Chopra Voices Concerns at Prayers

In brief comments at Morning Prayers on Friday, former Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 decried Harvard’s administration for being overly concerned with image.

Acknowledging that the day on which he spoke—Friday, Feb. 13—is traditionally associated with bad luck, Chopra stressed how fortunate students were to attend the nation’s premier college but at the same time cautioned that “market value” should not be the priority of the College’s administration.

Citing the recent completion of his tenure as an “official critic of Harvard College,” Chopra said he believes Harvard has gone too far in protecting its image over doing what is right, citing the “market value” of a Harvard diploma.

“How much should we let the marketplace dictate our decisions?” Chopra asked an audience of around 60 people in Appleton Chapel, referring to the University’s response to such events as the Progressive Student Labor Movement 2001 sit-in and the allegations of grade inflation.

He charged that one of Harvard’s methods of attempting to deal with this, has been the acquisition of more “communications directors, spokespersons, and other public relations experts” than ever before, describing the structure of the University as “Byzantine.”

Chopra said he believes that although the influx of these “professionals” could aid in helping the outside world understand Harvard, they may result in the University prioritizing “the market value of the Harvard diploma” over student needs.

“Leadership rarely succeeds and progress rarely proceeds when we do what is popular,” he said, citing Harvard’s attainment of “distinguished scholars” from other colleges, but their subsequent absence from the classroom,

He also pointed to the seemingly competing claims of Harvard’s astronomical endowment, but “grave financial difficulties.” Chopra said he believes that “too often” negatives such as these are wrapped “as a beautiful package” to students.

“Don’t eat moldy cheese—even when it’s on a silver platter,” Chopra said.

Kathleen E. McKee ’06, who attended Chopra’s speech, said she agreed with his remarks.

“I find myself becoming more and more dissatisfied” with Harvard, McKee said.

The Pforzheimer House sophomore said she was upset to learn, after receiving a flier earlier Friday, that the managers who invest Harvard’s endowment earn millions of dollars each year.

Harvard Management Company’s six highest-paid fund managers received more than a combined $100 million in salaries and bonuses last year, and a group of alums has protested that these earnings are unncessarily high.

Though McKee said she didn’t keep too close a watch on council politics, she said she believes that Chopra did a good job during his term.

“The College needs people like Rohit that will stand up to the administration,” McKee said.

—Staff writer Jeffrey C. Aguero can be reached at aguero@fas.harvard.edu.