Procurement policy, admissions, tenure, personals
SEGREGATION, NOW AND THEN
I enjoyed Drew Gilpin Faust's delightful "Living History" (May-June, page 38), about racial segregation in Virginia, but your cover line, "When Schools Were Segregated," is erroneous. It suggests that schools are not now segregated.
I challenge you to produce evidence that anywhere teachers in classes with a high proportion of black and Hispanic students are as qualified and experienced as teachers in classes with high proportions of white and Asian students in the same school district. In Concord, California, where I have resided for more than 50 years, the school district not only discriminates against blacks and Hispanics in the quality of teaching staff, but also buses students from poor (and thus minority) neighborhoods past the nearest high school to a more distant high school that has predominantly poor (and minority) students, and buses students from rich (and thus white) neighborhoods past their nearest school to a much more distant school whose student body is rich and thus includes few blacks or Hispanics.
The motivation for this segregation is that the richer people want the best teachers and most of the resources for their own children. The teachers prefer to teach in schools with wealthy students, and the teachers' union makes seniority and not "equality" determine the staffing of schools. Unfortunately, in our democracy the wealthy have more influence than the poor do, and the quality of education for our poor is a disgrace.
Clyde D. Bird Jr. '45
Faust's story about her early awareness of segregation hit very close to home. I was raised in Arlington, Virginia, and attended all-white schools until I graduated from high school in 1947. My sudden awareness of discrimination came at a later age than was the case for the nine-year-old Faust. I suspect that we all have moments in our lives when we suddenly understand something that has been in front of our eyes for some time. I had such an event in the summer of 1944, when I was 14. I took a job as a soda-fountain clerk in a national chain drugstore in Arlington. In those days the drugstores had full-service lunch counters. The manager gave me a brief training and explained that any black customers were to be served at the end of the counter on a "take-out" basis only. Although I knew at that time that the blacks went to separate schools and were asked to sit in the back of the bus, it was not until I was told that blacks could not sit at the counter that I began to understand the unfairness of such discrimination. Later in the day, I asked my mother why the blacks were treated this way. She was a kind and thoughtful lady and usually had a good answer for everything, but in this case she said, "That's just the way it is." As with many whites, we needed a push to begin to see discrimination not as something that existed, but as something that was just simply not fair.
Richard H. Wilcox, M.B.A. '56
Lady Lake, Fla.
COMMERCE AND THE ACADEMY
Thanks to Derek Bok for speaking out against commercialization of the university ("The Purely Pragmatic University," May-June, page 28.) I would add one major symptom to those he enumerates: ever greater reliance on temporary and part-time labor to teach undergraduates. This practice is a bit off to one side of former president Bok's main concern, the university's attempt to sell its resources profitably. But cost-cutting and revenue-seeking are two parts of the same commercial package, and they have progressed in tandem during the past three decades. The results of casualizing the university work force are unfortunate, both for students' learning and for the well-being of college teachers.
It would be healthy for university administrations to restore decent working conditions for the reserve army of the semi-employed. I'm gloomy about that possibility, though. The privatizing impetus that is everywhere in charge may be stronger even than well-meaning administrators' ability to resist.
Richard Ohmann, Ph.D. '60
Bok expresses the concern that the university will be shaped in undesirable ways by active commercialization. As true as that no doubt is, some of the dangers of commercialization can enter universities through failure to be participants in the commercial world, albeit as nonprofits. Universities can through inaction leave the field open to firms whose profit-seeking requires control over the dissemination of the source material of scholarship and of its results, thus turning libraries into agents of copyright holders. When libraries cannot freely make available their resources, the mix between libraries being private goods and public goods shifts in the direction of the private, thus making libraries less attractive to supporters from outside their parent institutions.
It is well known that libraries, through subscriptions, are buying back the scholarship produced by their faculties after that scholarship has gone through the hands of the commercial sector. Besides bringing significantly rising costs to universities, the electronic environment places control over dissemination in the hands of those whose primary motive is profit rather than the furtherance of scholarship.
Less noticed has it been that libraries have been ceding control over much of the basic source material of scholarship. To name only a few instances, early English books, early American books, and nineteenth-century African-American journals are nowas parts of digital collectionsbasically the property of business firms. For current students and employees of major universities, the result is more access, from office and home, to the world's cultural resources than has ever been the case before. This comes, however, at the price of an inequality that is not inherent in the rarity of the material but rather in the mode of its dissemination. Concretely, a library can lend a book or a microfilm; it cannot lend a portion of a digital file, because it doesn't own a physical manifestation of it.
Although the reasons behind this entry of the commercial sector into academia are different from those put forth by Bok, the long-term implications are similarly disturbing, perhaps even more so, since only widespread concerted action can result in reversal.
Harvard University Library (retired)
Newton Centre, Mass.
"On diversity" ("Brevia," March-April, page 71) notified readers that Harvard would file a brief in the University of Michigan cases at the United States Supreme Court, which involve use of race in admitting students to the undergraduate school and the law school. In doing so, you state that the brief will support "the right of higher-education institutions to consider race as a factor in a well-constructed admissions program." You blithely ignore the fact, however, that the University of Michigan is a state institution, supported by taxpayers, in contradistinction to Harvard, a privately chartered institution. The difference, of course, is compellingly pertinent to the contentions of those who understandably challenge the use of racial preferences in admissions to taxpayer-supported universities. The intervention of Harvard and similarly situated private universities represents a kind of meddlesomeness, signifying either political correctness or plain officiousness.
Quentin L. Kopp, LL.B. '52
Redwood City, Calif.
Editor's note: The editors went on in the May-June issue ("Affirmative Amicus," page 50) to report more fully on the brief. It was written, at the request of President Lawrence H. Summers, by Harvard's Tyler professor of constitutional law, Laurence H. Tribe, serving as counsel of record for Harvard and the seven other colleges and universities on whose behalf the brief was filed (Brown, Chicago, Dartmouth, Duke, Penn, Princeton, and Yale).
FATHER OF FULLER FOUND
Phoebe Kosman's "Undergraduate" column "Finding Fuller" (May-June, page 60) brought a great deal of pleasure to me and my daughter, Lilian Faulhaber '00, L '05. Robert Playfair '36, author of the 1939 novel Fuller at Harvard, is my father, now deceased. He wrote three books of fiction, all involving daring athletic feats by Harvard students. What is perhaps more intriguing is that he didn't need an outside muse to write about college athletes. He was a runner who was credited with never being beaten by a Yale runner, and who won the triangular meet with Princeton and Yale in each of his three varsity years. In his first year of running varsity, he briefly held the American outdoor mile record.
Thank you and Kosman for reviving Fuller, and also my father the author, almost 64 years after publication of Fuller at Harvard.
Susan R. Playfair
REPAY SCHOLARSHIP FUNDS
I was saddened to read in "A 'Down Payment' on Financial Aid" (March-April, page 56) that there is inadequate scholarship money for graduate- and professional-school students. For some years I have advocated a program that requires all recipients of fellowship and scholarship monies to acknowledge a moral obligation to repay those funds if, as, and when they are financially able to. The only exceptions would be graduates who go into the nonprofit sector, for whom one-third of the moral obligation would be forgiven for each year of such service.
If a fraction of the effort that is spent raising alumni gifts would be directed toward recovering scholarship and fellowship grants from past recipients who have the financial wherewithal, most of these funding requirements would be satisfied.
Michael E. Tennenbaum, M.B.A. '62
NEEDED: A MANDATORY PROCUREMENT POLICY
We were disappointed with the profile of Harvard's vice president for finance, Ann Berman, "CFO for Tighter Times," and the sidebar, "Cutting Costs" (May-June, pages 52 and 53). They failed to see "the elephant in the room." After several years of study of Harvard's procurement practices and discussion with various parties inside and outside of the University, it is our belief that Harvard could save between $100 million and $250 million a yearonce or twice the income from the last capital campaign.
While we applaud the Summers administration's recent statements and initiatives, Harvard simply needs a mandatory competitive-sourcing program for the University's annual purchase of $1.2 billion in goods and services. At a meeting last month with Harvard Corporation and administration representatives, we recommended that Harvard establish a formal procurement committee. The committee would be composed of alumni who have special expertise in each of the principal industries from which Harvard purchases goods and services. The committee would work with the finance VP, the director of procurement, and others in the administration to structure competitive-sourcing deals to maximize Harvard's savings. It should be relatively easy to identify the most suitable candidates among Harvard's 283,000 alumni.
The time has passed for debating how much money Harvard can save. In the past three years, Harvard has lost $3 billion in endowment and 25 percent of its purchasing power. McKinsey studies are no substitute for a mandate. The only way to be sure that corporate assets are not being wasted is to compete Harvard's "spend" in the marketplace. The procurement committee will possess the industry-specific knowledge to recommend the best possible deals for the University as a whole. We believe that there is no defensible alternative to a mandatory procurement policy across all schools. We believe it is the duty of Harvard's alumni to create a sense of urgency, and the responsibility of Harvard's administration to steward the University's scarce resources.
C. Boyden Gray '64
John B. Henry '71
Timothy E. Wirth '61, Ed.M. '65
A SIMPLER ADMISSIONS PROCESS
In his review of The Early Admissions Game, William Fitzsimmons ("Entering the Elite," May-June, page 15) emphasizes the tremendous investment Harvard makes in assessing its applicant pool. He writes that admission-staff ratings are "based on multiple readings of each application in its entirety...." And he goes on to say that "our decisions are not made automatically, but after lengthy deliberations by majority vote of a large and experienced admissions committee."
A skeptic might wonder whether there are not perhaps other far-less-costly and time-consuming approaches that might yield the same or better result. For example, I have often wondered whether a simple random selection of students from the applicant pool, like a lottery, might not result in a selection of students with attributes statistically indistinguishable from those obtained through the current process. Such a random selection process need not treat all applicants equally. For example, one could use a weighting scheme to account for a variety of different applicant characteristics.
The idea of using a random applicant-selection procedure may sound blasphemous to some, but I would argue that the current process is already partly random, just not in a way that is directly observable or controllable. Universities obviously want the public to perceive that their admissions processes are rigorous and fair, and part of the way they accomplish this is by projecting the image of admissions-committee members poring assiduously over applications. Whether that approach is the most effective, however, remains an open question.
Gerald Feigin, Ph.D. '90
Harriet Quimby's death, when she and William Willard were pitched from her plane into Dorchester Bay at the 1912 Boston Air Meet ("Conquest of the Air," May-June, page 32), was surely a factor in ending air meets in Boston, but poor management, confusion among aviators as to which events were sanctioned by the Aero Club, as well as uncertain weather conditions were major reasons these exhibitions failed to continue receiving financial support.
Giacinta B. Koontz
TENURE IS NOT THE PROBLEM
In "Faculty Diversity" (March-April 2002, page 33), Cathy A. Trower and Richard P. Chait conclude that "[t]he next decade offers an especially propitious opportunity to diversify the academy." We at the American Association of University Professors agree. The lack of ethnic and gender diversity among faculty described by the authors is a real problem that must be taken seriously.
Where we part company, however, is in our understanding of the reasons for this disturbing absence. With few preliminaries and scarcely a glance at the complex economic and social issues underlying this absence, the authors identify the practice of tenure as the locus of the problem. The "obstacle" holding back women and minorities, they argue, is the "unaccommodating culture" of "orthodox tenure." With reference to tenure as an "outmoded concept," they sound a clarion call for a "constitutional convention to rethink tenure."
An outmoded concept? Why then do so many faculty, including many women and scholars of color, seek the assistance of the AAUP on a daily basis? The answer is quite simply because they recognize the critical importance of tenure, if not in name, then in the working conditions that afford them the best of what tenure has to offerprotection of academic freedom, assurance of economic security, and the conditions under which they can participate in the governance of their institutions without fear of retribution.
If women and scholars of color are poorly represented in the ranks of tenure-track and tenured faculty, does that mean we should undermine or eliminate tenure? May we suggest just the opposite: namely, the dramatic increase in contingent appointments and the consequent narrowing of opportunities for employment on the tenure line, as well as higher standards for tenure imposed in an unfair, inequitable, or untimely manner are among the major reasons why women and men of ability, including scholars of color, find the academic profession inhospitable. Just as women and scholars of color are poised to enter the academy in greater numbers, these developments have coalesced to narrow the opportunities available to them.
It is not the existence of tenure, but its shrinking availability, that must be held accountable for the lack of diversity in the academy. Should we not work for more tenure lines and better practices, rather than fewer? We at AAUP answer with a resounding affirmation of tenure.
American Association of University Professors
CULTURAL PROPERTY SURVEY
As members of the advisory committee to the Cultural Property Survey project, we were pleased to see "Prowlers Discover Harvard Valuables" in the March-April issue (page 67). The article is informative and helps to spread the word about the project.
We want to make sure, however, that readers are not left with the impression that the project aims to recreate a campus version of Antiques Roadshow. The goal of this survey is documentation, whether or not the property it includes is worth large sums of money. In the end, an accurate, consistent record of what the University owns, including gifts from its many friends and benefactors, will help to support responsible custody of this property.
We also want to dispel the suggestion that highly valuable objects are lying around unattended in insecure locations. (To set the record straight, the $100,000 Persian carpet has always been kept in a secure location.) In most cases, those in proximity to valuable objects have been aware of their significance.
With the gathering of information in one central database, these objects can be tracked, receive appropriate care, and take their rightful place in Harvard's venerable history.
Robin McElheny, chair; Sandra Grindlay; Harley Holden; Ardys Kozbial; Lisa Plato; Peter Riley
Editor's note: The $100,000 carpet was judged safely housed and was not moved, and the editors regret the reporting error. A desk, valuable because of its associations, was moved from a House senior common room to a safer location.
HARVARD MAGAZINE PERSONALS
What a trip! "A more mature Meg Ryan," "A more feminine Annette Benning." Mountain ranges of good endowment, acres of high cheekbones, black holes of "aqua" eyes. Where were all these drop-dead-gorgeous babes when I was at Harvard? How come they need personals to connect? Who is this transparently identical ghostwriter for them, and what will (s)he charge me?
John F. Lackey, M.Div. '82
I placed an ad in the personals in 1993. A decade later women seeking men still dominate the section, particularly women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are amazingly slender, longlegged, luscious, and redheaded. Ladies, tell the truth. Maybe the spa keeps your legs thin, but what about varicose veins? Is your hair really still flaming red or does it resemble an orange Brillo pad? Are your tresses supple and raven-colored or just over-dyed with that luminous white spot on the top that resembles a bald patch? No, your figure does not draw whistles: men stopped whistling years ago. You may be a gourmet cook, but doesn't the evening bring flatulence? Your skin may be firm, but isn't it sun spotted and aren't there skin tags where there was once a flawless bosom? (When Shakespeare wrote: "if snow be white, why then [my mistress's] breasts are dun," do you think he was reacting to the Elizabethan lonely-hearts column?)
And cut the cliches! You can't all love Provence that much! What's wrong with the Jersey Shore? Or Scituate, the Irish Riviera? Why Paris? Anyone can have a good time in Paris, but it takes gumption to enjoy oneself in Dayton. Why Italy, or, to be more specific, Tuscany? Because you watched a fundraiser on PBS? What do phrases like, "more Guiding Light than As the World Turns," mean and why would anyone care? Finally, please do not say that you resemble an actress who is young enough to be your daughter. You do not look like Cameron Diaz if you are 60. Even Elizabeth Taylor no longer looks like Elizabeth Taylor.
Susan Wozniak, A.L.M. '98
Your article on Benjamin Waterhouse ("A Box of Pox," May-June, page 84) ignores a vital factor in Boston's efforts to combat the 1721 smallpox epidemic. Though it is true that Cotton Mather influenced Dr. Zabdiel Boylston's use of variolation as a cure for smallpox, Mather first learned of variolation from his African-born slave, Onesimus. In a 1716 letter to the Royal Society of London, Mather proposed "ye Method of Inoculation" as the best means of curing smallpox, and noted that he had learned of this process from "my Negro-Man Onesimus, who is a pretty Intelligent Fellow."
Reports of similar practices among other African slaves in Boston and reports of variolation in Turkey convinced Mather to mount a public inoculation campaign. With the exception of Boylston, however, most white physicians in Boston rejected variolation, in part because of their contempt for African medical knowledge.
African American National Biography project
"Y'ALL": AN AMPLIFICATION
In "Jabber and Babel" (March-April, page 19), you reported that associate professor Bert Vaux's English-usage survey showed "y'all" to be the term most commonly used in the South to address a group of two or more people. What the survey missed, though, is the fact that "y'all" is frequently used in the singular; "all y'all" is the plural form in this here part of Texas.
John Kappelman, Ph.D. '87
You might also like
On antisemitism, “I have sought to confront hate while preserving free expression.”
Harvard Kennedy School researchers on how to report pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests accurately
Harvard Chabad, IDF, and Bill Ackman screen October 7 Hamas footage
Brief life of a formidable anthropologist: 1903-1991
First-years Ngozi Musa and Gabby Thomas help set the pace for track and field.
A negative investment return and annual spending reduce the endowment’s value 5.1 percent.
More to explore
Expect massive job losses in industries associated with fossil fuels. The time to get ready is now.
A third-generation French baker on legacy loaves and the "magic" of baking
Generative AI can enhance teaching and learning but augurs a shift to oral forms of student assessment.