The hallway leading off of the Quincy JCR is a quiet one with muted white walls, a hushed brown carpet, and subdued maroon doors. Until you reach office #6—a door which, unlike its silent fellows, is covered with colorful photos, portraits, and bumper stickers which roar: “United for Peace, Divided in War,” “Hate is Not a Family Value” and “DARE to Speak Truth to Power.” Inside, surrounded on one side by a jam-packed floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, on the other side by certificates and articles that cover the stretch of wall above his desk, and on the third side by a window looking over a bustling Mount Auburn Street, Lecturer on History and Literature Timothy P. McCarthy ’93 doesn’t appear to hear the noise.
“I’m a voracious guy,” McCarthy says. He chuckles as he sits at his desk amidst the piles of books and various framed photographs that surround him. He adds, “I eat well and drink deeply as one of my friends once said; in food and drink and also in life. And I do. And it’s how I’ve always lived.”
McCarthy’s penchant for living a full life is evidenced by his myriad of activities; his academic schedule alone is daunting. In addition to his position as a lecturer in History and Literature, McCarthy is a member of the tutorial board for the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality, and an adjunct lecturer on Public Policy and faculty research affiliate at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School.
“Tim is, year in and year out, a dedicated and inspiring teacher who represents some of the best that Harvard has to offer,” says Andrew J. Romig, assistant director of studies for the History and Literature department.
In addition to these scholarly pursuits, McCarthy also throws himself into public service work. As the Academic Director of the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities, McCarthy travels twice a week to Dorchester, Mass. to run a college humanities course for low-income adults. He is also the founding director and leader of the yearly alternative spring break trip to the South that reconstructs black churches burnt down in racially motivated arsons.
He’s always looking to others to enrich his own life and to enrich the lives of others,” says Julia K. Lindpaintner ’09, who has participated in the trip for the past three years and has been a student leader for the trip for the past two years. “He takes real pride and puts a lot of energy into connecting with the people around him.”
McCarthy’s passion for public service and activism led him to lead and participate in rallies and protests throughout his years at Harvard. Most notably, his consistent criticism of the Bush administration post-9/11 earned him the number 32 spot on a “black list” published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni of 117 academics “short on patriotism.”
“And that’s when I became strong for the first time,” says McCarthy, recounting the hate mail and death threats he received after making unpopular statements. “When I felt like, you know what, I am right. And I don’t care if anyone else is with me right now.”
In his personal life, McCarthy has applied the same dedication and enthusiasm he brings to academia and advocacy. As a senior resident tutor and LGBT advisor in Quincy House where he lived as a student, he relishes his role as a part of the undergraduate experience. “I’m fully part of the rhythm of Harvard College,” said McCarthy. “And I’m not a particularly good dancer but I feel like if there’s a song that I dance to pretty well it’s that song,” he adds.
“He spreads himself really thin,” says Allston Burr Resident Dean of Quincy House, Judith F. Chapman. “There are so many times I see him in the dining hall and he’s been up all night writing…[in this respect] Tim, he still lives a lot like an undergrad does.”
Even though he is committed to so many activities, McCarthy takes time to reflect and find perspective. “At the end of the day, the thing that matters is how you’ve affected the lives of others and how you’ve allowed other people to affect you,” says McCarthy, as sun streamed through the window of his Quincy office. “If a measure of a life is the number and quantity of good relationships in it, then I’m as healthy as they come.”