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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters |

Cambridge 02138

Faculty diversity, general education, advanced standing

September-October 2018

The Faust Years

I read the article about Drew Faust’s tenure in the July-August issue (“Faust in Focus,” page 46).

Management consultants tell us to measure outputs, not inputs. But the article discussed fundraising, building programs, hiring, and the like—inputs all—with barely a mention of the results. If I read a similar article about Stanford, I would expect to see discussion of its role as an anchor of Silicon Valley, exactly how important an anchor it had been, and the positive and negative effects of that on Stanford’s academic mission. 

What would a parallel discussion of Harvard’s recent history look like?

William F. Pedersen ’65, LL.B. ’68
South Royalton, Vt.

A Diverse Faculty?

The July-August 2018 edition (News Briefs, page 35) mentioned the efforts relative to faculty “diversity,” the aim to be more inclusive in terms of race and gender. 

Until Harvard realizes its biggest issue is lack of real diversity, of opinion, such shallow efforts aimed to re-enforce racial and gender-identity politics are doomed to fail.

Critical thinking is the heart of a vibrant center of learning...That requires having a faculty of diverse opinions.

David W. Thompson, M.P.A. ’88
Easley, S.C.

Voting, Immigration

In the July-August issue, there is a silly error in the Moorfield Storey Vita (page 44). A “grandfather clause” was not a rule that men whose grandfathers did not vote before the Civil War (i.e., blacks) could not vote. Rather, it was a cynical loophole that men who could vote, or whose fathers or grandfathers could, before 1867 (i.e., whites), were exempt from an onerous requirement like a poll tax or literacy test that most individuals could not meet. Subtle difference and similar effect, but especially given the ubiquity of the term “grandfathering in,” I expect Harvard to get the details right.

The underlying premise of “Crimmigration” (page 24) is that a non-citizen’s commission of a crime should not enter into the decision of whether or not to deport. That is a plausible position for a seriously underpopulated and underdeveloped country, but not in the United States today. If there are going to be limitations on the aggregate numbers of immigrants, one can argue in favor of prioritizing personal considerations (escape from persecution, close family ties), economics (important skills), or even a diversity lottery, but no good argument can be advanced against the proposition that a sine qua non is for an immigrant of any kind to be a good citizen and not to commit serious crimes. It is fair to ask what is a serious crime for this purpose, but it is no answer to criminal activity that someone has been in the United States for a long time, other than to demonstrate infrequency of criminal activity. Nor can a charge of criminal activity be parried by repackaging length of stay as a novel asylum criterion (potential for being treated badly back in one’s home country for having lived in the United States).

Buried way in the back of the article is an objection to using “citizenship and immigration status [to allocate] resources based on where people are born.” Sorry, folks; one may advocate the abolition of countries and nationalities, but unless that happens, a country may decide that where and/or to whom one is born forms a core basis for citizenship and for the right to be in the country.

Robert Kantowitz, J.D. ’79
Lawrence, N.Y.

Editor’s note: We thank Mr. Kantowitz for explicating the “grandfather clause” and reminding us to vet wording more carefully when condensing text to fit limited space.

Gen Ed, Then and Now

I enjoyed your “Unfinished Business” essay (7 Ware Street, July-August, page 3), and pondered Dean Michael Smith’s statement that “Gen Ed courses ought to challenge students’ ‘ingrained’ ideas…broadening how ‘students think about things that they enter the class thinking that they know.’ ” Then I read (page 17) Latin Salutatorian Phoebe Lakin’s statement at Commencement: “Harvard University, as many of you have no doubt already observed, is not so different from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” Looks like Smith, if he gets his wish, has his work cut out for him!

General education courses established in the 1950s by President James Conant (taught by the likes of Paul Tillich and Harlow Shapley) were obviously based on a different conception of what constitutes “general education.” They had an impact on me such that I changed my major from biology to philosophy.

Mark Titus ’58
Washington, D.C.

Advanced Standing

I read with great interest the article on Harvard’s plans to overhaul Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate credits (“Advanced Standing Reduced,” May-June, page 24).

It is a pity that Harlan “Harpo” Hanson ’46, Ph.D. ’59, is not alive to comment. Sixty years ago, as director of Harvard’s Office of Advanced Standing, he worked with the academic departments to provide recognition and credit for AP courses—which he considered essential for students with unique academic qualifications and/or economic constraints. He went on to lead the College Board’s AP program for 25 years, during which time he was instrumental in establishing IB standards among universities from around the world. It would be interesting to have his perspective on the sanctity of Harvard’s “curated eight-semester experience.”

Oh well, Nihil perpetuum, pauca diuturna sunt; aliud alio modo fragile est, rerum exitus variantur, ceterum quicquid coepit et desinit [“Nothing is everlasting, few things are even long-lasting; one thing perishes in one way, another in another, though the manner of their passing varies, yet whatever has beginning has also an end,” Seneca the Younger, as translated by John W. Basore for the Loeb Classical Library].

John Hanson ’80
Cambridge

Editor’s note: Several elite private schools in the Washington, D.C., area announced in June that they would discontinue offering AP courses. Their reasons for doing so differ from the faculty’s determination that College work differs from that required in AP classes, but the ground is clearly shifting.

Clothing Maketh the Athlete

Harvard women’s gymsuits at the turn of the twentieth century may have been “liberating” (“Gymsuits, Pre-Spandex,” Treasure, July-August, page 84), but one wonders how today’s modern collegiate athletes could compete in those outfits. For example, the 2017-2018 Crimson Ivy League runner-up women’s tennis team would have been hard pressed to serve and volley in those bulky uniforms…plus, today’s apparel just looks a lot more attractive and comfortable!

Philip K. Curtis, J.D. ’71, M.B.A. ’74
Atlanta

Alma Mater Encore

In the July-August issue (The College Pump, page 76), it is reported that the last line in “Fair Harvard” has been changed from “Till the stock of the Puritans die” to “Till the stars in the firmament die.”

In no way am I from the stock of the Puritans and as a 60-year member of the American Civil Liberties Union I have fought for equality for all for a very long time.

The change is political correctness run riot.

This silly change, if it must happen, deserves an equally silly last line: “Till elephants learn how to fly.”

Charles L. Edson ’56, J.D. ’59
Chevy Chase, Md.

What Makes a Leader

Regarding Thomas M. Zubaty’s letter in the July-August issue (Cambridge 02138, page 2):

Mr. Zubaty reasonably questions the indefinite assertion that Trump administration policies threaten “the country’s best interests.” I disagree with most of his other claims and feel compelled to respond.

Lobbing a few missiles at Syria and exchanging phone numbers with North Korea’s dictator have accomplished nothing, regardless of Trump’s crowing. Mr. Trump has failed to define a coherent foreign policy. He has disparaged our friends, scuttled alliances, mocked our support for human rights, pointlessly abandoned agreements, disgraced his office, and relished attention for being noisy and disruptive. To believe otherwise is to enjoy the narrative and ignore reality.

That Mr. Zubaty can craft an intelligible, properly punctuated sentence puts him today, in America, in the educated “elite”—a group he disparages. Obviously, it is not a homogenous group. Being willfully uninformed—like Mr. Trump—does not qualify one for leadership. Promoting disinformation—which Mr. Trump does habitually—is not a tactic employed by those with noble purpose. Attacking intellectuals has been a tactic of Mao, the Khmer Rouge, Bolsheviks, Franco, Argentine and Chilean dictatorships, numerous other authoritarian regimes, and now, Trump populists. Those regimes shared an equally disturbing lust for exclusive power and disregard for truth.

John Christensen ’76
Austin

Agenda-Setting

As part of the “agenda-setting” (7 Ware Street, May-June, page 3) for a new presidency, Rosenberg weighs ways to expand the college’s teaching mission. Serving more “promising students from the lowest-income households and under-resourced K-12 schools” is an important goal, and de-emphasizing the legacy preference worth it. But forget the online option for undergraduates. Let the first-generation applicants (and others) who don’t gain a Harvard space find one at a different full-service college. As Rosenberg notes, Yale and Princeton are already working to accept more. There are many more colleges that are as well, and the key requirement for intellectual, social, civic blossoming is not Harvard, but a community that fosters that. I remember walking Cambridge streets with my new roommates the first week at Harvard. A fire truck passed, and we commented on the changing siren sounds, and how that was an example of the Doppler effect, and finally, how wonderful it was to be around people you could have such conversations with. I don’t think I’d have had the same sense of having found an academic home if I’d logged in for an explanation of wavelength and pitch with a “chat available” function. For many colleges, the on-line option is a thinly coated approach to get more money for less effort. It would be unseemly for a college as rich as Harvard to seek to shortchange students that way.  Even less prestigious universities offer honors colleges or dorms that bring together young people curious about their world and equipped to analyze it, as well as extracurriculars and service opportunities and in-person support. Colleges today (including Harvard) do need to work at providing greater safety and welcome to their students, but Harvard should not be offering a pared-down experience to those who would benefit from the fuller one. We are not the only game in town.

Christina Albers ’79
New Orleans

Experimental Subjects

I was particularly interested in “The Global Chemical Experiment” (July-August, page 39). I have written three books on this theme. In the latest of them, The Experimental Society, I analyze “several large, uncontrolled national experiments” like those concerning hazardous pollutants described in the article about Professor Sunderland. I refer to broad-scale experiments that have “cost hundreds of thousands, even millions, of lives,” including “the marketing of cigarettes and the sale of products containing asbestos.”

I point out that all of us are, daily, subjects of experiments that do not know of their role as subjects, and I note that “[t]he experimenters…often do not even think of themselves as testing, on their fellows, hypotheses involving risk.”

This is not to say that we must run and hide in corners, since to live in society is to be an experimental subject in many ways. It is simply to emphasize that we all should recognize that fact, and should encourage lawmakers to take it into account when they devise systems of safety regulation for potentially dangerous products and processes. 

Marshall S. Shapo, A.M. ’61, S.J.D. ’74
Vose professor of law
Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
Chicago

A Reader’s Assessment

My impression is that the letters section of Harvard Magazine has lately been presenting a higher proportion of right-wing views, aggressively expressed, than through previous decades.

I’ve been wondering why that would be.

It seems unlikely that it’s because a higher proportion of Harvard alumni have become Republican—not when the evidence shows that, nationwide, the highly educated have been flowing in the opposite direction.

Nor can I think of any reason why the editors would have chosen to change the balance and flavor of the letters section when the letters already were a place for rather good political discourse. If it ain’t broke…

Nor does it seem that it would be that conservatives are the side more motivated to proclaim their political beliefs when, in this age of Trump, it is the liberal side that has turned out in droves in the special elections and has more than once has put hundreds of thousands into the streets.

All of which leads me to entertain (if not necessarily believe) a plausible conspiracy theory—plausible in view of how single-minded (and often brilliant) the right-wing has shown itself lately to be in the pursuit of power.

Namely, I imagine that someone on the right got a good idea of how to use this forum of Harvard alumni to fight the political fight. By organizing some Harvard conservatives to deliver some well-executed blows—in the form of letters to the editors—against the liberals in this elite crowd of several hundred thousand Harvard degree-holders.

By that means, a forum that had been a comfort zone for those liberals might be turned into more of a battlefield.

Which—if it were true—would be an apt emblem for the political dynamic of our times.

Andy Schmookler ’67
Broadway, Va.

Erratum

The name of director of admissions Marlyn McGrath ’70, Ph.D. ’78, was rendered incorrectly in “Commencement Confetti” (July-August, page 19). Our error—and apologies.

 

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