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Letters

Cambridge 02138

Restorative justice, Radcliffe rebranded, endowment reparations

September-October 2021

Disinformation

In my opinion, much of the messaging by Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and, yes, President Trump, regarding the 2020 election was both shameful and a good example for the case against misinformation and the role of the internet in its proliferation (“Can Disinformation by Stopped?” by Jacob Sweet, July-August, page 28). However, by ignoring the role of internet messaging in the ill-founded case against President Trump for Russian collusion, the role of key internet gatekeepers in deep-sixing the credible investigations by the New York Post into Hunter Biden’s laptop, as well as many other examples of spreading misinformation harmful to the Trump administration or labeling credible information favorable to Trump as misinformation, the article and Joan Donovan [of the Harvard Kennedy School, covered in the reporting] unnecessarily limit the audience for their important message.

Jim Sorensen, M.B.A. ’64
Allentown, Pa.

Joan Donovan references the role that “selective silence” can play in stopping the spread of disinformation via the media. Some might argue that it is a risky proposition—choosing not to cover news (or “news”) for the public good. But the choice of what to cover or ignore is a fundamental responsibility of reporters. They must start recognizing that coverage, often in the quest for higher ratings, can transform a non-issue or a non-entity into something bigger and more dangerous. We can only wonder how much better protected facts and the truth would be right now if reporters had practiced this restraint back when Donald Trump was just a buffoon with a dream.

Bill Berry ’81
New York City

I applaud the timeliness of the topic of disinformation, and believe there is merit in the concerns expressed about algorithmic reinforcement of beliefs (e.g., by YouTube). Sensation and faddism winning over accuracy and balance is also a sad prospect, and can be exploited for evil.

However, as was probably not his intent, author Jacob Sweet and the cover designer for the issue unwittingly provided an excellent example of that old-fashioned and ever-lurking form of disinformation: bias in reporting. Whether conscious or not, there was a blatant attempt to vilify the right as source and propagator of disinformation, and little or no acknowledgement of such behavior on the left. President Trump and followers were cited repeatedly; Democrats not at all. It was stated that “For the past few years, Donovan (a principal source for the author) has spent a couple hours each night listening to white-supremacist podcasts and videos.” No wonder that the right wing (conflated with the supremacists) looks like a cesspool of disinformation. Where was similar attention paid to left-wing groups?

Donovan focuses on the ugly Capitol Hill protest of January 6—driven by disinformation—but where was the focus on the months of ugly, violent rioting (with more killing, injury, and destruction of property) in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere—also arguably driven by disinformation (“the police are out to get you”)? The unfortunate fatal shooting of an unarmed woman on January 6 was by a cop, not a protester. It is reported by numerous sources that the protesters carried no (or few) guns and did not fire a single shot, so a “guns up,” as fearfully stated by Donovan, would have probably resulted in…nothing.

Even the cover of the issue shows bias: every headline on the smartphone implicitly ridicules people on the right as conspiracy theorists. There is no balance, and that bias is a form of disinformation. Stories must not only be accurate, but selected as a portfolio to represent diverse viewpoints. Otherwise, we gravitate towards totalitarianism.

David Coleman ’77
Murrysville, Pa.

“Can Disinformation Be Stopped?” defines misinformation as accidentally saying something not true, but “When misinformation becomes deliberate—deception on purpose—that’s disinformation.” But who is to decide what is true, much less state of mind? Quo warranto?

One has to admire the ingenuity in finding euphemisms for censorship: monitoring, government regulation, “selective silence”— the usual answer by authoritarian regimes history over—but not the idea. Has Harvard forgotten the lesson of Milton in the Areopagitica: “Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” The only safe defense of truth is a vigorous defense of free, uncensored speech.

 William J. Jones, J.D. ’60
Warren, N.J.

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 yourturn@harvard.edu.

 

 

We, and there are quite a few, don’t suppose that you could find any propagation of disinformation inside your magazine. Harvard, as a school and its extensions, would have more merit if it would teach with honesty about propaganda and all that surrounds it, taking no sides other than “TRUTH.” Largely missing and growing with acceleration (e.g., CRT, today’s Magazine issue, et al.) around what was once a superb university.

C. Bahr, M.B.A. ’71
Tioga, Texas

Reading “Can Disinformation be Stopped?” one might easily draw the conclusion from the several pages of commentary on Trump, Giuliani, QAnon and the like that disinformation is an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. As any well-educated member of the Harvard community is presumably aware, this is a total fallacy—disinformation is a bipartisan problem. Two prominent examples of left-wing misinformation amongst countless: Hundreds of hours of breathless commentary from CNN, MSNBC, and the The New York Times followed the Charlottesville “fine people” hoax, where a selectively edited comment by President Trump made it appear that he was praising neo-Nazis when in fact he condemned them without qualification (if you actually read the transcript or watched the full video). Nicholas Sandmann, a minor-aged student from Covington Catholic High School, was slandered all over the national press, social media and TV as a racist bigot based upon a photo lacking context, a ginned-up story from a professional activist, and a MAGA hat; video later emerged proving that depiction utterly false. It is perhaps ironic that an article purporting to promote ideas to “defeat disinformation” would itself contribute a prime example of the art.

Douglas M. Sproule ’98
Carlisle, Mass.

Disinformation is a real threat to democracy. Unfortunately this article did not go into depth into its origins. There are certain commonalities to disinformation, which if acted upon, could prevent it. First, in the U.S., we begin with the baseline assumption that the press is neutral. In virtually all other countries, the press is associated with a particular political party, so it is expected from the get-go to have bias. Second, an important event is under-covered. Finally, the explanation for the under-coverage is unsatisfactory and often insulting. Once you have these three factors in place, mistrust is hard to eliminate.

During the current pandemic, the commonalities of disinformation were revisited. The initial response of our public agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, did not go well. The response to COVID was ad hoc and did not include humility. What was “settled science” one week was replaced by another set of “settled science” the next week. I do wish that we had someone who had the humility to say “Our recommendations are based upon what we currently know, and we could be wrong, but we are making a good faith effort to do the best for everyone.” The only way disinformation can be defeated is to create an environment of truth and humility.

Jack L. Arbiser, M.D. ’87, Ph.D ’91
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, Ga.

I read the cover article with great dismay. Among other concerns is its inherent, thinly-veiled premise, namely that it is possible and advisable to identify ‘disinformation’ and separate it from other, supposedly more credible information. This premise necessarily involves the use of some body or group, by definition considered elite, to conduct this vetting process and take action to prevent the dissemination of the ‘disinformation’.

It is shocking that an institution which utilizes the Veritas motto in so many situations would champion such an approach. The search for truth necessarily entails open debate allowing the presentation of competing viewpoints. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court in its landmark New York Times Company v. Sullivan first-amendment case acknowledged this:

The First Amendment, said Judge Learned Hand, “presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many this is, and always will be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all.”…

Thus we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

The concept advocated in the article by yourselves and Dr. Donovan flies in the face of these cherished principles and is itself antithetical to democracy. Your advocacy of distinguishing among different types of information, whether in connection with discussions of elections, public health measures, or otherwise, and treating some types of information differently than others, nominally in furtherance of some public benefit, is most troubling and largely unconstitutional. Our cherished liberties must not be subject to the judgment of anyone, whether a purported or a genuine elite, as to what is “best” for the public at large.

I am reminded of the wise words of HLS Prof. Detlef Vagts in one of my classes in the fall of 1978. He posed the issue of how two Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates in a hotly contested election were allowed to attack each other with numerous, absurd and clearly scurrilous allegations. When confronted with silence from the class, he thundered “Because the First Amendment allows them to do so!” We must heed those words today and dispense with the efforts which you advocate.

 Martin B. Robins, J.D. ’80
Barrington Hills, Ill.

Editor’s note: The article reported on research and recommendations by Joan Donovan and others, but neither the article itself nor Harvard Magazine “advocates” any position on this issue, or others that are the subject of our reporting.

I enjoyed “Can Disinformation be Stopped?” I was, however, more than a little surprised that a 5-1/2 page article did not mention (much less discuss, or even attempt to distinguish) the Russia collaboration hoax that dominated the internet and mainstream media from 2016 through 2019. Whatever your politics, that was the largest and demonstrably deliberate “deception on purpose” in recent memory. The article’s failure to address this topic made it read more like special pleading than a balanced assessment of academics’ attempts to understand and address disinformation in modern political discourse.

William F. Murphy ’75
San Francisco

Many leftists have it fixed in their mind that the disinformation problem is coming from conservative outlets, especially those that supported Trump. The article about Director Joan Donovan reflects this view. Apparently the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy is ignoring all the disinformation coming from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, NYT, etc. on an almost 24/7 basis for five years starting in 2016. There was the Russian hoax against Trump, the Ukrainian hoax against Trump, two impeachments against Trump, and many other examples. Those hoaxes fed Democrats’ voracious appetite for anything negative about a man who dared to make America great. The Harvard article continues to placate that appetite.

Donald Boyd, Ph.D. ’68
Indianapolis

It seemed beyond ironic that the July-August issue, with its article on disinformation, arrived only days after the end of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict. On May 28, 2021, the New York Times featured on Page 1 the photos of more than 60 Gazan children who were (supposedly) killed by Israel, under the headline, “They Were Just Children.” Further scrutiny led to the discovery that some of the children pictured had actually been killed by Hamas rockets misfiring within Gaza, and that one of the photos was a stock photo of a live child, not a dead Gazan child. Someone made the decision that this didn’t matter. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Misinformation regarding the Middle East is not new. As far back as 1974, the noted writer Cynthia Ozick wrote an article in which she imagined “Martians” (that is, wholly objective sentient beings) talking about the Arab-Israeli war, wrying observing that they would sound like “Jewish sympathizers.” During the recent eleven-day conflict, a constant narrative streamed through social media regarding “apartheid,” “occupied Palestinian territory,” “colonialists,” “stole the land,” “Palestine will be free,” in a barrage of disinformation that made no pretense of being fair and balanced. In diametric opposition from what journalism schools taught years ago, journalists today believe that bias is an inherent part of their jobs, and that they can’t show both sides when one side is obviously wrong.

I’ve tried engaging with intelligent, educated Palestinian professionals in factual open-minded discussions about Israel and Palestine. I find it interesting when I get told, “you’re lying,” rather than the less personal, “you’re wrong,” or “your facts are not correct.” The disinformation campaign is meant to sow hostility toward Israel, and the level and intensity of that hatred is astounding. In this one area, disinformation is clearly the victor.

Judy Resnick, J.D. ’90
Far Rockaway, N.Y.

Joan Donovan wants to stop disinformation. I see problems with her approach.

She focuses entirely on right wing, pro-Trump disinformation. I am no fan of Trump, but disinformation is not limited to one viewpoint. I consider failure to address the insolvency of the U.S. as disinformation on the part of politicians, left and right. The fear of stating accurately what our entitlement programs are—they are literally pyramid schemes and would be illegal in all 50 states if run by the private sector.

Now I’m sure Professor Donovan would blanch at the point I just made, which brings me to another flaw in her outlook: there is no objective definition of what is disinformation, the public interest, or justice. Hayek pointed this out in his writing.

This does not mean I don’t believe in justice, the public interest, and the existence of disinformation. I define it differently than anyone else and that is true of all of us. The danger is appointing the government the arbiter of what is justice and the public interest. Suppose we had Trump types defining the public interest; the professor would not like that. Nor would I.

I would hazard a guess that Professor Donovan is liberal or leftist in orientation. I further speculate she would advocate increasing the minimum wage to help low-income persons. I advocate eliminating it because it harms the least skilled the most, by making it uneconomic to hire them. We are both advocating what we consider to be the public interest.

Faith in regulation is further weakened by what some call “regulatory capture.” This means that whatever the original intent of regulation, those who are regulated tend to get control of the regulatory agenda with the purpose of excluding newcomers.

Frederick Miller ’67
New York City

I’m writing about the report on “Defeating Disinformation.” It appears to me that the writer’s “visual fields” for progressive, radical left “disinformation” are totally blocked. While they seem to want to “stamp out” “disinformation”, as a “bad thing,” they focus exclusively on the ever-so-nasty right side of disinformation. They appear to not understand that disinformation is a huge, systemic problem that comes in many, many shapes, sizes and forms: big, small, right, left, red, blue, subtle, flagrant, obvious.

The Harvard study appears limited and badly skewed by the fact that they fail to make note of any of the multiplicity of various kinds of disinformation beyond the right-wing type. Failure to examine left-sided disinformation might be seen by some as a serious blind spot or research bias. Likewise, much that is labelled “disinformation” might best be clarified by conjoint, bipartisan studies of the most prominent disinformation topics. As a suggestion, what about serious studies about the 2020 presidential elections that dug into both sides of the disinformation that is said to encircle them exclusively from the right, by the author of this article? Disinformation is best cured by more information impeccably sought and gathered, thoughtfully analyzed, and open to input and perspective from people of good will, who represent all shades of the spectrum. Or is this an old-fashioned idea?

The Harvard study appears to be disinformative itself because it looks at disinformation intensely through only one set of lenses, and apparently is oblivious to the fact that there are important other perspectives widely held around America, around the world.

Despite its motto: “Veritas” = “Truth”, it might be said that Harvard does not have a monopoly on “Veritas!”

 Jerome A. Collins ’57
Kennebunkport, Maine

Your heading for the summer issue was “Scholars’ perspectives on a pervasive new threat” (disinformation). Great topic. I quickly learned that these were not scholars, but opposition-research specialists. Here are just two egregious disinformation campaigns coming from the left. A few years ago, Sen. Harry Reid went on to the floor of the Senate nearly every day for a year or more to state that Mitt Romney paid no federal taxes. After the election, he was asked if he regretted spreading misinformation. He did not: of Romney he said, “He didn’t win, did he?”

After Hilary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, she adopted the theme that she lost because Trump was a bought and paid-for asset of the Russian security apparatus, who falsified the election to make Trump win. She repeated that charge as late as the fall of 2019. It is totally false, without any shred of evidence.

I was disappointed that in an article about disinformation as a pervasive threat, author Jacob Sweet was able only to find examples from the right. Too bad.

Bruce P. Shields ’61
Hyde Park, Vt.

The article did not include important concepts from psychology—both analytical and experimental—and important ideas from anthropology and history: occasional reinforcement is stronger than that which occurs repeatedly (B.F. Skinner, Freud); repetition pounds ideas into the unconcious; once emotions are aroused, they’ll fight (Napoleon); the litigious type of delusion—patients consider the establishment of their integrity the most important thing in the world; evolution tries everything until it finds something that works (does not mean it works for our benefit) (Harari).

Putting these together, there was an effort to mislead by using popular media and to control through manipulation of masses. The media did not plan this but they certainly manipulated and facilitiated the mess we will have.

Edmund R.Helffrich ’49
Allentown, Pa.

The answer to the question “Can Disinformation Be Stopped” is obviously “no.” That is because the United States is a free, non-authoritarian nation. Moreover, as Justice Louis Brandeis, LL.B. 1877 observed in 1933, “the best disinfectant [for misinformation] is sunshine.” That observation remains true today.

A much more serious example of disinformation than January 6, is the unfounded belief that man-made carbon dioxide will cause catastrophic global warming. That belief exists in a myriad of public forums, even though the underlying scientific hypothesis, that carbon dioxide is a dangerous “greenhouse gas,” was falsified by two eminent German physicists in 2009 in “Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics,” by Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner, Int.J.Mod.Phys.B, Vol. 23, No. 3, (2009). The sole formal challenge to that falsification paper was fully rebutted by the authors a year later.

Since 2010, the falsification of the “CO2 greenhouse gas hypothesis” remains unchallenged by a single accredited physicist. Yet the computer-climate modelers and others ignore the fact that the underlying hypothesis is false and continue to advance their “unphysical forecasts” that man-made carbon dioxide is putting the world on a collision course with catastrophic global warming.

One man’s “disinformation” is another man’s “known fact.” The only way such conflicts can be resolved in a free society is by exposing them to the “sunshine” of full, free, and open debate—not by “selective media silence” nor “forced media publication” of certain ideas, as Ms. Donovan suggests.

Don W. Crockett, J.D. ’66
Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: Scientific observations concerning the greenhouse effect date back nearly two centuries to the work of Joseph Fourier, John Tyndall’s experiments on the infrared absorption of various gases and vapors, and so on. In the magazine’s extensive reporting on climate change and global warming, we have never heard a Harvard scientist dispute the basic phenomenon. One may disagree on the pace and scale of the problem, and on means to deal with it, but the physical phenomenon is widely recognized.

 

I read with interest your recent article on “Defeating Disinformation.”

I don’t think Joan Donovan needs to spend hours reading the online rantings of QAnon to monitor disinformation. I believe that Professor Benkler is correct. Disinformation is everywhere. In fact, it is the stock-in-trade of political operatives, politicians, both right and left, and of the media. Politicians and the media brought us the granddaddy of all disinformation: the Trump Russian Collusion story, costing us two and a half years and $40 million.

There is always the issue of defining “truth.” In many instances, truth is obvious (the sun rises on the east). But often truth becomes whatever opinion the beholder believes. Falsehood is then whatever the beholder does not believe.

Finally, “misinformation” often becomes “information” based on subsequent events. For example, last year stating that the virus may have come from the Wuhan Lab was considered clearly false and therefore misinformation. It was “debunked” so to speak. This year, however, the opposite is considered likely or plausible.

The solution [Donovan] proposes is to let people have access to timely, local, relevant, and accurate information, curated by librarians, and to have “selective silence” on the part of the media. Both suggestions are doomed to failure, since librarians are also opinionated, as are all fact-checkers, and media always focuses on the information that maximizes their viewers’ interests, and therefore maximizes ratings.

I believe that all attempts to crush “disinformation” will lead to failure and will cause even more division. The best solution, I believe, is to let all opinions and “truth” be discussed. This is in the spirit of the First Amendment. The majority of the American public can eventually sort out what is true and what is not.

Randall Hove, M.B.A. ‘69
Phoenixville, Pa.

I carefully read Jacob Sweet’s article. I believe that he and Joan Donovan, of the Kennedy School, have identified a significant and pervasive threat to American democracy; however, is the proposed solution workable? Donovan says that to attain a public-interest internet, people need to access not just for politically palatable information, but for news that is “timely, local, relevant and accurate, curated by a librarian.” Curated by a librarian—the selector and keeper of words, a censor of words and thoughts. The question is, who selects the librarian?

We all know that controlling the narrative is power. Authoritarian regimes know this well and employ this power to control the political discourse and, in turn, the people themselves. Suppression of the truth is itself disinformation, as China, Russia, and Cuba well know. The White House recently confirmed that the Surgeon General’s office is flagging problematic COVID posts on Facebook, which makes him the non-elected, U.S. government-appointed librarian. He decides what is trusted; he decides what is to be boosted in the mainstream media. Collusion between Facebook and the White House raises free speech issues which are clearly unconstitutional. The government cannot abridge free speech, either directly, or through an intermediary such as Facebook. This is very reminiscent of an Orwellian “THOUGHT CRIME”— a form of government censorship.

So, who picks the curatorial librarian for the social and mainstream media? I think that the solution proposed by Sweet and Donovan is politically corruptible, a violation of the first amendment, and therefore, an unworkable, potentially dangerous solution to stop disinformation.

Let us all think again for a wiser solution.

John Libertino M.D.
Wellesley, Mass.

Jacob Sweet’s cover article provides overwhelming and compelling evidence that Harvard University has lost all semblance of intellectual integrity and devotion to the objective truth. A careful reading of the article reveals that the author and the magazine’s editors equate disinformation (lies) to claims that the 2020 Presidential election was fraudulently stolen, which 70% of Americans, when polled indicate they agree with. The article advances the globalist cabal’s lie that there was an insurrection at the Capitol Building on January 6th of this year as objective truth. It also equates reports of Hillary Clinton being reported to have been engaged in pedophilia of some kind with this same “disinformation.” And if an alleged scholar asserts this to be disinformation, it must be so. Simply put, the entirety of American higher education has proven itself to be fully infiltrated and corrupted by a culture of dishonesty, liberalism, and lies propagated by a global conspiracy that has freely admitted to its existence and aims, and Harvard University is at the forefront of this tragic malaise. In the process, Harvard makes a mockery out of its own motto, “Veritas,” which means truth in Latin. Truth, for all intents and purposes, is dead at Harvard and many other institutions of higher education, and this is all quite to be expected. After all, the Bible has predicted for the last 2000 years that in these last days right before the second coming of Yahushua the Messiah, that these days would be so deceptive “that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).

I will take this one step further and point out that Harvard has now thoroughly shamed and disgraced itself, as some of us knew it has been doing for the last several decades. Confusion and shaming and disgracing themselves is the telltale mark of the wicked and the foolish in these end times of Bible prophecy. Here is how the Messiah Himself spoke about these days that would come: “Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.” Matthew 10:26. Today, the full deception is obvious to those of us of the born again elect. It is not obvious to everyone else. All end times prophecies (many written in figurative language and metaphors) have now been fulfilled. What comes next is obvious: the long promised second coming of Yahushua the Messiah and the end of the world in searing heat and scorching fire, to be replaced with a new heaven and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Harvard’s role in fulfilling end times prophecy has been to reveal its duplicity, claiming that it is scholarship. It is not. It is betrayal of the truth. Ultimately, this is the legacy that Harvard University will be known for for all eternity. It is profoundly sad to witness. But it is undeniable today. It’s effectively over.

Harvard has trained young people for leadership roles for decades, if not centuries. But it has failed society in that regard. Because true leadership requires the courage to stand up and speak out against that which is so clearly wrong. Most of my fellow graduates have succumbed to political correctness and going along to get along with that which its clearly evil to advance their careers. Forty years ago I earned my MBA at the Business School and at the time I was very proud of my alma mater. Today I am ashamed, and you should be too. But I bet you aren’t, thus proving that the prophet Jeremiah was right all along:

 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

David Lionheart, M.B.A. ’81
Driggs, Idaho

Firstly, when you tell someone something that purports to be a fact, but which you know to be wrong, it is a lie, and you are a liar. Those who knowingly repeat a lie are also liars. The word "disinformation" is too genteel. It covers truth that may have been slanted into propaganda or salesmanship. If you lie to protect someone’s feelings ("You look good today") or ("I’m truly sorry"), it is a civilized practice. But if you lie for personal advantage disregarding that it may disadvantage others, you are a stinker. Shame on you. If the advantage you seek is economic, it is fraud, and illegal or actionable.

Secondly, all Republicans who claim that Trump won the election know in their hearts, for certain, this is false. They are not being misled. We all saw how low his approval ratings sank. They expected him to lose. They hope if they pretend they believe he didn’t, it will magically become true. He publicly signaled that he had a backup plan for staying in office. In an interview he announced that if he didn’t win, then the election must have been rigged. His loss would be proof enough. 

They know they are perpetuating a lie. They simply don’t care that they are liars. Years of watching Trump get away with lying daily—even treasonously—with no consequence have created the impression it has become the American way. And for 70,000,000 corrupted souls, it is. We live in a sea of liars.

Trump cheats in every way he can: in his marriage, on his taxes, in the presidential debates, in his reporting of the pandemic, etc. To all our fellow citizens who are compelled to cheat, this is glorious. To the nasty sexist, racist, xenophobe liars, he is a marvel. If they can somehow restore him to power simply by lying—fantastic. It would be a greater triumph than winning a fair election.

This icon of the seven deadly sins doesn’t need to accomplish anything to maintain the adoration of his base. He simply needs to stay rotten. One cannot convince them the Big Lie is bad; they know it and love it for being so.

 Daniel I. A. Cohen, Ph.D. ’75
New York City 

Restorative Justice

I appreciate your thoughtful article on restorative justice (“RJ”) practices and read it with great interest (“Justice Be Done,” July-August, page 40). As a victim/survivor of crime who has worked with survivors of violence for 30 years and as a practitioner of restorative justice with two decades of experience as a facilitator, there is one element of the article that stood out as incongruent with the practice of RJ’s tenets. The article references, “though practitioners…preferring descriptors like ‘affected party’ and ‘responsible party,’ because ‘victim’ and ‘offender,’ as one advocate explains, ‘leave people fixed in time,’ and restorative justice is all about change.” That is incorrect and does a great disservice to the work of restorative justice.

“Victim” is not a dirty word.

Harmed people get to choose the language of their harm, something no facilitator should deny them. “Victim” and “offender” are in fact the language of restorative justice in both its scholarly debate and its practical application. Minimizing harm by purposefully choosing language that blunts the reality of violence is neither restorative nor victim-centered. It also does a disservice to the significant journey of accountability for an offender.

Any practitioner who claims that restorative justice does not use those terms does not understand the roots of the practice and increases the common misconception in the survivor community that restorative justice is only for offenders. If Howard Zehr can use the term victim so can RJ providers if that is in sync with the experience of the harmed person.

Crime is traumatic. In its aftermath there can be pain, struggle, and a loss of one’s sense of autonomy. Victims are rendered powerless during the commission of a crime and often for long periods afterward. Such a loss of control can be deeply dehumanizing and demoralizing.

All of us need to feel that we control our own lives, so one of the most important intervention strategies is to assist victims in regaining some power and control over their lives. Restorative justice can be a mechanism for this to happen, but not if we sanitize the reality of harm or rob someone of their chosen language.

Kara Hayes
Director, Restorative Justice
Practices/LGBTQI Community Liaison
Office of Suffolk County District Attorney
Boston

As an advocate myself (I serve on the board of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces, which designs spaces to house restorative-justice circles, among other ways to end mass incarceration), I have long thought that restorative justice also raises an implicit critique of conventional American criminal law for its unrecognized roots in monarchism. The replacement of the victim by “the people” as the prosecutor of crimes stems from old English law which viewed all people as subjects of the king and, by extension, made assaults on those people assaults on the king’s property. In this antiquated but still legally dominant view, the problem of people hurting other people is that they have broken the law (and showed disobedience to the king), and not the actual harm they have inflicted.

The use of the term “court” for a place of justice also indicates the monarchical roots of our legal system : each courtroom was originally a delegation of the king’s power to settle disputes and judge his subjects. And the architecture of American courtrooms, with the judge a few steps above the rest of the room and the flags and seals of the state above all, also upholds this tradition. In this sense, restorative justice is not only a way to heal from interpersonal harm and to recover our humanity from an impersonal system, but also promises a way to more fully realize the American vision of equality and democracy that we have been lacking.

Raphael Sperry ’95
San Francisco

Editor's note: Reader Heidi Burgiel, M.Ed. ’17, noted a factual error in this story: the Transformational Prison Project (TPP), a restorative-justice organization working with formerly incarcerated people, was founded in 2013 by Karen Lischinsky, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts. Armand Coleman is TPP’s executive director; Emmanual “Noble” Williams is its accountability coordinator.

 

Thank you, Lydialyle Gibson, for your thoughtful and thorough article, “Justice Be Done” (July-August, page 40), covering restorative justice. I have been a facilitator, working with responsible parties as well as teaching new people how to facilitate, for more than 20 years, almost since the inception of the Communities for Restorative Justice program in Concord, Massachusetts.

I agree with Adriaan Lanni, who said in the article, “it’s…a magical experience.” I have seen a police officer without a father bond with a fatherless responsible party and mentor him for years. A young man who harmed a school bully led a school program called the Anti-Bully Alliance that he developed in our meetings; he included the affected party. A person who said nothing to “protect” his friends who were drawing swastikas said, at our visit to the Holocaust museum in Boston, “I could have started a holocaust.” A young teen in the program for domestic violence learned how to resolve conflict without physically harming others for the first time in his life. He told me, “I’ve matured in this program.”

Many parents of responsible parties have said at our closing circle, “You created the child I have been trying to form.” Parents have told me their child in now in college, thanks to this program. Restorative justice saves young peoples’ lives.

Armand Coleman, featured in the article, said this program is needed everywhere. I agree: it’s humane, it considers both impacted and responsible parties in crafting an agreement, the responsible party learns important life skills, and it results in low recidivism plus high satisfaction for both parties.

Carolyn Gold, Ed.M. ’85
Concord, Mass.

Radcliffe Institute “Rebranding”

Thank you for the excellent article on an oral history of Radcliffe (“Reflecting on Radcliffe,” July-August, page 52). Your readers may not realize that what was once called the Harvard Annex, then Radcliffe College, and since 1999 the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, was renamed in 2021 as “Harvard Radcliffe Institute.”

While Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin has stated that this new name is merely a “vernacular” or “shorthand,” we have been surprised to see the full name Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study disappearing from alumni and public communications. Placing Radcliffe second to Harvard in this “brand refresh” is even retroactive: on Radcliffe Day this year, Drew Gilpin Faust was identified as the “founding dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute”—despite the fact that it did not exist in 1999.

Hundreds of alumnae have written to Radcliffe and Harvard administrators to protest this subordination and to call out the encroaching erasure of Radcliffe and its history. The failure to engage such devoted and active alumnae in deliberating on the present and future of Radcliffe (and its name) is distressing. Unfortunately, our request for dialogue has been ignored by the dean and her Advisory Council.

Today Professor Faust heads Harvard’s Committee to Articulate Principles on Renaming. We hope this committee extends its mandate beyond the removal of institutional names with unwanted associations. It is important that it also consider why some names are worth keeping. Alumnae are eager to discuss with deans, fellows and students the meaning of Radcliffe Institute at Harvard.

Sincerely, Radcliffe Class Secretaries, Treasurers, representatives of major reunion classes and other classes who have expressed high concern:

Joan Katzman Cotton ’51
Stephanie Lang Martin ’59
Jane Classen Simon ’60
Alison Boeckmann ’61 and Pat Bourne ’61 (Co-presidents, Radcliffe Club of San Francisco)
Roberta Rose Benjamin ’62 and Nina Marchetti Archabal ’62
Judith Dollenmayer ’63
Catherine Boulton Hughes ’66 and Mary Louise Hoffman Kent ’66
Cynthia Blanton ’71 and Helene Kisch Pniewski ’71
Rachel V. Kemp ’79
Claire Mays Poumadère ’81 and David L. Ramsey ’81

 

Meena Venkataramanan quotes Jewelle Taylor Gibbs ’55 as saying: “I still give; my annual contribution always goes to the Radcliffe Institute.” Perhaps Gibbs would like to join the growing number of alumnae who are withholding their contributions to protest the institute’s “rebranding” as the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

In 1961, when I was 11, my mother (Maxine Kumin, ’46) joined the inaugural cohort of institute Fellows. Her two years at the institute were, I believe, the most formative in her career as a poet. I am certain she would find it hard to understand how putting Harvard first in what the administration is defensively calling the Institute’s new “shorthand” name helps to “communicate its work to a broader audience” or to “clarify its history and purpose”—the stated reasons for what is being labelled a “brand refresh”.

The institute is not a box of soap powder. For generations of women, it signified validation of women’s scholarship and creativity. My mother grieved when, in 1999, Radcliffe College was officially subsumed into Harvard University. She and many others were distressed when the institute started accepting men as Fellows, believing that men had (and still have) many other opportunities to advance their careers. Putting Harvard first in the institute’s new name is just another nail in the coffin of Radcliffe’s identity.

Judith Kumin ’71
Hopkinton, NH

In the story about the Radcliffe oral history project, Lucille Block Poskanzer ’55, expressed a view that has become all too common: “The memory of Radcliffe and the importance of Radcliffe to so many women’s lives is being lost,” she said. “You don’t read about it, you don’t hear about it; it’s all about Harvard.”

As if to underscore this trend, Radcliffe has now suffered yet another blow to its visibility, one that Poskanzer was unaware of at the time of her interview. This is the decision to “re-brand” the “Radcliffe Institute” as the “Harvard Radcliffe Institute.” In relegating Radcliffe to a secondary position, the University essentially loses the last prominent use of a name that has embodied the struggle for gender parity for well over a century.

The wound has been especially egregious because it has been self-inflicted, arising from within Radcliffe itself. Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin insists that the new name is intended for everyday use only, leaving the formal title intact, but it nonetheless appears throughout the institute’s website and in all print communications mailed to alumnae since the spring.

The institute also claims that the name change reflects its new strategy, produced with the help of management consultants and summarized in Radcliffe Engaged: Strategic Plan 2019–2024. We have found the arguments in this document unconvincing.

Our online 55th reunion in June provided a ready-made audience, eager to learn about the change and to consider possible responses. We quickly discovered that not a single one of our Harvard or Radcliffe classmates had been consulted about the renaming exercise nor alerted to it in advance. It was universally decried as a retrograde step.

Following the lead of the class of 1968 and the 1971 and 1981 reunion classes, we were able to mobilize considerable class support for a letter of protest sent to the dean, signed by 215 women and men. We are now concerned that most alumni/ae, lacking the catalyst of a reunion to spread the word quickly and efficiently, may still be in the dark about this further erosion of the Radcliffe legacy. We want to ensure that they are fully informed and hope they will share their responses widely throughout the Radcliffe community.

Ellen Leopold, Radcliffe ’66
Cambridge, Mass.
Ann Peck Reisen, ’66
Boston

Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin responds: In January 2021, after nearly two years’ deliberation and consultation with stakeholders in the Radcliffe community, we launched a new website and visual identity. As part of this effort we began using a shorthand name: Harvard Radcliffe Institute. While our full and legal name remains the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University [RIAS], our decision to adopt a shorthand is a deliberate move to convey the enduring connection between Harvard and Radcliffe. By reviewing coverage generated by influential news agencies about the RIAS, we had discovered that our name was regularly elided or distilled for brevity to “a Harvard institute.” The data were clear: if we did not offer a concise name, others would supply one for us. We were unwilling to have Radcliffe’s identity erased, so we decided to adopt a shorthand that acknowledged our position within a world-class university, while preserving the legacy of Radcliffe College and signaling the unique and valuable contributions of the current Institute.

This reflects the Institute’s strategic commitment to increase understanding and awareness of Radcliffe’s work—now, in the past, and in the future.

We’ve provided further background on our branding efforts at www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/about-radcliffe/a-fresh-look-for-the-radcliffe-institute-for-advanced-study.

The Federal Election Commission

In reviewing Professor Michael Porter’s and Katherine Gehl’s interesting research on the “political industry” (“Making America Competitive Again,” July-August, page 8), we’re informed that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) “lacks independence.” Perhaps some commissioners have felt that way, but during my tenure I had remarkable independence, little contact with any members of Congress, and even less with the White House. My conversations with many of my successors lead me to believe that is still the norm.

A description of the FEC as the “system’s sole regulator” is likewise misleading. In fact, we do not have “federal elections,” in this country, but state elections for federal office. Every state, in turn, has an agency that regulates political activity, and most have more than one. Politics in the United States is a highly-regulated industry, with both state and federal agencies dedicated to regulating that single industry.

Finally, it is stated that the FEC’s bipartisan makeup (three Democrats and three Republicans) “prevent[s] changes to…limits on the size of donations to third-party candidates.” In fact, those limits are set by Congress. The FEC’s bipartisan makeup is a good thing, and—believe it or not—Congress actually does make laws, which is also a good thing.

Bradley A. Smith, J.D. ‘90
Federal Election Commissioner (2000-2005), chairman (2004)
Columbus, Oh.

Jean Martin

I met Jean Martin (“The Standard-Setter,” July-August, page 2) at the magazine’s offices on Ware Street to discuss a story proposal. I mentioned there was an “unknown portrait” of my wife in one of the hundreds of Harvard Magazine back issues lining the walls around us. Taken at Commencement as the senior class entered Tercentenary Theater, it captured a blonde cascade of hair from mortarboard to gown, but not the subject’s face.

Jean rose, found the volume and page, and wrote in a proper caption: Susan Cronin [Ruderman] ‘84, and of course an attribution: “husband.” “For history,” she smiled.

Jean, you were devoted to your authors and fellow alumni/ae, and to the stories of Harvard’s past and present. Congratulations on your retirement, and thanks.

A. Michael Ruderman ’81
Arlington, Mass.

Undergraduate Education

I commend John Rosenberg for his energetic support of undergraduate education (“Service, and Schooling,” 7 Ware Street, July-August, page 5) as offered at institutions well beyond the nation’s most selective universities. In particular, he notes, “Serious undergraduates who want to learn alongside smart peers, with well-trained professors whose obligations are more heavily weighted toward teaching, can fare marvelously at dozens of liberal arts institutions across the country.”

As one who gained his undergraduate education at one such—Pomona College ’64—and who spent his 40 full-time working years at two such—Pomona 1967-90 and The College of Wooster 1990-2007—I could not agree more. In my service as a member of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Alumni Council since 2003, I have always encouraged about-to-be-Harvard Ph.D.’s to give serious consideration to careers in such institutions, as they offer an ideally balanced opportunity to teach and associate daily with wonderfully bright and eager students and to pursue one’s research interests at a reasonable pace, often with undergraduate assistants in the summer.

R. Stanton Hales, Ph.D. ’70
President Emeritus, The College of Wooster
Dixon, Ca.

Footnoting John Wycliffe

In the brief biography of Thomas Starr King (Vita, July-August, page 34), a phrase attributed to the Boston Unitarian minister Theodore Parker was not in fact “coined” by him. It goes back to the general prologue of John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible (1384): “This Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, for the People.” The phrase wals also echoed by Daniel Webster and William Lloyd Garrison. Abraham Lincoln does seem to have picked it up from Parker, however.

Peter Wirth ’69
Oxford, Miss.

Endowment Reparations

The June 3 Harvard Gazette contained Liz Mineo’s very thoughtful “Racial Wealth Gap May Be A Key To Other Inequities.” Mineo argued that education is one of the key tools available to close the wealth gap between Black and White America and called for a “Marshall Plan for Higher Education.”

In her graduation address one week earlier, Ruth Simmons spoke movingly of the role education played in lifting her out of poverty. She spoke of Prairie View A&M University, the institution that she came out of retirement to lead, which, “like many other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), was founded at the end of Reconstruction when blacks were thought to be unable to perform the highest level academic study….It would take many years for…universities in our nation to grant access to blacks. So, universities like Prairie View, designed with limited resources, served the state and nation by admitting students to whom full access to the fruits of liberty was intentionally blocked.”

Simmons highlighted the fact that HBCUs have delivered on their mission despite being plagued by underfunding for much of their history. We believe Simmons should have pushed the point harder.

We ask you to reflect on the stark contrast between Harvard’s endowment and that of Howard University, the wealthiest and most renowned of the 100-plus HBCUs. Harvard’s reported net assets of $50.2 billion and endowment assets of $41.2 billion for fiscal year 2020. Meanwhile, for FY 2019, Howard reported net assets of $0.67 billion, including endowment assets of $0.69 billion. Harvard’s endowment is equivalent to $2 million/student, while Howard’s is only $53,000/student.

Simmons described Harvard as having “the most powerful university bully pulpit in the nation” and expressed her belief that “Harvard has a special responsibility as both a prod and steward of the national conscience.” We could not agree more strongly. Though we believe government will have an important role to play, we ask that you consider what Harvard—and its peers—should do to lead the way.

The enormous Ivy endowments were typically seeded by individuals whose fortunes were earned through the slave trade or as slave owners, as well as by industrialists who prospered from the cheap cotton picked by slaves. We don't believe the political will exists to fund a Marshall Plan for higher education, let alone act on reparations. The time has come for a nongovernmental approach—and higher education is the logical place to start.

The more than 100 HBCUs educate some 300,000 students annually. Combined, their endowments fall just short of $3 billion.

We call upon the 100 wealthiest historically white colleges and universities to contribute 1 percent of their collective $500-billion endowments to an HBCU Endowment Fund annually. Over a decade, this would create a $50-billion fund. While the discrepancies would still be enormous, this would represent an extraordinary first step.

James Berkman ’77, J.D. ‘82,
Boston
Susanne Beck, M.P.P. ’87,
New York City
Karim Sahyoun
Wellesley, Mass.

Making America Competitive

In my long architectural career, I did many local, national and international competitions, and even won some. In the process, I learned that many design competitions in America are rigged by authorities or stolen by developers who changed a winning design and then built it. This is just one example of the degradation of American competitiveness and innovation. On a bigger scale, the constant bickering of the main political parties contribute to this problem. As Professor Michael Porter wrote in the July-August issue of Harvard Magazine: “The parties get to set whatever rules they want, and they set rules that benefit themselves.”

Thus grows the monopolization of America, that used to be the country of scientists and engineers, but became the land of bureaucrats and lawyers. Another sad example of it from my practice: the advancing Atlantic ocean threatens to flood our cities, but Massachusetts Beach Management regulations prohibit building sea walls and make building artificial islands extremely difficult. Let’s hope that the looming environmental crisis will make America competitive again, both politically and popularly.

Anatol Zukerman, M.Arch. ’75
Plymouth, Mass.

Divestment

I was disappointed to see the summary of Harvard’s advocacy for divesting endowment investments, which rejects any stock investment in any company directly or indirectly involved in the production or use of fossil fuels (July/August 2021, page 23). Is there no perspective left at Harvard? OK, an activist protest is to be expected. But one would think that would come with an objective toward reversing global warming in some small way. The companies Harvard excludes from its portfolio are some of the best dividend-paying, appreciating assets one could hold long-term. But the really important thing (that you would think the B-School would have pointed out) is that not investing in those shares has absolutely no effect on corporate behavior. Public companies are not particularly concerned with who owns or does not own their shares, once issued. It is just the stock market, not the company, that trades issued shares. No one knows that Harvard does not own shares in Shell Oil, and no one cares. Harvard’s accomplished investment experts must have discussed this foolishness with the Board, which only makes their jobs harder. At the end of the day, if Harvard’s investment returns are diminished, and risk increased, by such dogged, pointless, stock-market activism, it is ultimately to the detriment of the students and the School’s ability to fund needs. Looking at it from 30,000 feet, I can only think it is mainly an effort to pander to students, faculty, and alums who also mindlessly campaign for the downfall of everything petroleum-related. This is the silliest form of revenge consumerism, and a useless step in reducing carbon emissions. Maybe the loss of market opportunities are made up for in donations from people who would applaud the immediate outlawing of fossil fuels. Is that what Harvard has become?

Brian Barbata, M.B.A. ’75
Kailua, Hawaii