The Red Line
In July 1971, Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein penned an article for Atlantic Monthly titled “I.Q.” in which he endorsed the theories of UC Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, who had claimed that intelligence is almost entirely hereditary and varies by race. Herrnstein further argued that because intelligence was hereditary, social programs intended to establish a more egalitarian society were futile—he wrote that “social standing [is] based to some extent on inherited differences among people.”
Over the break, something really important happened at Harvard Library. It didn’t get covered in The Crimson, or even in the Gazette, but Harvard Library changed its admittance rules so that children under 16 can enter Widener’s stacks when accompanied by an adult with a Harvard ID. I want to tell the story of how this happened, because I think it illustrates something important about Harvard, institutional momentum, scholarship, and motherhood.
Mia You, a graduate student in English at the University of California at Berkeley, lives in Cambridge with her family, including her baby daughter. About a year ago, You walked into Widener Library to do research for a review of a new edition of “Little Women.” She planned to get a few books from the stacks—but was told, as she swiped her library card at the stack entrance, that she couldn’t enter: her baby daughter was strapped to her chest, and children under 16 are not allowed in the stacks.
Harvard College loves to brag that it provides all undergraduate students a liberal arts education. As a campus tour guide, I frequently tell prospective students interested in “business,” “pre-med,” and “communications” that at Harvard, they can pursue these interests in their summers and their extracurricular time—but in class, they will get the chance to study history, theory, ethics. In fact, our Economics department seems almost proud that so many students each year cross-register at MIT to take “Corporate Financial Accounting” for its relevance to investment banking: Not offering an accounting course somehow seems to prove our university’s commitment to the liberal arts. We will teach economic theory, not practical applications, in our classes.
Yet Harvard College may have to revisit its vision of itself as a “liberal arts college.” From the growing number of apparently pre-professional undergraduate classes to the expanding School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, our College does not seem to have a coherent idea of what exactly counts as a liberal art.
80 percent of students who voted in last week’s referenda voted “yes” on a questionasking whether Harvard University should advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. “Comprehensive immigration reform” refers to a federal plan to, among other things, provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented Americans—including the family members of the young adults who have already qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides a means for undocumented students and veterans to reside in the country and find jobs without fear.
This referendum made sense for all the reasons stated by its sponsor, Harvard College Act on a DREAM. They argued in the UC’s “pro” statement that Harvard previously supported the DREAM Act, which has now become part of a larger comprehensive immigration bill; that “hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the country” already advocate for comprehensive immigration reform; that “if immigration reform fails to pass this year, the 40 undocumented students currently at the college will be left with no legal avenue to adjust their immigration status.” Yet I still find it interesting that there was such a strong student consensus that Harvard should support comprehensive immigration reform—which might include spending money to lobby US Congress.