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Harvard to Go Virtual, So They Say

By Alex L. Pasternack, Crimson Staff Writer

Putting to rest concerns over how Harvard will face the information age, President Lawrence H. Summers has outlined bold plans to sell off the University’s entire campus and simply transmit classes over the internet, according to a report aired on National Public Radio affiliates nationwide.

“We intend to move education out over the internet and remove it from its physical presence on the campuses,” a man calling himself Professor Harrison Gresham told WNYC’s Alice Furlaud ’51.“Harvard Yard could easily be turned into condominiums. We’ve seen a great deal of interest on the part of many of the alumni in buying their old rooms so that they could be a pied-à-terre here in Cambridge when they want to come back and visit.”

A handful of alums—some skeptical, some outraged—wrote in to WNYC in protest after the segment aired last Friday.

When contacted yesterday for comment about the piece, University administrators wholeheartedly agreed with the irked alums that virtual Harvard is an awful thought.

“I think it’s a profoundly terrible idea,” said Alan J. Stone, vice president of Government and Community Affairs, “and hysterically funny in the context I’ve heard it.”

Furlaud said her seven-minute parody—which includes interviews with several Harvard “professors” with names like Roscoe Dullich—was inspired by Harvard’s recent yen for growth, and what she sees as a change in the University’s attitude.

“It seemed to me to be the way Harvard is going,” Furlaud chuckled from her Cape Cod home.

“I get the impression that it’s more interested in training you for a career. In my time, it wasn’t this huge expanding power with more money than anybody except the Catholic Church,” she said, referring to Harvard’s endowment, which has reached $19 billion.

Under the plan described in Furlaud’s piece, Harvard would put all class material and lectures on the internet and abandon all of its physical campus, except for the Medical and Dental schools.

The price of tuition would remain the same—minus room and board—but the books in Widener would be digitalized and auctioned off.

And according to a clip Furlaud ultimately left out of the broadcast, the current Business School campus would be transformed into a corporate training school for McDonald’s employees.

A woman going by the name Barbara Livingston-Shultz, another of Furlaud’s interviewees and “a professor in the women’s studies department” who wrote Female Orgasm in Prehistory, took personal offense to the plan.

“I will be invisible, I will be an anonymous nobody,” Shultz said of teaching virtual classes. “This is all part of a conspiracy to keep women out of sight.”

Jane-Anne McFall, a “sophomore” from Prairie Junction, Kansas, also objected to the idea, particularly because it would mean taking classes from home.

“The boys there are completely dull, you know, they definitely don’t go to college. But I am definitely the exception there,” she said. “It’s hard to relate to people there.”

Furlaud’s cheeky story has prompted some consternation since it aired on the NPR program “The Next Big Thing” on Friday.

Producer Curtis Fox reported that as of today he had received roughly eight e-mails from listeners concerned about the sham proposal.

The President of Harvard’s Alumni Association, Charles L. Brock J.D. ’67, AMP ’79, who lives in New York, had not heard the report because he was out in the “hinterlands.” But he said the idea of leasing a Harvard Yard condominium thrilled him.

“That would be fantastic since I’m there a couple times per month. But it would be selfish,” he said.

The man calling himself Professor Gresham said the plan is impeccable, a perfect “shot in the arm” to Harvard’s concept of education, “which seems to have stalled.”

“The Harvard brand as you know is very valuable,” he said. “It serves as a ticket to Wall Street, success in politics, positions of power, in a word. Having Harvard online gives us the opportunity to open our brand up, educate more people at a higher level, for the betterment of society. And Harvard.”

Alan Stone explained that such a plan would be difficult to implement at Harvard, where he says the philosophy of learning is “classically deeply residential.”

Dan Moriarty, assistant provost for University Information Systems, could not be reached for comment, nor could Summers, who was away at a Red Sox game.

It was not clear whether they or other University administrators had heard of Furlaud’s shenanigans.

Furlaud, who has been a radio reporter for decades, began her “Unreliable Narrator” feature while working for the BBC in Paris. The directors in London didn’t always get her humor, she said, but the reception has been much better in the U.S.

All of Furlaud’s interviewees are friends, who she said are often more convincing than actors.

Roscoe Dullich, an English professor who teaches “Chaucer, Henry James, and Einstein,” is actually Justin Kaplan, the editor of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, while Professor Gresham was played by a doctor who went to Yale.

—Staff writer Alex L. Pasternack can be reached at apastern@fas.harvard.edu.

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