The University and its Discontents
But these are choices we do not have to make: We can, in fact, choose otherwise. We can choose to confront our scholarship’s complicity, to lead against injustice, to accept responsibility to those around us. We can choose to understand that inaction, too, is a form of action; that refusal to choose, too, is a choice. We can always choose otherwise.
Today, Harvard owns 10 percent of Cambridge and six percent of Allston, paying a fraction of what would otherwise fund city operations. In this respect, as one union organizer put it, Harvard acts less like a university and more like a hedge fund with a university attached to it. This is true of past and present investments, labor practices, affiliations, and actual behavior as Greater Boston’s neighbors.
Since the Cold War and, more earnestly, since 9/11, the U.S. government has funneled billions into developing such technologies: Defense and security research comprise over 48 percent of the overall U.S. Research and Development budget — the Department of Defense holds the largest share of such funding by a wide margin. The impact of this funding is clear: It underlies the sordid history of the 21st century’s well-documented travesties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and others less-documented across the world.
Such qualms were likely deemed tragic yet forgone facts, immaterial to theoretical production. Western modernity’s underside was presumably extraneous to Tocqueville and Locke, germane only for Fanon or Chakrabarty. Questions of global significance were probably dismissed in favor of the West’s grand narrative of self-constitution, its great myth that its so-called progress was the product of truth-discerning rationality rather than historically-specific (and undeniably limited) approaches to the world.
This is the promise of Harvard: We are an institution committed to truth, stubbornly free of influences that threaten it — the unbreakable bedrock of civil society. At our best and most courageous, we generate challenging ideas, launch incisive critiques at injustice, and call for the realization of a better and more truthful world for all of its inhabitants. In this vision, we are the city upon a hill, opening the eyes that gaze upon us and working for and alongside them. Through intrepid scholarship and bold critique, we live up to our liberatory potential, collectively expanding political possibility in a deeply aching world.