No. Not Yet. Never.

Primus’s dentist once had him in the chair, mouth wide and jammed with oral hardware, when the dentist revealed that he had spent the morning in court in divorce proceedings initiated by his wife. “There is no pain worse,” said the dentist, drill poised, “than the pain of rejection.”

To help Harvard students cope with career rebuffs, the Bureau of Study Counsel hosted a seminar on April 15 called “Reflections on Rejection.” About 20 listeners showed up, including several seniors rejected for all jobs they had applied for. They got buttons stamped “Rejected”; a booklet of 28 failure stories by alumni, faculty, or staff; and 90 minutes of encouragement from a panel of rejection survivors. One booklet contributor, Hunter Maats ’04, told of being an aspiring actor in Los Angeles and applying for a job as barista in a Starbucks. He was rejected for being overqualified. His response was healthy: he reconsidered his priorities and launched a tutoring company called Overqualified.

The student editors of the Harvard Law Record newspaper proposed denial. In October 2005 they published a suggested letter for students to send to the “big fancy corporate law firm” that rejected them. “I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me a position…,” it read. “This year I have received an unusually large number of rejection letters, making it impossible for me to accept them all. Despite your outstanding experience in rejecting applicants, your refusal does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I shall initiate employment with your firm in May….” 


Our Man in Kabul: When Daniel H. H. Ingalls ’36, A.M. ’38, JF ’49, graduated from Harvard College, he would go to Virginia, his father evidently expected, to help run the family business, the Homestead, an historic resort and spa in Hot Springs. The young man rejected that plan. He enrolled in the Graduate School to study Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese, and was elected a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows.

Ingalls died in 1999 as the Wales professor of Sanskrit emeritus. Last February, a  committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences published a memorial minute about his life. “In 1941,” they wrote, “he persuaded the Senior Fellows to send him to India, where he worked on Indian logic with M.M. Sri Kalipada Tarkacharya at the Sanskrit Research Institute in Calcutta. After Pearl Harbor he returned and entered the O.S.S. [forerunner of the CIA]. In 1942 he and his colleague Richard Frye traveled as civilians to Afghanistan, where his job in Kabul was to watch for contacts by Indians (then British subjects) with Axis agents. As cover he taught English at the Habibi Lycée and worked on his doctoral dissertation. The completed draft of the dissertation was sent home by diplomatic pouch, but was lost. After the war he rewrote it as his first book [Materials for the Study of Navya-Nyaya Logic]. He returned home in 1943, was commissioned in the Army, and spent the remainder of the war working on Japanese code-breaking in Military Intelligence near Washington.”

Ingalls returned to Harvard, joined the faculty, and stayed until his retirement in 1983. Then he went to Virginia and took up full-time management of the Homestead.


Pontiac U: “Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning,” wrote Mark C. Taylor, Ph.D. ’73, in a New York Times op-ed piece on April 27 entitled “End the University as We Know It.” “Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).”

Taylor is chairman of the religion department at Columbia. Among his prescriptions for universities are to abolish permanent departments and tenure. “If American higher education is to thrive in the twenty-first century,” he writes in this rejection slip, “colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured.”

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