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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

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Household energy efficiency, Deng Xiaoping, Darwinian drives

November-December 2011

Harvard, 375 Years Young

At first glance, a 375th anniversary may not seem, as you suggest, as momentous or splashy as a 400th or even a 350th (“Birthday Greetings,” September-October, page 5), but it does represent an even three-eighths of a millennium (the equivalent of three furlongs in a mile, six ounces in a pound, three pints in a gallon), and is altogether a marker not to be sneezed at.

Calvin F. Senning ’55
Cape Porpoise, Me.

 

The issue of Harvard Magazine dedicated to the upcoming 375th anniversary of the founding of the school surprised and dismayed me. In the reflections on Harvard’s recent past, present, and immediate future, there is hardly a mention of civic engagement: of the value of community service and social advocacy work in the undergraduate experience. I write as an alumnus who had the good fortune to be at Harvard at a time of intense political involvement, but also as a graduate whose volunteer experiences through programs at Phillips Brooks House still have impact and meaning. Perhaps the lack of attention to civic engagement represents simple oversight on the part of the editors. If my surmise is wrong, then a campus- (alumni)-wide dialogue is in order. 

Walter Licht ’67
Annenberg professor of history; faculty director, Civic House and the Penn Civic Scholars Program
University of Pennsylvania

 

Your fascinating article about “The Twenty-First-Century Student” (by Elizabeth Gudrais, page 52) had one disturbing feature: a striking graph showing the rise of undergraduate tuition, room, and board from $15, 430 in 1985-86 to $50,724 in 2010-11. Remarkably, the article did not mention, let alone address, the disturbing fact that college tuition has so far outstripped inflation in the past 25 years. Is there a legitimate explanation for this, other than that other colleges have been doing the same? 

Simon Frankel ’86 
San Francisco

 

To not include the Crimson’s 2004 undefeated football season—the first-ever 10 and 0 year—as part of “The Crimson Triumphant: 25 high moments in Harvard athletics, 1986-2011” (by John Bethell, page 56) is clearly a mistake—or hopefully simply an oversight.

Howie Berg 
 Stamford, Conn.

 

John Bethell replies: Harvard teams went 11-0 in 1890 and 1896, 12-0 in 1901, and had a 9-0 season in 2001 (which might well have been a 10-0 season if the first game hadn’t been canceled because of 9/11). But 2004 was indeed the first-ever 10-0 year. It was a great season, and I wish we could have included it. 

One difficulty in selecting 25 high moments was that football could easily have provided a dozen or more, and I was trying to squeeze in as many less-headline-making sports, like fencing, track, sailing, as I could.

 

Jonathan Shaw’s article on “Professorial Permutations” ignores one of the most significant problems of “education” at Harvard.

Harvard’s faculty-recruiting practices have for decades denied students the opportunity to work with mid-career faculty. These are the more senior nontenured, and the more junior tenured, professors doing great work at other schools, and sharing that work with their students as it is fresh and developing.

During my time as a graduate student, I can think of only one course taught by such a person. One of my primary advisers was my mother’s thesis adviser—while he was doing his best work at another Ivy League university 30 years earlier. Increased diversity is certainly a very good thing. In the name of diversity and other inwardly focused considerations, Harvard may accidentally recruit “prime of life” scholars. What a fortunate accident that would be.

Gregory Miller, A.M. ’76
Bethesda, Md.

 

Professorial Permutations” celebrates Harvard’s efforts to increase its diversity. If one is willing to use demographics as a proxy for diversity, the argument makes sense. However, it seems to me that the true measure of diversity would be gauged by the range of viewpoints and ideas held by the faculty. In fact, it seems that if diverse viewpoints and ideas are desired, the statistics point to a wrong direction. An increase in the percentage of tenured faculty, the resulting lower turnover; fewer new faces (probably an older demographic also); fewer faculty competing for fewer jobs (less competition and meritocracy); and the likelihood of increased conformity within a faculty ensconced in a tenured environment, seem likely to produce less diversity rather than more, regardless of the race, gender, and national origin. Interestingly, the inset box on page 50 seems to support this very fact: the faculty is, in fact, more liberal than ever—i.e. less diverse, not more. I agree with an attempt to be more diverse, but I wish Harvard was using a number of other measures to gauge its success and guide its actions.

Jeffery C. Pope, M.B.A. ’75
Atlanta

 

The reference to the story about the Harvard Quiz Bowl team (“The Students Speak,” page 55, a Web Extra linking to Undergraduate columns) brought to mind a vignette from the mid 1970s, when those of us on the Harvard Quiz Club played a match against a team from Norfolk State Penitentiary (founded, incidentally, by an alumnus). Their team was well-known, as its captain was a published poet and something of a celebrity, notwithstanding (or because of) a homicidal background. As we entered the raucous hall where inmates were gathered to watch the game, a tall, lanky prisoner with a deep scar across his face confided the following advice to us: “If we go down by more than 50 points, we start taking hostages.” It turned out to be one of the more satisfying 45-point wins in Harvard quiz history.

Robert Dupire-Nelson ’77
Honolulu 

 

On the occasion of Harvard’s 375th, I offer my own vision for the next 25 years (“Harvard at 400”), which includes both a continuation of the University’s proud tradition of excellence, and a call for change in the economics department. Harvard economists must cease and desist their public endorsement of Keynesian economics as a successful economic theory worthy of political support. If Lord Keynes’ own admission that his economic theory had proven less successful in practice than on paper is not proof enough, then surely the more recent failure of Obama’s centrally planned and debt-ridden disaster—falsely described as an “economic recovery”—should finally put to rest any doubts.

Ve-Ri-Tas means “truth.” As truth-seekers, not liberal public-relations executives, the economics department should teach Keynesian economics only as another historical example of the failure of central planning, alongside the more obvious examples of Stalinism, Nazism, monarchism, and theocracy.

Jonathan L. Gal ’89
Rockwall, Tex.

 

One of the pictures accompanying “The ‘Steel Factory’” in the September-October issue identified three of the four men in the foreground but failed to note that the smiling gentleman standing between President Carter and Vice Premier Deng was Harvard’s own Ji Chaozhu ’52. Ji served as translator not only for Deng, but as the third man on the tarmac, at the shoulder of Zhou Enlai, as the latter greeted President Nixon in 1972.

Ji’s memoir, The Man on Mao’s Right (yep, Mao too), was cited in the July-August 2008 issue of Harvard Magazine (page 19).

Michael Engber ’63
New York City

 

Editor’s note: Also unrecorded: in the photograph on page 39, showing President Neil L. Rudenstine in the Forbidden City, the figure to the far right is none other than Ezra Vogel, author of the biography of Deng reviewed at page 33.

 

In the 375th anniversary issue, I could find no credit given to the creator of the latest superb puzzle. Only after checking your website did I confirm that it was of course your own magnificent long-time puzzler, John de Cuevas. Much to my surprise, his recent bimonthly puzzles have been at harvardmag.com/topic/puzzles without ever appearing in the print version of the magazine. To my great regret, I have been suffering withdrawal symptoms unnecessarily ever since the previous puzzle appeared in print!

Peter G. Neumann ’54, Ph.D. ’61
Menlo Park. Calif.

 

Editor’s note: We thank Peter Neumann, and other puzzler-doers/correspondents, for revealing John de Cuevas’s role in constructing the anniversary puzzle (as he did for the 350th anniversary edition), and for calling attention to the online life of his clever creations. Having invited de Cuevas to craft this one, we were especially mortified, in working from his template to prepare the puzzle for publication, that we left out the note identifying him as the issue went to press. Our sincerest apologies.

 

Amplification: Due to an error in the information provided by sources, “The Twenty-First-Century Student” (September-October) contained incorrect data on the career choices of 2011 graduates. The percentages given applied only to graduates who planned to enter the workforce immediately after graduation, and who responded to the College’s senior survey.

 

Mary Berenson

Thank you for introducing Mary Berenson to a new generation of Harvard readers (Vita, July-August, page 30). However, how could you have excluded her lengthy residence at the Villa I Tatti, where she reigned supreme in her early efforts to promote Berenson’s scholarship? Bernard Berenson worked most of his life to earn sufficient income for Harvard to assume the villa’s care. (The University several times refused the bequest.) Now, this magnificent villa outside Florence hosts fellows in Renaissance studies, the most prestigious such program in the world. Without Mary Berenson’s financial and moral support in the first crucial years of renting, and later in the decision to the buy the villa, Harvard would not now have this resource. I hope you will consider running a follow-up soon, as this past June I Tatti celebrated 50 years of Harvard stewardship.

Nehama Jacobs Warner ’74
Pasadena, Calif.

 

Editor’s note: For recent coverage of Villa I Tatti, see “Masterpiece Pieces” (Treasure, November-December 2009, page 92), news of renovation of its library (Brevia, March-April 2010, page 53), and earlier articles on the I Tatti Renaissance Library series.

 

The Energy Future Now

Embracing the future, my wife and I decided to install solar panels on the roof of our three-bedroom house in West Los Angeles. Our successful self-experiment may be instructive to those with an interest in energy and energy policy (see “Time to Electrify,” July-August, page 36).

We were paying annually about $500 for 4,000 kilowatt hours (kWh), typical residential usage in California for a two-person household. But there was a lot of waste: for example, we left the two cable TV boxes on all the time. Since our son has graduated college and is on his own, we shut off the box in his room and, with no loss of comfort and a tiny effort—we still operate a large-screen TV, two laptops, and various appliances and gadgets—we’ve reduced our usage to about 2,700 kWh a year.

Thinking that we would want to operate an electric car, we chose a system that provides about 4,000 kWh/year. This required about 20 square meters of panels—about one-eighth of the total area of our roof. The contractor who installed the panel negotiated with the Los Angeles department of water and power which then directly paid him about $7,000 of the total cost of nearly $17,500. Because of the 30 percent federal income tax credit, our final out-of-pocket cost was slightly more than $7,000.

We are getting a return on our investment that is hedged against inflation and vastly superior to the interest we would get by putting the money in the bank. Installing the panels was a sensible financial diversification. Our house was built in 1928 and requires upkeep. The cost of the panels was about the average amount we spend per year on maintenance and upgrades.

We are of course happy to get the tax credit for the installation of panels. For comparison, the $1,000 a year I pay for a parking permit at UCLA is not subject to federal income tax. Consequently, I receive a tax subsidy of somewhat more than $300/year for parking. In 25 years, the expected lifetime of the panels, the extrapolated tax subsidy for my UCLA parking permit will be much larger than for my solar panels and, in fact, be comparable to the subsidy I received from the department of water and power.

My wife felt very strongly that the panels should not be visible from the street, and therefore they were probably not quite as tilted as required to fully optimize their production over the course of a year. Domestic tranquility was assured at the cost of a few hundred kWh/year.

When we replace our 17-year-old energy-gobbling refrigerator, we will be closer to using 2,000 kWh/year. But even now, our panels provide enough energy both for home and for our electric car; the end of gasoline and electricity bills for a lifetime. This home experiment suggests that transition to a sustainable, modern economy is within technical and financial reach. It is most pleasing to have an inexhaustible supply of energy from the sun.

Michael Jura, Ph.D. ’71
Professor, department of physics and astronomy, University of California, Los Angeles

Editor’s note: View the solar installation and a graph of Jura household energy use.

 

Colleges and Business Models

While “Colleges in Crisis (by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn, July-August, page 40) makes a good summary of some of the many challenges facing higher education today, the authors’ uncritical embrace of distance learning as a “disruptive” technology that contains the solution to the crisis seems off the mark. Perhaps because they have an excellent description of how iPods replaced Walkmans, every problem now looks like one that can (or even must) be solved by a new, disruptive, business model. But universities are not businesses—and the authors’ failure to accept this basic premise makes their account, while provocative, ultimately unfulfilling. Although they recognize that today’s universities serve multiple functions—research, teaching, and “preparation for life and careers”—the technologically focused solution they advance really only replaces the teaching and career development “value propositions” of the university, leaving research and “preparation for life” to fend for themselves.

Certainly, business has proved that it can force many of our institutions into market competition that will destroy all who do not tend first and foremost to the bottom line. But as recent economic events should have taught us all, the ability of markets to rapidly destroy things of value (homes, jobs, retirement plans, etc.) does not mean that markets can also effectively and efficiently create the nonmonetary values that all these things also possess (community, purpose, security, etc.). In universities, other methods than embracing market competition could be imagined for resolving the very real problems the authors try to address. For instance, the shrinking public support for American universities is more a current political trend than an unalterable reality.

Perhaps of greatest concern, the authors’ proposal that universities treat students increasingly as consumers of education in pursuit of career success is all too much of a piece with their failure to account for how the university’s role in developing individuals into well-rounded and public-spirited citizens can be sustained in the new business model. It’s highly unlikely that the fiercest competitors in an educational “marketplace” focusing hardest on short-term returns on investment will be able to replace the universities they may “disrupt” with an “innovation” that is truly better. Do we really need to see the outcome of such a contest and destroy the educational institutions we have today before we look to other sources to restore, sustain and renew the project of higher education?

Raphael Sperry ’95
San Francisco

Editor’s note: See "Bullish on Private Colleges" for two higher-education scholars’ views on these issues.

 

Israelis and Palestinians

Please allow me to question a likely misstatement in Dan Adams’s letter in the September-October issue. About the 1948 War of Independence he claims, “Fully 85 percent of the Palestinians living on the land that was to become the State of Israel were ruthlessly evicted from their homes, their farms, and their orchards by these [armed Jewish] groups and given a one-way ticket to nowhere.” This claim parrots the Arab narrative; in reality no independently verifiable sources exist to support this remarkably precise statistic from events over 60 years ago. In 1948, all of Israel was a war zone. Many Arab noncombatants understandably fled the fighting. 

What is incontrovertible is this. The Arab world rejected the UN’s 1947 plan to partition mandatory Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab nations. After Israel proclaimed its independence, all the neighboring Arab countries attacked it. Had the Arabs instead accepted Israel, there would have been no Arab refugees. Israel’s Proclamation of Independence stated, “in the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State.”

Commendable is Adams’s concluding statement: “[W]e can and should take a position that supports the rights of both peoples equally and unequivocally to create safe and secure homelands for their own people and to achieve full recognition and standing within the community of nations.” Israeli leaders now recognize the rights of the Palestinian Arabs to their own nation. It’s long past time for the Arabs similarly to overturn their mistake of 1948 and recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Benjamin Pollock, M.B.A. ’79
San Francisco

 

Contrary to Adams, I did not say that the Palestinian people don’t exist, which he likens to saying that New England doesn’t exist. Instead, I said (July-August, page 3) it was unclear that they existed as a people in Gandhi’s time. Certainly, Arabs lived in Mandatory Palestine. Does that make them “the Palestinian people”? Germans live(d) in Alsace and Serbs in Bosnia. Does that make them the Alsatian or Srpskan people?

Adams’s assertions that the Palestinians, who had lived there “for centuries,” were “ruthlessly evicted” by “Jewish paramilitary groups” from 95 percent of Israel are all false. Many “Palestinians” had migrated to the area around 1900. (A Palestinian acquaintance of mine has the surname “Halabi”; his family came from Halab, i.e., Aleppo.) Pre-war, about 45 percent of the land was “unassigned” (i.e., it belonged to nobody). And any “evictions” occurred during and in the context of a war started by the Palestinian Arabs, having rejected a state in less than all of Palestine, and continued when Israel’s Arab neighbors invaded with a stated goal of pushing all the Jews—some of whom had also lived in Israel, continuously, for centuries—into the sea. According to Benny Morris, most of these Arabs actually fled without prompting, many expecting to return with victorious Arab troops. Some were evicted by Jewish troops because their presence threatened Jewish lives. As for the rest, in a war, bad things happen to people who start it.

My belief that the Palestinians have neither an exclusive nor an equal right to the land of Israel does not make me a “racist.” 

Palestinian victimhood is attributable to their own rejection of a state in 1948. It is time they moved on.

Orrin Tilevitz ’75
Brooklyn

 

Rowing Coach Remembered

I was impressed with Harvard’s recent rowing successes as recounted in Harvard Magazine (“Dominant Flotilla,” July-August, page 67).

In describing Harvard’s competitors, you cited Steve Gladstone, his national reputation, and his present coaching for Yale. Though capturing his successes over many years, you failed to mention his coaching the very successful lightweights at Harvard, who went undefeated over four years and won four Eastern Sprints titles during his tenure. The 1971 crew is widely regarded as one of the best in many years.

Steve is a great coach and made major contributions to Harvard rowing. I was lucky to be one of the people who had the benefit of his coaching.

Frederic A. Eustis, III ’72
Westport Point, Mass.

Craig Lambert responds: Mr. Eustis is accurate in all respects. I knew of Steve Gladstone’s great work as a Harvard coach: the 1971 lightweight crew were nicknamed the “Super-crew” as no one could beat them; they were enshrined en masse in the Varsity Club Hall of Fame. The article didn’t dwell on his background, however, because it focused on current Harvard crews, not the Yale coach. 

 

The Veil and Violence

I can’t leave unchallenged Divinity School professor Leila Ahmed’s assertion that “the broad mainstream of the Islamist movement—according to all the experts—is overwhelmingly opposed to violence and committed to nonviolence” (“The Veil’s Revival,” September-October, page 17).

The 2011 Pew study of Muslim attitudes towards terrorism shows the following portions of Muslims saying “suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets” are “often or sometimes justified”: 68 percent in the Palestinian territories, 34 percent in Nigeria (a 2010 figure), 35 percent in Lebanon, 28 percent in Egypt, 10 percent in Indonesia, 13 percent in Jordan, 7 percent in Turkey, 5 percent in Pakistan.

If you do the math, that implies 118 million Muslims of 726 million in those countries “often or sometimes” support violence against civilians. If you add in those who “rarely” support it, the total number of supporters approaches 200 million. That is more than 25 percent of the population in these countries and is hardly what you could call a commitment to nonviolence.

Mark Casey, M.B.A. ’98
San Francisco

 

Deng Xiaoping, Dictator

Edward Steinfeld says Deng Xiaoping knew that “Everything the West had, China lacked: modern factories, state-of-the-art technology, gleaming infrastructure, and cutting-edge scientific expertise” (“The ‘Steel Factory,’” review of Ezra Vogel’s biography of Deng Xiaoping, September-October, page 33). As for Western “laws, rights, and freedoms,” dedicated communist Deng avoided them like the plague as mere “abstract institutions…[not]…the concrete manifestations of societal prosperity and strength.” 

But if Deng failed to understand the integral nexus between Western political openness and economic success, he knew that democracy would mean the end of the one-party dictatorship he strived to maintain. Steinfeld says, “Deng saw no viable path for China’s modernization other than that which led through the Communist Party.” More likely, the ends and means were reversed—he saw economic success as the only way to preserve communist rule after Mao’s debacles. But it was always a false choice. South Korea and—most uncomfortably for Beijing—Taiwan showed that ancient, authoritarian Confucian cultures can achieve both economic and political reform, sequentially if not simultaneously.

Dictators, left or right, always claim indispensability: only they know what is best for society and are uniquely situated to deliver it. Deng never intended, any more than today’s Chinese leaders do, to move to political reform even after modernization.

Yet, he had an unparalleled opportunity to accomplish both. His victories over resistant “party insiders” brought China’s population, hope-filled and resolute, to the side of sweeping reform. Instead, on June 4, 1989, he used his paramount power to direct the murderous attack on, and moral insult to, the earnestly peaceful Chinese people. 

Deng is praised for ridding China of Marxism and forgiven for retaining its Leninism. As he was building China’s economic—and military—power, he advised: “Hide your capabilities; bide your time.” China’s “triumphalists,” says his admirer Henry Kissinger, believe now is the time to use that power.

Joseph A. Bosco ’60, LL.B. ’65
China desk officer (2005-06), Defense Department
Washington, D.C.

 

Darwinian Drives

According to a survey of employees at multinational firms, Paul Lawrence’s theory of four independent, innate human drives (“From Human Nature to Human Resources,” September-October, page 14)—to acquire, defend, comprehend, and bond—explained “60 percent of employees’ variance on motivational indicators.” On the basis of my research, reported in The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), Lawrence leaves out four innate human drives that would explain more of the variance: for mastery, play, dignity (self-esteem), and meaning. Employees, and for that matter all of us, are motivated when we are respected and employ our skills for a meaningful purpose. The most creative scientists and artists describe their work as disciplined play. Like amateur athletes, they are motivated to play, even when they are not acquiring anything more than an enjoyable experience.

Michael Maccoby, ’54, Ph.D. ’60
Washington, D.C.

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