Time Out of Mind
If you type “sell out” into the search bar of the Harvard Confessions Facebook page, a number of posts pop up. One laments “wanting to sell out” but being “too deep in nonprofit work to do so.” Another characterizes one’s friends “sell[ing] out one by one” as “the saddest thing to see.” Yet another describes being a premed as “one of the most sell out tracks that exist,” glossing medicine as a career that makes “cuts in people’s bodies and bank accounts to buy that new Rolex.” Most of the remaining posts are similar, contrasting the altruism of non-governmental agencies and social work with the selfishness of the for-profit world.
Like many generalizations, this picture contains a kernel of truth. We’re all called to contribute our utmost to social welfare, a mission NGOs aim toward explicitly. Those who sacrifice life and livelihood to fight social and biological pathologies deserve our utmost praise. And it’s hard to argue that financial institutions or even medical corporations have always done their part to serve the global community.
For much of this year, COVID-19 has been shining a bloody spotlight on the racial and economic inequities racking the country. Nationwide, people of color are nearly five times as likely to be hospitalized, while in New York City, those living in the poorest neighborhoods are over twice as likely to succumb to the virus. In any country, these inequities would be deplorable; in ours, they are scandalous. In a country home to 15 percent of the world’s GDP, it seems unthinkable that we lack the resources to adequately address these issues.
On July 6, University President Lawrence S. Bacow, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay, and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sent out a 3,500-word email announcing the school’s plan for the fall semester. The first paragraph confirmed what most students had already suspected: that classes, due to the ongoing pandemic, would stay online for the remainder of 2020. More surprising was the single-sentence announcement buried halfway through the message. Despite the move online, Harvard’s tuition and fees would remain “as announced”—at $53,968.
The memes practically wrote themselves. One contrasted Harvard’s “annual subscription fee” with that of Netflix ($107.88); another compared the online class regimen to the Extension School. Most, of course, were tongue in cheek. As many students pointed out, it wasn’t as if Harvard was forcing people to pay $53,968 for online classes: if anything, taking time off was encouraged. And due to financial aid, only a minority of students would end up paying the full amount.