On the one hand, consider a transparent admissions policy. This would be one that is objective or “meritocratic,” i.e. based on a composite score of one or more standardized examinations. A massive example is China’s gaokao, a two-day long series of tests taken by approximately 10 million Chinese students each year. The gaokao is the sole determinant for admission to almost every Chinese college, and high school students sometimes spend their entire final year of school in preparation for it; every Chinese teenager is well aware of the test and of the requisite score for a given institution. The Joint Entrance Examination to India’s most prestigious educational institutions, the Indian Institute of Technology, offers another example.
It is clear that we recognize that we will graduate Harvard with a valuable academic education, but we sometimes seem to forget whence this education comes. In the past semester, there have been a number of undergraduate protests against the denial of tenure to various Harvard professors. I have no specific opinion about any one of these cases and I have a great deal of respect for any Harvard faculty member and their body of work. But I do find it troubling, and — depending on my mood — almost comical, that 20-year olds with not even a bachelor’s degree yet think that they are qualified to opine on the scholarship worth of an academic — oftentimes more qualified even than a committee of tenured faculty, each of whom has striven for years to establish leadership positions in their chosen fields. And of course, the forcefulness extends beyond promotion decisions to termination demands, as, for example, in the insistence that a faculty dean be “removed” due to his choice of professional client.
There is a difference between calling attention to one’s work via its substance and deliberately riling one’s readership. The line between tabloid journalism and what one might consider more “reputable” media is vanishing, as we prioritize sensationalism over discourse. To be sure, newspapers and other media are businesses in a highly competitive (online) landscape, and growing readership or viewership is of great importance. It must be increasingly difficult to market balanced, long-form content when the average human today has an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish. Nonetheless, a media market that sacrifices nuance in intellectual discussion and presents deliberately biased arguments with the hope or intent of going ‘viral’ is a race to the bottom.
An example: The word “creepy” is often thrown around by young women describing the various shades of men that they encounter. An unfamiliar man asks you on a date? He’s “creepy.” A boy makes flirtatious advances towards you at a party? “Creepy.” A male classmate texts you back one too many times? Still “creepy.” Yes, of course, some men engage in creepy behavior, and I have no doubt that a number of these incidents actually warrant the label; however, the overuse of the word has meant that it has lost its significance.
Aditi T. Sundaram ’19 is a joint concentrator in Mathematics and Philosophy in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.