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Alumni

European Outposts

January-February 2004

Some 450 graduates from 36 countries gathered at the London Hilton on November 14 for the two-day "Harvard in Europe" program, part of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) "global series" of networking sessions, academic seminars, and briefings by University administrators—a possible model for future meetings in Asia and Latin America. Their arrival near Hyde Park Corner, 18 months in the planning, came at an unexpectedly pivotal moment.

Preparations for a state visit by President George W. Bush (M.B.A. '75, but traveling on non-Harvard business) four days later highlighted the sharp fissure between the United States and Europe over the war in Iraq. As British newspapers parodied Bush's "love bombing" of ally Tony Blair, President Lawrence H. Summers told the Harvard reception on Friday evening that "misunderstanding" between America and the world had never been greater in his lifetime. By joining faculty guests in rigorous conversation guided by a common commitment to Harvard's academic ideals, the congregants, "citizens of the world," could effect something "very constructive at a moment when shared understanding is so important."

The University's world face was vividly on display at a workshop earlier that afternoon, attended by 16 leaders of European Harvard clubs. Their affiliations ranged from the well-established (Eduardo Ballarin, D.B.A. '76, Spain, and Robert Gould '67, the Alaska entrepreneur who now presides over the London club) to the fledgling (Andrej Benedejcic '93, Slovenia, and Anca-Maria Harasim, M.P.A. '99, Romania and Moldova). The club officers discussed maintaining ties to Harvard on behalf of alumni from diverse schools: of 14,900 European graduates, 7,800 attended the Business School (including executive-education programs), about one-quarter that many the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or the College, and lesser numbers the other schools. And there was Crimson humor in a global context. Cuneyt Yuksel, LL.M. '94, L '95, G '97, told of Turkish press reports on the impending marriage of their prime minister's son, Bilal Erdogan, K '04; the mother-in-law-to-be blessed the union, she said, not for political prestige, but because the groom would be a Harvard graduate.

In a Saturday morning address, Summers recalled the twentieth century for both its gains in life expectancy, literacy, and material standards and its unprecedented slaughter. The new century, he said, challenged the world, America, and Harvard to "see if the trends of progress we saw...can continue and to see if we can avoid the tragedies." Much depends on "the two things Harvard does: the development and application to the world of new ideas, and, above all, the teaching and preparation of the young people who will lead in every dimension." He then reviewed his administration's plans (see "The President's Perspective").

Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean William C. Kirby welcomed "so many members of the Harvard diaspora" in English and the languages of his historical research: French, German, and Chinese. He recalled Harvard's international origins and then detailed the undergraduate curriculum review, emphasizing efforts to overcome "cultural parochialism" in learning and teaching. "It is not always true that as people get to know each other better, they like each other more," he said. Hence the need to educate students broadly, "possibly for global leadership, but surely for global citizenship."

Other presentations during the two days involved conferees in the kind of teaching and learning the University practices. Provost Steven E. Hyman outlined Harvard's science agenda (see "Global Reach in Health Sciences"). Discussions led by professors from six faculties covered topics in neuroscience, leadership, and art museumship, and on the themes of "constructing a new world order" and "ethics in a global society." All were well received, but the most timely international topics resonated loudest.

 

The transatlantic alliance is 50-plus years old, and "2003 marks the low point," Stephen M. Walt bracingly began a panel that asked, "Can the U.S. and Europe Still Be Effective Allies?" The tensions, elaborated the Belfer professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School, are not just of the moment but fundamental, focusing on "the distribution of power in the world" after the Cold War. Differences have emerged over U.S. military might and its uses, over trade, international agreements, and the role of international institutions—even over the growing secularism of Europe compared to a more religious American culture.

Walt called cooperation essential to counter terrorism, control weapons proliferation, promote the world economy, and deal with failed states. To effect cooperation, he prescribed lowering expectations (each side should "stop expecting automatic unity") and rhetoric. The allies had to reestablish consultation: "Europe," he said, "must relearn that 'yes' is sometimes an acceptable answer to a U.S. initiative" (should the U.S. actually solicit opinions before announcing a course of action). Postwar problems in Iraq would have to be solved (paraphrasing Churchill, "The U.S. always pursues the right policy, after trying all the others first"). Real progress must be made to resolve "corrosive" differences on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Shirley Williams lent a political perspective on whether it would be possible to relieve the "present discontents" even as the post-World War II architecture is "slowly falling apart." The Kennedy School's public service professor of electoral politics emerita, now leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, emphasized the European Union's effort to end continental wars "by the process of pooling sovereignty." Because of that success, she discerned "deep suspicion of the assertion of national sovereignty itself," especially as aggressively asserted by the United States of late. Iraq brought that difference to a head, she said, so England, in its traditional role of bridge between American and European interests, "is being torn apart."

Alliances and true consultation matter, she insisted, because "military power alone cannot lead to nation-building and a change of heart"—a basic lesson the Bush administration, blinded by a "fundamentalist streak of self righteousness," has been able to learn "only from practice."

The questions flew, from alumni participants from Turkey, Liberia, Bulgaria, Monaco, America, Britain, and Norway. At the concluding banquet, J. Dudley Fishburn '68—former executive editor of the Economist, who in 1990 became the first Briton elected to the Board of Overseers since 1776—moderated even more questions, addressed to President Summers from the audience.

In dinner conversation, Carlos Iglesias García, a self-employed consultant from Barcelona, recapped his conference experiences. He had attended faculty-led symposiums on leadership and on business ethics, of professional interest. But he most valued two other opportunities. One was the chance to renew and make contacts at his first Harvard function since completing work at the Extension School in 1996. The other was hearing the analyses at the human-rights panel on "Implications for Intervention: Culture, Religion, and Politics"—especially the personal testimony of the School of Public Health's Jennifer Leaning, professor of international health and director of the program on humanitarian crises, who has seen the world at its worst in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

García's impressions recalled Stephen Walt's observation that morning. In many nations, he had said, the public opposes U.S. foreign policy, yet retains a deep reservoir of admiration for America's economy, scientific expertise, and political system. At a troubled time, he reminded the international Harvardians present, people around the world "are not worried about Americans because of who we are, but because of what we do."