Thirty years ago, on a warm April day in 1969, Harvard faced one of the most daunting challenges in its history. Under the leadership of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), about three dozen students and others invaded and occupied University Hall, roughing up and ejecting several deans, while sympathizers and opponents argued outside. The numbers inside and outside the building swelled overnight until President Nathan Marsh Pusey and the administration responded by sending in the police at dawn. Some 50 people, including policemen, were injured, and 145 Harvard and Radcliffe students were taken off and arraigned. Within half an hour, what became known as "the bust" was over.
With the bust, the administration ended the takeover, but in fact the real struggle had just begun. Sit-ins, strikes, and far-from-empty threats against faculty members and buildings--including Widener Library--became routine. Soon enough the students' complaints mutated into the now-familiar polymorphous Aquarian catalog. Posters proclaimed:
Strike for the eight demands. Strike because you hate cops. Strike because your roommate was clubbed. Strike to stop expansion [of Harvard-owned properties]. Strike to seize control of your life. Strike to become more human. Strike to return Paine Hall scholarships. Strike because there's no poetry in your lectures. Strike because classes are a bore. Strike for power. Strike to smash the Corporation. Strike to make yourself free. Strike to abolish ROTC. Strike because they are trying to squeeze the life out of you.
These were bitter days for traditionalists at the University. Harvey C. Mansfield Jr. '53, Ph.D. '61, Kenan professor of government, calls the events "a devastating catastrophe." Loeb University Professor emeritus Oscar Handlin, Ph.D. '40, LL.D. '93, is one of those who think Harvard was permanently scarred: "The passage of time did not lessen the impact of the tragedy; indeed, the unfolding consequences since 1969 have cast a lurid light on the tragic disaster of that year."
Mansfield and Handlin are among the tough knot of Harvard dissenters who see the events of 1969 as the opening salvo in a 30-years' war, an ideological siege that has left Harvard wounded and limping. Let us, for lack of a better word, call these dissenters conservatives, though most call themselves classical liberals. The term "liberal," they claim, was coopted by the radicals on the left.
What then is a Harvard conservative? Ambrose Bierce memorably defined the conservative as someone "who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others." Peter J. Gomes, S.T.B. '68, Plummer professor of Christian morals and Pusey minister in the Memorial Church, says this description suits him fine: "I think I have an instinctive distrust of change and what some call progress. Authentic conservatism is characterized by a concern for that which endures beyond fad and fashion." Mansfield's working definition is that conservatives want to conserve--here he uses Matthew Arnold's criterion--the best that has been said and thought in the world. "Conservatism," he says, "is always reactive; it doesn't initiate, it responds to those who want to destroy. If the situation changed, I'd be happy to change. If all Harvard were conservative, I'd probably turn liberal. To use Lord Halifax's expression, I'm a 'trimmer.'"
John Stuart Mill called conservatives "the stupid party," backward-looking, obstinately resisting innovation. But this faithfulness to traditions that have been tried and tested is exactly what is needed, in the opinion of conservatives like Edward C. Banfield, Markham professor of government emeritus, who has warned of the unintended consequences of reform for its own sake. These unintended consequences, adds Mansfield, are illustrated by "what the liberals cry are 'urgent crises,' but most of these social problems were created by leftist policies of the last 30 years."
In any event, writes visiting lecturer on government George F. Will, "a decision not to alter the status quo is a decision to do something. It is a decision to continue the public policies--the complex weave of laws and customs--that underlie any significant sphere of social action." But Will argues that conservatives must practice what they preach, and use "assertive government to achieve conservative goals"; indeed, says he, "a conservative doctrine of the welfare state is required...more compatible with conservative social values....Conservatives should be leading the fight for a welfare system that [as one example] supports rather than disintegrates families."
Here we see a line dividing conservatives at Harvard, the line separating theorists, predominantly academics, and practitioners, former "working cons" like Mickey Edwards, an eight-term Republican representative from Oklahoma, now the John Quincy Adams lecturer in legislative politics at the Kennedy School, and Alan K. Simpson, the retired three-term Republican senator from Wyoming who became director of the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics last year. These are pragmatists, who teach the value of action, flexibility, and a friendly face if conservatives are to make policy at last rather than be the perpetually disenfranchised "stupid" party, especially (as they sourly remind us) with "Third Way" Democrats running with conservative ideas and winning.
What would form the basis of this policy? All of Harvard's conservatives cherish as the basic building blocks what Edmund Burke referred to as the "little platoons"--the family, the neighborhood assistance group, the church or synagogue; they share a commitment to the American narrative, to personal responsibility, smaller government, lower taxes, and fewer entitlements; they are passionate anti-Communists; and they have a fondness for old-fashioned words like "patriotism," "virtue," and "merit," which they never put into quotation marks. They also, to a person, share a deep affection for Harvard. As Mansfield bardically says, "I love Harvard wisely and not too well: just a little more than it deserves."
The besetting problem, according to these conservatives, is that the counterculture of the sixties is now the establishment culture at Harvard--not least because, generically speaking, the radical students of the sixties are the faculty of the nineties. And, to diehard conservatives, "the sixties" is a term roughly equivalent to "pathology" or "pestilence." According to Mansfield, the late sixties especially "were a calamity for Harvard and for the country." He goes on to produce a list of "nasty things" transmitted by the noxious sixties--the sexual revolution, feminism and the collapse of the family, victim-fixation, the drug culture and crime, rock music, and other "blights"--most of which of course had earlier roots, but which only then "came into the open with public justifications, assertions, and displays. Today they are neither so outrageous nor so violent as at first. The poison has worked its way into our souls...Even those who reject the sixties unconsciously concede more than they know to the vicious principle of liberation that once was shouted into the street microphones."
The sixties, of course, have achieved the status of a myth. But conservatives don't see anything redemptive in this particular myth; in their telling, it comes off more like some mad parent-devouring initiation rite that unaccountably won't go away.
|"The real issue in 1969," says James Q. Wilson, former Shattuck professor of government, "was what one must do to save the University."|
Not all Harvard conservatives paint with as broad a brush as Mansfield; many concede that, unlike what occurred at other universities, the Harvard center, more or less, did hold. But they generally concur that the events of April 1969 ushered in a sweeping left-leaning consensus at what has been dubbed the "Kremlin on the Charles," as well as the inevitable conservative backlash. "I didn't go to Harvard thinking I was a liberal or a conservative," says former Shattuck professor of government James Q. Wilson, LL.D. '94, a strong conservative who is now Anderson professor of management emeritus at UCLA. "We were all deeply divided over the war in Vietnam. But the real issue in 1969 was what one must do to save the University."
Peter Gomes recalls, "I was teaching at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama from 1968 to 1970, so I came back to Harvard to witness its many sad after-effects. There was, I'm afraid, a terrifying loss of civility, an internal barbarism. The war in Vietnam could not be won, and the war in society could not be won, so the forces of righteousness attacked the one institution that was vulnerable, this decent institution that gave them aid and shelter." Novelist John Updike '54, Litt.D. '92, a liberal and a Democrat, has described his reaction in his essay "On Not Being a Dove":
The protest, from my perspective, was in large part a snobbish dismissal of [President Lyndon] Johnson by the Eastern establishment; Cambridge professors and Manhattan lawyers and their guitar-strumming children thought they could run the country and the world better than this lugubrious bohunk from Texas. These privileged members of a privileged nation believed that their pleasant position could be maintained without anything visibly ugly happening in the world. They were full of aesthetic disdain for their own defenders...spitting on cops who were trying to keep their property--the USA and its many amenities--intact.
Several, having been mugged by reality, found their politics, in spite of their personal histories, shifting to the right--found themselves, in other words, neoconservatives. Roger Rosenblatt, Ph.D. '68, was one. In his book Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969, he mentions numerous others who took a rightward turn. What outraged them was the meek collaborationism of the faculty, "a strange conspiracy," Rosenblatt calls it, "between those who wanted power and those who readily ceded it to them...." Faculty members, for the most part, he continues, "offered no opposition to what they disagreed with, as if to tell the students: 'If you want it, take it.' Liberalism rolled over on its back like a turtle awaiting the end." Gomes agrees: "I felt betrayed not by the radicals, whom I had no sympathy for to begin with, but by the institution. It seemed unwilling to defend itself against the Vandals not only at the gate, but inside the Yard."
Says Trumbull professor of history Donald Fleming, Ph.D. '47, "since faculty and administration gave in or connived on practically everything, we can't blame the students. Without for an instant drawing an analogy, it is possible to see why the German universities went the way they did."
An almost reflexive habit of capitulating to students, conservatives feel, began that spring. First came the virtual abolishing of ROTC, a flagship demand of SDS, which decreed ROTC on campus "a life-and-death issue for the people of the world whose lands are occupied by U.S. troops." Within days came the dismantling of the Committee on Afro-American Studies, chaired by then professor of economics Henry Rosovsky, Jf '57, Ph.D. '59, LL.D. '98, and its replacement by a student-monitored Afro-American studies department. Rosovsky called this "an academic Munich," while John V. Kelleher, Jf '47, now professor of Irish studies emeritus, termed it "the most shameful [day] in Harvard history." In addition, the administration agreed not to expel any of the University Hall occupiers (as compared, for instance, with the strong action taken at the University of Chicago by its president, Edward Levi). Only half-facetiously, Wilson says that what brought home to him the gravity of 1969 was that students no longer had to wear ties to dinner.
And now, 30 years later, lament the conservatives, these same tieless wonders are running the place, a certified liberal orthodoxy. But at work in their midst buzzes this hive of conservative gadflies, or, as one wag called them, this truculence of scolds. The wry and natty Mansfield may be the least reticent member, one who can always be counted on for a rhetorical rapier thrust, but the conservative cohort, though numerically small, is varied, consisting of Democrats as well as Republicans, academic theorists as well as career politicians, and neo-cons as well as old Tories and mossbacks.
The influential and sought-after economists, like Robert Barro and Martin Feldstein, we will leave to their columns of figures and graphs and tables--and presidential hotlines--and concentrate here on the cultural conservatives. They will be enough to handle--contentious, mordant, and above all, politically incorrect on a cosmic scale.
THE LIBERAL ORTHODOXY
Being a conservative student at Harvard is fun. You can always say something outrageous that makes people mad. A lot of liberal professors, on the other hand, seem to think that conservatives can't be thinking people.
~ Anne Berry '01, Denver
Perhaps not surprisingly, as the generations turn, among the most enthusiastic conservatives at Harvard are the students. Though they are serious to a fault, they seem to be enjoying themselves hugely, sharing in what Gomes calls "the bracing feeling of walking in the opposite direction from everybody else." Kevin Shapiro '00, of Los Angeles, echoes this exhilaration. He even found it comical when, as one of the "usual number" of protesters (in this case, 20 or 30), holding opposition signs at a massive pro-Clinton rally last fall at the Science Center, he was whacked on the arm by "one of those Cambridge ladies."
He is also gratified, he says, by his academic experience. "Conservatives," he claims, "get a better education here than liberals do. Since they are in the minority, they have to read and think to defend their views and come up with real arguments. They also tend to look for classes with real content and avoid faddish ones."
The most fun, for him, is that there is never a shortage of things to laugh at. "The Crimson, for example. You can always count on something silly and predictable on the editorial page."
That student paper makes an appearance in many conservative anecdotes. Senator Simpson, for example, says that during his first year he was treated "in a cordial and lovely fashion" by everybody. Everybody except the Crimson. "When my wife and I first arrived," he recalls, "there was a stupid editorial in the Crimson entitled 'Wrong Move to Right at IOP.' Two of the reporters came to see me the next week and asked me what I thought of the editorial, and I said, 'I think it was a typical left-wing, liberal, knee-jerk response from a bunch of green peas. You people love to babble about stereotypes. Well, don't stereotype me. You see a Republican from Wyoming and you'd think I was a Neanderthal who crawled out of a cave dragging a big club with a spike in it, with a saber-toothed tiger at my side. You give up your stereotypes about me, and I'll give up mine about Harvard."
As it happens, Republicans are about as rare in Cambridge as the saber-toothed tiger. Hugh Liebert '00, of Bradenton, Florida, who is publisher of the conservative Salient, ran a study on the party affiliations of faculty members in six key departments. Among the 81 who responded, he found only six self-declared Republicans.
Mary Ann Glendon, BI '76, Hand professor of law, recalls, "At a law-school dinner party shortly before the  election, one of my colleagues asked those assembled for their guesses as to how many votes George Bush would receive from the 65 or so Harvard Law School faculty members. A relative newcomer at that time, I guessed five. No one else guessed more than three."
Many of the people who feel slightly marginalized by the prevailing orthodoxy have their own Cambridge dinner-party stories. Stephan Thernstrom, Ph.D. '62, Winthrop professor of history, an "old leftist and firebrand radical" who "used to think of Harvard as a bastion of conservatism," says that he never voted for Ronald Reagan. Nevertheless, he would find himself "squirming" at those dinner parties "where the standard conversation was, 'Ha, ha, look at that dumb actor; what idiotic thing is he going to do next?' 'Well, gee,' I would say, 'some of the things he's doing seem to be working, like the collapse of the Soviet Union.'"
Richard Pipes, Ph.D. '50, Baird research professor of history, a registered Democrat, remembers in 1972 the Crimson calling him incredulously to ask him if it was true he planned to vote for Nixon. "When I said yes, they asked if I knew any other professor who might also be doing that. I mentioned two or three others who had told me so. But when the Crimson called them, they wouldn't talk. So the Crimson wrote that Professor Pipes was the only one at Harvard voting for Nixon. My wife was told by her ladies' tennis group that they came very close to dropping her from the group."
Pipes, an expert on Russia, recounts his anti-anti-Communist experience at Harvard. In 1976 President Ford appointed him to head a group called Team B, formed to evaluate the CIA's estimates of Soviet nuclear intentions. In 1981-82 he served on the National Security Council as President Reagan's adviser on Soviet affairs. A member of the Committee on the Present Danger, he was in the forefront of the concern about American lack of preparedness. A longtime advocate of the Strategic Defense Initiative--"which people around here made fun of; they thought if you talked about such things you could unleash World War III"--he recalls one incident: "I was in the White House then and I received an invitation to come to Harvard to debate a Soviet embassy official on our policies and military strategies, and I secured permission from the White House. Then suddenly I was disinvited, on the absurd grounds that I had not gotten permission to come. That was not untypical at Harvard in those days; they preferred hearing a Soviet propagandist to hearing a Harvard professor, an official in the duly elected administration."
As the stories accumulate, we must ask, is the liberal orthodoxy at Harvard repressive? Wilson once quipped that in his lifetime he had had a deep engagement with five American institutions: the Roman Catholic Church, the United States Navy, the University of the Redlands, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University. "If I were required to rank them by the extent to which free and uninhibited discussions were possible within them, I am very much afraid that Harvard...would not rank near the top."
Conservatives tend to be satirical, and, as we have seen, they tend to be happy at Harvard. But it is also true that Catholics--and fundamentalists--feel they have a problem there. In last year's campaign for president of the Undergraduate Council, Christopher King '01, of Winter Park, Florida, was accused--because of a confused editorial in the Crimson--of having ties to religious groups. He lost. Afterwards he said, "I have struggled with the fact that in 1999 at Harvard you could be so persecuted for being a Christian." Former Undergraduate Council president Beth Stewart '99 agrees: "Certainly there is a prejudice against Christianity here, more than against any other religion."
Jon D. Levenson '71, Ph.D. '75, List professor of Jewish studies at Harvard Divinity School, says, "Of all the traditional religious stances, it is probably Roman Catholicism that has the hardest time at HDS. Anti-Catholicism is still the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals. Certain positions that Catholicism regards as crucial to its vision of the just society cannot be easily advocated in the Divinity School. You try to take a pro-life position there, boy, you're dead. A Catholic has to be either dissident or silent on issues like these--or astonishingly courageous."
And, says Levenson, abortion is only one of several moribund topics at the Divinity School. "In the old days, one was required to believe certain theological dogmas: the incarnation of God in Jesus, the Resurrection, and so on. Now the School requires that one subscribe to radical feminism, to inclusive language, to their views on homosexuality and affirmative action--there are probably more things that one has to subscribe to now than there were 50 years ago. Harvard Divinity School, whose ancestry is Unitarian, prides itself on its liberalism and open-mindedness, its embrace of diversity, but in fact there is no diversity in those issues. Political correctness is the new orthodoxy."
One would think that the dialogue about abortion, for example, would be at least as contentious at Harvard as it is in the real world. But according to John Couriel '00 of Miami, who was assistant policy director in Governor Jeb Bush's campaign, the stormy national debate is a non-issue on campus: "Choice seems to be gospel here. There's this presumption that the rest of the country thinks like Cambridge, and that's always the funniest thing for me: like, 'Of course everyone in the United States supports choice.' Sometimes I think we're here to remind the liberals that there's an America out there that doesn't think like Harvard."
The Law School's Mary Ann Glendon, however, does not necessarily think like Harvard--she is "pro-life, in a nuanced way," and the issue, a moral one, profoundly vexes her:
One need not agree with Aristotle that the lesser evil, in comparison with the greater evil, is to be reckoned as a good, in order to prefer it. Perhaps it is fitting that abortion law at present should mirror our wonder as well as our ignorance about the mystery of life, our compassion for women who may be frightened and lonely in the face of a major crisis, and our instinctive uneasiness at terminating a form of innocent human life, whether we call it a fetus, an embryo, a baby, or an unborn child.
"Diversity" is a word that conservatives do tend to put in quotation marks, along with "multiculturalism." Kevin Shapiro says, "I'm all for diversity--who isn't?--but maybe my idea is diversity of ideas and viewpoints, and the administration is bent on diversity of physical traits." Says Mansfield, "The ideal of the diversity-mongers seems to be a cosmopolis of all categories of society's victims, where everyone says the same thing in unison."
But to return to our earlier question, is this cosmopolis, this citadel of diversity, repressive? Arguing the issue broadly, in a survey that includes Harvard among many campuses, Alan Charles Kors, Ph.D. '69, and Harvey A. Silverglate, LL.B. '67, say "Yes." In their book, The Shadow University, they accuse many college orthodoxies of outright tyranny, and they leave no doubt as to the origin of these abuses: "...on college campuses the drive for speech codes, for double standards in their application, for the mechanisms of indoctrination in their rationales, and for the disciplinary systems to enforce their strictures, comes from the Left."
According to the conservatives, the repressive tendency of the liberal orthodoxy paradoxically stems from the modern liberal ideal of the perfectibility of mankind, reminding us again of the aphorism that the perfect is the enemy of the good. As Charles Fried, Beneficial professor of law and former associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, recently wrote:
We have now, as we have had since the time of the Jacobins, a determined band of intellectuals, politicians, and publicists, enraged that human material is recalcitrant to their projects to level the condition of all men in the equal service of their particular visions of community. This project is...the pursuit of equality of results. The partisans of equal subordination to the claims of politics have always been driven to crush what stood in their way.
However, as he goes on to say, here referring to specific campus speech codes:
The ideas the universities condemn [the stigmatizing of many categories of victims] are false and offensive, but universities do not condemn all false and offensive ideas. For example, an invective condemning the United States as an oppressor nation or condemning capitalism as a form of exploitation may be repeated with impunity. The same impunity would extend to invectives directed against students and professors seen as agents, apologists, or running dogs of an oppressor nation and of capitalism. Individuals within the community may not espouse some forms of race and gender superiority, but may espouse others. Individuals may advocate Marxism and the most extreme forms of militant feminism. And none of these codes would condemn burning the American flag, even to affront a gathering of veterans or the widows and orphans of soldiers killed in battle.
Indeed, David Campbell '00 of Singapore writes in the Salient, "We should all be able to agree that once any speech can be regulated for any reason, the ideal of free speech has been sacrificed...We've all had to listen to things we'd rather not hear. But we cannot pervert our principles of freedom so [the allegedly harassed] can feel good....There is no constitutional right to feeling good."
The ROTC being diminished on campuses like Harvard means that the higher-level officials in the military come from the academies or the southern schools; as a result there isn't that liberalizing force inside the military.
~ Noah Seton '00, Undergraduate Council president,
New York City
High on the conservatives' list of "nasty things" spawned by the sixties at Harvard was, and is, the radical assault on ROTC and all emblems of the military. Richard Pipes recalls "the cowardly behavior of a lot of the faculty; their posture on ROTC was symptomatic of a general attitude toward military power. The Vietnam War had a lot to do with it, but it was hysteria basically; there was no rational discussion."
Mansfield calls it the radicals' "Vietnam syndrome," according to which "the United States's effort was not just imprudent...but morally (meaning 'absolutely') wrong, and the American military was deservedly defeated. Adorning that conclusion were certain professorial doctrines of civil disobedience and selective conscientious objection (being a pacifist only when confronting Communists) that are best buried in oblivion..."
|Ruth Wisse, Peretz professor of Yiddish literature, sees feminism as contributing inevitably to domestic violence, the decline in education, and, worst of all, the collapse of the American family. JIM GIPE|
Peretz professor of Yiddish literature and of comparative literature Ruth R. Wisse describes a sort of wonder at "the stratagems invented by the Harvard faculty in order to express its contempt for the American government without sacrificing a cent of government funding either for itself or for its students." The debate over ROTC, "a feeder of the armed forces that are charged with the protection of all our freedoms...is part of the political process. Instead of joining that debate in the public arena," she continues, Harvard, and other "elite institutions," have "invented a boutique politics in order to influence from above what would have been much more arduous and inconvenient to attempt to effect from below."
Roger Rosenblatt writes that even he found himself "in favor of maintaining the presence of ROTC on campus," perhaps not with academic standing, "but to allow it to remain as an option for anyone seeking the military life or needing it to complete an education...In a worthwhile war, who would not wish to be led by a more thoughtful and educated first lieutenant?"
These words are virtually echoed by Samuel P. Huntington, Ph.D. '51, Weatherhead University Professor: "I absolutely favored the retention of the ROTC, and I still think it should be here. It seems to me that ROTC provides an opportunity for students who wish to have a military experience, and in effect provides a fellowship to them and helps them financially. And it is highly desirable for the military. One of the reasons for My Lai, for instance, was that there weren't enough people there with judgment and values. It is most unfortunate to see our political and economic and intellectual elites totally divorced from our military elites."
Huntington, who was coordinator of security planning at the National Security Council during the Carter administration, experienced firsthand Harvard's antipathy toward the military. When he returned to Harvard, he says, he would find demonstrators outside his classroom. He laughs, "Here I was, a Democrat, and I worked for Carter, but to the leftist elements around Harvard in the sixties and seventies I was a reactionary fascist warmonger."
What the radicals did not understand, according to John Updike, is that, in a world indelibly stained by Original Sin, peace "depends upon the threat of violence. The threat cannot always be idle." (In fairness, as this is being written, there do seem to be many liberals on campus to whom this concept is becoming less and less alien.) But ideologically, strength as an assurance of peace is a formula liberals have a hard time with, says Carolyn Glick, a Columbia graduate who is working toward her master's degree in public policy at the Kennedy School. She says that both here and in Israel, where she has spent the past eight years in the army and as an assistant in the prime minister's office, "The liberal perception is that if you're proud of yourself and your strength, then you cannot possibly be a moral actor. Clearly your strength has to come at somebody's expense; somebody else is weak and it's your fault."
It is a huge disservice to the minority students and everybody else. It negatively charges the environment when you have preferences.
~ Melissa Langsam '00, New Rochelle, New York
Nonviolence, at least in theory, was the radicals' strong suit. The concept achieved both its loftiest ideals and its most solid success in the civil-rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr. But to conservatives like Mansfield, the civil-rights movement also taught the radicals that law can be severed from justice, and that "law would always adjust to whatever seems just. One could ignore law when it obstructed morality and then use it without restraint in the service of morality." To Mansfield, an example of law both delegitimated and overused, as well as an ironic corruption of the honorable civil-rights struggle, is affirmative action.
Thomas Sowell '58, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, who, with other black conservatives, regards affirmative action as a "worldwide disaster," observes:
President John F. Kennedy's Executive Order No. 10,925 required that employers who were government contractors "take affirmative action to ensure that the applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin." That is virtually the antithesis of what "affirmative action" has come to mean today, either in the United States or in other countries where the term refers to statistical results viewed precisely with regard to race, color, creed, or national origin [his emphasis].
Moreover, he writes, such racial preferences are counterproductive:
On many campuses, you need only walk into a lunch room and see black students clustered together at their own
separate tables to realize how much of the civil rights dream of an integrated America has gone awry in academia. As a black student at Harvard in the 1950s, I never experienced or even heard of the kinds of ugly racial incidents that have occurred on campuses across the country in recent years...
Stephan Thernstrom and his wife, Abigail, Ph.D. '75, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, the coauthors of America in Black and White, emphatically oppose racial preferences. Like Sowell, they insist that preferences don't work and that they divide Americans, rather than uniting them, calling attention to and heightening racial differences, causing black student anxiety, and resulting in an appalling "resegregation of campus life," exactly as Sowell claims.
In a conversation, the Thernstroms recall what brought about their political transformation from "McGovernik leftist picketing peaceniks" to "dissatisfied centrists." First was their year spent in England in 1978-79, where they saw "socialism in action and the horrendous blundering policies of the government" that made Thatcherism inevitable. Then came Abigail's experience in 1980 researching her book on minority voting rights, Whose Votes Count? "I discovered," she says, "that I was in serious disagreement with the Democrats on the fundamental issue of racial preferences. So I began to ask myself, What else are they wrong on? Worst of all was that, as soon as it became clear that I was an old-fashioned integrationist who wanted race-neutral policies and biracial coalitions and it didn't matter what the color of your skin was, I was horribly mistreated. The Republicans all knew I was a card-carrying liberal Democrat, but their doors were wide open and their staffs and files were completely available to me. Meanwhile, to the Democrats, I had deviated from the party line in opposing race-conscious legislative districting, and thus was persona non grata; their doors were absolutely slammed in my face."
Stephan Thernstrom picks up the conversation: "Abby," he says, "was, I think, the first person to make the argument that these racially gerrymandered districts in the South, which the Democrats were pushing for, would ultimately result in a Republican net gain, which is precisely what happened.
"Isn't it interesting," he continues, "that the universities revere this thing called 'diversity,' and specific admissions policies, which, after all, are quite controversial. Most Americans don't like the idea of preferences, and most of us think that the whole point of the civil-rights movement was to get beyond race to a society where people are treated exactly the same without reference to color, gender, or anything else."
In America in Black and White, the Thernstroms stress the fact that Harvard is a "dubious model" for affirmative-action advocates, because "it attracts better prepared black applicants than any other school and obtains a substantial black enrollment--close to 7 percent--with nothing more than a light thumb on the scale." The most recent data showed that "the mean SAT score of its African-American students was 133 points higher [1,305] than that of black students admitted to Princeton, the closest contender." The overall black/white gap in SAT scores at Harvard, according to their figures, is on the order of 95 points, the only school in the country where the gap is not in the triple digits; Berkeley's, for instance, is 288. Harvard's black students' average score, the tally continues, "was actually higher than the average score for whites" at places like Cornell and Penn [their emphasis]. Concomitant with these figures is the fact that the dropout rate for black students at Harvard is one-eighth that at Berkeley.
Out in the real world, too, they argue, affirmative action has shown itself not only divisive, carrying "American society backward," but insignificant as a cause of black upward mobility:
Almost all [affirmative-action] advocates assume that the status of blacks changed very little until the 1960s, and that most black economic advance is the result of the race-conscious, preferential policies that have been widely adopted by public authorities, private businesses, and universities over the past quarter of a century....But that is not the case. Immense progress was made by black Americans before the idea of racial preferences was seriously entertained by anyone. By some measures, in fact, the pace of black progress was more rapid in the 1940s and 1950s than it has been since.
The Thernstroms use many of the statistics from their book to rebut those who continue to espouse racial preferences. Among these are Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, and William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, in their recent book The Shape of the River, which the Thernstroms regard as a biased brief for racial preferences, and an elitist thumb in the eye of the public, which has voted against preferences in passing California's Proposition 209 and similar referenda.
They take issue with Bowen and Bok's "strained" conclusions. For example, they argue, Bowen and Bok "chronicle some of the social and economic progress made by blacks since World War II--much of it (they fail to note) prior to the institution of preferential policies. To assume that preferences account for subsequent gains is to commit the classic fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc." Again,
If Bowen and Bok make much of graduation rates and nothing of dropout rates, they also downplay actual classroom performance. Nevertheless, they do admit a startling fact: the cumulative grade-point average of the African-American students at their 28 schools puts them at the 23rd percentile (i.e. in the bottom quarter) of their class.
Even that figure is deceptively rosy. If Bowen and Bok had differentiated between black students admitted regularly and those admitted preferentially, they would likely have found the beneficiaries of preferences doing even worse.
This, in spite of the fact that "the higher up you go in the academic hierarchy, the easier the grading. In most first-level schools, what was an F a generation ago is now a C or even a B-. At Stanford the average grade these days is said to be A-!" (According to Mansfield, and to his chagrin, the same is true at Harvard.*)
|*According to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Office of Instructional Research and Evaluation, the mean undergraduate letter grade, excluding credit/noncredit courses, is closer to a B+.|
Drawing on their own research, the Thernstroms' stinging attack on the widespread "pernicious palliative" of preferences concludes with their own prescription for dealing with the "real problem: the yawning racial gap in educational performance among elementary- and secondary-school pupils. As long as the average black high-school senior reads at the eighth-grade level, efforts to engineer parity in college, let alone in the legal and medical professions, are doomed to failure." They are confident--and optimistic--that massive intervention in the early years will help to get black kids going and to narrow that "inexcusable" gap.
Harvard's conservative students, too, seem unanimously opposed to affirmative action, including those who theoretically would benefit from preferences. Roman Martinez '01 of New York City, editor of the Salient, is a Hispanic American who "didn't check the Hispanic box on the application. In general, I try not to answer those types of questions. I am very opposed to judging by race." John Couriel agrees. Couriel, whose first language was Spanish, is a Cuban American whose uncle was assassinated and grandfather imprisoned for anti-Castro activities. "Yes," he says, "I qualify as a Hispanic at Harvard, but please drop the label. I hate any kind of social or racial or gender categorization."
I've never understood why so much of the feminist rhetoric seems so condescending to women.
~ Hannah Choi '01, Montville, New Jersey
Feminism is another hallmark of the liberal orthodoxy. "Feminism was a child, or rather an ugly stepchild, of the late sixties," Mansfield has written. "Its fundamental premises derive from three male philosophers: that sex is power [Freud and Nietzsche], that sex roles are not fixed by nature but are interchangeable [Marx], and that identity is self-creation [Nietzsche].
"Feminism," he continues, "began partly as a reaction against the sexual revolution," which, he claims, primarily benefited males, including male predators. Parietals, of course, were another casualty of the sixties on campus. "And what of men?" he asks. "The feminists have mounted an attack on manliness and have attempted...to transform it into sensitivity. 'Tut-tut!' they say, 'you must learn to behave yourself like a woman or we will send you to a seminar to have your consciousness raised.'"
Harvard, according to some, is less radicalized by virulent feminism than are other private and public institutions. Historian Donald Fleming says, "Certainly I have problems with women's studies; I think it ghettoizes an interest in women, also providing a good pretext for other courses not to talk about women. But ultimately I have faith in Harvard academically." Delusion and complacency, retorts Mansfield. "Harvard is not exempt from the follies of academia. There may be more blatant comedies at other universities, but Harvard is a full participant in the silliness."
Indeed, a random look at women's-studies offerings in the 1998-99 Courses of Instruction might induce some serious conservative teeth-gnashing (as would certain courses in visual and environmental studies, sociology, and English--the Salient makes great sport, for example, with English 193, "Issues and Approaches in Twentieth-century Literary Theory," in which the book Macho Sluts is required reading). Though titles do not courses make, here, for example, is Women's Studies 132, "Shop 'Til You Drop: Gender and Class in Consumer Society"; Women's Studies 134, "Women's Writing and Film in Latin America and the Caribbean"; on the next page, Women's Studies 136, "Engendering Hunger: Women, Food and Culture"; and on the next, Women's Studies 154, "I Like Ike, But I Love Lucy: Women, Popular Culture, and the 1950s."
Salient publisher Hugh Liebert spent a summer doing research for Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism?, and then audited the course "Introduction to Women's Studies: Changing the Subject" when he returned to Harvard last fall. He says, "All I had read and heard about over the summer turned out to be true. The professors really do try to indoctrinate you with their political ideologies."
The remedy? According to Mansfield, "Knock down the entire edifice of women's studies. It will take a long time, a lot of people are shielded by tenure; and it would help to have a president and a set of deans who took it upon themselves to purge Harvard of these excrescences. But academics tend to be sensitive to begin with, and after the feminists get through with them they are gelded. Harvard is pitifully feminized."
The Salient's Roman Martinez finds "astounding" the fact that, in view of their political successes, the feminists still cry victim. He points to a "silly book" entitled The Harvard-Radcliffe dis-Orientation Manual, published by a student umbrella group called the Alliance for Social Justice, which states that "Harvard does nothing to explicitly acknowledge, and certainly not to directly challenge, androcentrism, sexism, or patriarchy at this school," and goes on to charge the University with "the systemic disadvantage of women." These are the "humorless" voices at Harvard that he finds "really funny."
Yiddishist Ruth Wisse does not usually find much to laugh at in the women's liberation movement. She does, however, find a macabre humor in the connection between the Clinton scandal and the women's movement. She visualizes a kind of triptych: "Flanking President Clinton," she says, "are really the two faces of modern feminism. On the one side, you have absolute license--the 'nice' Jewish girl that Philip Roth's heroes had so much trouble luring into their beds, now being coached by her mother in the arts of seduction. On the other side, you have woman as corrupt power-seeker. This is the dichotomy that feminism has always implicitly represented, and now it is explicit."
To Wisse and other conservatives, feminism has contributed inevitably to domestic violence, the decline in education, and, worst of all, the collapse of the American family. Writing in the New Criterion, Martinez blames the mess on all the flower children, boys and girls, of the Clinton generation:
Clinton's generation spawned a revolution in which notions of free love overthrew traditional sexual mores. We, in turn, have grown up in a world where divorce is prevalent, where promiscuity is rampant, and where roughly one-third of all children are born out of wedlock. We've learned, in other words, that sins of the flesh don't really count. For us, casual sex...is just another way of getting some exercise and having a good time--kind of like bowling, but without the shoes.
The new religious radicals, as the Divinity School's Jon Levenson has written--"those of the raised consciousness"--display a "hypersectarian inability to relate to the lives of ordinary people, especially ordinary people whose lives center upon the bearing and rearing of children and the faithful transmission of a family tradition."
These religious radicals are caught in a bind, says Levenson, between "religion and revolutionary norms, between faith and the reigning ethos of the academy. On the one hand, the authority of centuries-old tradition and its requirement that change be organic"; on the other hand, accusations of "elitist, patriarchal, and oppressive" hegemony. Which leads, according to conservative scholars, to one of the nastiest things of all.
The humanities and social sciences are infused with postmodernists, ready to deconstruct anyone and anything. President Clinton would fit in wonderfully with the English department....
~ Roman Martinez, New York City
For religious academics, continues Jon Levenson, "the easiest way...to relieve the cognitive strain of their anomalous, bicultural status is to interpret the religious tradition as the time-conditioned vocabulary of a leftist social movement with transparent applications today--seeing, for example, the emergence of ancient Israel as a peasant revolt, or the earliest church as an egalitarian, feminist enclave that somehow emerged in the world of first-century Judaism...."
This sort of biblical postmodernism sets conservative historians ablaze. Lawrence E. Stager '65, Ph.D. '75, Dorot professor of the archaeology of Israel and director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, responds furiously to the theory that "everything in the Bible is just a novella, that there is no biblical history as such," and singles out especially the "degradation of knowledge" practiced by two of his bêtes noires, Thomas Thompson of the University of Copenhagen and archaeologist Neil Silberman.
"Silberman," Stager charges, "would like to equate all inquiry as relativistic and subjective--a product of the times. Knowledge and erudition reveal nothing about the past, only about ourselves and the times in which we're imprisoned...While he is busy belling cats, I would like to hang a couple around his and Professor Thompson's necks: It is the fad of post-modernism--a fashion in academia and elsewhere--that seeks to 'democratize' critical inquiry, leveling it to that of ignoramuses, who in their hubris assert that 'our opinion is just as good as yours,' regardless of the methods or standards employed. In this world there is no such thing as 'knowledge,' only 'knowledges,' which are nothing more than social constructs."
Stager calls these "critical theories" a variety of "mental flatulence...that I hope will disappear with the next wind of change."
Mary Ann Glendon notes that even the law schools are not immune from such Orwellian circuitries:
Many legal academics still share with their colleagues in other disciplines the scholar's commitment to pursue knowledge wherever it leads and whatever its unpopularity. But for a growing coterie of professors in the human sciences, including law, that ideal is simply meaningless. In some quarters, notions of knowledge, objectivity, and truth have come under heavy attack. If truth is whatever you want it to be, or the will of the stronger, the distinction between scholarship and advocacy collapses. If all law is radically indeterminate, then all legal scholarship becomes a form of advocacy.
These professors--the "Crits," as the proponents of "critical legal studies" are known--have had, she claims, a substantial and baleful impact on legal discourse and education.
And what about the natural sciences? Allan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind, claimed that "the humanities and social sciences were debauched" by politicization, but "because the student movements were so untheoretical, the natural sciences were not a target" and remained comparatively unaffected. Donald Fleming, however, says it's not so: "There's a whole interpretation of the history of science now that says all scientific theories are mere constructs and none of them have a claim to universal validity. Postmodernism turns on the proposition that all the great faiths can be dismissed, including the faith in Marxism--which is no loss. That's the good news."
Several professors and students mention with glee the famous Sokal affair, physicist Alan Sokal's essay in the journal Social Text, submitted as a complete hoax and unwittingly published. It was, according to Charles Fried, "greeted with delight almost everywhere and with such wonderfully self-refuting howls of pain in the small world where the missile hit its target in the bull's-eye." There may be social constructs, says Fried, "but...truth and reason are not among them."
In his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D. '55, Pellegrino University Research Professor, describes deconstructionism, as "formulated most provocatively by Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man":
...truth is relative and personal. Each person creates his own inner world by acceptance or rejection of endlessly shifting linguistic signs. There is no privileged point, no lodestar, to guide literary intelligence. And given that science is just another way of looking at the world, there is no scientifically constructible map of human nature from which the deep meaning of texts can be drawn. There is only unlimited opportunity for the reader to invent interpretations and commentaries out of the world he himself constructs.
Deconstructionist scholars, he continues, claim "the author is dead." They "search instead for contradictions and ambiguities. They conceive and analyze what is left out by the author. The missing elements allow for personalized commentary in the postmodernist style. Postmodernists who add political ideology to the mix also regard the traditional literary canon as little more than a collection confirming the world view of ruling groups, and in particular that of Western white males."
And there go the heroes. "Heroes are suspect," says Mansfield, along with the Great Books, which partisan professors "would do everything in their power to transform...into small books, infused with partisanship as petty as their own...American universities today are coming to be dominated by people who think that Plato [Mansfield's desert-island book is the Republic], the Bible, and Shakespeare are 'subjective' and 'value-laden.'"
However, there's hope. Students with energy and enterprise, who know where to look, can still, he says, "circumvent the obstacles and avoid the nonsense.
"The other day," he continues, "a couple of us were chatting in my office when a young woman, a freshman, knocked on the door. She said, 'Professor Mansfield, I'm not happy with the courses I'm taking. It's--well, it's thin gruel. Some people told me to ask you what to do.' I opened the door and said 'Miss, you've come to the right place.'"