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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Sexual assault, social-progress index, divestment

January-February 2016

(Coach) Murphy Time

Harvard Magazine does a grave disservice glorifying football with a cover story on Tim Murphy (“Murphy Time,” November-December 2015, page 35). With overwhelming medical evidence that football causes chronic brain damage, how can Harvard, a university that values the intellect, continue to promote this threat to the intellectual and physical well-being of its students? As a leader in the academic world, Harvard should set an example by downplaying football. Unlike many other universities that don’t have its endowment, it doesn’t need money from this gladiator sport. Football games, the Harvard-Yale game in particular, should begin with the players extending their arms and shouting to the crowd, “We who are about to incur permanent brain damage salute you!”

Edwin Bernbaum ’67
Berkeley, Calif.

Editor’s note: The magazine’s recent news coverage has included a report on Harvard Medical School’s Football Players Health Study; a feature on traumatic brain injury; and an article on Crimson football alumni involved in designing safer helmets.

 

Dick Friedman’s article was magnificent. I’ve done some football writing, and this piece was extraordinary.

Brien Benson ’64
Arlington, Va.

 

I first met Coach Murphy in 1994, two weeks after he arrived at Harvard. He sat with me for several meals at Kirkland House, the new guy, hair still dark. Imagine my surprise to see his gray-haired picture on the cover more than 20 years later! I remember his nervousness, planning on how to best improve the game of football at his new employ, thinking about how to strengthen the team, hoping that the relocation of his family was the right choice, hoping he would make a good impression on the players he was about to hit the road to recruit. I am so truly glad that time has served him well, that Harvard football has grown to be respected, finally, under his tutelage.

I was not a football player, just another student in Kirkland, but he took the time to make my acquaintance. What struck me the most about him was that he was a good guy, a serious thinking person’s coach, interested not only in the mechanics of the game, but in so many other things, and conscientious. I was on the way to graduating, but he was just starting out. Harvard is lucky to have had him, and his players are too. You couldn’t hope for a better guy to be your coach. Much continued success to you, Coach Murphy!

Chi Wang ’95, M.S., J.D.
New York City

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Dick Friedman’s article. It was informative and really explored the importance of preparation and passion that Murphy brings to the game. I would like to take exception to one comment. We did not skip practice under Coach Restic to go to the lab. We had at least 15 players who were pre-med. Coach started Thursday practice at 5 p.m. under the lights so that we could be both students and athletes.

John Cosgrove ’79, M.D.
Varsity football 1976-1978
Greenpoint, N.Y.

 

Sexual Assault

I am troubled by the lack of scientific rigor with which the Harvard community seems to be approaching its sexual-assault problem (“Harvard’s Sexual Assault Problem,” November-December 2015, page 18). That undergraduates, caught up in the immediacy of the situation, should respond primarily on the emotional level is understandable. However, a more reflective and scientific response should be expected from more senior members of the Harvard community. With the notable exception of President Faust, no one seems to have considered that this is a social-systems problem and not only a moral problem.

I would like to stress three main points. First, the statistic with which we are presented derives from a single point in time. We have no definitive idea whether this represents a change from 20 or 50 years ago. It is not inconceivable that the present deplorable state of affairs represents an improvement over the past!

Second, we have less than half of the important data. These sexual assaults were not perpetrated by criminals rushing out of bushes or burglars invading dormitory rooms; they were primarily the result of actions by other Harvard students. What motivated these students and what prevented other students, who may have felt the same impulses, but refrained from acting on them? Thus, we would need a second, totally anonymous, survey of the entire pool of potential assaulters [not all of whom can be assumed to be males] to find out how they view their behavior now, what they felt at the time, what facilitated or inhibited their behavior at the time, and what signals they interpreted or misinterpreted from the partner they assaulted.

Third, while it seems most plausible that alcohol facilitated many of the assaults, we are not entitled to assume that it was the only important facilitator. There are at least four other categories of substances that need to be considered: (1) illegal drugs such as cocaine, (2) the ultra-caffeinated drinks, (3) the hormones that many athletes are cajoled or forced to take in order to improve their athletic performance, and (4) the stimulant drugs, such as amphetamines and methylphenidate, that are often prescribed to improve concentration.

One would also like to know whether these assaults have any relation to the college calendar; for example, do they peak prior to exams or other stressful events.

I can only hope that the task force appointed by President Faust contains some social psychologists and at least one statistician, and not merely administrators, philosophers, lawyers, and theologians.

Ernest Bergel, M.D. ’56
Brookline, Mass.

 

A review of the American Association of Universities (AAU) report on sexual assault at Harvard, including a scan of the actual survey used to collect data, leads me to some disturbing conclusions. Despite the rigorous statistical analysis applied to participants’ responses, the study appears deeply flawed. It defines categories of behavior and relationships in a way that almost guarantees the truly shocking results highlighted in the November-December issue. At the same time, respondents are afforded little room for nuance or for addressing the ambiguity characterizing many of the questions.

A few examples might help. A section on intimate partner violence treats informal hookups (survey’s words), steady or serious relationships, and marriage as equivalent relationships. Certainly the nature of marriage has changed in our society, but to treat marriage and hookups as equivalent in the context of sexual assault invites skepticism. Similarly, the survey’s definition of violence between intimate partners encompasses a range of actions from controlling behavior to attack with a weapon. Sexual assault and sexual misconduct are lumped together in the survey questions and encompass behavior spanning non-consensual penetration to remarks about physical appearance. In short, the survey aggregates a large range of behaviors into a small set of categories lacking sufficient granularity to accurately characterize the problem. 

Among undergraduates, the survey results indicate 12 percent and 20 percent of females have experienced unwanted penetration and sexual touching, respectively, by the time they graduate. For males the respective numbers are 3 percent and 5 percent. The survey indicates that roughly 70 percent of penetration encounters and 80 percent of sexual-touching incidents are not reported because they are not considered serious enough by the victim. This suggests to me a level of complicity, ambiguity, and common sense among the involved parties. Applying these reporting percentages to the 12 percent/20 percent and 3 percent/5 percent results suggests that roughly 4 percent of female undergrads and 1 percent of males have unwanted penetration and sexual-touching experiences that are serious enough to report. While these numbers indicate a problem, they do not indicate an adolescent community in the throes of crisis suggested by the unfiltered AAU results depicted on page 18. Probably the most damning conclusion of the survey for the University is that students don’t trust University officials. Only 29 percent of female and 38 percent of male undergrads trust university officials to conduct a fair investigation. Only 16 percent of female and 35 percent of male undergrads trust the officials to take action against an offender.

Bottom line: survey design is deeply flawed; AAU report mischaracterizes the problem; University administration lacks credibility related to this issue among students.

Let us treat the AAU report with open and questioning minds such that hysteria doesn’t drive our response to a complex issue demanding cool heads, considerate thought, and deliberate action. That course will more likely lead to an identification of root causes and effective solutions.

Edmund W. Bacon ’78
Sutton, Massachusetts

 

I was appalled by the article on sexual assault. The apparent belief of the reporter is that there is genuinely a horrendous problem of rampant sexual predation on the campus, notwithstanding the realities that the survey results were merely recording the perceptions of participants in sexual encounters who chose to respond as self-defined “victims” and that the “most frequently cited reason for not reporting [by the 69 percent to 80 percent of women whose survey responses claimed an unreported incident of sexual penetration] was a belief that it was not serious enough to report.” 

There is no attempt in the article, or apparently in the survey, to address the perceptions or experiences of the alleged “perpetrators,” and there is not even an acknowledgment of the protest by a large number of Law School faculty criticizing the procedures within the University for adjudicating accusations with virtually none of the traditional due-process safeguards to prevent unfair results. The sexual conduct which is being examined necessarily involves at least two participants, and the story can seldom be impartially understood if the purported victim’s views are the only focus of the inquiry—whether in a survey or a disciplinary process. Instead of being stampeded to a one-sided conclusion and an arbitrary remedy for a more complex social and adjudicatory phenomenon, the Harvard administration should set an example of careful and balanced consideration of the issue.

Leslie W. Jacobs, L’68
Cleveland

 

I’m dismayed, as surely as alumni and the Harvard community, at the sorry record of undergraduate rapes. I graduated 60 years ago, but some of my vivid experiences then might still be relevant. Now as then, college students are teenagers. Harvard students then as now tend to think of themselves as pretty special. That combined with the sort of traditional standoffishness: one doesn’t speak to people you don’t know, for example.

I wonder whether the same immaturity socially, and the arrogance of brilliant students, exists today as in my day. The big difference is sexual experience. Most of my group of friends were inexperienced and (sigh) mooned about it incessantly, while today high school is the typical sexual-initiation time.

What to do? President Faust appeals to Harvard community values, which I believe are powerful. Yet what’s missing is the reality of the world. In the eyes of the law, rape is a felony. In all the discussion I’ve read in this magazine and online, never from the University do those words occur. They should occur. What if a rape victim were angry enough and courageous enough to carry through an accusation and go to the district attorney? Shouldn’t Harvard assist her? The girl at St. Paul’s School did accuse. The boy was acquitted [of certain charges], but he’s runined for the life course he would have had, and rightly so. A rape prosecution would provoke some forethought and do a lot more deterrence than appeals to decency, as important as those may be.

Returning to the notion of suitability for college, maybe prestigious colleges’ admissions should concentrate more on maturity, less on the academic and other achievements. Maybe Harvard should admit at 18 years of age, but permit or even encourage delay of attendance to, say, 25 years old. Let married undergraduates live on campus with their spouses. Some children running around the Yard and Houses might lighten the place up a bit.

Thomas Blandy ’54, M. Arch. ’60
Troy, N.Y.

 

Your report, “Harvard’s Sexual Assault Problem,” tells us this about women’s responses to the survey: “The most frequently cited reason for not reporting [an incident of penetration by force]…was a belief that it was not serious enough to report.” Nowhere in this dismaying, over-hyped story is it ever considered that these women were perfectly right to react as they did. Instead, the implication is this only shows how traumatized the poor dears are, how deluded by false consciousness imposed on their impressionable souls by a heartless patriarchy. 

I am sorry, but the statistics presented in this report are literally unbelievable. FBI statistics show clearly that women in colleges are rarely actually raped and are in LESS danger of true sexual assault than women not in colleges. If Harvard or any of the other colleges using these bogus statistics to bulk up on bureaucrats and thought-control counselors believed for a second that female students were in great danger, they would be doing many other things that they are not even considering. For instance, bringing back sex segregation in student housing, re-imposing good old-fashioned parietal hours, monitoring alcoholic consumption with far more rigor, beefing up police security in and around campus, providing escort services for women transiting campus at night, etc. They do not do these things because they know full well that their female students are already reasonably safe. Instead, they use the rhetoric of crisis to further impose draconian thought-control programs and semi-legal kangaroo courts in place of the police and our legally constituted judicial system. They thereby turn accusers into presumed victims and the presumed innocent into the already guilty. I am ashamed of my alma mater for so vigorously lending itself to this bogus crisis based on the shoddiest misuse of surveys and statistics imaginable.

Jonathan Burack, Class of ‘64
East Lansing, Mich.

 

Steven Hyman is absolutely right that “non-consensual sexual contact is unacceptable.”

I found the article “Harvard’s Sexual Assault Problem” most disturbing so I went to the complete coverage. This is too serious a problem not to be addressed with serious study and, in fairness, I believe Mr. Hyman made a good faith effort. Unfortunately, he failed.

Let’s start with the survey. The response rate of “more than 50 percent in the recent survey” means roughly 50 percent did not respond. In the context of this particular issue—Were you the victim of a crime?—I do not believe one can properly extrapolate from analysis of those responding. 

If the question asked were, “How many undergraduates have had sex with a chimpanzee?” and only one responded who said yes, I doubt Harvard would be headlining “All undergraduates are engaged in simian sex.”

Accordingly, I think the numbers of 16 percent and 31.2 percent should be cut in half for starters. Then, of these 8 percent of female seniors who did report nonconsensual sex at Harvard, only 31 percent, or 2.48 percent of the 8 percent, reported it formally.

According to Hyman’s report, “The most frequently cited reason for not reporting was a belief that it was not serious [enough] to report.” 

At this point, the sound of the Shirelles “But Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” started ringing in my head.

Interestingly enough, Hyman’s report said that more than 75 percent of the locations where the event occurred were in dormitories and c. 15 percent in single-sex organizations, e.g. final clubs and other club settings. Thus, one is five times safer at a party at a final club than if he or she were to go up to someone’s dormitory room. Hardly surprising!

However, this also highlights the fact that in more than 75 percent of the 2.48 percent or 1.86 percent of the instances where the nonconsensual sex was reported, one can reasonably conclude that the individual put herself at risk, further reducing the 2.48 percent figure to .62 percent. 

.62 percent is significantly lower than 16 percent!

One thing does seem for real: namely, drinking plays a role.

In reviewing the results of this study, I think one must keep two things in mind. The Shirrelles and the old, coarse saw that a girl can run faster with her skirt up than with a boy can with his pants down. 

Applying a modicum of common sense to the results of the survey as Hyman reports it, one must conclude that his analysis is irretrievably flawed.

To paraphrase Newt Minnow, the University should not make a vast change, as contemplated by [President] Faust’s direction to the committee, on half-vast information.

Next steps: (1) A reasonable memo to the student body pointing out the danger of over imbibing would certainly be in order. (2) Terminate the task force. (3) Get outside professionals who work in the area of data analysis to review the data and develop such additional information as appropriate or necessary to determine the actual incidence of rape on campus. (4) Then, put together a program to address the issue which would now be based on reasonable information and reasonable analysis of the information developed so you develop a supportable program.

Howard G. Seitz, LL.B. ’66
New York City

 

The sexual affronts seen in colleges, including Harvard, were unheard of in the ’50s. Certainly societal values have changed with the various “liberations,” but also with increased secularization, as religion is one of the major avenues for the teaching of moral values. (Coincidentally, Harvard reached another milestone with the selection of a freshman class with a majority of nonbelievers.) Does this cause a lessening of inner restraint? To be sure,there were structural changes as well, with the development of co-ed dorms and no parietal rules resulting in 24/7 access. We could correct this by the reinstitution of separate sleeping arrangements, parietal rules, and a required morals class. Will we? Maybe the tragic death of one student and the stabbing of the other during the “ménage à trois” at Yale will at least have us consider that temptation of this sort is a powerful driver, just as it was for Adam and Eve thousands of years ago. Ah, the value of history.

Peter McKinney ’56
Chicago

 

Max Beckmann and Modernity

Joseph Koerner’s essay on the painting by Max Beckmann (“Making Modernity,” November-December, page 44) recalled for me a day in September 1950 when, as a new freshman, I passed the Busch-Reisinger Museum on the way to the biology building. Curious, I entered this unattractive building only to be greeted with wooden Jesus Christs writhing away under their diapers. I had no sympathy for others in pain as I could not understand how I was ever to survive my own travail. I walked up the stairs to the second floor only to be greeted by this incredible man staring down at me. It was a surreal experience which ignited a lifetime of collecting art.

Max has never left my life. Some years ago, I had an artist replicate the painting for me. It now hangs in my winter home as a tribute to a life of art enjoyment. I was gratified recently when one of my granddaughters, touring Harvard, told me elatedly that Harvard owned a painting that was very much like mine.

Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!

Richard Hirschhorn ’54, M.D. ’58
Tucson

 

As an addendum to Joseph Koerner’s article, the iconic Self-Portrait in Tuxedo was purchased in December 1940 from Curt Valentin, Buchholz Gallery, New York, by my father, Charles L. Kuhn (Busch-Reisinger Museum curator, 1930-1969). I’ll bet everyone was also holding a cigarette.

Sally J. Kuhn ’59
New York City

 

As an alumnus who practices and studies art, I am pleased by Professor Koerner’s article. It is both lively and informative. Would he consider a regular column on pieces in the University collection? Or would he consider editing articles by contributors on the subject? The model is The Boston Globe’s art critic, Sebastian Smee, who encourages the public to look more critically with every column.

The Harvard collection is massive. My relatives contributed an elegant Gauguin portrait that is rarely on display; why not have authorities choose works they love, and analyze them? This could include other art professionals. Your readers are forgiving, not a community of scholars alone. We would be grateful and appreciative.

Bertram G. Waters ’60
Brookline, Mass.

 

Many years ago, a young man used to bicycle by the Busch-Reisinger Museum on his way to the Law School. Often he stopped to view its collection of German Expressionist works, including the “wonderful paintings” of Max Beckmann and others. After returning to Los Angeles and establishing a legal practice and after some delay, his interest was reawakened by the appearance of texts in English about the Expressionists. His name is Robert Gore Rifkind [LL.B. ’54]. He began to assemble what became an outstanding collection which has received frequent exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The museum is the home of The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Art.

Henry H. Moulton ’46
Cambridge

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Joseph Koerner’s insightful and informative essay, and especially so because of my own German ancestry and heritage. As a novice in art appreciation, I found that the essay really brought it to life and added greatly to my appreciation of the image itself.

As a descendant of a long line of German Protestants dating back to some of the earliest German migrations to America in the seventeenth century, I am glad to see the deliberate efforts to preserve German-American culture and heritage at the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard. German-Americans have played an important role in American history.

One of my German-American ancestors, one Christopher Sauer, owned the first printing press to print the Bible in German in the colonies. That press, a very costly piece of capital equipment in those days, was seized from Mr. Sauer at gunpoint by the Continental Congress, auctioned off to raise funds for the Revolutionary Army, and then used by its new owner to publish Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. One could say that America owes its independence, in part at least, to those early German Protestant settlers.

Though not particularly visible to the general public, my grandfather, Hans Ober Hess—a German-American graduate of Harvard Law School [LL.B. ’36]—did not forget his German heritage, either. Very fond of Harvard, “PopPop” asked to be buried in his lederhosen in a church burial ground near his undergraduate alma mater, Ursinus College, outside of Philadelphia and not far from the site of Christopher Sauer’s historic home and business.

The founders of the Busch-Reisinger Museum had the right idea about preserving history and culture. One can learn a lot from the study of history.

Jonathan L. Gal ’89
Provo, Utah

 

Social Progress Index

We are informed by Harvard Magazine (November-December 2015, page 15) that the country with the best “Health and Wellness” (“Do people live long and healthy lives?”) is Peru, while the United States ranks a dismal sixty-eighth in the world.

This seemed unlikely to me, and so I went to www.socialprogressimperative.org to see how Social Progress Imperative (SPI) arrived at its statistical claims.

The broadest statistic making up the Health and Wellness (HW) rating is Life Expectancy. From the figures, we see that the United States has a life expectancy a full four years longer than that of Peru (78.7 vs. 74.5 years). So how does SPI come to a figure that puts Peru at best in the world? They add other figures related to death, such as “Premature deaths from non-communicable diseases,” which are somewhat higher in the United States than in Peru. But why should we double-count a death from a noncommunicable disease like a heart attack or diabetes, which strikes mostly in advanced nations, but ignore a death from a communicable disease, most of which are more common in poorer nations like Peru?

The HW statistic also includes each country’s obesity rate. This seems reasonable on its face, but the U.S. obesity rate is one reason that U.S. life expectancy isn’t even higher than it is—and to add obesity in separately is to double-count the effects of obesity. Indeed, an obese U.S. person dying before age 70 of a heart attack or other noncommunicable disease is effectively triple-counted against the United States, while a non-obese Peruvian dying at the same age from pneumonia or tuberculosis (which might be more successfully treated in the United States) is not double- or triple-counted.

In short, SPI’s HW statistic makes the U.S. healthcare system look inadequate, but it is not a reasonable measure of countries’ health or of their healthcare systems.

The same article also featured a table showing an “Access to Basic Knowledge” (ABK) statistic. Here the United States was ranked forty-fifth in the world—surprisingly, below Saudi Arabia, which is fortieth. But a quick look at the statistics table at the SPI website shows that the United States has an adult literacy rate of 99 percent, while that of Saudi Arabia is 94.65 percent. Assuming the accuracy of these statistics, the Saudi rate of illiteracy is more than five times higher than the U.S. rate. So how was Saudi Arabia made to look better than the U.S. on a measure of educational foundations?

Looking at the details for ABK, we see that the literacy rate is supplemented by three separate statistics on school enrollment. For primary school, the U.S. enrollment rate is 91.82 percent, while the Saudi rate is 93.45 percent. For lower secondary school, the U.S. enrollment rate is 98.04 percent, the Saudi Arabia rate is 118.01 percent (!). And for upper secondary school, the U.S. enrollment rate is 89.48 percent, while the Saudi rate is 110.36 percent.

How can Saudi Arabia (among other countries) have an enrollment rate higher than 100 percent, and should such a rate be considered a good thing? The SPI website has a methodology section, but it doesn’t actually give us any specifics for definitions and sources for the statistics.

By the definition of the World Bank, which creates most of these statistics, the secondary-school enrollment rate, for example, “is the total enrollment in secondary education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the population of official secondary education age. [Enrollment rate] can exceed 100 percent due to the inclusion of over-aged and under-aged students because of early or late school entrance and grade repetition.”

Thus, the Saudi enrollment numbers are higher than 100 percent mostly because they are inflated by a lot of older students who are behind grade level. So here again we have the broadest and most relevant statistic, on which the United States fares quite well, offset by other statistics where it does not appear to do so. But unlike the HW measures mentioned above, where the additional statistics are at least legitimate measures of health (but are illogically double- and triple-counting many deaths in the United States), in the ABK category the high statistics for enrollment are counted as good things for Saudi Arabia when they are in fact measures of failure.

In short, the people putting together these statistics for SPI have created and are promoting highly misleading measures of social progress. I leave it to the reader to come to his or her own conclusions as to their motivation.

David W. Pittelli, S.B. ’86, A.M. ’87
Concord, N.H.

Lawrence University Professor Michael E. Porter responds: We are delighted that readers have engaged with the data in the Social Progress Index—this is the gap we have tried to fill. SPI is the first systematic attempt to create a holistic measure of the lived experiences of individuals around the world that is independent of GDP. By including the widest range of measures capturing multiple aspects of social progress, the Index offers countries and communities the ability to benchmark their strengths and weaknesses and mount a social progress agenda to achieve shared prosperity.

Many of our findings challenge self-perceptions and conventional wisdom, including our own. Indeed, the results for the United States are worrying: despite being the fifth wealthiest country in our sample in terms of GDP per capita, we rank sixteenth in terms of social progress. Clearly some readers find this surprising, which is understandable. Yet the data paint a clear picture of a U.S. that was once a leader in social progress, but is now falling behind.

For example, the United States ranks sixty-eighth in the world on “Health and Wellness.” This is a measure that covers not only life expectancy (where, at 78.7 years, we rank thirtieth in the world) but also health-related quality of life. In terms of the morbidity burden of obesity (where we rank 126th in the world) and mental health (we are eighty-first in the world on suicide rate), the United States performs poorly.

Though Peru, which a reader mentioned, is at a far lower level of economic development, its citizens nonetheless realize a comparable level of longevity and experience lower rates of obesity and death from suicide (and other elements of Health and Wellness) than the United States. Importantly, U.S. performance is not simply driven by problems of affluence that emerging countries are yet to face: the United States performs significantly worse on each of these measures than other rich countries such as Canada and France. There is also no double counting, as one reader suggested. Our principal component methodology is specifically designed to minimize or eliminate it.

U.S. educational performance is also troubling. On “Access to Basic Knowledge” the United States fares a little better (forty-fifth) but is still behind most other developed countries. This is not so surprising when we consider that our upper secondary school enrollment rate is just 89.48 percent (forty-ninth in the world). Saudi Arabia, mentioned by a reader, actually does perform better. Contrary to the reader’s assertion, our methodology caps enrollment at 100 percent and there is no bias in this comparison.

We invite readers to engage the data and methodology. To calculate an Index that allows fair comparisons, we use statistical techniques that minimize biases in comparisons. We only use publicly available data, and adjust for anomalies and inconsistencies (e.g. measures of school enrollment are top-coded at 100 percent). All the raw data, as well as indicator definitions, and the methodology for calculation are published on our website (www.socialprogressimperative/data/spi).

We wish the United States was performing better. Americans still tend to believe that our country is a leader in social progress, and in some key areas we still are. But we must face the facts that our health is lagging, our healthcare system is ineffective in important ways, and too many kids are dropping out of high school. Rather than denying or trying to explain away these problems, we should focus our energies on fixing them.

 

The article caused me at least to do some admittedly superficial research. I have traveled in virtually all the countries highlighted in the box on page 15, and some comparisons in that table astounded me.

Take for example Saudi Arabia (where I have spent a lot of time over the past 12 years) being ranked fortieth out of 133 in Access to Basic Knowledge. To be sure, if we look at the criteria for this group in the set of Professor Porter’s slides on the topic (the Internet reference is too long to quote here; I got it off the Harvard Business School site, typing Social Progress Index in the search box), primary- and secondary-school enrollment may be relatively high in the Kingdom, but what do they teach? The quality of public education in Saudi outside of religious education and the successful drumming of bigotry into the head of students is notorious.

Take health and wellness, next. Can anyone take an index seriously if it rates Peru number one in this category, when 16.9 Peruvian children of every 1,000 die before the age of five, compared to 2.3 in Finland and 6.5 in the United States. Life expectancy at birth in Peru is 77 years, which makes it tied with 8 other countries at thirty-third—forty-first place in the world. (All statistics are from 2013, published by WHO in 2015: who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2015/en). 

Still on the same topic, Ethiopia—the country that continues to cope with the biggest burden of HIV in the world (source: Tina Rosenberg: “On AIDS, Three Lessons from Africa,” New York Times, July 31, 2014) despite its impressive record of reducing new infections—is ranked ahead of Germany. Would Professor Porter be willing to drink water from a tap in Ethiopia? According to Wikipedia, “[a]ccess to water supply and sanitation in Ethiopia is amongst the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa and the entire world.”

Anyway, I have grave reservations about a “health and wellness index” that includes death rates from cancer and cardiovascular disease, illnesses mostly of elderly and middle-aged people, as opposed to rates from diarrheal diseases, malaria, and accidents, all of them preventable causes that take the lives of young people, predominantly.

Derick Pasternak ’63, M.D. ’67
Seattle

 

Endowment Assessments

President Faust’s November-December column (The View from Mass Hall, page 3) celebrated the “immortality” of an endowment gift. We tried to make a $1-million planned gift to support a good cause in perpetuity at Harvard, but couldn’t come to terms with the development staff. They insisted on using some income from our endowment gift for “other priorities,” describing the amount as “currently 10 to 15 percent,” with no limit, a practice called “taxing” in development vernacular.

Taxing makes Faust’s math misleading. The 5 percent for causes intended by endowment donors is before taxing; that is actually more like 4 percent after taxing, and under the terms offered us, that could become zero at Harvard’s option.

We did make similar gifts with four other universities, and all four agreed never to “tax” income from our gifts, with stated, agreed backup purposes if ours became problematic over time. Harvard’s terms let it determine when our gift’s intent proved unworkable, and then decide what to do with its income.

We did specifically ask about a restricted gift of the kind mentioned by President Faust as comprising 70 percent of the endowment, and drew a flat “No.”

Harvard could do better. Suggestions: (1) State Harvard’s policy on endowment gifts, covering what kinds of endowment gifts it welcomes, what it will accept as restrictions, and essentials of terms it thinks important. (2) Get transparent on taxing. Say what gets taxed, at what rates, what doesn’t. Set limits. (3) Work harder on alternative purposes to satisfy genuine donor intent rather than leaving all choice to Harvard. Other universities do this better. (4) Review the ethics of Harvard’s development generally, going open-book on matters well-intentioned donors might not ask about, staff-compensation policy, and anything else that might concern alumni and prospective donors if they knew the facts.

Name withheld upon request

Paul J. Finnegan, Fellow of Harvard Corporation and Treasurer, responds: Harvard thrives academically with the support of the University’s effective administrative framework and careful resource management. With regard to the assessment of endowed funds, critical functions throughout the University and Schools are necessary to provide high-quality services—such as student services, academic planning, facilities operations and maintenance, finance and human resources, and information technology, as well as other aspects of general administration. These costs are defrayed in part by using a portion of the endowment’s annual distribution. This recovery policy—which varies from School to School—ensures that each endowed fund plays a role in sustaining Harvard so that it can admit and support the very best students, hire and retain a world-class faculty, and conduct cutting-edge research.

It is important to note that before Harvard accepts any gift, we must ensure that the prospective donor’s goals and the University’s priorities are aligned. Sometimes this is not the case, and the University may discuss alternative gift opportunities that better match the institutional mission with donor intentions. On rare occasions when it’s not possible to achieve this alignment, the University may conclude that it is in the best interest of both the donor and the University to not accept a gift.

 

Divestment Debate

Views on divestment from fossil fuels vary, but the unwillingness of the Corporation and President to engage faculty, students, and alumni in an open forum regarding this question undercuts academic principles of exchange. For eighteen months, 261 faculty have requested in writing and in person such a forum. The Corporation has never responded.

In October, at a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting, President Faust said that she and the Corporation would refuse to participate in any such forum. She stated, “there had been many public forums,” but none, to our knowledge, in which a member of the Corporation addressed divestment in open dialogue. She dismissed those calling for open meetings as merely seeking “public relations.” She’d entertain “other formats,” apparently not open ones.

On this issue hundreds of faculty and thousands of alumni and students feel passionately.

The decision of the Corporation not to discuss divestment openly is a severe disappointment. Such discussion is what a university stands for, and the more a question is controversial, the more it involves the missions and values of the University, then the more such open discussion should occur. We benefitted from it when wrestling with divestment regarding South Africa. Whatever one’s view on divestment from fossil fuels, the refusal of the Corporation and President to engage with faculty, students, and alumni in an open forum regarding the matter should be regarded as contrary to fundamental principles of the University.

Professors James Anderson, Janet Beizer, Joyce Chaplin, Eric Chivian, Harvey Cox, James Engell, Alice Jardine, Brue Hay, Nancy Krieger, Jane Mansbridge, Stephen Marglin, James Recht, Nancy Rosenblum, Richard Thomas, Nicholas Watson, Shoshana Zuboff, among faculty urging divestment (www.harvardfacultydivest.com/communication)

From the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Business, Law, Medical, Divinity, and Kennedy Schools, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

President Drew Faust and William F. Lee, Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation, respond: We share the concern of divestment advocates about the grave risks posed by climate change. We have listened carefully and repeatedly to their arguments in various contexts. The President and other members of the Corporation have met on at least a dozen occasions with student and faculty proponents of divestment, and addressed related questions in a range of public settings. Indeed, we have created numerous such settings for discussion of approaches to climate change, most recently last month with a panel on the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, at which a number of divestment advocates contributed excellent questions. We have publicly stated our rationale (statement of October 3, 2013, www.harvard.edu/president/news/2013/fossil-fuel-divestment-statement) for believing that Harvard’s proper approach to confronting climate change should focus on research, education, smart use of our convening power, creative efforts to reduce our own carbon footprint, and engagement with key players toward genuinely effective solutions.

Faculty, students, and staff across Harvard are making extraordinary contributions (www.harvard.edu/tackling-climate-change) toward the search for climate change solutions, through scientific, technological, and policy efforts. Our Climate Change Solutions Fund is supporting innovative projects of particular promise. Our new Harvard Global Institute has directed its inaugural major grant to a multiyear climate change initiative focused on China. Our Center for the Environment is a crossroads for work on energy and environment. Faculty are deeply engaged in the Paris talks. And on our own campus, greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 21 percent since 2006. Across Harvard’s schools, faculty, students, and staff are rising to the climate challenge with the will and resourcefulness it demands, and we look forward to continuing that work.

 

Errata

In the Brevia section of the September-October 2015 issue (page 21), you misspell the last name of Arthur Levine, the founding head of the new education school at MIT. And before becoming president of Teachers College at Columbia University, he was a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Donald E. Heller, Ed.M. ’92, Ed.D. ’97
Dean, College of Education
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Mich.

 

In the November-December 2015 issue, in “ ‘Once Upon a Time’ in Translation ” (page 72), the name of Adam Freudenheim’s older daughter should be Suzanna, not Nina. The full names of the publishing company and imprint covered in the article are “Pushkin Press” and “Pushkin Children’s Books.” And U.K. bookseller Waterstone’s chose Pushkin’s first Oksa Pollock novel as its “Children’s Book of the Month,” not for its book club.

In “Murphy Time” (page 39), the correct title of the book cited is Third H Book of Harvard Athletics, and defensive end Tim Fleiszer’s name was misspelled. We regret the errors.

 

Academic Ailments

The November-December book review asks “What Ails the Academy?” (page 64), but offers little in the way of diagnosis and treatment. A good starting point might be to seek out the organizational root causes of the rampant dysfunction in today’s universities. I write as a former assistant professor at an Ivy League university, a senior administrator at another, an officer in a large corporation, and an education consultant.

Most universities consist of two parallel but incompatible organizations that understand each other little—the Academic and the Administrative. The Academic side, relatively unchanged since medieval times, is responsible for teaching and research, the essential mission of the university. They are the source of the prestige and influence of the institution.

Dysfunction #1. It appears that the Academic side of the house can no longer deliver the range of courses that students need and that the university promises. So they have implemented a medieval solution: a pool of adjunct (Latin for “subordinate”) professors floating from one university to another like the nameless craftsmen who built the great cathedrals of the middle ages. Although they are often gifted teachers and scholars, with awards and publications to their names, adjuncts are paid a pittance per course. Their accomplishments carry no weight: they are not eligible for salary or benefits, cannot apply for tenure, and may be made redundant with a day’s notice. However, much of the great education that undergraduates receive comes from these hard-working and unacknowledged scholars. What’s wrong with this picture?

The Administration, on the other hand, is a quasi-governmental bureaucracy whose original purpose was to provide essential services (building maintenance, libraries, security, etc.) to support the Academics, so they could fulfill their teaching and research mission.

Dysfunction #2: Over the past few decades, administrations have added corporate structures replete with Senior Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents, Directors, Senior Managers, etc., with commensurate compensation. An Executive Director of Integrative Strategies, for example, can expect a six-figure salary, health insurance, a retirement plan, paid vacation, tuition credits for personal growth, and the highly coveted “tuition benefit” for his children. The larger one’s department, the greater the likelihood of a promotion and raises, so key to success in this world is the ability to promote one’s accomplishments, get job descriptions approved, and hire new “direct reports,” who will soon exhibit similar behavior.

In corporate bureaucracies, employees at some point must demonstrate their contribution to the bottom line, a mechanism that helps control staff creep. Since universities have no bottom line, there are few measures for judging performance or value, and administrative staff proliferates. Result: although not the only factor, this contributes significantly to increases in tuition and we have seen them skyrocket.

The financial burden resulting from this dysfunctional system is placed on the students and has become a national scandal. Before society imposes a restructuring on the universities, wouldn’t it make sense for the universities to take a sober look and implement their own solutions based on an in-depth analysis? If Harvard did this first, it could become a role model, and might be able to drive the discourse.

Peggy Troupin, Ph.D. ’74
President, Class Act Inc.
New York City

  

Congratulations on your valuable summary of the challenges facing higher education. As a 50-year veteran of “elearning,” both as a pioneer and academic, I have watched higher education struggle with the opportunity (some like to call it disruption) to leverage information-technology resources. 

The dearth of research comparing learning outcomes in face to face and online teaching continues. Model programs to reduce tuition by offering credit for quality online courses are few and far between. 

An Ivy league consortium could make a major contribution by taking leadership in both areas.

Charles A. Morrissey, M.B.A. ’62, Ph.D.
Emeritus professor of strategy,
Graziadio School of Business and Management
Pepperdine University

 

I enjoyed your review of recent books addressing the Academy. As a retired community college teacher and Dean, though, if I consider what “ails”, a good word implying the curable, I’d add these reflections. I am in Professor Lani Guinier’s camp.

Admissions rates and the undergirding patterns, industries enabling these, tax law, policy priorities, developments in technology and growing income inequity, and grading patterns in public institutions echo among themselves and also reflect our squeezed middle and working classes. Grades in community college classrooms in Gen Ed. courses are mostly A’s and B’s or D’s and F’s. The students either do the work or do not, can do it or not, show up or not, try or do not try. Still, the either/or response to the pattern as rung by ideological bells only distracts from the kinds and growing extent of the real complications.  What lies under predictably extreme grades in public institutions and subsequent academic inequities is neither simple, ideological, nor a matter of added transactions or websites. As might be, say, credit card debts incurred or the next pressed computer key, text response, selfie shutter, or touching of an Ipad’s screen.  As Professor Guinier’s direction argues, test patterns and corporate [email protected] emphases (what Mr. Bruni refers to rightly as a “climate”) are the ever-threatening weather of a testocracy’s funneling measurability options. Such circulating and clouding options about children’s minds do indeed disable families, students, and teachers. More, a now normal slighting of teaching occurs because teachers are compelled to acquiesce in an upstaging of their earned authenticity in the children’s eyes - this as teachers, for days, must cut out more humane, particularizing approaches.

As damagingly but less admitted, an industrially scaled tank—financed and politicized—rolls over educators through this era’s corporate vocabulary’s oppressive grinding because, supposedly, as a behemoth can name its own terms and spread them, so is this vocabulary’s flattening taken to be normal and, therefore, supposedly accurate about everything. I believe, for example, that we need to listen to a spreading conflation blowing around and enveloping and clouding many signals which, by their financialized, broadening influence and powers to name, as though damaging merely collaterally, have the effect of sanctioning simple settled doings, transactions, as the be-all.  Listen to an electronically circling globe of implied end-stops in critical thinking, creativity, evidence-based, quantifiable, performance indicator, sales figures, GNP, electronically scanned multiple-choice, hits and “likes”, rankings, poll numbers, how many sound bites per minute? outrageous repetitions per minute, as for coca cola ads, as the nation’s political discourse;  dollars per film, please share-holders, numbers don’t lie, educational standards, innovation, Dow Jones’s figures, shows like Shark Tank, quarter’s profits, Nano-metrics, mega data, inventory, disrupters. I think we could conclude from a general, often orally pleasing ease in the way we think and express that transactions themselves, like a market share, define this era’s general good, the most honorable and educational value. Yet a resulting growing effect is this one. These factors and associated ones, treading and circling and deepening as we talk and listen, under the broader ironic and norming cover that is this throw-away culture, this instantaneity, over-simplify and reiterate for families, students, educators, legislators, pundits, graduate schools, software builders, and computer and Ipad-builders and legislators and lobbyists, a singularly wrong yet seemingly profitable direction, a pre-arranged ever-deeper rut for the perishable, the disposable:  ‘all one needs to do is push this right button; disrupt this next time, buy this next whatever.’

An associated thought is that a transaction ethos’s immediate purchases—new app, next channel, text message, tweet, ad, software, website, pill, score, rank, product—insistently sell, and prime children’s minds for, little more than the next immediate thing.  To such an extent in a consumer culture that the ocean of the gettable flows over and into children during most of the mall of their years. The process models from early times little that guides a brain toward a more humble, and never to be completed, North Star, which is concentration. My argument is that being young and vibrantly distractible, yet seldom then being genuinely mentored to concentrate by either their elders’ billion-legged virtual examples and actual spaces and times, from within the quickened, distracting pace, ever centrifugal, children quite logically conclude that concentrating is not valued except in the proper and false speeches. To multi-task or not to multi-task is the virtual day’s question about being. Raw intelligence takes in this scattering accurately and absolutely. There is little else going on.  The adults’ transacting ocean of immediacy-mentoring mentors models profoundly the opposite of what the adults claim to say.  Younger brains take in what has been built for them and around them by elders. This means that, not painstakingly introduced to an inner, satisfying cultivable garden in which to practice concentration regarding content they love, the kids neither like to, nor have time to, read, think, or write well. They earn few skills. They have not been cultivated, so they do not cultivate. Nor can they travel back over much that they do – that self-teaching - until they find through the teaching repetitions the way to make what they do just stand there as good.  More, because of less privileged families’ well-intentioned but too costly efforts, at times, to keep up with the hyped roll-outs about the costly “disruptions,” a word whose corporate shift of it into positive gear, as into an automatic general good, a “going forward,” grinds as Orwellian in my ear, youngsters often do not experience many flesh-and-blood persons in their lives. Work hours and several jobs take time. The youngsters seem left alone to enjoy more of what ails them: flickering images on insistent mentoring screens of the virtual. 

A few possible remedies are the opposite of disrupters. These create humanely paced flows.  Childcare Centers’ and families’ preparation for children’s foundational and life-long love of reading, all that this might mean, can neither be funded nor tended to as “women’s work” in the sense of any cliché’s old dismissiveness - dismissiveness often acknowledged, of course, and yet that soon grows silently and tacitly agreed to, in homes and public forums, by too many men. All men must mentor more by doing. The knowledge is clear.  The first, crucial three years predict lives emotionally and cognitively in a hundred billion idiosyncratic paths which accumulate and inform, live and die, so tellingly and fast that we do not understand them, and never will. More, all these wonderfully private paths’ exponential results will eventually affect all “homelands’” security - whether we are safe – as well as whether everyone will inhabit an environment still able to welcome us. Can we drink water? Can we breathe? Do our hearts pump? Do our vessels allow?  Is eatable food around us? Is a street safe?  The foundational valuing and modeling taken in by brains and senses during earliest years and then built on at the child’s pace – not technically; not industrially; not technocrat or lobbyist or program-driven – and later strengthened by homes’ informed care and schools’, is the heart of men’s matter as well and of what matters to human beings.  Therefore, societies’ most powerful and risk-taking female and male leaders all must offer their minds and sustained efforts, in public forums and at home, to the modeling of and achieving of the always-renewing goal.  Women’s work?  As women know, as nature knows, and as with cooking and cleaning, dusting and watering, this kind of nurturing is never done either.  

Corporations’ and legislatures’ easeful vocabulary, excessive reliance on technology, high-stakes testing - these many buttons – should be left outside classrooms, schooling, children’s and teachers’ school days. The sacred hours cannot be industrialized. What really counts is direct content arranged and expressed in personal styles that help the content seep into children’s experience. Educators having to please the measurers, minds turned over to the profits outside and above, demeans the church. As many times as he had read the lines, when Professor Harry Levine taught Antony and Cleopatra and cried at the podium about the earned self-knowledge in mature love, I heard and saw and remembered.  The process begins with a teacher’s understanding of and love of the content. Why are live sentiments so important?  Because the children – all of us, all our lives – respond most powerfully to what is relational. We love and do what the trusted person loves and does. We love and do the nouns and verbs that informed and particular souls in front of us love and do.  How do I seriously love the bloodless boiler-plate, the hapless ‘dauugh’ in “critical thinking” or “creativity” or “assessment” or “evidence-based”?  The planetarium or race course or universe presented is the wrong one.  Years ago I attended a well-feted weekend. The brave new world was liberal arts in industry. In a pleasant setting two PhD’s in industrial psychology completed the weekend’s “participant-research” seminar by pinning up consensus papers that bill-boarded for me and other teacher-participants that the new, rinsed and sensitized industrial culture being brought today to enlighten us sought “communication skills”: all listeners’ two-way street.  Really. And did the paid professional researchers, who were fine people, believe what they did?  Like the kids, I was supposed to learn to become a bit of market share. I was merely instrumental in these sponsors’ and mentors’ eyes.

A final remedy is educators and parents understanding that children sitting intently in virtual-hugging chairs, at home playing games or in schools wedded excessively to machines or treading technological and technocratic pathways or guided by the hosts of vague and airy assistants, colonial custom rites -  bloodless and imposed, deferential vocabulary - are neither being hugged nor talked with. Whether in classrooms or other realms, what youngsters’ limited academic abilities really express is their lived lives. These are lives wherein hundreds of billions of bits of encouraging live emotion never had chances to inform brains because no one at home or anywhere had been there to grace these wonderfully pliable brains with the sacred attention of careful encouragement. To extend into the longer view then the ground-work of useful foundations, I believe that pre-schools, elementary, and secondary schools all should offer again and offer steadily, forever, to counter through the arts’ general healing an emotional ailing imposed structurally by children’s glazed-up virtual days, generously funded education in liberal arts and arts.  These because arts’ entwining emotional and cognitive pathways, these infinitely entwining senses rehearsed together – pathways which we name “domains” were never at all separable – lead to self-confidence, self-expression, and the love of content.  - And more, lead to an immersing and ever compiling practice of studying and experiencing the loved content, of turning it over time and again in one’s mind and hand. Lead to what I would call the joyful practice of concentrating.

What ails the public academy is that an endless ocean of disruption, sailed through in the dark as though only disruptiveness can really be positive, is immersing adults’ and children’s days, nights, brains, and budgets. The word focus has grown quaint. History is invisible.  These two are laughs, both “bad” yesterdays:  an infinite number of disruptions behind.  Little in this day is really designed, as a book, poem, carefully designed problem or assignment, dramatic role or musical composition, or painting or sculpture is, to mentor for a rewardingly educating period of time the act of concentrating as a joyous act. The academy’s ailments will not be solved by more transaction, by a rolling and oppressing testocracy, or by words and imagery about the personal trafficked on repeatedly by the virtual. Children are too natively smart to miss all the disruptions that really inform them. Look into their plain-seeing good eyes. This is what the children are showing to us, the adults, their elders and caretakers who are building and modeling where and who we are as surely as we are also modeling breathing and feeling.  

                                                                        Kent Mitchell ’65
Brookline, Mass.

 

More on “Cowboy Doctors”

Loath as I am to get involved, the pompous pontifications by [David] Cutler, [Jon] Skinner, and Ariel] Stern in your November-December 2015 issue are so inappropriate—indeed so stupid—that one is morally obligated to respond. An old saw says: Those who can, do; those who can’t, comment on those who can. Your triad miss the fundamental point about clinical medicine. It always requires judgment. Judgments vary, and some people’s judgment(s) are better than others. Have any of your triad of commentators ever practiced medicine or surgery? Have they ever had someone else’s urine or blood on their hands? Have they ever seen a person die because one of them made a mistake in judgment, albeit a well-meaning mistake? To quote Osler’s dictum, “Have they ever been to sea at all?” If not—and I suspect not—then their views are not worth a plugged farthing and should not have been published. Having faculty appointments at Harvard does not make their judgments intelligent.

John P. Blass ’58, M.D., Ph.D.
Burke professor of neurology and medicine, emeritus
Weill-Cornell Madical College

 

Color-Added Cuba Images

As a resident of Tucson, I have long been familiar with the problems of relations between the United States and Latin American countries. I therefore read with great interest “Cuban Connections, Americans as Liberators?” (Treasure, November-December 2015, page 92). The literal “coloring” of the narrative was not limited to tinting the legs of some of the Cuban expatriate volunteers in the photograph. One of the volunteers is armed with an obsolete Model 1884 Springfield .45/70 single-shot rifle. The U.S. Army had adopted the repeating Krag-Jorgensen rifle in 1892. How typical that we armed our allies with second-rate weapons!

Sterling Vinson ’61
Tucson

 

Who Primes the Pump?

On College Pump proprietors Primi I-IV: Please give their names. Thank you.

Jonathan Gell ’51, A.M. ’64
Oneonta, N.Y.

Primus IV responds: Now it can be told: PI—David T.W. McCord ’21; PII—William Bentinck-Smith ’37; PIII—Norman A. Hall ’22; and PIV—John T. Bethell ’54

 

Masthead Moves

After 16 years of service, digital technologies and production director Mark Felton has moved to a new career in technology consulting; he leaves with our deep appreciation and warm best wishes. We welcome to the staff Marina Bolotnikova ’14, arriving from the editorial board of the Toledo Blade, and Lydialyle Gibson, a veteran of the University of Chicago’s excellent alumni magazine. You will enjoy their work in these pages and online.

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At Harvard African Students Association’s Africa Night (from left): Tom Osborn ’20 of Kenya; Joshua Benjamin ’21, of Phoenix, Arizona (whose ancestors are Angolan but were first brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late seventeenth century); Tawanda Mulalu ’20 of Botswana; and Mfundo Radebe ’20 of South Africa

Photograph by Christabel Narh

Harvard through an African filter

You Might Also Like:

At Harvard African Students Association’s Africa Night (from left): Tom Osborn ’20 of Kenya; Joshua Benjamin ’21, of Phoenix, Arizona (whose ancestors are Angolan but were first brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late seventeenth century); Tawanda Mulalu ’20 of Botswana; and Mfundo Radebe ’20 of South Africa

Photograph by Christabel Narh

Harvard through an African filter