’s own values of “diversity” and “tolerance” on
students.

_________________________________________

Adam Kissel is a 1994
graduate of Harvard College.

Harvard’s Cheating Scandal

Yesterday Harvard
University announced its investigation of about 125 undergraduates who are
believed to have improperly collaborated on a take-home final examination last
spring. It is tempting to use this case to generalize about an Ivy League sense
of entitlement, declining student morals in general, or perhaps the failure of
Harvard and other universities to teach character and a sense of honor to its
students along with their academic subjects. For now, though, we should focus on
the specifics of this cheating incident, or at least what we know of them,
since many of the precise details of the scandal have yet to emerge:

1. The class in question,
“Introduction to Congress,” enrolled more than 250 students. If
Harvard’s suspicions are correct, this means that half the class thought they
could get away with violating a specific instruction in the exam itself:
“[S]tudents may not discuss the exam with others–this includes resident
tutors, writing centers, etc.” Most college cheating rings are relatively
small groups of trusted friends. Not this one.

2. The cheating appeared
to be careless and blatant. A graduate-student teaching fellow grading the
exams uncovered the alleged collaboration on noticing that several of them
contained the exact same words or strings of ideas in answering some of the
exam questions. The students allegedly involved didn’t bother to disguise what
they were doing very artfully (surprising for clever Harvardians)–because they
thought they could get away with it.

3. Many students didn’t
like the class very much. According to Harvard Crimson reporter Rebecca D.
Robbins
, Harvard’s “Q Guide” of student course evaluations gave “Introduction
to Congress” a score of 2.54 out of a possible 5. Robbins noted that the
average score for social-science courses at Harvard was 3.91. Some of the
student evaluators took the course to task for lack of organization and
difficult exam questions. One student wrote that she and about 15 other
students, most of whom had stayed up all night working on the exam, gathered at
a teaching fellow’s office for clarifications a few hours before the deadline because
they didn’t understand one question worth 20 percent of the grade. “On top
of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined
in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF
had to give us a definition to use for the question,” the student wrote.

None of this excuses in
the slightest what went on last spring. Students found to have collaborated on
that exam deserve not just to be suspended for a year–which is apparently
Harvard’s maximum punishment. However, there’s a lot here we just don’t know.

Two Commencement Talks That Got Attention

David McCullough and Fareed Zakaria.jpgThe Boston Globe recently reported that the journalist Fareed Zakaria delivered very similar if not identical addresses this commencement season at Harvard and at Duke. Zakaria was perfectly within his rights to imitate himself on the podiums of higher learning. He did nothing wrong. The article reporting his “sin” was intended, however opaquely, to rap him across the knuckles for lack of consideration that even if his speech was not unique for each occasion, his audience was. And there is the rub. In his defense, Zakaria noted that “These are students from two very similar institutions graduating within two weeks of each other. I don’t see how I could have come up with two completely different speeches without giving one group a second-rate talk. I’d rather come up with the same important message I think they need to hear.”

Continue reading Two Commencement Talks That Got Attention

How About a Helpful Armband for Elizabeth

The Boston Globe has a long article revealing in excruciating detail the extent of Harvard’s publicizing of Elizabeth Warren’s self-identified Cherokeness, as well as her lame claim that she was oblivious to the use and usefulness of her alleged ethnicity to her employer. The article reveals one delicious new item, namely that “[t]he administrator responsible for Harvard Law School’s faculty diversity statistics from 1996 to 2004, the period in question, was Alan Ray, currently president of Elmhust College in Illinois” and “a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who, like Warren, has fair skin, blue eyes, and Oklahoma roots” (apparently giving the lie to the old saw that it takes one to know one).

Continue reading How About a Helpful Armband for Elizabeth

For Just $195, the Elizabeth Warren Problem Is Solved!

Here’s the answer to the Elizabeth Warren problem: DNA testing. If you believe you are just 1/32nd or 1/64th minority, a simple test–costing just $195–could garner you that elusive admission to an elite college that you may not be qualified for at all. Several commercial products are on the market including Ancestry by DNA and Family Tree DNA. To be sure, Ancestry by DNA offers the disclaimer that it does not predict or establish one’s race, just estimations. You just take a swab from inside your cheek and mail it off; in a few weeks you know your family ancestry (for an overview of such testing, see the Times essay by Nicholas Wade).

Continue reading For Just $195, the Elizabeth Warren Problem Is Solved!

Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Elizabeth Warren.jpgSeemingly lily-white Elizabeth Warren’s supposed claim of Cherokee heritage may make for good campaign fodder–incumbent Senator Scott Brown has gone so far as to demand that Warren apologize for allowing Harvard to claim her as a minority–but the real lesson in this latest of partisan battles has more to do with university rather than electoral politics.

For those who have been living in a bubble, let’s rehash: On April 27th, the Boston Herald reported that Elizabeth Warren “was once touted by embattled Harvard Law School officials…as proof of their faculty’s diversity” in 1996; indeed, according to the Herald, Warren was considered the only minority woman on the Law School faculty at the time (a statistic of great interest, it seems, to those who count such things). Following the report, the Warren campaign has been on the defensive as opponent Brown, along with many members of the media, have been questioning (or simply making fun of) Warren’s seemingly cynical careerist use of her Native American heritage. Over the next few weeks, we will doubtless continue to hear details about Warren’s family, and about whether or not she used her lineage in a suspect way.

Continue reading Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

A Major Expansion of Online Courses

MIT and Harvard.jpgHarvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced yesterday that they will partner in a collaborative new higher-education venture, to be called EdX, that will offer a range of online courses to potentially tens of thousands of student worldwide, most of whom will not be enrolled at either Harvard or MIT. The EdX courses, funded with a $60 million joint contribution from the universities, scheduled to begin this fall and using a platform developed at MIT, will include “video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, online laboratories and immediate feedback,” according to a report in the Boston Herald. A nonprofit entity will oversee the operation of EdX and issue certificates of mastery to those who demonstrate that they have learned the course materials.

Continue reading A Major Expansion of Online Courses

Muslims, NYPD and Dubious Journalism Awards

The Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School has weighed in on the long Associated Press series of articles attacking the New York Police Department for its surveillance of Muslims. This series has won a Polk Award, a White House Correspondents Association award, a Pulitzer Prize and now $25,000 from the Shorenstein Center for excellence in investigative reporting. The series reported that the NYPD conducted surveillance of mosques, universities and Muslim groups, reaching into New Jersey (irritating Gov. Chris Christie), and onto the Yale campus (incensing the president of the university).

Continue reading Muslims, NYPD and Dubious Journalism Awards

Why Harvard Law Took Elizabeth Warren

One of the pitfalls of race-based affirmative action is that many disadvantaged people are less able to take advantage of it than the legal and economic elite.

Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, a well-paid academic, claimed Native American status based on supposedly being 1/32 Cherokee. But the “white” plaintiff who unsuccessfully challenged the University of Washington Law School’s affirmative action policy, Katuria Smith, had much more Native American ancestry than Warren — she was 1/8 Native American. (A federal appeals court upheld the University of Washington’s affirmative action policy, rejecting Smith’s class-action lawsuit, despite the fact that its law school admitted it used racial preferences in admissions to favor black, Hispanic, and Native American applicants, giving a very large preference to black and Native American applicants. I was one of Smith’s lawyers in that case.)

Continue reading Why Harvard Law Took Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren: A Native American Now and Then

From what has been revealed so far, it appears that Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and likely Democratic candidate against Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, gave herself status as a Native American in the past, which led Harvard and a leading legal directory to identify her as such, but recently she has claimed that she forgot all about it, never used her self-defined minority status to advance her career, and that her minority status was in fact irrelevant to her being hired by several law schools.

Continue reading Elizabeth Warren: A Native American Now and Then