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I’m General Apathy

And you are my POW

By Adam Goldenberg

Life at Harvard is pretty dreary. Between the cold, the slow Internet, and the demise of our underage booze kitty, I’m hard pressed to do more these days than lie in bed and imagine I’m surfing the web, drunk.

This, naturally, is all Harvard’s fault. And it’s got some alumni in a tizzy. In an open letter this week to University President Drew G. Faust, 13 (13!) members of the class of 1967 expressed their (moderate) disappointment at “the apparently docile political behavior of the undergraduate student body.”

The Cassandras of ’67 miss the mark. It’s not that Harvard is letting in the wrong people, or that “undergraduate life at the College today is not giving due encouragement to civic courage and political engagement,” as our ornery alumni suggest. Though they’ve asked Faust to charter a task force with a name so long and grammatically complex that it cannot possibly be anything but a good idea, no amount of administrative prodding will wake us up to the fact that, as they claim, “the US is engaged in an occupation abroad...while at the same time trampling on US citizens’ own constitutional rights.” At the moment, we don’t care. Not about this country, not about the world, not about anything.

We’re under occupation, folks. General Apathy and his henchman Major Tedium have a stranglehold on our campus.

Some of the blame for our activist thrombosis belongs to former University President Derek C. Bok, a man so loquaciously conciliatory that he could stall a thousand ships with a single monologue. Former University President Neil Rudenstine wasn’t much more exciting, but boy could he raise money. And then there was Larry.

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers was our last best hope of rescue from the doldrums of global supremacy, and his leadership seemed for a while to be the one thing that might taser Harvard back into the saddle.

Unfortunately, he was about as gentle as a steel wool thong. The scalding bikini wax that he injudiciously administered on the Harvard community did succeed in galvanizing a large constituency around a common cause, but since that cause was himself it was doomed to be rather short-lived.

Faust seems to be a very lovely person. I want very badly to sit with her and drink tea and talk about interesting things and bring her an apple after class and be her friend forever and, like, stuff. And that’s precisely the problem.

The Class of 1967’s open letter tongue-bathes our president as having “brought a breath of fresh air to the University.” She has, indeed. A breath of fresh, sickly sweet, cotton-candy scented air that’s beginning to turn the dourest place on earth into a lavender plantation. It’s a rainbow-riffic new era—who wants red brick when you can have gingerbread instead?

As one of her first acts as president this summer, Faust put on a barbeque in Harvard Yard and invited the entire University. In September, she glad-handed with undergraduates and pretended to enjoy herself at Camp Harvard. And last month, Faust gave us all a taste of that warm, fuzzy feeling that bludgeons ’67’s desired discontent, when she appointed a Task Force on the Arts to talk about all sorts of mushy-gushy feel-good nonsense, like creativity and performance and happiness.

If one intends to run a university that educates engaged student-citizens, making students feel good about themselves is no way to do it. Just look at the Class of 1967’s letter-writers; nothing would make that brash baker’s dozen happier than if we were all as pissed off as they are. The United States is occupying Iraq! Civilians are being killed! Iran is next! The NSA is listening! Our rights are being jeopardized! And you’re appointing a Task Force on the Arts?

One can’t blame them, really. They grew up when youthful idealism and tie-dye still existed outside of summer camp and church retreats. In the late sixties, Harvard students’ perpetual hunger for revolution made them scorn administrators on instinct; now we’re so perpetually hungry that we scorn hunger strikes on principle. Our University president showers us with kindness, theirs—Nathan M. Pusey ’28—opted for tear gas.

Under normal circumstances, most of us are too busy trying and failing to get either laid, hired, or both to notice or care about the rest of the world. We do seem to care about the occasional issue, as this week’s Undergraduate Council (UC) campaigns suggest, but rarely are we moved to picket, petition, or, god forbid, strike.

Our brief attention spans, bred by a lifetime of 30-second commercials and trigger-happy video games, doom the few causes that actually do get our blood boiling. Say “cable TV” and we’ll salivate long enough to elect you UC president; but don’t expect us to give a crap next week. We won’t. But this time at least, after the results are certified, we’ll be left with the Class of 1967, their long-incipient laugh-lines and bloodshot eyes staring us rather callously in the face.

But I’m no fool. I doubt even The Crimson’s proofreeders care enough to read this entire column.

For students, faculty, and administrators alike, Harvard is long years of jumping through some very expensive hoops. Most of us try to do it while getting in as little trouble as possible and, as the Class of 1967 recognizes, we tend to succeed.

On Monday, a University spokesman told The Crimson that President Faust had not read the Class of 1967’s letter. What a shocker.

Adam Goldenberg ’08 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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