Overseers' election, “flyover” states, Law School shield
I commend the excellent article “Harvard’s Eugenics Era” (by Adam Cohen, March-April, page 48). The “era” was not just at Harvard but really encompasses the United States generally and ought to be required reading for American history, lest we forget.
Alan Goldhammer, J.D. ’66
Adam Cohen’s article stimulated me to run a quick check on the Oregon State Board of Eugenics, which ordered more than 2,600 involuntary sterilizations from 1917 to 1981.
As a lowly intern rotating on the gynecology service at the University of Oregon Hospital in 1961, I was handed a formal court order to perform an involuntary sterilization on a woman. My strong protests were squelched by the administration. The buck stopped with me, the bottom of the staff totem pole, so I did the admitting history and physical. She was a healthy Anglo in her late teens, very much the girl-next-door. She spoke well but, according to the paperwork, had been declared feebleminded and promiscuous. She was living in some sort of a state institution and did not understand why she had been brought to the hospital. I explained as best I could, including what would happen in surgery and how she would feel post-op. Tears trickled down her cheeks and she said something like, “You are going to make me hurt,” but she did not object. Uneventful surgery and recovery. The episode is still a problem for me.
William van H. Mason ’51
It was a humbling experience to read about Harvard’s love affair with eugenics. But it reminded me that the eugenics movement of the recent past (or maybe not so recent, since I can still recall Professor Earnest Hooton’s lecture to my class some 70 years ago) is still around and thriving.
The details are different, though. For example, to my knowledge, no active or retired member of the Board of Overseers, teaching staff, or administration is publicly endorsing the view that Mexican migrants are rapists or that we should haul in the gangplank and prevent any of the billion or so Muslims from entering our country.
Earlier, it was “No Jews, Italians, Asians…,” with prominent Harvard figures leading the charge, armed with terrifying visions of “Irish Catholics marrying white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, Jews marrying Gentiles, and blacks marrying whites,” and predictions of physically and mentally defective persons polluting the gene pool unless rigorous programs of sterilization and immigration restrictions were instituted. What a sad commentary that Harvard’s prestige should have provided an aura of scientific truth to these shameful sentiments.
Yet how do such draconian techniques for dealing with “troublesome” folk compare with recent suggestions from the campaign trail that we should ban Muslims from entering our country and kill the families of people we believe to be terrorists?
The motivations haven’t changed: xenophobia—in this case, a fear of anyone who is different—and the absolute conviction that we can make America great again through harsh measures such as torture and suppression of protest, plus a return to the reassuring mantra that “The business of America is business.”
The saving grace today is that the academic community is not at the forefront of this latest campaign of hatred and fearmongering…yet.
John A. Broussard ’49
I was startled by the article on eugenics, which seemed to suggest that eugenics is a museum piece. When the nation has reached a peaceful and life-affirming solution to the immigration debate, and the abortion fight, and Chinese-style population control, as well as human cloning and genetic engineering, then we can use the past tense about eugenics. But please, not yet!
The article explores the forced sterilization case, Buck v. Bell, noting that the infamous decision was penned by a Harvard man. It would be a service to history to understand the resistance to the decision, because it hasn’t changed. The sole dissenter, Pierce Butler, was a Catholic. It was and remains standard to sneer that Butler opposed forced sterilization law because he was a Catholic with hang-ups about sex. Butler did not explain his dissent, so we can only speculate; but the Church at the time was fighting against the degraded anthropology of eugenics, found in immigration restrictions and contempt for the poor. For Butler’s church, the issue was not sex, but rather the overwhelming dignity of the individual child of God.
In 1986, my sister Kathie O’Keefe began studying the abortion industry in England. She found that almost all British abortion clinics were owned and operated by six families. Scrutinizing those families, she found that they were all members of the Eugenics Society. The eugenics movement did not disappear in the rubble of Berlin; you can’t understand abortion in Britain without understanding eugenics. The connections between abortion and eugenics in America are less obvious but equally significant: see Margaret Sanger and Major General Frederick Osborn’s “voluntary unconscious selection” (explained in my book, Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics).
Cohen’s article ends by raising the specter of eugenics via genetic engineering—“positive” eugenics, more from the fit. German “positive” eugenics included a Lebensborn program, encouraging blue-eyed blondes to copulate with the SS. But we are more familiar with the German “negative” eugenics program—less from the unfit, via death camps. I cannot understand why so many historians today are content to compare Germany’s negative eugenics to today’s positive eugenics.
German positive eugenics, or Lebensborns : modern positive eugenics, genetic engineering :: German negative eugenics, or death camps : modern negative eugenics, or population control.
In 1976, the Ford administration prepared a formal definition of national security interests, NSSM 200, describing the major threats to the United States: Soviet Communism in Europe, possible loss of naval bases in the Pacific, incipient Communism in Latin America—and population growth in Africa. Our deadly enemies were Commies and black babies. Negative eugenics—that is, population control, backed up by immigration restrictions—is alive and thriving, globally.
John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe ’72
I was at Harvard in the early 1970s as an undergraduate. I lived in Eliot House. One day a professor came to visit us in our dining room. He was well known for his work in the field of eugenics at Harvard. Professor Shockley was in line waiting for his meal and the students started hissing at him, incluidng me. Hissing was used as a sign of disapproval in the lecture hall by the students.
Harvard students were aware of the political/social events of the 1970s. Besides the war in Vietnam and apartheid in South Africa, we protested against the theory of one race being superior to another. Eugenics was on its way out by then as civil rights paved the way for a united America.
Dean Masouredis ’74
It was with much shock and awe that I digested [the eugenics] text. During my 1954-1958 attendance at the College, I was impressed with the liberal orientation of the faculty and students. As a resident of Georgia during that era and of Jewish orientation, I did not suspect any history of such bias, much less of eugenics at the University. That was an era of segregation in the South which my family and I did not approve. (Also, my father graduated Harvard in 1929 and never expressed any knowledge of that orientation.)
The article does mention the actions of other institutions which are ashamed of the acknowledgement of such conduct, such as Woodrow Wilson’s name at Princeton both as a president and with racial or ethnic bias. That raises concern about the names of Lowell and Eliot Houses. Such instances present difficult emotional and historical conflicts. Though all bias and prejudice cannot be erased from people and universities, I commend the magazine for publishing Cohen’s content. That is one act, “for the University community to spare a thought...” for that era.
The article, “Seeing through others’ eyes,” published in the Harvard Gazette on November 19, 2015, took me by surprise. That text, by Professor Jonathan L. Walton, identified the need to address the deterioration of diversity on the campus which suggests a regression into prior views. I considered a response to that publication but could not conceive of an appropriate observation. Is Professor Walton’s perception accurate or exaggerated? Is this merely another example of how history is repetitious? Or, is it an issue which requires focus and action? It appears the dynamics of both matters could be integrated with objective and realistic attention.
Stanley E. Harris Jr. ’58
I read, with considerable interest, the article by Adam Cohen. Unfortunately for me, that era of eugenics and racism had yet to completely disappear at Harvard, on the occasion that I was doing graduate studies in anthropology, in the year 1968.
My particular interest was in the evolution of human behavior, which led me to enroll in a high-level graduate seminar in evolutionary biology (Biology 248), taught by Professor Ernst Mayr. Participation in the seminar required me to write a thesis, and Professor Mayr selected a topic for me: to demonstrate that black Americans were breeding at a rate greater than white Americans (which he believed to be true). He went on to tell me that he considered the former to be less intelligent than the latter, and, therefore, this difference in reproductive rates between the races would lead to a lowering of the average intelligence of the American population. Finally, he found this circumstance to be very alarming, because he valued intelligence above all else.
I didn’t, at the time of this conversation, express my distaste for his ideas. Rather, I went back to his book, Animal Species and Evolution, and studied the last chapter, which deals with human evolution. In this chapter, he advances a Social Darwinist agenda, by, first, identifying genes for intelligence as being “desirable” and “valuable” (pp. 658-662). He then goes on to state: “Perhaps it is not unreasonable to assume that a person with a good record of achievement in certain areas of human endeavor has on the average a more desirable gene combination than a person whose achievements are less spectacular. In our present society, the superior person is punished by the government in numerous ways, by taxes and otherwise, which makes it difficult for him to raise a large family” (p. 661). He next argues for a return to laissez-faire economics—so that a superior (i.e., financially successful) person can raise a large family. He ends his presentation on the subject by supporting the “sperm bank proposal of Muller,” which advocates mass insemination with the sperm of great intellectuals.
Suffice it to say I did not write a thesis on the subject he assigned me. On the contrary, I took issue with everything he stood for. This, of course, was not well-received, and when I defended my thesis before the class, his pet graduate students tore into me. This incident was, for me, the beginning of a growing disillusionment with academia, which led, ultimately, to my dropping out of Harvard.
Steve Miller, A.M. ’70
Professor O.W. Holmes’s views on “noble physiognomy” and “aptitude for learning” described a provincial caste whose members had followed my own English Puritan lineal ancestors ashore in Salem, Massachusetts, the very year (1636) young Johnny Harvard mislaid his book bag.
After two uneventful centuries they were improved by one Fridolin Schmid (soon Fred Smith) of Baden before there was a Deutschland. As a peer colleague of Harvard’s Alex Agassiz, he also attained copper-mining wealth, including a mini-“Downton Abbey” of its day. His New England Puritan spouse became “Grossmama” to his “Grosspapa.”
Fast-forward to D.C. in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Since its founding in 1986, elected leaders of the British-American Business Association have born surnames including the following: Murphy, McInerney, Coughlin, McGrath, Sweeny, and Reilly. The newly elected president, installed by the British ambassador, is a Cooney.
A neighboring magazine article records Harvard Club of New York honors to multi-talented Jack Reardon: “Jack, you are our John Harvard.” It follows a cover story on Crimson football coach Murphy. Then there is admissions supremo Fitzsimmons.
President Eliot and Professor Holmes were ahead of their time. It took a generation or two, but Americans of Irish heritage lead the Harvard parade and many others.
Terry Murphy ’59, O.B.E.
…to Abortion and Animal Rights
Civilization has made progress by extending rights to those who were previously thought unworthy of them, and often by limiting the rights of their oppressors. The Thirteenth Amendment accorded citizenship to African Americans. Since then protections have been granted to the “feeble-minded,” the physically disabled (see “Harvard’s Eugenics Era”), to animals (see “Are Animals ‘Things’?” by Cara Feinberg, March-April, page 40), and even to inanimate objects. The Catholic Church did not wait for the Nazi Holocaust to condemn the eugenics movement; it was condemned in the 1930 papal encyclical, Casti Cannubii. Likewise the Church has taken the lead in condemning abortion. Perhaps someday the unborn child will have same right to live that chimps in the U.S. have.
Richard B. Johnson, M.P.H. 1985, M.D.
The answer to Steven Wise’s question, “Why should a human have fundamental rights?” does not seem to require tremendous nuance, since the entire concept of “fundamental rights” is a creation of specifically human cognition. The long struggle to define those rights and assert them in the world belongs entirely to humans. They are not a natural phenomenon but a function of our choices. In short, we have rights because we have articulated them, claimed them, and (at least sometimes) organized our society to make them real. That we have chosen to apply them to edge cases within our own species, per Wise’s example of the brainstem-only baby, makes them neither universalizable nor incoherent. Indeed, there have been societies that have taken a different view of human liberty in edge cases, so its scope when applied to people has clearly been open to debate.
But that doesn’t create any logical compulsion to transfer the concept of human rights to any nonhuman species that can’t itself articulate or assert them. That doesn’t rule out the ethical treatment of animals or preclude the idea they may possess some moral status. That’s a fair discussion, and there are compelling arguments for treating animals as something other than things. But confusing human rights with a concept of “animal rights” is just that—confusion.
William Swislow ’79
Editor’s note: Harvard Magazine received the following letter, addressed “Dear Friends and Fellow Alumni.” For the full slate of candidates for election to the Board of Overseers, see here. A news report about the election appears here, and includes links to extensive online reports about the issues.
We write to you as past Presidents of the Harvard Board of Overseers to urge that you participate in this year’s election for the Board of Overseers. This year’s election is particularly important to the future of Harvard because a slate of five alumni has petitioned to join this year’s ballot in support of an ill-advised platform that would elevate ideology over crucial academic interests of the University. Under the banner “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard,” these five alumni propose “the immediate elimination of all tuition for undergraduates,” including those whose families can afford to pay full tuition. They also suggest that Harvard’s admissions practices are “corrupt” and that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants.
The proposal to eliminate tuition for all undergraduates is misguided. Harvard’s financial aid program, among the most generous in the country, already ensures that Harvard is affordable for all students. Roughly 20 percent of Harvard undergraduates—those whose parents earn less than $65,000—already attend free of cost. Students from families earning between $65,000 and $150,000 receive a financial aid package designed to ensure that no family is asked to pay more than 10 percent of its income. And hundreds of students from families earning more than $150,000 receive financial aid. In total, more than 70 percent of undergraduates receive some form of aid.
Harvard’s focus on affordability also ensures that tuition from those who can afford to pay continues to provide a significant source of funding for Harvard’s extraordinary educational programs. It simply does not make sense to forgo this considerable sum in order to make tuition free for students whose families can afford to pay. Although the candidates propose that free tuition could be funded by Harvard’s endowment, that simplistic premise fails to recognize that the endowment must be maintained in perpetuity and that much of it consists of restricted gifts. Rather than eliminating tuition, Harvard should continue to ensure that the cost of attendance remains affordable, and we have full confidence that the administration is committed to this important goal.
The allegations of corruption and discrimination in admissions are wholly unfounded, and mirror allegations raised in a lawsuit filed against Harvard by activists who seek to dismantle Harvard’s longstanding program to ensure racial and ethnic diversity in undergraduate admissions. In reality, Harvard’s admissions process—which considers each applicant as a whole person—has long been a model for undergraduate admissions at universities around the country. The current admissions policies ensure that Harvard maintains a diverse student body with a range of talents and experiences that enriches the experience of all students on campus. President Faust has recently reaffirmed Harvard’s “commitment to a widely diverse student body,” and has stated that Harvard will pursue a “vigorous defense of [its] procedures and…the kind of educational experience they are intended to create.” We fully endorse her commitment to defending diversity.
Ballots for this year’s Overseers election were mailed April 1, and must be received by May 20. The Harvard Alumni Association has already proposed a slate of eight strong candidates for the Board of Overseers with a wide range of talents and expertise. We urge you to consider their candidacies carefully and to select the five candidates who you think will best serve the interests of Harvard in the years to come. The candidates running on the “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” slate, while accomplished individuals, are committed to a platform that would disserve the interests of the University about which we all care deeply.
Morgan Chu, J.D. ’76
Partner, Irell & Manella LLP (2014-15)
Leila Fawaz, Ph.D. ’79
Professor, The Fletcher School, Tufts (2011-12)
Frances Fergusson, Ph.D. ’73, BI ’75
President emerita, Vassar (2007-08)
Richard Meserve, J.D. ’75
President emeritus, Carnegie Institution for Science (2012-13)
David Oxtoby ’72
President, Pomona (2013-14)
Editor’s note: The years shown indicate each signer’s period of service as president of the Board of Overseers.
Harvard Magazine’s response to the Ron Unz challenge is threefold. First, most endowment funds are restricted; two, Harvard is already affordable; and three, Mr. Unz is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
I consider each of these below. In brief, may be, no way, and time to outsmart the guy. Harvard asks a lot of its students. It’s time the alumni ask of the University.
I. Most of the endowment income is restricted.
The article explains that “a decision to eliminate undergraduate tuition … would imply reducing FAS’s unrestricted core incomeby more than one-sixth… at a time when the FAS is operating at a budget deficit.” This summary pulls in two directions. On the one hand, a mere 16.67% of the unrestricted income is needed to make tuition free. On the other hand, the budget is already stretched thin.
Unfortunately, there is not enough information here from which to draw a conclusion about whether the problem is the Free Harvard proposal or the fact that FAS needs to rethink its budget. Unfortunately also, the Magazine considers the issue of tuition cost largely in the vacuum of what tuition revenue is worth to Harvard, minimizing it as a matter of “news coverage that would boost the College admissions office’s already extensive outreach to potential applicants.” The Magazine mostly ignores the role of Harvard as a standard-bearer in higher education. The fact is, the cost of higher education today is reprehensibly high across the board and continues to get even higher. This is not a problem limited to Harvard, it's a problem the plagues the nation coast to coast, and so far no one has come up with any good solutions. Should an institution like Harvard take the bold step of radically reversing this trend by, say, no longer charging tuition, it would indeed be a shot heard around the world, a rightful indictment of higher education excess, and a timely reminder of the unimaginable burden that student debt imposes on socioeconomic mobility. Harvard is a leader in the field of higher education and we should all query long and hard whether the relative pittance that it throws towards financial aid while on the whole being complicit in the trend of charging unbelievably high and ever increasing prices in the first place--is worth reconsidering.
The Magazine argues that “it is far from clear that financially strained public institutions welcome either heightened pressure to cut their own costs further or intensified competition from richer, endowed colleges and universities—which already offer aid packages that undercut in-state tuition, thus luring away the most qualified local applicants.” This also is a point worth considering in more than a sentence, and certainly not without the greater context of the ills of higher education vis-à-vis the American economy and society at large.
So on the whole, the jury is still out on point one.
II. Harvard is already affordable.
Harvard, like many other schools, is affordable to those who have little or no income. Harvard and every other school are likewise affordable to those who have millions of dollars in income and/or assets. On average, Harvard's average financial aid is indeed impressive.
Several important points however are obscured by this “averages” analysis. For one, even a relatively impressive financial aid package to an outrageously high price tag is a mere band-aid on a gashing wound. Moreover, when unpacked, this so-called impressive package still manages to leave out a lot of people in the cold.
"At higher income levels,” the article claims, “families pay between zero and 10 percent of their annual income for tuition, room, and board." This assertion is belied by the numbers. According to Harvard's online family contribution calculator, found here, https://college.harvard.edu/financial-aid/net-price-calculator, a two income family of four making a total of $250K a year is expected to contribute roughly $65K for a single child in college. That's actually about a quarter of their income--and that's income on a pre-tax basis. The after-tax take-home income of such a family after retirement contributions, healthcare premiums, and minimal insurance, is actually only about $145K. And according to Harvard's formula, 45% of that income is the expected family college cost contribution for one child. (While asking Harvard to cough up less than 17% of its unrestricted endowment income is unimaginable.)
What more, Harvard treats a family making $250K in income and having no assets (may be because the parents have spent a few decades paying off their own educational debt, dealing with a major illness, or caring for elderly parents), as expected to pay only a mere $2,700 less per year than a family making $250K in income and sitting on a cool two million in assets. So basically, two first generation college grads who are pharmacists or nurse practitioners are expected to contribute the same amount as two people who live off of their investments and may be have a day job. Query the reasonableness of this proposition, or the “affordability” claim that goes with it. And say what you will about Mr. Unz, but his point about Harvard basically robbing a pair of two hypothetical NYC school teachers by charging what it charges for them to send their kid to Harvard is a good one, and also a point that sadly, Harvard Magazine fails to take on.
45% of yearly income for one kid. In what universe is that reasonable? And more fundamentally, and setting aside the issue of financial aid, in what universe is the starting price tag defensible?
Sorry, but Mr. Unz wins this argument. It may well be that $250K a year is a lot of money, but it hits a demographic consisting of married people who probably went to college and graduate school to rise above their circumstances, who make their living as advanced care nurses, government lawyers, primary care physicians, small business managers, and teachers in certain states, and these are the people for whom Harvard is a categorical no go without considerable debt financing. It’s a small sector of American society on the whole, but I daresay it’s a sector that consists of some of the hardest working and most productive among us. It’s a generation of financial aid kids Harvard had just graduated a few decades ago, a generation whom these kinds of “need” formulas, in effect, divest.
III. Mr. Unz is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Is Mr. Unz trying to hack his way into the Board by peddling "Free Harvard" when in fact his true agenda is to destroy diversity? There is ample evidence to support this claim, and the agenda is not a good one for a great many reasons covered in the article and beyond. I don’t actually disagree with all of Mr. Unz’s thinking, but on this point, I could not agree with Harvard more.
So how do you stop him this election and the next? How do you stop him from trying the same ploy at the next Ivy League?
Embrace the sentiment behind Free Harvard. Quit hiding behind the “restricted endowment” and the big budget, and make a genuine commitment to reimagining how higher education is financed in this country. Quit hiding behind the “average aid” magic of numbers and run a down to earth cost analysis without gargantuan gaps. Commit to creating a new vision for the manner in which schools of Harvard’s caliber finance higher education, and recognize Harvard’s role in and responsibility to tackle the runaway train of exorbitantly-priced higher education across the board. This is not a Harvard problem. It’s a national crisis and ought to be acknowledged as such.
For heaven’s sake, Harvard, do something bold and original, something worthy of your name.
Oh, and while the Board is at it, consider also that using race as a criterion for admission is not the only way to maintain racial diversity of the kind Harvard desires to (and should) maintain. There are other ways, ways that strike at the heart of the legal challenges being waged against the University of late. Consider, for example, this.
Olga O’Donnell ’03
Sophia Nguyen’s exquisitely researched and thoughtfully written “Elbow Room” [on the Dark Room Collective of writers, the March-April cover story] was much appreciated.
Ken White, M.P.A. ’97
Sign us up. The current Harvard Magazine (January-February), finally convinces us, who were dead to pleas to contribute, that we were wrong. In addition to the fine main articles, this issue alone has four highly relevant articles: Jenny Gathright’s is superb, especially her conclusion that she “would rather be awake than blind” (The Undergraduate, page 35). That epitomizes the role of an excellent education, which a big majority of our country lack. Second, the article on the wonderful brass chandelier recalls, again painfully, that Trinity Church in the City of Boston took its down, in the 1930s, presumably (erroneously) because it was unsafe, a decision that still riles me, who was Trinity’s first archivist/historian (Treasure, on Sanders Theatre’s overhead brass, page 84). Third, my husband and I were at a reunion when the newly chosen dean Henry Rosovsky spoke to us about his ideas for the Core Curriculum (“Henry the Great,” page 30); we all were very impressed then, and we were right! Last, how wonderful that Harvard again has (probably with some dissension) welcomed Yosvany Terry, exploring the Afro-Cuban jazz scene (Harvard Portrait, page 25); the music department of The World’s Greatest University has come a long way from the days when it would not recognize performance as worthy of study.
Send us a bill.
Bettina A. Norton (Uxor, John M. ’56)
Bailey Trela’s “Kid from a Flyover State” (The Undergraduate, March-April, page 25) reminded me of one small moment during my years at Harvard.
I, too, was from a Flyover State: Minnesota. I, too, was proud of my Flyover State and annoyed by those who saw the country between the coasts as thousands of miles of big empty nothingness—as in Saul Steinberg’s famous “View of the World from Ninth Avenue” cover for The New Yorker.
One evening at dinner, in the Leverett House dining hall, a classmate from Westport, Connecticut, rejected my assertion that he and many of his fellow-Easterners were a provincial crowd, mostly ignorant of American geography. He invited me to put him to the test.
I was happy to do so. I said: “Which state is directly west of Minnesota?” (There are two correct answers, as some of you know: North Dakota and South Dakota. I was being generous, giving him two shots at getting it right.)
He sat there, silent. He did not know.
I told him I’d give him a clue: It wasn’t Idaho. I thought he might say: “Montana?”
He said: “Washington?”
Dan Kelly ’75
Much applause for Trela and his splendid essay. It is full of wistful insights and loaded with wise truths about those who grew up on one coast and know about the other, but view the country’s vast midsection as unexplored territory. We graduated together 60 years ago from Radcliffe and Harvard, and after 58 years of marriage still remember the phenomenon he describes, even more stark then than today. One of us, Ellen, grew up in Chicago, and had to tutor the other, Tom, raised in Boston, about the Midwest and its values. Years later, when Tom was president of Indiana University, we found New Harmony, Indiana, Trela’s beautiful home town and a former utopian community, a place of serenity and charm, one that periodically restored our engines and enabled us to reflect on our priorities. Trela’s classmates, and Harvard/Radcliffe alums alike, would do well to ask him to tell them about the Hoosier State, just as he suggests in his closing line.
Ellen Ehrlich ’56 and Tom Ehrlich ’56
A courageous redesign (“General Education, Downsized,” March-April, page 22) would have focused on streamlining an undergraduate curriculum that could be delivered in three years instead of four. Such a move would reduce tuition cost; leverage digital-delivery opportunities; and, most importantly, show leadership in an industry whose archaic infrastructure is crumbling.
Dr. Charles A. Morrissey, M.B.A. ’62
What a delightful surprise to see that Jack Reardon’s portrait turned out so well (“‘Our John Harvard,’” March-April, page 67). Jack was manager of the hockey team, of which I was a member, in the late ’50s, and he was actually a “presence” more than a manager. He was an integral part of the team, and we thought of him as nothing less, nothing more. Whatever he was supposed to do was done without anyone else thinking much about it. We were all too preoccupied to appreciate his contributions, but that is often the case of things being well done. Jack stood out by fitting in.
Dick Fischer ’59, J.D. ’63
House Master, Law School Shield
Harvard ditches the term “Master” as racist and misogynist (see “Debating Diversity,” March-April, page 17, and harvardmag.com/masters-16). The angst is new. (When my cousin Barbara Rosenkrantz ’44 became Harvard’s first female master, at Currier, in 1974, the worry was what to call her husband. “Just call me Paul,” he said.) Slavery was long a common trope among historians, economists, anthropologists, and English teachers.
Their annual meetings were “slave markets” for recruitment, “a frenzied and cruel spectacle,” recounted a Modern Language Association observer.
Graduate students in my lily-white history department in 1950 greeted newcomers with the query, “Who’s your white man?” Master and slave are unproblematic terms for automotive cylinders, electrical sockets, and computer appliances. To replace “master” with an anodyne moniker uncursed by connotations of power and servility fosters the delusion that academe is a color-blind, egalitarian oasis.
Squeamish ex-masters claim, “Our job is to not have any impediments to doing our job…to wrap our arms around 400-plus students and create a community for them. We don’t want barriers to that relationship.” This infantilizes Harvard. A university is not a nursery nor a shelter for people to feel comfortable in, with their sensibilities undisturbed. It is “a forum for the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox,” to cite the historian C. Vann Woodward.
Barriers are to be confronted, not eliminated. The masters’ (or resident tutors’) main job is mental stimulus. Rather than wishing away impediments, students should be challenged to master them. To do so they must engage with ideas and values of their own and other times and cultures they may find abhorrent, distressing, even offensive.
David Lowenthal ’44
I strongly oppose abandoning the Harvard Law School (HLS) shield. This is political correctness run amok. The shield has absolutely no connection to, or connotation of support for, slavery. Nor does it even contain a likeness of a member of the Royall family.
If we accept the reasoning that led to this recommendation, we would have to take George Washington, the founder of our country, off the $1 bill, and out of the flag of the State of Washington, as well as rename the capital of our nation.
The recommendation also smells of hypocrisy. If the Royall family really is deemed to be so repugnant that its crest must be expunged from HLS’s shield, how can Harvard hold on to the funds that are the proceeds of Isaac Royall Jr.’s donation to the school? Instead of funding the Royall professor of law position, HLS should track down all the descendants of Isaac Royall Jr. living today, and return the funds to them.
I hope the Harvard Corporation rejects the recommendation to change the shield, something that would make the school a laughingstock outside the rarefied air of politically correct academia.
Kaj Ahlburg, J.D. ’84
Port Angeles, Wash.
Editor’s note: The Corporation has agreed that the shield be abandoned.
Is there any principled way in which Harvard will be able to resist demands that the entire institution should be taken down because it was established by a group of fundamentalist Protestants who harbored what are by current politically correct “standards” sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, antipapist, anti-Islamic, you name your “progressive” cause of the day “ist” views? Isn’t all money tainted in some fashion? Is the law school going to start checking all donors for adherence to whatever feelings need to be accommodated before accepting their dollars and, more to the point, is Harvard going to return to the Royall heirs their ancestor’s disgusting donation?
I laud the faculty member whose portrait was defaced [Professor Annette Gordon-Reed] for having the courage to stand up to this wave of anti-intellectual bullying for reasons that make solid sense. There’s not much difference between removing this shield and the Communists’ photoshopping out of May Day parade pictures people who were purged by the dictatorships. You have to be able to face the whole of history and its legacy, not just the parts that aren’t “upsetting” or “controversial.” It’s particularly ironic that this gesture is being made at the Law School, where students are supposed to be trained to deal with thorny controversies professionally.
This is a profoundly embarrassing day to be a Harvard graduate—almost as embarrassing as the stupid “how to deal with controversial issues” placemats and dropping the name of House “Master”—by the way, what are you calling the degree between a bachelor’s and a Ph.D.?
Rosa Cumare, Ph.D. ’77
Observing from the relative sanity of the United Kingdom the way the administration has been handling protests about the title of “Master” and other matters, I would like to make a suggestion. Should not the Board of Overseers consider changing the name of the University itself? After all, John Harvard was a Puritan and as such would have been a misogynist (Puritans were very patriarchal), homophobic (homosexuality was considered an abomination), fundamentalist religious bigot (old school Congregationalists like Harvard very much didn’t like Episcopalians, Baptists, and Quakers, never mind anyone else). To be fair to him, he was unlikely to have been a slave-owner and would probably have got on well with the local indigenous people. Knowing some or all of that may distress some students. Nevertheless I doubt if the Board would take such a drastic step, as the change of the Harvard name to something more acceptable would affect fund-raising and not look at all good on job applications. Better to stick with a few gestures than do anything of significance.
Kenneth Brownell ’76
So Harvard Law School is purging its shield, because the shield honored a donor who came from family that had owned slaves, back before that hideous institution was ended by our Civil War. Why stop there? Why not really “clean house?” Is getting rid of the old Law School shield as a symbol of Isaac Royall’s slave-holding-related wealth really enough? Wouldn’t it be appropriate for HLS to clear its institutional conscience by renouncing everything connected to the Royall family, and to the sin of slavery?
Clearly, HLS should calculate the value of the original gift, compounded at, say, 3 per cent per annum, and adjusted for inflation. Then track down Mr. Royall’s descendants, and insist that they take this filthy lucre, even if they resist.
William O. Sumner ’54, J.D. ’59
Editor’s note: For the perspective of one Royall descendant, read Claire E. Parker’s article from the March 24 Harvard Crimson, “Royall Descendant Cautions Against Forgetting History.”
Recent issues have highlighted student and faculty preoccupation with slavery and Harvard’s connection through nomenclature and visual design with a practice that has been outlawed and not practiced by American citizens or other Western European countries for over 250 years. However, slavery, often using children as well as adults, is alive and thriving in many of the nations Harvard’s diverse student population identifies with.
I expect to read many articles in your magazine about student and faculty involvement with organizations and groups that oppose and seek to economically punish those nations and societies that refuse to follow the Western European practice of zero toleration of slavery and child exploitation. Sadly, immigrants have brought slavery back to the United States and Western European countries in the guise of household help, prostitution, and repayment of transportation “debts.” To combat worldwide slavery will require great energy and Harvard students have an excess of it, judging by their recent list of grievances about names, food, and shield design.
Kathleen H. Casey
I hope the Law School crest will stay the same. The proposed change is nothing more than a denial of history, tinged by hypocrisy. It will expunge the school’s link with a significant donation, a donation that it no doubt knowingly accepted from a slaveown-er whose slaves had contributed to the accretion of the donor’s wealth.
The erasure of the sheaves cannot change the facts, though bury them it might. Nothing about the sheaves supports or excuses Harvard’s association with slavery, our nation’s, nor our own. Shall we also strike Thomas Jefferson’s name from the Declaration of Independence and remove George Washington’s statue from the Boston Public Garden?
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: Nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.”
Arthur E. Strout, LL.B. ’60
Regarding the recent decision about the HLS shield, here’s an e-mail I sent to the committee that considered that issue, which you might find interesting:
Professor Mann, thanks very much for your thoughtful e-mail below, describing the concerns that have arisen in connection with the HLS shield, and thanks for your service to the HLS community in leading this effort.
Let me say at the outset that I have no agenda other than respect and affection for HLS, as well as respect and empathy for those members of our community who have expressed their concerns and their wish to see HLS change its shield for the reasons you cite below.
It is probably difficult to find in our country any public or private institution with deep historical roots that does not have some connection with people or practices in its past that were subsequently determined to be immoral or otherwise objectionable, and were therefore abandoned or superseded. And while I’m not an expert on the history of slavery, I believe that it was so pervasive in our economy—north and south—that virtually any institution that has survived that era in our history and prospered to the present day, very likely economically benefited therefrom.
So, while we might succeed in cleansing ourselves of outward reminders of that era, the intrinsic and underlying elements remain through the very survival and endurance of any public or private organization of longstanding. Harvard accepted the donor’s money, so whether or not the shield remains, HLS as an institution is a beneficiary of slavery. Therefore, attacking the “totems” and other reminders of that era may signal our continuing rejection of such practices, but the “bricks and mortar,” as it were, as well as the societal institutions that similarly benefited from and perhaps preserve the vestiges of inequality, remain.
This is all to suggest that, even as we may try to eliminate such reminders as the Confederate flag or an HLS emblem that are historical tokens of the era of slavery, such actions do not address the deeper and more difficult questions about whether more troubling vestiges of the era of slavery remain.
And, importantly, there is a real danger that, in simply erasing such visible reminders, we might then congratulate ourselves for accomplishing something (superficially) valuable and return to our daily concerns, ignoring the more difficult, longer-term and harder-to-measure work yet to be done, but which is required for us to become a stronger pluralistic society, and overcome the legacies of slavery and the century-plus following its abolition when non-slavery discrimination continued.
In other words, symbols like the HLS shield are no doubt powerful, but let’s not get “stuck in the thick of thin things.” By focusing on the HLS shield, we are “paying attention to the hole instead of the donut.”
So, here’s a radical idea:
1) If the historical facts confirm that the seal does in fact bear reminder of odious practices that are an extricable part of our shared history, make a declaration to that effect.
2) But instead of changing the seal, leave it unchanged, and declare it to be a reminder of the road still to be traveled in order to realize our goal of eliminating inequality in our society.
3) Create an annual event—a conference or symposium at HLS, perhaps—dedicated to humbly and unemotionally measuring any progress or backsliding, owning up to our imperfection and the progress that is still needed, and recommending concrete steps that can be taken to achieve the goal of eliminating inequality and the legacies of slavery.
4) Look forward to the day when the possibility of changing the shield will no longer be necessary, because it will have become a symbol of what we will have truly overcome, in substance and not just superficially.
Imagine if the southern states that were criticized for maintaining the Confederate flag had decided to keep it, but had declared it a symbol of their continuing imperfection, a reminder of the work still to be done and of their commitment not to forget either.
There’s a reason some of the Nazi concentration camps have been left intact: so that we may visit them and never forget.
Keep the shield, in all its imperfection, and let it remind us of our own and inspire us to overcome our past.
Thanks, Professor Mann, for reading my long diatribe. I get to campus often as I guest-teach regularly at HBS (I’ll be there February 25-26), so I hope that we have an opportunity to meet sometime.
Good luck with your committee’s work!
Howard Brod Brownstein, J.D.-M.B.A. ’75
While I support Dean Minow’s call to change the Harvard Law School seal and appreciate the careful deliberations of the Committee and the Corporation, we must not mistake memorialization for canonization.
Naming a building after a generous benefactor or erecting a monument to honor a Founding Father does not imply a stamp of approval to everything that those individuals said, did, or believed. Rather, these acknowledgments remind us that in spite of our complexities and disagreements, individuals live lives of purpose, meaning, and public service.
Indeed, ordinary as we are, each of us is capable of inspiring others, inventing new worlds, and breathing life into our Republic.
If we allow ourselves to be blinded by the flaws of our predecessors, rather than their successes; by their weaknesses instead of their strengths; by their biases instead of their hopes and dreams; then we risk losing the connection with the past which forms the foundation for the great movements of the future.
Andrew L. Kalloch ’06, J.D. ’09
New York City
Dear Dean Minow, Aren’t you and the Corporation forgetting something, Martha?
After getting rid of the shield bearing the coat of arms of Isaac Royall because it made some of the school’s present students “uncomfortable” about being at HLS due to the fact that Royall and his family were slave owners, won’t this group of people continue to be at least as uncomfortable due to the fact that the school continues to maintain the Isaac Royall professorship?
Getting rid of the shield without also getting rid of the professorship clearly doesn’t fully remedy the complaints. If the Royall coat of arms is so offensive because of its link to the Royall family’s ownership of slaves some 150 years before the shield was adopted, surely the group protesting the shield will now insist, for the same reasons, that the Royall professorship at HLS must be eliminated as well. And when you and the Corporation agree to their demands to do so, I’m sure you will also return to the living descendants of the Royall family, the principal amount and value of Isaac’s generous seminal bequest that was largely responsible for the establishment of the Law School and endowed the school’s first professorship—with interest compounded from the date of his death in 1791 to the present. How otherwise could these students possibly be comfortable at Harvard Law School knowing that their education was funded in material part by Isaac Royall’s ill-gotten gains?
I trust also that once that the Royall professorship has been eliminated and its endowment returned to the donor’s descendants, you will move on to appoint a committee to run background checks on all of the donors of contributions that funded other professorships, libraries, dormitories and other facilities at the Law School that, in honor of their contributions, bear their names, to be sure that none of the donated funds can be traced back through the donor’s genealogical tree to sources involving slavery, or for that matter any other activity that members of any student group say makes them “uncomfortable” being at HLS, however remote in time, and in relevance, to the donation.
Your actions regarding the school’s shield may make some of its present students more comfortable about their Harvard Law School matriculation, but it certainly doesn’t make this alumnus comfortable about his.
Jerome J. Cohen ’57 J.D. ’61
New Canaan, Conn.
And when will Harvard drop the age-old motto “Christo et Ecclesiae,” that obviously makes its Jewish population uncomfortable ? Or are Jews beyond feeling offended?
PC run amok ?
Norman R. Shapiro ’51, Ph.D. ’58
I think HLS, in particular, and the University, as a whole, have gone crazy.
Mary E. Kiley, RI ’95
West Roxbury, Mass.
So all those who approved the shield in the first place were racists and bigots?
F.X. Meaney, J.D. ’60
North Chatham, Mass.
Harvard, leading the way in trendy inanity.
M. F. Thomson, M.P.A. ’74
Changing to meet the current popular ideology does not change facts nor history. Get over it.
James M. Bayne, AMP ’71
Dropping the HLS shield is a terrible idea. It is a bit like the Taliban blowing up Buddhist monuments, ISIS destruction of the relics of ancient cultures, or Cromwell’s defacing of religious statuary in English chapels.
Rather than bulldozing the past, it seems more rational to learn from the past and to preserve such symbols as teaching points to condemn past excesses and to celebrate subsequent progress.
This sets a vary bad precedent. (Pardon if this is politically or legally incorrect. I am a medical doctor, not a lawyer).
James A. Nelson ’61, M.D. ’65
This truly bothers me. It trivializes a serious matter. What about the other benefactors and notables reflected in Harvard buildings that derived their fame or fortune in significant ways from slavery? What if North Church offends some Muslims? Isn’t the Charles River named after someone claiming a divine right to rule others? Should a Christian seminary be part of a college campus if it offends others’ religious views? Shall we remove art picturing slaves? Or ban Tom Sawyer? We also better rename the national capital to eliminate its tie to a slave owner. Where does Harvard stop this silliness?
Armin U. Kuder, LL.B. ’59
Dropping the shield is sheer stupidity. George Washington owned slaves, so should we rename our nation’s capital and our northwestern state? I am sure our Harvard nitwits would think so.
Bruce Maguire, J.D. ’61
East Lansing, Mich.
Couldn’t someone ask the Art School to design a new logo including the shield but symbolizing its story, perhaps the shield surrounded by a broken chain, or some such?
It would certainly be educational to those who might wonder at its story...
Peter Marcuse ’48
Wanted: Administrator in any department, including HLS, who believes that PC rewriting of history is not as important as the reality that things have changed during the last 200 years.
A reminder is due that slavery still exists in Africa and the Middle East and America moved past that quite a while ago. Judging by the Ivy graduates who are running for political office at this time, more comment on their deficiencies may be more appropriate than a hollow nod to a wrong long over. Get real, not political correct.
Donald Seifert, D.M.D. ’59
In my many years of wandering near the Harvard Law School I assumed that the sheaves of wheat that adorned its crest were, well, sheaves of wheat. In my innocence, I failed to recognize that they were the crest of the evil Royall family of Medford which had (probably uniquely?) made much of its fortune through the exploitation of African slaves on Caribbean plantations.
Now that we know, and after seemingly endless hours of debate, that the school is moving forward to doing The Right Thing; it’s throwing out the sheaves. Pure at last, thank God, we’re going to be pure at last.
Well, not quite yet. The crusaders, apparently, have been so busy at the Law School that they’ve failed to notice the magnificent portrait of the Royall family hanging around the corner in the Fogg. I suppose that has to go, also.
But to be consistent, Harvard should expurgate any reference to any individual or family that made money from exploiting slaves. Start with George Washington. But also go back to the Greeks and Romans. If this new policy is applied consistently, there will many empty museum walls, as well as empty academic chairs. As to giving back any endowment money that came through hands as dirty as the Royalls....
Indeed, if Harvard is to be a moral leader, it must move beyond the University to address the nation. The best place to begin is at the beginning. It is time remove the name of slaveholder George Washington, and to rename our nation’s capital.
Discussion of the deeds (often evil) of our predecessors can be a very enlightening exercise. But beware! Beware of the danger of retrospective morality—using the ethical standards of the present to judge the behavior of people of the past.
I hope that the Law School community is as busy addressing the injustices of our contemporary society.
Rev. Richard A. Kellaway, B.D. ’61
I was delighted to see the story of the magnificent chandelier in Sanders Theatre (“A Treasure Way Up High,” January-February, page 84) and applaud recent sustainability and energy saving efforts, bringing this historic treasure into the twenty-first century. As a Divinity School alumna, former freshman proctor, and director of education at the Memorial Church, I have many memories of performances under this beautiful chandelier! I now serve as one of the two clergy at Church of the Covenant on Newbury Street, where we, too, have been engaged with many sustainability efforts as a faith community deeply concerned with environmental justice. Church of the Covenant is home to another magnificent chandelier and thus, it was a particular delight to see the reference to our Tiffany chandelier in your recent article, another nineteenth-century jewel now lit with LEDs.
The Tiffany art glass chandelier, originally displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, became the centerpiece of a sanctuary completely redecorated by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company the following year. Two features take center stage: the huge chandelier at the crossing of the transept and the 42 stained glass windows. Art historian Virginia Raguin has described the program of windows as “one of the most impressive collections of glass in America,” and the National Park Service recently recognized the importance of the sanctuary by designating the Church a National Historic Landmark. I hope you have a chance to visit! The sanctuary is open for self-guided tours from mid April through mid December. Consider walking about with a brochure on the Tiffany art…or sitting in the beauty and peace of the space.
Rev. Julie M. Rogers, M.Div. ’12
You might want to check this with one of the college’s English professors, but I believe there is a grammatical error in Drew Faust’s recent “View from Mass Hall” (January-February, page 5). In paragraph two, she writes, “Today the School’s faculty lead and inspire students….” I believe that the word “faculty” is a collective noun and is therefore singular. Faculty members lead, whereas the faculty leads.
Paul I. Karofsky, OPM ’79, Ed.M. ’90
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Editor’s note: The president’s office forwarded this response from Johnstone Family professor of pyschology Steven Pinker, author of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century:
As a member of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, President Faust can be expected to choose her words with care, and there is nothing wrong with her sentence. You can look it up: Sense 2(a) of faculty in the Fifth Edition of the AHD indicates that the noun may be “used with a sing. or pl. verb.” Examples go back at least to 1843, when the Yale Literary Magazine observed that “the faculty were funny fellows.” Faust is not even the first in her position to use the noun in this way: In his 1968-69 President’s Report, Nathan Pusey wrote that “not all faculty even yet concur in this resolve.”
What we’re seeing here is a linguistic phenomenon called notional agreement, in which the grammatical number of a noun depends on whether the writer conceives of its referent as singular or plural rather than on whether it is grammatically marked as singular or plural. It’s common, for example, to read We know a couple who never argue or The committee disagree about the solution. Notional agreement is more common in British English; Americans do a double take when they read The government are listening at last, The Guardian are giving you the chance to win books, or Microsoft are considering the offer. At the same time, what could be more American than “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”?
John Braeman ’54, in his letter in the March-April issue (page 4), objects to the characterization of Judge Posner as a legal pragmatist. Braeman finds that designation “not only misleading but unfair to William James,” the best known of the original American pragmatists in philosophy. But I want to defend applying this label to Judge Posner. According to the article, Posner believes “that the Constitution and federal statues rarely dictate the outcome in a court case.” For Posner, the law is not a permanently established set of systems and ideas which can dictate, without reference to other, extra-legal and current considerations, how to rule in particular cases.
The article says that Posner’s legal pragmatism is “forward-looking, valuing continuity with” the laws set down in the past “only so far as such continuity can help us cope with the problems of the present and of the future.”
The article quotes some remarks on pragmatism by Harvard professor Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club, which is a study of the early history of pragmatism in Cambridge. According to Menand, as quoted in the article, pragmatism holds that laws, like other ideas—far from being sufficient unto themselves—have always been and will remain “entirely dependent, like germs, on their human carriers and the environment.” “Their survival depends not on their immunity but on their adaptability.” Instead of being enduring repositories of the truth, they “are tools—like forks and knives and microchips-that people devise to cope with in the world in which they find themselves.”
Unlike the late Justice Scalia, Posner is not an “originalist” who holds that cases can be mainly decided on the basis of laws already in being that are sufficient unto themselves. Posner’s understanding of laws as being “entirely dependent upon their human carriers” and the changing environment fits exactly William James’s understanding as set forth in his Pragmatism of 1909 (pages 591-2 in the Library of America selection of James’s works):
Common law judges sometimes talk about the law, and schoolmasters talk about the Latin tongue, in a way to make their hearers think they mean entities pre-existent to the decisions or to the words and syntax, determining them unequivocally and requiring them to obey. But the slightest exercise of reflection makes us see that, instead of being principles of this kind, both law and Latin are results. Distinctions between the lawful and the unlawful…have grown up incidentally among the interactions of men’s experiences in detail; and in no other way do distinctions between the true and the false in belief ever grow up. Truth grafts itself on previous truth, modifying it in the process…law on previous law. Given previous law and a novel case, and the judge will twist them into fresh law…All the while, however, we pretend that the eternal is unrolling, that the one previous justice…is simply fulgurating [resplendent] and not being made…
One may, of course, disagree with James’s argument against the history of the law as the “unrolling” of the “eternal.” Many have disagreed with James on this and other positions of his; but this passage is reasonably representative of his thinking on the subject of the law—and also of the truth—as being always subject to time, contingency, and changing human interests. James goes on to say that “Human motives shape all our questions, and human satisfactions shape all our answers, all our formulas have a human twist.”
Robert Ganz ’47
The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom
The contrast between President Faust’s column in the March-April issue [“Better Together,” page 3] and the booming Trump candidacy seems to me a striking demonstration of the difference between knowledge and wisdom. It demonstrates the validity of Asimov’s observation, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” As our political system begins to take on the form of 1930’s Germany, our scientific achievements astonish us. The truth of Edward Bernays’ observation, “The public’s first impulse is to follow a trusted leader rather than consider the facts for itself,” becomes obvious.
The low regard for morality, especially in academia and the financial system, is having foreseen consequences. From a long lifetime of collecting quotes I considered wise, I can demonstrate that this is not a new problem. Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations pointed out, “The wise and virtuous man is at all times willing that his own private interests should be sacrificed to the public interest of his own particular order of society--—that the interests of this order of society be sacrificed to the greater interest of the state. He should therefore be equally willing that all those inferior interests should be sacrificed to the greater interests of the universe, to the interests of that great society of all sensible and intelligent beings of which God himself is the immediate administrator and director.”
Recognizing the need for moral behavior, Albert Einstein pointed out, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Americans seem uniquely oblivious to this point, possibly due to the influence of Ayn Rand. The insight of Abraham Joshua Heschel that “Few are guilty but all are responsible” challenges our narcissism.
Those of us with comfortable lives find it easy to ignore Nelson Mandela’s point that “poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
We are the human beings with the power to vastly remediate the poverty of diverse types which is eating away at the body politic.
If we moderate our narcissism, and acquire the ability to understand the position of the lower middle class, we may avoid the disaster which seems to be looming.
Karl Hess, A.M. ’57, M.D., FAAP
Shaker Heights, Ohio
Congratulations to Adam Cohen and Harvard Magazine for a fine piece of historical investigative journalism on Harvard’s Eugenics Era in the March-April issue. As Cohen writes, “Harvard administrators, faculty members, and alumni were at the forefront of American eugenics…” Former Harvard presidents Eliot and Lowell championed the pseudo-science and lent their considerable reputations and energies to a movement that was later used to justify some of the most heinous atrocities in history. Cohen adds, “It is understandable that the University is not eager to recall its part in that tragically misguided intellectual movement—but it is a chapter too important to be forgotten.”
I wonder if Harvard is now living in another era that, with the perspective of a decade or two of hindsight, will also be looked upon as “tragically misguided.” I speak of Harvard’s role as a linchpin for the fossil-fuel industry’s reputation-laundering strategy, through its major funding of Harvard programs. One only needs to look at what unfettered corporate political contributions have done to our democratic process to see how Harvard’s credibility and moral standing are compromised by its dependence upon fossil-fuel funding.
The fossil-fuel industry knows very well that its millions of dollars “invested” in Harvard over many years are the key to preventing Harvard, and the hundreds of other universities that would follow Harvard’s lead, from divesting from fossil fuels. The lessons learned from what happened to South Africa’s apartheid system and to the tobacco industry’s reputation are not lost on the fossil-fuel industry. That is why spokesmen for the industry often quote President Faust whenever they need to beat back yet one more organization’s attempt to divest: see http://divestmentfacts.com.
If one of the goals of a liberal education is to teach critical independent thinking, perhaps it is time to face the uncomfortable truth that Harvard has been selling its credibility and its moral standing to the highest bidder. The elephant in the living room that Harvard doesn’t want to discuss is its key role in supporting an industry whose business model inevitably creates an existential threat to mankind and the earth, as we know it. That is a flagrant misuse of Harvard’s stature, mission, and values.
In the words of George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let us hope we soon learn from the past that elites don’t always know best.
George “Kim” Chaffee ’64
Glen Allen, Va.
I’ve been meaning to write about “Street Doctor,” by Debra Ruder (January-February, page 58), on Dr. Jim.
Joe Meuse worked for me for years when I ran an e-commerce company with a warehouse in Roxbury. Joe was wonderful with people and did a good job for us. He fell off the wagon one day and disappeared for over a year. We missed him and periodically heard sad stories about what he was going through.
He came back one day and we hired him again. He’s been sober since. I recently attended his five-year (I think) sober AA celebration. Dr. Jim was there, as were Louis, a staffer from Pine Street Inn, his family, and many friends.
Joe and I still stay in touch. He is doing wonderfully, has made friends throughout the Boston area at all levels of society, is a great raconteur, and lives a happy life. He has something to teach all of us. And I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Jim for keeping in touch with Joe, supporting him, and getting him healthy again. They, too, continue to stay in touch.
I’m delighted you found this little story and ran with it. Joe Meuse is the kind of guy who gives texture, interest and meaning to life in the city.
Barbara Thornton, M.B.A. ’95
The passing of great Harvard professors, which we typically learn about in the Obituaries section, often gives us pause. But it was more of a sigh than a pause, this morning, when I read of Walter Kaiser’s death last month.
What a teacher! What a writer! But as much as anything else, Kaiser looked like a Harvard professor of English. (Well, at least what I imagined such a creature to resemble.) When he took the stage at Sever Hall—and he took the stage—it was a command performance, every class. He had a florid face, his hair sort of wisped up at the sides in a slightly Satanic way…and he read Shakespeare like a dream.
I’ve followed him since then in The New York Review of Books. And now—no more. We should all raise a glass to Walter Kaiser and his wondrous capacity to enchant.
John Spritz ’77
School Choice Debate
But please, don’t kill the messenger! (See “Debating School Choice,” March-April, page 8.)
Christopher Avery and Parag Pathak’s assessment is interesting because it endorses economic assumption that home prices increase in direct relation with level of school performance in neighborhoods and corroborates that in today’s Knowledge and Talent Society all parents—regardless of income level and because of easy access to reliable information—know that good education is the best predictor of a better future for their children.
It confirms extensive research that school choice, based on consumer’s choice and “constructive competition,” is successful in improving performance even in subsidized education; one of the most reluctant “service industries” to meet “consumers’/parents’” need to choose to optimize life potential of their children (education with long-term focus, not only grades in a class or academic year).
But the limitation is that in spite of the authors’ highlighting quality, here quality (highest and lowest) is just a modifying adjective. The discussion in reality is on “school performance,” with traditional focus on scoring and rankings. And this approach is inconsistent with fundamental principles of twenty-first century Quality. Confusion between performance and Quality standards is the most significant barrier to improving education. The Quality Paradigm is unequivocally human centered and always inclusive. When these sine qua non conditions are unfulfilled then performance should be used (which can be low or high), but not quality. Quality is a systematic management approach leading to continuous improvement. Quality is not segmented, it applies to and articulates all sectors of the economy and society and nations worldwide. It is a global construct.
The problem then is not school choice, but misunderstanding Quality principles and practices, where freedom to choose and constructive competition are fundamental elements to meet ALL parents’ and ALL students’ needs. Otherwise we are talking about just another system of “information distribution,” but not legitimate education.
President CEO, Global Institute for Quality Education (GIQE)
Winter Park, Fla.
E.O. Wilson’s Effort to Save the Earth
Decrying Edward O. Wilson’s plea for half of Earth’s surface being gazetted as a permanent reserve to restrain accelerated biodiversity loss as unrealistically naive and impossible to implement pushes humanity closer to the brink of irrecoverable ecological disaster (Open Book, March-April, page 54). By setting territorial limits on mankind’s rapacious encroachment and invasion of the natural world, we should be applauding Wilson’s preternatural vision of a burgeoning humanity complying with pivot shift from self-absorbed destructiveness to being redeemed by the better nature of our angels. The belief that human life assumes primacy and a value far above the well-being of nonhuman life yet again places us at the centre of all life on the planet. As Wilson asserts, mankind is but one constituent of an integrated, finely balanced and continually evolving ecosystem that reverberates from, hopefully now for better than worse, our disporportionate influence.
Life-Lessons from Bill McCurdy / Ruminations of an Old Harvard Runner
Reading The Boys in the Boat, the current bestseller about the University of Washington’s crew winning the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, has set me thinking again about my cross-country experience with Bill McCurdy from 1958 to 1962. I was not a star on the team, as my older brother Dyke had been, but did achieve some success, finishing in the Harvard top five much of the time. To me, Bill’s coaching style seemed similar to that of Al Ulbrickson, the crew coach: long hours of practice, no exceptions, no excuses, in all kinds of weather—rain, wind, freezing temperatures, sleet, snow. Both were men of few words who nevertheless inspired excellence in their teams and loyalty that lasted far beyond college days. Had the coaches asked, the crew of the 1936 UW team, and the Harvard runners of my years ,would have run through fire for them.
Bill had been a U.S. Marine, and he taught each of his runners that while natural ability is important, effort is what makes the difference between winners and losers. He gave each of us goals to attain each season—such as “Reduce your mile time by 10 seconds, get 1 foot further in the broad jump, take 0.3 seconds off your 100-yard dash time,” and then made sure that each of us reached our new goal. I remember one day, after a grueling practice, he told us to go to the weight room, lift weights, and then do 100 pushups. He happened to take the exercise mat next to mine and proceeded to do his own 100 pushups. I was more than fatigued and I couldn’t go beyond 85. I was totally wiped out: I barely had control of my fatigued, sore arms. “Benjamin,” I heard, “how many did you do?” I responded that I just couldn’t do the entire 100. He objected, “Of course you can,” and somehow I did 15 more as he counted them out, aloud. He somehow made us achieve things that we didn’t think we could do. As a result, our team won meets that we weren’t favored to win. In fact, we won most of them. We won because we thought we had no other choice. We believed in ourselves.
In later years I have been reminded over and over again of Bill’s life lessons. As a practicing pediatrician, working long hours, often without sleep while caring for a desperately ill child, I would start to sag. I then would say to myself, “I ran cross-country for McCurdy.” That memory would get me to stand up straighter and carry on. When dealing with months of pain from back, shoulder, wrist surgeries, Bill’s words would often be in my ears, “Benjamin, run through the pain.”
Many years after my graduation, I had a chance to reunite with Bill. Our son Rob turned out to be a wonderful Harvard cross-country runner and became captain of his 1991 team. I attended as many of his meets as I could. I was surprised to see Bill, who had retired, at Rob’s first meet of the season and even more surprised to see him at the next meet I attended. When I asked him, “Do you come to all the Harvard cross-country meets?” He responded, “Only when there is a competitor named Benjamin running.”
I was speechless. And I do admit that now, at age 75, when retelling or even writing about this story, I get way too emotional. I am thankful that Rob got to know Bill. Rob later told me that he had shared with Bill how I often had quoted him to my three children. I hope Bill was pleased to know that, through the coaching of his runners, he had also taught their children.
John T. Benjamin ’62, M.D.
Denny Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics, Emeritus
UNC School of Medicine
The profile of hockey goalie Emerance Maschmeyer (“A Calming Presence,” March-April, page 26) inadvertently misspelled the name of her “roommate, best friend, and teammate,” Karly Heffernan. “Debating Diversity” (page 17) rendered William Barlow’s last name incorrectly. Our apologies.