Telling Tales of a University Not So Liberal

Trumpbour's Collection Challenges the Reputation of the 'Liberal Boutique'

Conspiracy theorists will love the new edition of How Harvard Rules. So will the University's ever-present crop of crusading campus activists--particularly those who contributed to the book.

But anyone seeking a truly hard-hitting analysis of Harvard's role in American society may find this collection of 26 essays somewhat disappointing. Intended to debunk the myth of Harvard as a "liberal" institution, How Harvard Rules seems content for the most part to reveal what is already common knowledge about the University's odious deeds.

How Harvard Rules

Edited by John Trumpbour

South End Press

$16.00; 452 pages

Contained in the book's 452 pages is exhaustive documention of almost every University scandal to be unearthed in the past 25 years: CIA funding of research at the Center for International Affairs; the attempted sale of University posts to a Texas couple in 1987; the denial of tenure to Chester Hartman because of his political leanings; and on and on.

The authors take a variety of pot shots at the conservative biases of many of the University's most cherished scholars. Richard Pipes, Adam B. Ulam, and Harvey C. Mansfield take much of the flak in the arena of politics and the social sciences, while scientists such as sociobiologist E.O. Wilson take their lumps in another section.

Also given extensive treatment in How Harvard Rules are the various ways in which racism and sexism are tolerated--and even institutionalized--by students and faculty alike.

All of this material is interesting, but hardly earth-shattering. Chances are that the majority of people interested enough in Harvard to buy the book will know most of it already.

How Harvard Rules deserves praise, however, for its attempt to trace the historical roots of the University's flaws. It does an admirable job of documenting Harvard's extensive connections with the Cold War military-industrial complex and detailing the transformation of the University from old-boy clubhouse to pseudo-corporate bureaucracy during the 18-year tenure of President Derek C. Bok. The authors deserve credit, if only for collecting into one volume all the information that tends to get lost in an institution whose memory rarely extends more than four years.

Sadly, however, the book does little to break new ground. The back cover promises to open a "new window" on the University's operations; instead, it treats readers to an extended view of the window that has been wide open at least since 1969.

As a brief statement of purpose in the front of the book explains, the original edition of the work contained "numerous documents" which student activists "liberated" from University Hall during their April, 1969 takeover. The new edition was obviously undertaken with a vastly different spirit. How Harvard Rules contains almost no new information. No secret documents. No juicy scandals.

The writing, for the most part, is uninspired. A harsher critic might say that it is just plain dull. Almost never does a sentence in How Harvard Rules cry out to be read.

And the text is sprinkled with periodic errors in grammar, which do little to increase the book's credibility. To pick an example more or less at random, Andrew Kopkind's essay on "Living with the Bomb: The World According to Bok" reads: "When Harvard University encounters nuclear weaponry, they do so as equals," Even if Harvard were a "they," the two halves of the sentence wouldn't agree. Sloppy proofing cannot help but suggest sloppy thinking.