Contributing opinion writer
Guillermo S. Hava
Condemning an attack without addressing, or even trying to understand, the factors that triggered it only lets the stain grow. It’s an exercise in virtue signaling, a social media-attuned flattening of a hideous reality — one unlikely to save the next generation of innocents.
It would take over a decade for Shonrael’s mother to find Renty, and even longer for her story to make it to the public record. Our own newspaper would — inexplicably and despite an early interview that got squashed before publication — introduce Renty to the Harvard community only in 2019. But by 1996, Shonrael almost knew her link to Renty; he was her blood, kin, and legacy.
Lakshmi Mittal’s story is too good to not be told – even if briefly and haphazardly by an under-slept undergraduate with few resources. His name deserves to be linked, repeatedly, and on the public record, not just to Harvard advisory councils (a common side gig for our kindest donors) but to the oft-devastating trail of his steel empire.
We have reason to be skeptical of Zuckerberg as a good steward of ethical AI research, and of the funding system that empowers him to pose as one under the legitimizing Harvard brand.
That might be the most frustrating thing about the pro-philanthropy worldview: Bok and his supporters never deny that there’s a legitimate moral debate at hand, they never reject the pitfalls of relying heavily on donations (even if they undersell the costs and overrate the benefits). They simply lack the imagination or the will to view beyond our current funding system, discarding concerning trends as “troubling” but “inevitable.”
But because he’s only human, Bloomberg can also be a self-interested agent, one vulnerable to flaws, excessive ambition, and stamp-your-name-on-everything narcissism. He is a perfect example of the dangers of overly concentrated power, of how massive wealth can excessively enable the whims of a single individual.
So Harvard put together a glamorous trip to Saudi Arabia, one that was characterized by soft propagandistic efforts and the reflexive self-imposed boundaries on the participants' speech. That much is as obvious as it is predictable; a logical continuation of our University’s outreach to a number of less than democratic countries. The more relevant question is whether such ventures are ever a net good.
But our institution and its counterparts are trapped in a gold-plated version of the prisoner’s dilemma. Harvard — along with the MoMA and other Black-financed enterprises — could benefit from the increased levels of federal funding afforded by equitable, grift-free taxation. More crucially, they have, or perhaps should have, a duty as society-minded institutions to protect the public’s well-being against the excesses of exorbitant inequality.
It’s undeniable that universities are an essential part of any functioning democracy — and that any attempt at dismantling liberal democratic institutions necessarily passes through (or rather over) independent-minded educational institutions. They occupy a dual role, canaries in a coal mine that can also, through their powerful institutional call, help thwart the advance of authoritarian, illiberal policies at home — as our own University did, to its credit, under the Trump administration when it sued to halt new visa policies that would have evicted and barred international students.
We have a campus culture that instills a very specific set of normative values. We tell our students what we value — money, power, influence.