Cambridge 02138

Justice Holmes, another shoeless feat, athletic admissions


I read “Raw and Red Hot” (May-June, page 46) with great interest. I have equally great admiration for the clear writing. The multifaceted faculty approaches to the many well-known, as well as to the recent, involvements of inflammation in humanity’s defenses and illnesses were beautifully presented. We have come a long way from the rubor, calor, and dolor (redness, heat, and pain) reactions to a foreign body, usually of infectious nature.

The compilation of interests and questions whose answers are being sought reminded me of my 1953 freshman chemistry class, Chem 1, with Professor Eugene Rochow. Among the many witticisms that Rochow inserted into his lectures was a couplet that I hope I am quoting accurately:

Little bugs have littler bugs upon their backs to bite ’em.

Littler bugs have littler bugs, ad infinitum.

I now interpret that to mean that, no matter how many answers scientific research determines, it unearths even more questions. That’s why we need research—to answer questions; and why we need to support it—to ask deeper ones.

Murray L. Levin ’57, M.D.

Speak Up, Please

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by email to [email protected].

The article did a great job of presenting the groundbreaking research behind the negative role of inflammation in the body. While there are likely benefits of finding medications that can address these issues, we must also believe in the willingness and ability of individuals to tackle the inflammation problem through diet and exercise. The author, Jonathan Shaw, states, “The great difficulty with interventions involving altered diet and increased exercise is that…people already know what they should be doing—but for most, that knowledge doesn’t change behavior….This suggests that pharmaceutical interventions that block inflammation may be necessary to check the global epidemic of non-communicable disease.”

I run Wellness Foundation, a grass-roots nonprofit on Long Island that has been teaching people how to adopt a whole-food, plant-based diet for 14 years. We were created largely to address heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Our six-week kick-start program is successful at reducing cholesterol, weight, and prescribed medications. But what we didn’t initially expect was how much it could help people with other inflammation-related problems such as arthritis, headaches, acid reflux, back pain, and eczema. Even people with depression report significant improvements.

Many of our clients have been told by their doctors to take medications, but rarely do their physicians recommend a diet and exercise program. In talking to skeptical doctors early on, many didn’t believe that their patients could change their habits. But after seeing dramatic results in their own patients, doctors now regularly refer patients to our program and several have even taken the program themselves.

I am encouraged to see Harvard scientists strengthening research on inflammation, but we must also encourage patients to make changes to their diets, and—even more importantly—create environments in our communities where healthy lifestyles are the norm. For while we may be pushing against evolutionary habits to consume sugar and fat, change is possible, and those people who make changes are more likely to live long, healthy lives.

Michele Sacconaghi, M.P.P. ’92
Sag Harbor, N.Y.

Jonathan Shaw’s article on inflammation is well researched and well written. Inflammation, however, may originate from divergent sources via several different pathways. Thus, categorizing them as “inflammation” in one fell swoop may be too naïve. One group of inflammation comes from infections or other noxious stimuli which our immune system tries to fight by generating the cardinal signs explained by Celsus. The other inflammatory groups include endogenous metabolic inflammation, which comprises the main gestalt of Shaw’s article, and the last group is autoimmune inflammation stemming from aberrant immune reactions.

Metabolic inflammation is the result of several obesity-related illnesses such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and diabetes. These non-infectious inflammations are called sterile inflammation, denoting non-involvement of infection, and usually do not exhibit the cardinal signs. However, blood viscosity upsurges in metabolic inflammation. Thus, fish oil with mild anti-coagulator function may alleviate increased blood viscosity in metabolic inflammation. The largest source of chronic inflammation is obesity. IL-1beta, as stated in this article, is in the center of this pathway. Therefore, reducing obesity will decrease inflammation, IL-1beta, and abate many chronic diseases. Indeed weight loss decreased CRP, the marker of inflammation referred to in the article.

Although these non-infectious and infectious inflammations produce similar cytokines, they have vastly distinct origins of pathogenesis. Clearly distinguishing these pathways will help the public’s understanding of inflammation and treatment options. One would not treat chronically abscessed teeth with fish oil, nor fatty liver disease with anti-infective drugs. Some pathology, such as periodontitis, does involve metabolic inflammation superimposed with local infection. Thus, it requires a two-pronged approach utilizing both anti-metabolic and anti-infective treatments.

Although “knowing” the disease process may not directly translate into behavioral changes, don’t we have the obligation to educate the patients as to what causes their illness? In my surmise, Hippocrates is still correct as he said, “Before you heal someone, ask him if he’s willing to give up the things that make him sick.”

Sok-Ja Janket, M.P.H. ’02

It seems a frequent occurrence that a new approach to understanding today’s health issues is informed by the mismatch between the slow evolutionary pace of our biological systems and the relatively rapid environmental changes of the recent past, perhaps especially in what and how we eat. Controlling inflammation is a noble goal, but I was surprised that the article jumped directly to “pharmaceutical interventions” as “necessary to check the global epidemic on non-communicable diseases.” What a colossal assumption! Why not look to the underlying causes of chronic inflammation—reduce the incidence and severity before we need more drugs? And why the assumption that we must synthesize various SPM compounds before effective nutrition interventions can be found? We evolved eating real, whole foods, not synthesized compounds. Evolution might say “Eat the whole foods pictured in the article to help prevent chronic inflammation. Start now—don’t wait for an expensive pill!”

Rick Simpson ’74, M.B.A. ’78
Hancock, N.H.

Justice Holmes

I am neither a lawyer nor a historian of law, but I was aware more than colloquially of Holmes’s Buck v. Bell decision, and though Lincoln Caplan (“America’s Great Modern Justice,” May-June, page 54) mentions the shadow it cast on Holmes’s career via reference to Adam Cohen’s book (which I have not read), he seems to whitewash Holmes’s explicit eugenic agenda by framing it in cosmopolitan terms, and rather than condemn this vile-mindedness, chooses rather to celebrate this jurist, ignoring instead the ethical and legal groundwork it paved for Hitler’s Final Solution and, later in our own country, for continued cruel and abusive treatment of the mentally ill and suffering. I find this reprehensible and though Holmes may yet be a favorite son of Harvard, I do not consider him a civilized man.

Philippe P. Bloch, A.L.B. ’95, M.Ed.
Brookline, Mass.

Lincoln Caplan defames the English and American judges who preceded Oliver Wendell Holmes when he says that they pretended to deduce the law from a brooding omnipresence and were unaware that law evolves to meet human needs. He is far from the first to tell how the great justice slew the deductive formalist bogeyman, but the tale is a myth.

Two centuries before Holmes declared that the life of the law has not been logic but experience, Matthew Hale wrote that laws are “accommodated to the Conditions, Exigencies and Conveniences of the People” as those “Exigencies and Conveniences do insensibly grow upon the people.” One century before Holmes, John Dickinson told delegates to the Constitutional Convention, “Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.”

Perhaps Caplan obtained his law degree without encountering any opinion by Lord Mansfield or Chief Justice Marshall, both of whom obviously made law with joyous abandon.

Albert W. Alschuler ’62, LL.B. ’65
Kreeger professor emeritus,
University of Chicago Law School;
author of Law without Values: The Life, Work, and Legacy of Justice Holmes
Cumberland Center, Me.

Lincoln Caplan responds: In his Holmes biography, Stephen Budiansky acknowledges “a stream of anti-Holmes vituperation that at time has bordered on the hysterical.” Professor Alschuler’s scathing critique of Holmes in Law without Values, which I took account of in my research, has earned him a reputation as one of the most vituperative. In The Common Law, Holmes quotes Hale, Mansfield, and Marshall. My article didn’t claim Holmes had a thought that no one had ever had before. It reported that, in this iconic work of legal history, Holmes gathered evidence countering the “prevailing view about this form of law in the late nineteenth century.”

Justice Holmes’s dissent in Abrams v. United States is justly celebrated. But Holmes’s rhetorical skill in that case should also be noted. Praising “free trade in ideas” and “the competition of the market,” the justice appropriated the language of the conservative defenders of laissez-faire economics and turned it against them in defense of freedom of speech. I imagine him casting a sly glance at his colleagues as he delivered his opinion.

John V. Orth, J.D. ’74, Ph.D. ’77
Chapel Hill, N.C.

I read with great interest the superb account of Oliver Wendell Holmes by Lincoln Caplan. To that account I would like to add this. 

 In 1930 the Harvard Law School engaged my grandfather, Charles Hopkinson, Harvard class of 1891, to paint Holmes’s portrait. In 1958 Hopkinson described his encounter with Holmes in the 1958 Atlantic Monthly thus:  

...The biggest game I shot, and the most beautiful man who posed for me, was Mr. Justice Holmes—my most exciting commission, perhaps. He must have been about eighty-seven years old, with a shock of white hair over his high forehead, and a fine white cavalryman’s mustache, which he could not forget. One day after he had asked me to stay to lunch, as his secretary and I walked into the dining room together, he heard us congratulating the world on some decision toward international peace which we had seen in the newspapers. He said, “You young fellers don’t know what you are talking about. I remember how, in a cavalry charge, a Reb slashed at me with his sword. I put my pistol right against his chest. The damned thing didn’t go off. I wish to God I had killed that man.” Now that was very soon after he had delivered the momentous dissenting opinion favoring the giving of citizenship to Rosika Schwimmer, a noted pacifist. 

 Another day, after asking me to stay to lunch with Felix Frankfurter and his wife, he went off to be refreshed by listening to his secretary reading to him “The Confessions of a Chorus Girl.” Thus stimulated, he kept the conversation at luncheon on the high plane of philosophy and other subjects so far above my head that I could only sit in silent awe. I am told that when Frankfurter took him to see his portrait in the Harvard Law School, where he wanted it to hang, opposite that of Chief Justice Marshall, he said, “That is not I, but perhaps it is just as well that people should think it is. How did the damned little cuss do it?” 

Today the portrait sits in the entryway of Hauser Hall.

Arthur A. Shurcliff ’65
Richmond, Va. 

A Holmes-Inflammation Nexus

Both of the articles were excellent. At first reading, the topics discussed may seem disparate. The article about Justice Holmes stimulates interest in reading Stephen Budiansky’s new biography of Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. in its entirety. The article about inflammation outlines how chronic unregulated inflammation, which does not restore homeostasis, may be the common pathogenetic mechanism in many different diseases.

Perhaps a link between the two articles may be made through Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. [A.B. 1829, M.D. ’36, LL.D. ’80]. Justice Holmes’s father made important contributions to literature and medicine. A common message from both articles may be that chronic inflammation is deleterious to the body and the body politic. Modulation of inflammation should restore health.

David J. Zaleske, M.D. ’75
Naples, Fla.

Another Shoeless Feat

I was intrigued by the article about Kieran Tuntivate’s one-shoe victory in the 3,000-meter run (“One Shoe, No Problems,” May-June, page 34).

My grandfather, David Connolly Hall (Brown, 1901), also had a one-shoe track run in the 1900 Paris Olympics, good for a bronze medal in the 800 meters—making him the first Rhode Island Olympics medalist. According to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame write-up, “In a trial heat at Paris, he established the long-time Olympic record in the 800 meters of 1:56.2 on a grass track, but in the finals a competitor stepped on his heel, causing Hall to lose a shoe. Hall finished the race in third place, but the gold medal time of 2:01.2 was far slower than Hall’s earlier pace. During his Brown career Hall was a two-time New England champion and set a national record in the half-mile run.”

He went on to become a physician, but interrupted his career to serve in World War I, where he directed 33 ambulance companies in Italy. He lived in our guest cottage while I was in high school and at Harvard.

I told him about running a 2:08 half-mile in the freshman open meet in 1965. He was not impressed. It was my only timed half-mile. I was a football and tennis player.

David C. Hall III ’68
Lopez Island, Wash.


I always appreciate the letters section of Harvard Magazine, and the May-June issue (particularly regarding the 1969 student strike) was especially lively.

Michael Widmer comments in his letter that “Many of the police took full advantage of the long awaited ‘opportunity’ to pummel the privileged students whom they had always resented.”

I was astounded by the anti-police bias in that comment. I wonder how many of those police he surveyed to come to the determination that they resented students and that they had long waited for the chance to “pummel” them. I wonder if Widmer is even aware of the bias implicit in his comment.

Peter Keese ’58
Knoxville, Tenn.

Michael Widmer responds: Anyone who lived in Cambridge during the 1960s, as I did, knows full well through word and deed that large numbers of Cambridge police resented what they saw as privileged and snobby Harvard students—a feeling, by the way, with which I had considerable sympathy. And anyone who watched the invasion of Harvard Yard, as I did, knows full well that many of the police resorted to gratuitous violence that went way beyond what was required to disperse the students. One doesn’t need to do a survey to make an obvious connection between the police sentiment and the excessive violence. The facts speak for themselves.


I am Harvard 1951 and will be 90 in November. I was nowhere near Cambridge in 1969. It might seem that I have no proper place at the table of those remembering that time at that place. I remember the Harvard Yard and the steps of Widener Library and Memorial Hall not as battlefields but as the places where my wife and I fell in love.

But I have credentials. In 1961-1964 I taught history at a college for African American women in Atlanta, where Howard Zinn was my department chairman and one of my students was Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple.  I was coordinator of Freedom Schools in Mississippi in Summer 1964. In April 1965 I was chairperson of the first march against the Vietnam war in Washington D.C. I lost the possibility of tenure at Yale, and as it turned out, my career and livelihood as an historian, when I made an unofficial trip to Hanoi in 1965-1966 with the late Tom Hayden, hoping to gain information that might be helpful to those negotiating peace. Recredentialled as a lawyer, I helped together with my wife, Alice, to win a unanimous decision by the United States Supreme Court requiring Ohio prison administrators to provide at least a minimum of due process when a prisoner was transferred to Ohio’s supermaximum security prison, half an hour’s drive from our home.

So here are my own postscripts on the meaning and the end of the 1960s.  

The early and late 1960s were separate sub-cultures. I was a creator and product of the early 1960s. These were the glory days of nonviolent direct action and civil rights lawsuits. Ending a meeting with staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as “brothers and sisters standing in a circle of love” offered a glimpse of what a better world might be like. However, the northern strands of the Movement were characteristically white and middle-class and South as well as North leadership of the Movement was dominated by males.

The second half of the 1960s was indeed heavy. Some people did things for which they are still behind bars. As a lifelong socialist I welcomed the new awareness of capitalism and imperialism. But I was appalled by the practice of calling all police officers “pigs” and by casual references to “icing” or “offing,” that is, killing, comrades with whom one disagreed. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Northern radicals perceived the United States to be much nearer to a revolutionary situation than was the case, as spokespersons for revolutionary movements in Cuba and Vietnam tried to tell us.

Find me a person or an organization that was not partly Right and partly Wrong during those difficult years. And if there is one thing about which I would warn younger versions of ourselves as they go forth to struggle it is: Seek to create in your marriages and families a version of that better society you are trying to create. Avoid a division of labor in which the man circumnavigates the globe giving speeches and planning political actions while the woman stays at home tending the children and holding the household together. Think of the marriages of Movement colleagues whom you know or know something about, and count how many of those marriages survived the Sixies unscathed. Alice and I have been told that the same problem afflicts formidable movements for social change in South Africa, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, and Palestine.

As the song says, Just my hands can’t make a better world. To those of you inclined Leftward, Hit the line for Harvard but not because Harvard wins today; jump in and persevere with the rest of us because a suffering world very much needs our help.  

Staughton Lynd ’51
Niles, Ohio 

Having read with interest both the magazine and as much of the online letters as I had time for (Harvard grads don’t seem to be very economical with words), I thought I’d make this observation re: how despite everything, civil respect for opposing opinions was still possible in 1970 even when the protest escalated!

I was Ph.D. student at Harvard, having transferred from Princeton. I attended the Allman Brothers’ concerts in the Square and otherwise was sympathetic with efforts to protest the war in Vietnam.  I had gone to the University of Toronto to study Dostoyevsky in 1966 and the Canadian press had a very different view on the war than did the U.S. press. Even The New York Times at that time was in favor of the war, accepting the view that the problem was an “invasion” by the North of the South! (Something they forget now.) I was scheduled to write my general exams for the Ph.D. in the spring of 1970 (I continued my progress to the Ph.D. while many other Ph.D. candidates dropped out or got suspended—many of them contributed letters). As one of your contributors remembers, that was a time of “fiery riots and university shutdown following the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970.” (For me, and for many Ph.D. students, more devastating than 1969.) I was assigned the main hall in the Divinity School to write my general exams for a week. The very first day, a Monday, a group of SDS (?) with red bandannas burst into the room and declared they needed it to meet. I explained that I had been assigned to write my general exams in that room for the week. They paused for a moment and then said, “OK, we’ll find somewhere else to meet.”

In today’s era of uncompromising dismissal of different opinions, I believe that it’s worth a nod to the SDS (?) protesters for their consideration.

(P.S., I was a graduate of Culver Military Academy and received honors in ROTC, and also received a superior education. I was admitted to Yale as an undergraduate, skipping my freshman year on a full scholarship, but all they had to study was linguistic positivism and I wanted to study Dostoyevsky, because I wanted to uncover the origins of Christianity after reading “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov in an Advanced Placement English class.)

James Breech, Ph.D. ’76
Orono, Ontario

Athletic Admissions

Many thoughtful people understandably are in a fury over the college admissions scandal [see 7 Ware Street]. The basis of the outrage is that elite universities are supposed to be institutions that educate the most outstanding students, but, due to corrupt behavior, less accomplished scholars displace individuals who are likely to be better students. At Yale a coach receiving bribes gave to the admissions office, on his list of recruited athletes, the names of two nonathletic applicants who were, by Yale’s metrics, sub-standard students. But wait! No deserving scholars were displaced, but only two potential athletes.

This points to the greater area of concern. I have no complaints about Harvard’s recruited athletes. They got in according to the rules, and the large majority of them made fine use of their time at Harvard. But now is the time to reassess the policy on recruited athletes. About 15 percent of the class are these athletes. In the scandal currently roiling the nation, a handful of better students was displaced by the corrupt actions of the conspirators. If 80 percent of Harvard’s athletes would not have gotten in without their athletic credentials, that means they displaced 200 applicants who, according to Harvard’s standards, are better students and more deserving of being at a great educational institution.

The irony is that the policy doesn’t even give Harvard a competitive advantage: our Ivy League peers have the same policy. It’s time for the entire league to reconsider the policy of providing an admissions advantage to recruited athletes; a change would raise the student body’s academic abilities dramatically.

James W. Anderson, M.Div. ’73, Ph.D.

When Houghton Wasn’t Open

I was amused by the article about Houghton Library (“A Sense of Belonging,” May-June, page 18), subtitled “open to all.” As a student at the School of Education in 1964, I wasn’t allowed in because I was female. This was years before the “women’s movement” so I hadn’t yet learned to be hurt or outraged: that was just the way it was, something else we women had to work around or not give a hoot about. I assumed there was something so precious inside that building that it had to be reserved for the very greatest among us. Also, Harvard was a boys’ school, really, so let it be a boys’ school. I didn’t care; the books I needed were at Widener.

One day, the poet William Meredith arrived in Cambridge to read at Houghton. He was my teacher in undergraduate days and I was, if I may say so, his pet. So of course, I went to his reading. I entered Houghton and looked around. What’s so great about this place? I asked myself. It was just some dumpy library. It was the Wizard of Oz! I remember feeling confused and sort of sorry for men that they had to make exclusive something so mundane. But I never forgot.

Diana Altman, M.A.T. ’64
New York City


I was dismayed when a spokesperson for Harvard Management Company (HMC) described the movement by faculty and students to divest from fossil fuels as a political issue. The December 11, 2018, letter to President Bacow and the Fellows of Harvard College signed by 250 faculty members makes clear that HMC’s “continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is discordant with our mission and with the purposes of the endowment.”

The 2018 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a clarion call for bold action on an unprecedented institutional, local, and international scale. There is little doubt that climate change is occurring rapidly and with ever greater societal costs and damage to the natural world. Old metrics for decisionmaking no longer apply. Free-market economies influenced by vested interests will fail to respond quickly and rigorously enough to avoid devastating environmental destruction. Market mechanisms alone are insufficient to address climate change and do not adequately value the complex ecosystems that support all life on earth.

Transitioning to a carbon-free economy is an unprecedented global challenge that requires bold and decisive action. The arguments that it will cost too much or that technology will find a silver bullet are incorrect. Real leadership is needed to avoid leaving a much-diminished world to our children and grandchildren.

This open letter is an urgent call to Harvard to employ its considerable influence to bring about meaningful change, to lead with vision and moral authority, and to commit to a sustainable future. HMC’s financial support for an industry that is drilling humanity and the natural world toward disaster is incompatible with the values and principles of a great university.

J. Hale Smith, M.B.A. ’77
Milton, Mass.

The Faculty Dean’s Duties

My first reaction to the press reports of the controversy over Professor Ronald Sullivan’s dual role as counsel for Harvey Weinstein and faculty dean of Winthrop House was to cite it as an example of the inadequate current teaching of American history in the high schools. Certainly by the time I had graduated from high school in 1954, I knew that John Adams had been counsel for the six British soldiers indicted for the murder of Crispus Attucks and five other colonists in the so-called Boston Massacre of 1770, which underlay the American Revolution. Subsequently I learned that one of his co-counsel was Josiah Quincy II, son of President Quincy and a member of the College class of 1763.

At that point I was prepared to dismiss the student objections to Sullivan’s dual role as based on ignorance of the high ethical calling of members of the Bar to defend the accused, guilty or not. Certainly, even as a lawyer early in my practice of administrative law, I was appointed by the courts to defend indigent defendants who were likely guilty as charged.

But “Coming to Terms with Sexual Harassment” (May-June, page 22) has raised a question as to whether Sullivan’s role as counsel for Weinstein is a conflict of interest with his role as faculty dean with respect to his students’ sexual issues. Your reporting will be incomplete without addressing that question, which I consider the only basis on which the decision to remove Sullivan as faculty dean could be justified.

William Malone ’58, J.D. ’62
New Canaan, Conn.

Your article should have been titled “Coming to Terms with Harvard’s Failure to Educate Its Students.” In what has become the Sullivan case, Harvard missed its chance to help its students understand the quest for truth in legal proceedings.

Anyone is entitled to have an opinion about the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant. But every defendant is entitled to an effective legal defense. The students who protested Sullivan’s decision to defend Weinstein understood neither point. They did not understand that their opinion about Weinstein is just that: an opinion that does not vitiate the presumption of innocence. And they did not understand that even the most unpopular defendants—indeed, even guilty defendants—are entitled to a fair trial with a lawyer of their choosing. They also did not understand that a lawyer who serves a client does not, by that service, endorse anything the client may have done.

Or perhaps the students acted as they did simply because they could. After they acted up and acted out, the dean of Harvard College, unable to dismiss Sullivan for the reasons given by the students, initiated a “climate” investigation at Winthrop House. The findings were predictable. Students, presumably including many whose actions instigated the investigation, reported that the “climate” was unsatisfactory, and so Dean Khurana terminated the leadership of the faculty deans.

So the sequence is that students initiate an ignorant and unwarranted protest. The dean fails to help them understand anything about the legal process and the right to counsel, but instead orders an investigation of a “climate” that inevitably deteriorated as a result of the students’ actions. He then dismisses the target of those actions.

The failings here are multiple: the educational failing, the survey of opinion in an inflamed and biased environment, and the manipulativeness of the decisionmaker. The contrast with the fair criminal trial to which any defendant is entitled could not be sharper. Harvard has failed miserably in its educational mission.

Donald L. Horowitz, LL.M. ’62, Ph.D. ’68
Duke professor of law and political science emeritus
Duke University
Chevy Chase, Md.

Harvard is justifiably proud to have far more academically qualified applicants than places in their freshman class. So I am especially disappointed that the current Winthrop House students (my former House) are such delicate flowers that they cannot abide by a House Master who represents an unpopular defendant, an admirable responsibility of all attorneys.

Charles Toder ’60 M.B.A. ’62
New York City

When the monster of political correctness reared its ugly head on Harvard’s fair campus to eliminate Harvard Law School’s crest because of the obvious racist associations of three sheaves of wheat, and to expunge any reference to Puritans from its “alma mater” song, despite the fact that Puritans founded the university, it was merely an embarrassment that made the rest of the country laugh.

 However, the firing of Winthrop faculty deans Sullivan and Robinson (Dean Sullivan’s wife) because Dean Sullivan dared to join Harvey Weinstein’s defense team goes to the very core of the values Harvard has represented in its long and distinguished existence. 

The presumption of innocence and the right to legal representation are the foundations of our American system and our freedoms. For this system to work, unpopular defendants in particular need to be represented by able counsel to counterbalance the awesome force and unlimited resources of government prosecution.

 Harvard College by its pusillanimous action of cravenly knuckling under to pressure from an uninformed mob sadly missed a teachable moment to inculcate in its students the basic principles of presumption of innocence, right to legal representation, and freedom of speech.

 In the Soviet Union, defendants who ran afoul of the government were indicted, tried without any real legal representation, and shipped off to Siberia. In Nazi Germany, close family members of those who ran afoul of the regime were punished under a system called “Sippenhaft.” By punishing those who would defend an unpopular accused and extending the punishment to their family members we are moving toward these hateful and failed systems.

 This sordid episode has made me ashamed of being a Harvard alumnus.

 Kaj Ahlburg, J.D. ’84
Port Angeles, Wash.

Editor’s note: For an update on the controversy over the Winthrop House faculty dean, please see page 27. 

Widener: The Library

The reference to Widener Memorial Library in the “brief life” of Harry Elkins Widener (Vita, May-June, page 44) issue triggered several memories for me of research activities in the stacks.

  One memory involves a seminar paper I did on Adams and Jefferson and their changing conceptions of liberty before and during their terms of office. I drove my little Plymouth to a ground floor door of Widener, carried out the 10 volumes of the works of John Adams and the 24 volumes of Jefferson, and trucked them over to where we were living at 46 Trowbridge. There I placed the books on brick and board bookcases, where I perused them page by page.

  The same year I found a treasure while working on a paper for Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. on American foreign correspondents and the rise of fascism in Europe. Just browsing the shelves, I discovered a typescript of H.V. Kaltenborn’s broadcasts from Prague in 1938.

 Reflecting on those dear old days of open stacks, I find myself wondering whether young researchers today would be able to have experiences similar to those I had in 1959 and 1960.

Marshall S. Shapo, A.M. ’61,  S.J.D. ’74
Vose Professor of Law
Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

New Faculty Faces 

How far should one go in seeking diversity? And how quickly can it be achieved?

The May-June issue has a discussion of progress in achieving diversity within the faculty (“New Faculty Faces,” pages 25-27). Vice provost Melissa Gilliam of the University of Chicago (from which I hold a graduate degree) tells us in the latest issue of that university’s alumni magazine that the quest for diversity requires that we “allow our individual assumptions and biases to be challenged, our points of view to evolve and change, and ourselves to be held accountable for the environment we create.“ We are admonished that this can be difficult.

Diversity is a laudable goal and the quoted words sound nice, but what exactly do they mean? What assumptions and biases must be challenged to achieve diversity? I hope they don’t include the assumption that a great university should have a bias for selecting the intellectually strongest, even at the cost of some diversity.

Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Lise Meitner, Thurgood Marshall, Richard Wright, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and on and on: there is a natural diversity in great talent and it does not have to be forced. If one believes otherwise, it is proof that one does not really believe that merit and diversity are compatible. And, to the extent that merit and diversity may not be fully compatible at a given point in time, for a variety of reasons, great universities should opt for intellect and understand that achieving diversity while maintaining the highest level of intellectual merit is likely to be a long-term project. The fundamental purposes of universities are the advancement of knowledge and the development of educated citizens, and these are best achieved by selecting those of greatest intellect, especially among the faculty. 

Perhaps there are some counter-arguments: In certain fields, such as black studies, diversity is a fairly seen as a necessary predicate to effective teaching, learning, and understanding. In those circumstances diversity is not a goal in and of itself: it is a qualification for the education of students and for the advancement of knowledge. It is also true that intellectual merit can be difficult to assess fairly, and that in the past racial and ethnic minorities that make up diversity have been judged unfairly. But going forward an honest and best judgment of intellectual merit should come first, without bias in favor of or against diversity, except in those special circumstances where diversity is a bona fide qualification. 

In my opinion, outstanding research universities should put the advancement of knowledge above all else, and, ordinarily this requires that intellectual merit be at the forefront of all criteria, especially for faculty and research personnel. I am troubled that the extent to which leading universities currently seem to be focusing on diversity and seeking to achieve it quite rapidly could end up compromising the most basic reasons for their existence. 

Diversity is a laudable goal, but for universities it is not the primary goal.

 Robert S. Venning ’65
Oakland, Calif.

Errata and Amplifications

The last two words of the May-June book review (“A New Story of Suffrage,” pages 72-75) were deleted in some magazines. The sentence should read: “Her effort to dust off these stories provides a messier, sometimes troubling, and more convincing picture of some of the women who changed the world.”

The contact information at the end of “Reading the Market” (page 13) rendered Professor Lauren Cohen’s first name as “Laura.”

In the feature on inflammation (page 46), Professor Gökhan S. Hotamisligil’s first name was misspelled.

New University librarian Martha Whitehead’s first name was shorn of its “r” in the accompanying photo caption (page 26).

And in Off the Shelf (page 71), both author, Adam Ehrlich Sachs, and title, The Organs of Sense, of one item were victimized.

We apologize for our errors.

~The Editors

You might also like

The Uses of Discomfort

The first in a series of public conversations about Harvard and the legacy of slavery

An “Egalitarian Curiosity”

How to encourage free speech and inquiry on campus

#MeToo Meets Mt. Olympus

A new play at the A.R.T. provides a modern take on ancient mythologies   

Most popular

Hockey Highlights—and Heartache

Strong hockey seasons end in the NCAA tournaments.

Harvard Portrait: Andrew Manuel Crespo

Andrew Crespo ’05 connects the law to real life.

Cora Du Bois

Brief life of a formidable anthropologist: 1903-1991

More to explore

Picking Team Players

A test can identify these productivity-boosting personnel.

Irene Soto Marín

Ancient history professor studies coins, ceramics, and Zelda.

Getting His Reps in

Anwar Floyd-Pruitt’s wildly profuse art