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The Harvard Mistake

The Harvard Mystique by Enrique Hank Lopez Macmillan, $10.00.

By Robert O. Boorstin

ENRIQUE LOPEZ, "Hank" to his friends, should never have come to Harvard. Lopez jokes about it. In his last year as an undergraduate at the University of Denver, he explains, a bigshot economics professor took him under his wing, doctored the young man's transcripts to make it look like Lopez had minored in economics, and sent him packing to Cambridge--as a graduate student in Economics. Lopez, who had never really taken any economic theory, went to classes here but, as he put it, "They might as well have been talking in Swahili." He made it through one year, however, and transferred into the Law School.

Thirty years later, Lopez is still in and around Cambridge. He moved out to Los Angeles for a while, to practice law in the Chicano community and appear as a television lawyer. But Harvard lured him back. Lopez describes himself as "a writer and a lecturer." Last year he offered a seminar at the Institute of Politics on "Chicano Political Development." Next year, Lopez says, he will be teaching a General Education course on the development of Hispanic communities in America. His past work includes My Brother Lyndon, a biography of the President written with Sam Houston Johnson, and Afro-6, a novel about urban street life of New York. Lopez is a jack of all trades--at least when it comes to writing. His next book is entitled Eros and Ethos: A Comparative Study of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant Sex Behavior.

The Harvard Mystique is one of those books that never should have been written. Lopez does not write well; when he gets in a pinch, he resorts to quoting other authors or citing reams of ridiculous data-- in four months of the New York Times, for example, Harvard was mentioned in connection with its graduates three times more than all other colleges combined. Essentially, the book is a 237-page collection of odd quotes, bizarre statistics, dull ancedotes, and drivel. The author strikes a particularly banal chord when he tries to add some organization to his endless list of alums. At one point, he tries to distinguish the difference between the proto-Harvard man--one whose ancestors also attended the school-- and the neo-Harvard man. From there, he somehow gets around to talking about the fact that Harvard produced such diverse individuals as Danial Ellsberg and McGeorge Bundy (Lopez naturally doesn't tell you that Bundy never received a degree from Harvard.)

The Ellsberg-Bundy incident presents a classic distinction between the proto- and neo-Harvard man. And one can also draw a distinction between what we call 'tandem grads' (those who got a degree from Harvard College and also from one of the University's graduate schools) and 'solo grads,' who get only one degree from either the college or one of the graduate schools. Obviously, a 'tandem grad' would seem to be at the top of the totem pole, particularly if he is also a proto-Harvard man.

All this, the author concludes, adds up to the Harvard mystique.

Lopez got the idea for the book, he says, when he was watching the Watergate hearings on television. Every time one of the commentators talked about a graduate of Harvard Law, he recalls, Harvard was mentioned. This didn't happen with other colleges of course. Of such inspiration, great Iterature is not made. "Would Henry Kissinger have been Secretary of State if he had been from Michigan State University instead of Harvard?" he asks. Unfortunately, Lopez can't seem to answer his own question. When you ask him to define mystique, he hesitates for a moment. Mystique, he says, is "an exaggeration of actuality. "But hold on a minute. If there wasn't any substance to the myth, Lopez adds, "the mystique wouldn't exist."

"Many people resent Harvard men, and sometimes their resentment veers toward hatred, which provokes harsh accusations: 'They're a bunch of damned snobs... They're always throwing their weight around... They're too clannish and exclusive.'"

Why wade through 200 pages to read things like this?

It is somewhat gratuitous to try and pick apart a book that falls apart of its own accord. Lopez is consistent only in his insulting and pretentious tone, strange for one so attached to mother Harvard. Beyond that, the chapters ramble without direction, and often fail to adequately cover their topics. The section on the undergraduate college, for example, is a messy heap of old famous grads, stories about buildings, and nasty quotations from anonymous sources who hate Harvard men.

To make matters worse, The Harvard Mystique is largely derivative. Lopez lifts stuff from every popular magazine article he can get his hands on. From Esquire, he steals whole descriptive passages about the atmosphere of the Harvard Business School. From The Crimson he steals sensational stuff that no respectable author would steal. Lopez rehashes recent controversies that have plagued Harvard in recent years-- the fight over genetic determination and I.Q., the University's connection with the Central Intelligence Agency, the fight over the relocation of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library. It's all been said before-- and much better.

LOPEZ is pathologically obsessed with Harvard. He tells stories about his uncanny ability to pick Harvard men out in a crowd. Like the time he got on a elevator in Iran next to a man in yellow button-down shirt and gray suit who was talking about Cambridge. Lopez says he knew immediately the man was from Harvard. "I think that any Harvard man that doesn't admit he's kind of proud to be a Harvard is kidding himself, he says. Lopez, who proudly proclaims himself the first Mexican-American graduate of the Law School, has got a bad case of the Harvard disease. People who are less taken in by the mystique," he says, "are those who've been here." But, of course, there are exceptions to this rule. And Hank Lopez just happens to be one who found a publisher.

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