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Break It Up, Kiddies

*At Faculty meetings these days, all the kids do is bicker.

By Stephen E. Frank

It seems you can't even leave the kids alone for five minutes. It's been, what, three weeks since President Neil L. Rudenstine began his leave of absence? Already the more puerile members of Harvard's faculty are at each other's throats. Witness their discussion this week of Rudenstine's proposed ROTC compromise.

True to form, Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield Jr. '53 set the high-minded tone for the session. Seeking to justify his title as "Harvard's Last Conservative," Mansfield lashed out at his colleagues. "You're a bunch of liberals, and you passed a nutty ultimatum on the Pentagon, and you received a humiliating rebuttal," he sputtered. "You think you're so smart. You think you're so moral. You think if your intelligence fails, your morality will save you."

It seems to me that Mansfield is struggling. It's been a while since he's said anything truly outlandish. Long past are the days of alleged links between affirmative action and grade inflation, or the charge that homosexuals undermine civilization, or even the epithet "little lady's sewing circle," that he bestowed on the Committee on Women's Studies a couple of years back. Granted, it would be unfair to expect the professor to be quite so provocative all the time (though his old friend Camille Paglia seems to be having a bit more luck). But calling the Harvard faculty "a bunch of liberals?" That's so mundane as to be pathetic.

Enter Ptebnja Professor of Ukranian Philosophy Michael Flier--apparently the son of a preacher man--who sought to shame the assembled masses into humble obeisance with a bit of fiery rhetoric. "I ask whether it would be the case that ROTC policy discriminated against Jews, would Harvard University continue to write the check?" Flier thundered indignantly. "I ask whether it would be the case that ROTC policy discriminated against African-Americans, would Harvard University continue to write the check?" he echoed his earlier thunder. "I ask whether it would be the case that ROTC policy discriminated against women, would Harvard University continue to write the check?" he echoed his earlier echo.

Amen, Brother Flier, amen.

Next came a brief interlude for a personal reflection by Aga Khan Professor of Iranian P. Oktor Skjaervo, who thought the Faculty meeting an appropriate setting for coming out of the closet. "In the four years I have been at Harvard, I would say a half dozen of my colleagues know I'm gay and have no problem with it," Skjaervo said. "They might not think it is such a big deal being gay. But gay people do have problems."

Fair enough. Point being?

At some point, a few more astute Faculty members realized the debate was a waste of time. "The Corporation is no doubt going to overrule us," interjected Professor of Sociology Theda Skocpol, ever the cynic. "It won't be the first time, and it won't be the last time." True, Still, why do I think Skocpol just thought the meeting was dragging on too long?

By now, it had been a while since Mansfield had heard himself speak, and he was itching to get back into the fray. When Professor of Yiddish Literature and of Comparative Literature Ruth R. Wisse implied that the University shouldn't be so self-righteous, he pounced. "You have no respect for Harvard," he hissed. "You don't consider it as anything bigger or grander than yourself, something to which you might be devoted."

Way to go with the personal attacks, Professor Mansfield! Step aside, Camille, I see a comeback.

Fortunately, the session ended before things could really get out of hand, and it was the babysitter's job to clean up the mess. Asked how the meeting went, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles--rushing for the door--paused for a split second to call it "helpful and productive."

Yeah, whatever.

Stephen E. Frank's column appears on alternate Fridays.

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