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Spectacular, Spectacular!

We’re Harvard. Pay attention.

By Adam Goldenberg

For Harvard’s faculty, it’s that time of the month. The undergraduates are at it again—frantically browning their noses, that is—and no combination of office hours, extensions, and reference letters will shut them up. There’s a growing stack of graduate school applications to reject, and the wannabes that have already gotten through are hard-pressed to tie their own shoelaces, let alone grade exams, without professional help. The kids are back in school—thank God—but the damned hybrid doesn’t handle well in the snow.

And you expect us to go to a Faculty meeting? I think I’ll catch up on my journals, thank you very much, or maybe write an essay for The New Yorker. From Nassau.

The actual business of running Harvard is frustratingly tedious. The Faculty figured out as much last spring, when several hours—hours!—of tepid discussion preceded the passage of Harvard’s latest undergraduate curriculum. It’s much more fun, after all, to nab a quote in the paper when one’s colleagues claw each other’s eyes out over something trivial. What fun it was when anthropologist J. Lorand Matory ’82 and law professor Alan M. Dershowitz quarreled over “free speech” (read: Israel) last Fall! When the Faculty toppled former university President Lawrence H. Summers, scores of professors who normally traffic in the obscure got to see their names in print. All this is much more rewarding than actually running the place. Isn’t that what administrators are for?

Our well-endowed standard-bearers have come out swinging against the torrential tedium that’s threatened Harvard since Larry imploded in 2006. Late last year, Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 announced that his fiefdom, for decades known as the Kennedy School of Government, would henceforth be dubbed the Harvard Kennedy School, in line with the Harvard Law School and the Harvard Business School. It remains unclear what one studies at a “Kennedy School”. Kennedys (sp?) perhaps. Hence the school’s new motto: “Ask what you can do.”

According to Executive Dean John A. Haigh, the change in name is meant to “maintain the connection to the Harvard name so people will know who we are.” Sure. We wouldn’t want people thinking that you were the Kennedy School of Government at some quotidian university, would we? For shame!

But while those feisty agents of change down JFK St. were clawing away at the teeming masses of Kennedy-named impostors, Massachusetts Hall was teaching them—and us—a lesson in the power of glamour.

On Dec. 10, President Drew G. Faust announced that Harvard would soon be marginally less than totally unaffordable for families that are marginally less than totally loaded. It was the throat clearing heard ’round the world. The Times pounced on the story, as did just about everyone else. Next year hundreds, if not thousands, of Harvard students will benefit, as will their peers at a handful of other High Society schools. But anyone with the misfortune to end up at a school without Harvard’s cash-flow problem—namely, having too much of it—will wonder what all the fuss was about.

But damn the details; Harvard was back in primetime, fighting the fight of the American middle class. Take that, John Edwards.

After Harvard’s headlines were sidelined by presidential primaries during the holidays, the University’s new academic calendar, announced with great fanfare last June, was re-announced with great fanfare this week. Now, at long last, we know when the University-wide semesters and holidays will start and end, through June 2015. Perish uncertainty—freshmen can take advantage of choice airfares and book their flights for spring break, March 12-20, 2011. Had the new schedule been distributed without the fanfare, only those administrators whose planning required exact knowledge of the new calendar seven years in advance would have been in the loop. That would have been no good at all. Instead, the announcement redux was The Crimson’s top story on Wednesday. Take that, Iowa.

If Harvard is the House That Ego Built, then in the last semester faculty and administrators have made some impressive additions. But it’s been tough slogging, and without “The Great Debaters” to tide us over Harvard would be in real trouble of becoming—forgive me—just another university. ’Round these parts, we’re taught never to settle for being below the fold, and that true greatness requires a well-timed announcement.

Spare the press release, however, and you’ll spoil the whole damned week.

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

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