Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898 |

Cambridge 02138

 
Business ethics, racism and health, the opposite of “if”

Summing Up Summers

The article on, and interview with, Lawrence Summers (Summers in Summary, September-October, page 56) should be required reading for members of the Harvard Corporation and Board of Overseers. The Summers-faculty debacle was a failure of governance across the board. Summerss call for a period of reflection on matters of governance should be heeded, and promptly. Harvards agenda is too important to be impeded further by another lapse of the sort we witnessed this past year.

Lansing Lamont 52
New York City

I miss Summers. The loss of his refreshing leadership exposes the administration as a patchwork quilt of varying fatal mixtures of stupidity and selfishness.

David Royce 56
Westport, Conn.

The Summers tragedy is similar to a huge plane crash with a single survivor, but some real good was done by him. He made it easier for students with limited means to be admitted to Harvard, to be more fully connected with University life while there, and to leave in less debt than burdened other students before his presidency. His actions have been widely, and beneficially, imitated by other private colleges. Unfortunately, the Summers plane crashed from so many causes that it is less than worthwhile to list them. Summers accomplished something that even the genius Einstein couldnthe got Princeton rated better than Harvard!

Harvard needs a strong president, but he or she should be a quiet diplomat. Summers no longer belongs at Harvard although he remains as a University Professor. If he lacks the comprehension of the need to separate from the University he so wounded, he must be removed one way or another, otherwise the cancer of dissension, discord, and subversion remains to cause even further harm.

Richard Cary Paull 63
Sumterville, Fla.

Your review makes it clear that the Corporation and Overseers will find it extremely difficult to identify a new president with the lucidity, courage, energy, and analytic ability of Summers.

One aspect of Harvard that rarely fails to emerge in its publications and announcements is hubris. There are, of course, grounds for a great deal of pride in the achievements of the faculty, students, and alumni, but there is also insufficient willingness to recognize Harvards weaknesses and the enormous challenges to be faced in a dramatically changing world. Summers recognized those weaknesses and proposed to find ways of overcoming them and of developing new structures, programs, institutional culture, and governance. He was likely too optimistic in imagining that the course of a World War II-era dreadnought could be rapidly altered or that entrenched traditions and interests could be flouted.

Harvard will survive this loss and go on to flourish. But we will never know what heights might have been achieved.

Philip A. Bromberg, M.D. 53
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Given the level of controversynay, strifethe man engendered, Id say your interview with the outgoing president was kind and gentle to a fault.

As an example, neither the magazine nor Summers made issue of his vocal, visible efforts to welcome ROTC programs and military job interviewers back onto campus, heedless of their unapologetic exclusion of gay and lesbian students in violation of the schools own nondiscrimination policy.

Summers was known for his skill at navigating the press in Washington before he got here, so both moves might be seen as, perhaps not unintentionally, destined for a much broader audience. They certainly threw some pretty high-status meat to right-wing critics of political correctness in higher education.

Thats over now; we have some time to breathe and a chance to move on. I, for one, hope the Corporation, well chastened, picks a successor whose demeanor and speech are more courtly, one whose actions are more irenic and, thereby, more productive of light than of heat.

Alan Weaver 69
Augusta, Me.

Harvard can change the world, says Summers. Well, maybe it can. And maybe it will. But Im not holding my breath. Harvard is not on the cutting edge of social change, to put it mildly, and never has been.

Elizabeth Block 65
Toronto, Canada

On page 63, Larry Summers puts his arm around the shoulders of his new wife, who looks warm and intelligent; may they have a long and happy marriage. On page 74 (A Woman in Science), a young woman tells us that she is afraid to let her superiors at a British university even know that she has a romantic relationship with a man who is an ocean away.

As long as young women meet this kind of outrageous discouragement about being in love, marrying, raising children, and being a first-rate scientist, every decent person should flinch. The young woman writes anonymously. Summers, trailing residue from his remarks about women in science, is on the cover. Its bloody unfair.

Anne Kaier, Ph.D. 74
Philadelphia

Teaching Business Ethics

I was delighted to read that Harvard Business School continues to lead the development of business ethics (An Education in Ethics, by John Rosenberg, September-October, page 42). In 1961, I took a course there with that ambition, taught by a wonderful professor, George Albert Smith Jr. The course relied on the case method, which worked so well elsewhere. Unfortunately, in that course it served primarily to reinforce a kind of native relativism, with the result that no one could be wrong, and discussions devolved into efforts to mount the most intuitively persuasive arguments. Whereas our other courses were focused by economic maximization standards, this one remained diffuse.

In the same year, Paul Tillich was lecturing at the Divinity School, and I had the honor of attending his course. He occasionally referred to what he called a Time Magazine worldview in which, for example, the business section is kept distinct from the religion section. Sadly, Smiths course inadvertently reinforced Tillichs conclusion. In 1968, Albert Carr, in a widely reprinted article in the Harvard Business Review, inadvertently supported Tillichs point by arguing that the best analogy for business ethics is to poker, complete with its inherent dissembling.

While I admire the case method, it does have some limitations. For example, the legal Meinhard case, with its emphasis on fiduciary relations, made some sense in 1902. But that was the dawn of the large public corporation, and the case is nearly irrelevant in the twenty-first century. Fiduciary obligations have become a bit like parietal obligations: from the perspective of individual ethics, we may admire those who adhere to them; from the perspective of institutional ethics, they seem to be quaint relics of an earlier era. The Feuerstein case further exemplifies all this because Malden Mills was a family company. One might, rather, ask students to read David Swensens new book, Unconventional Success, in which he shows from inside the investment industry that, in reality, corporate economic incentives trump fiduciary responsibilities, and the mendaciousness Carr highlighted is industry-wide.

Your article rather uncritically refers to management as a profession, in the context of law and medicine. However, management lacks a hallmark of a profession: a set of ethical standards both endorsed and enforced by professional peers. At this point, it is only by substantial equivocation that management is spoken of as a profession and business schools are included among professional schools.

An important next step in this developmental process is to establish appropriate professional ethical standards for management. Your account of the classes seems to indicate a confusion of personal and professional ethical principles. In a corporate setting, if there are no professional ethical standards, the economic maximization ones are likely to take over irrespective of personal values.

I hope the Harvard Business School faculty will continue its leadership by explicating professional ethical standards and leading managers to accept them. The standards themselves can provide lively discussions in class, and cases could be considered productively in the light of such standards.

Willard F. Enteman, M.B.A. 61
Providence, R.I.

Rosenberg writes of the ethics of decision-making that the need for informed action became more acute as greater use of technology and globalization of business raised more complex issues of law, divergent cultural norms, privacy, and other challenges.

Globalization creates a more important problem than that of divergent cultural norms (serious though that is). It means that the people who make decisions are shielded by great distances from those whom their decisions affect. Absentee landlord was already a bad phrase when the distance was merely that between England and Ireland. But those absentee landlords were likely to at least have had friends whose friends were among those affected. Not so the Shell executives and the Ogoni people of Nigeria. Of course, executives who make decisions at a distance have representatives on the scene. But representatives are naturally leery of telling their principals that the decisions they are making devastate the lives of third parties. I hope the course in Leadership and Corporate Accountability looks at this effect of distance, and how to counteract it.

Theres also an aspect of the Shell-Ogoni case (based on what is said in the article, which is all I know about it) that the class discussion, as described, seems to have missed. Shell wasnt merely doing business in a country with a bad human-rights record. Nigeria was persecuting the Ogoni protesters to protect Shells freedom to operate in a manner that led to frequent oil spills on Ogoni land. The protesters were apparently being hanged for Shells benefit (if not at their request). Surely, taking action against that should not be equated with improper meddling in politics.

George M. Bergman, Ph.D. 68
Orinda, Calif.

Speak Up, Please

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to Letters, Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, send comments by e-mail to yourturn[at]harvard [dot] edu, use our website, www.harvardmagazine.com, or fax us at 617-495-0324. Letters may be edited to fit the available space.

Rescuing Academics

Five years before the events described in Gerhard Sonnerts and Gerald Holtons article (The Grand Wake for Harvard Indifference, September-October, page 50), Harvard established itself as one of the leading universities in the effort to rescue scientists and other academics persecuted by the rise of Nazism.

Hitlers first victims were the intellectuals. Jewish, communist, and Catholic scholarsas well as any others who did not share the Nazi doctrinewere barred from teaching, persecuted, and threatened with imprisonment. Twelve of those endangered scholars were given safe harbor at Harvard through the Institute of International Educations (IIE) Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars. Those rescued included Nobel Prize winner Felix Bloch, whose research paved the way for todays MRI, climatologist Victor Conrad, paleontologist Tilly Edinger, historian Fritz Epstein, and medal-winning physicists and astronomers. The only university in the United States to take in more scholars was the New School in New York City. Yale took five and Columbia another eight.

More than 300 scholars were rescued by the IIEs emergency committee. Operating between 1933 and 1941, the committee was the brainchild of Edward R. Murrow, a student activist who would have known about Harvard student Robert Lanes leadership role in the American Student Union. Murrow, who served as president of the National Student Federation while in college, was IIEs assistant director in 1933.

Since its founding in 1919, the Institute has rescued more than 10,000 scholars and students endangered by wars, police states, and communist rule. From 1979 to 2002, the Institutes South Africa Education Program helped more than 1,700 black South Africans attend universities in the United States. The effort to identify the students and facilitate their admissions to American schools was led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, LL.D. 79. Derek Bok, now Harvards president, chaired the U.S. committee that sought places for these students.

In 2002, IIE donors and trustees made scholar rescue a permanent part of its activities and created a special endowment to provide a secure source of support for any scholar in urgent need. The Scholar Rescue Fund operates in partnership with universities around the world, which provide matching grants and stipends. This year, Harvard will host five rescued scholarsmore than any other university in the worldin the fields of human rights, law, government, and literature.

Allan E. Goodman, M.P.A. 68, Ph.D. 71
President and CEO, Institute of International Education

Henry G. Jarecki, M.D.
Chairman, Scholar Rescue Fund, IIE
Washington, D.C.

Hanging on to Integration

Nicholas Lemann describes the conclusions of William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub in their book, There Goes the Neighborhood, that only by excluding those unlike themselves have Chicago communities developed their social fabric (Neat Lawns, Nice Neighborhoods, September-October, page 26).

In contrast, several New York City neighborhoods are trying to hang on to their integration for dear life. The lower-and-middle-income subsidy program known as Mitchell-Lama, begun in 1955, created highly integrated communities covering hundreds of thousands of apartments clustered in different parts of the city. In the building where I live on the Upper West Side (Lemanns bailiwick), a survey showed that no one ethnic group dominates; instead, we are a mixture on every floor, and sometimes within apartments.

As landlords privatize these buildings one after the other and seek to develop luxury housing, they face resistance from those who, yes, like their neighborhood as it is, and fear the loss of integration inherent in gentrification.

Susan Susman, M.A.T. 76
New York City

Racisms Effects on Health

Madeline Drexlers The Peoples Epidemiologists (MarchApril, page 25) mixes a description of some traditional and scientifically noncontroversial public health measures (such as cleaning the home environment to reduce asthma symptoms) with a credulous look at some broad and contentious critiques of society, notably the claim of Nancy Krieger, professor at Harvard School of Public Health, that the stress of todays racism is directly causing much of blacks increased hypertension and other health problems.

While some critiques of Krieger were referenced, they have since, according to Drexler, fizzled out due to Kriegers massive foundation of empirical research and methods to support her vaulting theories and her scientifically validated research instrument. But the fact that Kriegers critics are not as interested as she is in perennially remaking the same points does not mean that they would concede the argument to her. Further, Kriegers questionnaire of racism was scientifically validated in terms of consistency (e.g., a subject, when retested a few weeks later, tended to report about the same amount of discrimination as he or she had reported previously), but her conclusion that racism directly causes disease has not been so validated.

Indeed, as Drexlers article only hinted (the findings were very complex and contained the hint that repressing the anger and humiliation of racial discrimination exacts a physical toll), Kriegers 1996 study of hypertension in young working-class adults could have been titled Discrimination Eases High Blood Pressuresince blacks who reported more incidents of racial discrimination (especially those who had challenged the racism) actually had somewhat lower blood pressure than those reporting no discrimination.

Krieger explains this negative correlation by arguing that those who reported no discrimination must have been mistaken or in denial about the racism she knows they must all have experienced, and were stressed due to their suppressed or internalized anger. This is certainly possible, but as Sally Satel pointed out in a 2001 interview, Such a possibility requires justification by independent evidence, because otherwise it is just an assumption invoked selectively to save the original hypothesis from the disconfirming data. The validity of Satels skepticism is shown in Kriegers more recent (2004) premature birth study. This showed the opposite result (i.e., more reported discrimination correlated with worsened health effect), and yet Krieger also declared that that study showed that racism caused the medical problem. Krieger also wrote in 2005 that reported discrimination correlates positively with psychological distress.

Krieger no doubt holds the worthy aim of helping the disempowered and sick minorities by convincing people to eliminate racism and other social ills. But stretching the facts to suggest that black people with heart disease may be sick because they were blind to, or didnt complain enough about, racism, not only smacks of blaming the victim, it is unlikely to improve race relations in this country.

David Pittelli 86, A.M. 87
Natick, Mass.

Nancy Krieger replies: David Pittellis ill-founded critique is scientifically illiterate. It both overlooks a fast-growing body of research on racial discrimination and health and blatantly misrepresents my work. Pittelli acts as if I am the only scientist to investigate empirically whether racism harms health (a review article just published in the International Journal of Epidemiology tallies up 138 studies on the topic). And he ignores burgeoning research on how best to measure exposure to racial discrimination (an entire book on this subject was published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2004). Just as revealing, Pittelli cites as his only countervailing authority the ideological pundit Sally Satel, who has never dared to present her opinions about my research in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

To set the record straight, the 1996 peer-reviewed study I conductedon self-reported experiences of racial discrimination and measured blood pressure was the first and still largest study on this topic in the scientific literature. It did not find, in Pittellis words, that discrimination eases high blood pressure. What the study actually reported was that among both working-class and professional African Americans, blood pressure was highest among participants who reported the greatest exposure to racial discrimination. This relationship was linear (dose-response) among the professional African Americans, and curvilinear among the working-class African Americans (who exhibited a J-shaped curve). It is a subject of ongoing investigation whether the greater likelihood of not reporting racial discrimination among less-educated compared to more-educated black Americans (a result found in some, but not all, studies) represents a valid finding reflecting the consequence of internalized racism, or an artifact of the instruments used to measure exposure to racial discrimination. In any case, Pittelli apparently cannot be bothered with the nuances of scientific research and the need to test, rather than simply expound, hypotheses.

Contrary to Pittellis assertion, psychometric validation involves much more than simply asking participants the same question twice. If the question is invalid, it doesnt matter if the two responses are the same. The peer-reviewed study I led accordingly evaluated the validity (and not simply reliability) of the Experiences of Discrimination instrument, testing it against other measures, using appropriate statistical techniques.

Finally, if Pittelli is discomfited by research on racism and health because, in his words, it is unlikely to improve race relations in this country, so be it. The point of scientific research is not to make people feel good it is to uncover causal relationships. If scientific studies reveal that racism is an important determinant of health, then that is what the evidence shows. How we as a society act on this evidence is another matter entirely.

The Opposite of If

The College Pump (September-October, page 92) cited a 1938 letter to the English department from a wing builder in a light-plane factory in Billings, Montana, who asked to be told the opposite of the word if, both to satisfy his curiosity and to silence his wife, who jeeringly claimed that if has no opposite. The English department having failed to respond, Harvard Magazines readers did.

Duncan Andrews, M.B.A. 71, of New York City, wrote: May I suggest that if implies uncertainty, indecision, and doubt, whereas when implies certainty, confi dence, and belief.

Logically, if means conditionally true. Perhaps the opposite of that would be a word meaning unconditionally true, i.e. when, wrote Paul Asimow 91, of South Pasadena, California. On the other hand, another equally good choice would be conditionally false, or if not. However, if a pleasing opposite is to be diametrically opposed from the original (in the sense that the opposite of southwest is neither northwest nor southeast but uniquely northeast) then we want a word meaning unconditionally false The opposite of if is never.

One of the opposites of if, a conditional state, would be is, an established state, offered Oliver Nichelson, M.Div. 73, of American Fork, Utah.

The question is easily answered if one thinks like a child, wrote Jacqueline White 73, M.B.A. 79, of Boston. The true answer, I have found as a parent, to the question Why? from a child is Because. And when what follows is Because what? the true answer is Just because. While these answers sound evasive, within them are the deepest truths, and as such they do ultimately end the line of inquiry. Thus, the opposite of if is that. (If you insist on why, its because if suggests uncertainty, and that is as definitive as a period.)

I assume that at least a thousand people have sent you e-mails telling you that the opposite of if is unless, wrote Bob Scher 56, of Mill Valley, California. Not quite that many, but several, giving unless a clear lead in the polls.

B if A is a way of saying that A implies B. B unless A means the opposite: A implies not B, wrote James S.P. Fadden 76, of Potomac, Maryland, driving home the point. As an example: I will come to dinner if you serve dumplings. The opposite of that is: I will come to dinner unless you serve dumplings. Q.E.D. Carl Bergmanson, of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, put the proposition this way: If you went to Harvard, you would know what the opposite of if is. Unless you went to Harvard, you would know what the opposite of if is.

Had the wing builders letter been directed to the Department of the Classics, an answer would have been forthcoming quickly, wrote Charles Witke, Ph.D. 60, of Ann Arbor, Michigan. In Latin, si is if, nisi is not if, or in English unless, and this is the opposite of if, logically and in language usage.

Robert Dulgarian 85 of Boston backs unless too, however dubious the relation of unless to if may seem logically. That this relation has at least a nugatory tradition appears in a series of three neo-Latin tags. An inscription in St. Pauls, London, traditionally ascribed to the son of its architect, Sir Christopher Wren, reads, Si monumentum requiris, circumspice: If you seek (Wrens) monument, look about you. The third edition of the Oxford Book of Quotations credits the nineteenth-century clergyman and wit Dean Inge with a neat reversal of the epitaph: speaking of the traffic around St. Pauls, Inge is said to have quipped, Nisi monumentum requiris, circumspice: Unless you are looking for (your) gravestone, best look about you. A more recent spark has observed that a return to the original quotation solves Inges transport problems by recourse to public transport: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice could be read, If you need to get to Monument, look for the Circle (Line).

On our Website

For coverage of breaking news at Harvard, the editors invite you to visit the magazines website, www.harvardmagazine.com. There you can also register for Editors Highlights, below, a summary of the contents of each new issue, e-mailed just as it is posted on the website.