The Far Side

When Harvard Jumps the Shark

September 08, 2017

Wearing his iconic leather jacket and a pair of water skis, sitcom hero Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli jumped over a shark in season five of the 1970s television series “Happy Days.” But while the Fonz’s half-nude fictional cronies cheered on the beach, his fans and critics fulminated on the other side of the TV screen. Such a preposterous stunt, they cried, was out of the show’s character! In its desperate, ultimately unsuccessful ploy to revamp ratings, “Happy Days” had forgotten itself.

Like the Fonz, Harvard is jumping the shark—not with plastic TV props, but with unrecognized social groups. The witty banter between closed-door deliberations and public backlash over exclusive social organizations, and the meme-laden laugh track cued when faculty members filed a second motion against the College’s recommendations to phase out such groups, certainly seem like typical plot elements of the Harvard College Sitcom. But in reality, they’re stunts. Like the shark in “Happy Days,” the debate over unrecognized social groups shows just how much Harvard has forgotten itself.

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