Derek Bok's Harvard

Welcoming Remarks

FRESHMEN SAT IN horrified silence two Sundays ago as President Bok opened a week of orientation with a scathing condemnation of "myths" concerning Harvard. These so-called "myths"--the word is Bok's--are in fact fundamental truths of our one-day alma mater. In his rejection of them, Bok likely caused some trepidation among those concerned with Harvard's leadership.

The following were among Bok's claims:

One. Students can not count on Harvard's alumni network for high-paying jobs after graduation.

Bok maintained, more specifically, that a Harvard diploma is not a meal ticket. That claim is ridiculous. Why do 6000 students pay Harvard $15,000 a year--because we like the food? If the Harvard alumni network doesn't plan to get its ass in gear and find us some jobs, there'll be hell to pay.

Two. Taking time off is a worthwhile option that should be seriously considered.

Two years ago a group of students set fire to their dorm room. As punishment, they were required to withdraw for a year. So, Bok, if taking time off is such a great experience, how come it's a punishment? We feel that the truth behind Bok's statement is that, by encouraging students to take time off, a few more undergraduates might be squeezed into the closet space that passes for college housing.

Three. Undergraduates should not devote all their time to studies and leave extracurriculars to others.

Derek Bok doesn't do extracurrics, as those of us too harried to say the whole word call it. We, the editors of The Crimson, do. Believe us, extracurrics aren't pretty. The only reason we do them is because we didn't get to the Coop fast enough at the beginning of our first term freshman year, and all the textbooks were sold out. After that, academics were hopeless. So don't be a rube--get to the Coop early, and study hard.

Four. Freshmen should not spend all their time with Exeter classmates and football buddies.

The idea, one supposes, behind this outrageous claim is that Harvard is a fount of diversity and that one's college experience will be broadened if one is exposed to people of different backgrounds. While this may be true, undergraduates should keep in mind that Exeter classmates and football buddies have feelings, too, and to suddenly spend less than 100 percent of one's free time with them is liable to cause misunderstandings and hurt feelings. And imagine how embarassed one would be to come shamefacedly back into the fold after having caught a lethal venereal disease from a "friendly" stranger.

Five. Not all Harvard classes are huge and impersonal.

In fact, Bok's claim is, in this case, partly true. We know from experience that many core courses have fewer than 1000 people in them. And rumours have filtered through the grapevine that some classes, especially in subjects like Gaelic Window Dressing, and Musical Traditions of the Early Troglodytes, have so few students that professors are able to have personal relationships with several members of the class. We have never taken such courses, however, for several reasons. First, the classes are small for a reason: the topic is dull or obscure, for example. Second, in very small classes, it is difficult to catch up on lost sleep without being noticed.

Bok's speech to the freshman class has done its damage. Only time can heal the trauma of parents told that their huge yearly payments cannot buy meal tickets for their children. Only time will allay the confusion of new undergraduates who were told they should start hanging out with people who didn't go to Exeter. And, ultimately, only time can redeem the reputation of Derek Bok, a man who, for all appearances, seems to have forgotten over which university he presides.