The Business of Harvard


YOU WILL FLY in form Denver in a couple of weeks and the cab driver will ask you where you're going to school and overcharge you and the janitor in the basement of Matthews will look down a list of names and hand you a key. Your roommate may beat you to the single and your proctor may have very little of import to say but you'll have your very own piece of Harvard real estate and your own little corner of the Yard.

Freshman Week will pass by and you'll meet some people you'll never meet again but will nod at or whisper "hi" to as you walk down Linden St. You'll probably do something stupid--like ask somebody where a building is while you're standing in front of it--but it will all seem wondrously ordered. At opening ceremonies, President Bok will rise from his Harvard chair and give his welcome-to-Harvard speech in a voice that sounds like Zeus; he'll talk about the challenges you face but his message will be upbeat. President Horner will be somewhat less impressive, but her words will be much the same.

And after that first week in the Yard, as you stumble into classes on Monday and eat your first special from Elsie's and sample the Oreo cookie Ice Cream at Belgian Fudge, it will all seem very calm. As the wind blows through the Yard and your roommate plays James Taylor on the stereo and the men or women next door begin to share their secrets, it may even seem idyllic. For you will be part of Harvard--like 345 classes before you--and even if you don't fall in love the first week or have coffee with your professor, it will all seem pretty neat.

But it is not. It is not because when you join Harvard--when you accept the embossed invitation to become a member of the company of educated men and women--you're getting much more than a room, Union food and four classes. It is not because when you leave Harvard--$40,000 or more poorer and friends and what resembles an education richer--you will be different. No matter how hard you try, no matter if you have sworn not to let the Eastern establishment whales-on-their-ties and Brooks-Brothers-charge-cards-in their-pockets set get to you, they will. And the idea that Harvard is something very special--and that you are special for having gone here--will slither silently into your medulla oblongata and fester even as you listen to the last lecture in Ec 10.

AT A RARE meeting with students a couple years ago, Dean Rosovsky took his pipe from his mouth and answered a question. It was one of the usual queries he fields at such events--why, the student asked, don't we, the people that this place supposedly exists to serve have more a voice in deciding who gets tenure or what goes in the Core Curriculum? And Rosovsky put his pipe on the table and tapped it gently and then, in what has become an oft-quoted remark, declared: "Because you are here for four years, I am here for life and the University is here forever."


When you enter to grow in wisdom, you become an unwillful carrier of the magic, some would say disease, that is called Harvard. And Harvard is much more than the College, where 6400 students pick concentrations, eat in the dining halls and fall asleep in lectures. It is a place with a name that carries weight in Washington, a place where they are trying to recombine the essentials of human life, a place where people do things and people elsewhere listen. They listen carefully because more than a university, an academic factory or a business proposition--and Harvard is all those things--it is an institution.

THIS IS THE PLACE where they educated Puritans, where they are looking for cures for cancer and where faculty members defended their rights to hold any opinions they chose in the face of the McCarthys and the Nixons. They called it the "Kremlin on the Charles" back then and although nobody in the know would call it that today, it is still teaching and finding things that people do not want to learn about or find.

And that is the good side of Harvard, a place where men and women with great minds are free to train other men and women with potentially great minds. And when your professor in a class of 200 calls out your name and asks if you really understand what's going on, and you nod and mutter something inconsequential, you'll know why you stayed up the night before to write his paper.

But Harvard is also involved in the business of running a university. And universities, companies, factories and institutions are not always the idyllic sorts of places that their founders and care-takers want and wish them to be. And Harvard, no matter what they say, is no different from the rest. Although you may not hear it from your proctor--who will tell you that the University Health Services will give you contraception but won't tell you that what they hand out may harm your children some day--and you surely won't hear it from Mass Hall, that doesn't mean the problems don't exist.

They exist, both inside and outside what they call the University proper and they're there because, contrary to what President Bok has told us in a series of "Open Letters" he has written in the last two years, the University is not above the fray. Every day, people representing Harvard are planning to buy an apartment building and evict the tenants who've lived there for eight or ten years or investing in companies that will report 200 per cent profits in the third quarter.

And Harvard researchers are producing the knowledge that may someday be a noxious gas that will spread over the plains of Yemen and kill 25 or 30,000 people. And though you can't see them--they hide on Huntington Avenue at the Med School or behind the great rhinoceri that guard the Bio Labs--they are doing it. And we know they are because they did it in Vietnam, when they told the President that the war could be won and then suggested that he use napalm to do it. Two Harvard men, one of them who may teach you about democracy and one of whom wants to be Secretary of State again, did that.

BUT YOU DON'T have to go to the Mekong Delta to find signs of what Harvard isn't doing quite right because you can find them as close as the course catalogue or in Brookline. Walk down Dunster St. and take a look at the building at #77, the home of the Afro-American Studies Department. Born of what the dean later called an "academic Munich"--at a time when students sat in University Hall and demanded that ROTC be thrown off campus and didn't leave until the president called in the Cambridge police, who beat heads and spilled blood on the gray steps next door to the statue of John Harvard with the expression that never changes--the department is still having its troubles.

But those who major in Afro-Am are lucky compared to those who want to major in Women's Studies but will never get the chance. They won't get the chance because the Faculty doesn't think it's a proper academic field and, right or not, there aren't enough women Faculty members to support it if they wanted to. And the Afro-Am majors are lucky compared to those who want to go to Europe to study Florentine art. Everybody knows you can only really study Florentine art in Florence; not at Harvard, because the Faculty doesn't think that people elsewhere can do what they can do and they won't give you any credit.

And what about those Faculty members, who are everything you could dream of in some cases, but far from it in others? What about the ones who sexually harass their students, and are put on medical leaves because there isn't any way you can really discipline somebody with tenure--except to strip him of his job, and that, of course, would be admitting that Harvard failed. And they, of course, are the lucky ones because they are here for life and will not walk the plank like most of the junior faculty, who do most of the teaching here and then have their contracts run out.

THERE ARE MORE serious problems below the Faculty, among the mass of students that will fill your sections and then populate the professional schools. They did a report on race relations at Harvard last year and discovered, to the dean's and others' dismay, that one of every five students here does not respect the academic abilities of minority students they study next to. It wasn't as if minority students needed any more cause for anger; they wanted to build a Third World center, and, right or not, all they got was a committee.

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