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The College Pump

Memorable Mentors

November-December 2021

Photograph of a pet hamster, dyed Yale blue, for a humor piece about Yale admissions

Photograph by iStock


Photograph by iStock

Mentor remembered. Francis A. Boyle, J.D. ’76, Ph.D. ’83, professor of law at the University of Illinois, recalling his beloved teacher, Richard C. Lewontin ’50, the late biologist, writes:

“Shortly after Dick had moved from the University of Chicago to Harvard, I sent him a letter suggesting we get together for lunch and dropped it into the campus mail addressed to his new lab at the Museum of Comparative Zoology….About two weeks went by and I had not heard from Dick, so I called him and asked him if he got my letter. He asked me how I had sent it. I told him I had sent it through campus mail. He told me that he did not read campus mail: if the sender was not willing to pay for a postage stamp on the envelope, it was not worth reading.”

 

Celebrating a living icon. Dan Levy, a senior lecturer at the Kennedy School, has written Maxims for Thinking Analytically, distilling the wisdom and mnemonic sayings about how to do what the title says, propounded through decades of teaching by the polymathic Richard Zeckhauser, Ramsey professor of political economy. Dozens of grateful colleagues and students (Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, LL.B. ’64, president emeritus Larry Summers, Ph.D. ’82, LL.D. ’07, etc.) explain how they use the maxims. For example, on number 3, “Don’t take refuge in complexity,” Gary Orren, V.O. Key Jr. professor of politics and leadership, shows how not to teach Little Leaguers to hit a baseball—and redeems himself, and a subsequent season, by reducing his accumulated wisdom to “Hands, Hips, and Head,” and where to place each.

 

No stone unturned. Lest anyone doubt the scrutiny involved in public service, this magazine received a query from a special investigator, Boston Region Field Investigations, Office of Personnel Security, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State. Had one Nicholas Burns, of the Harvard Kennedy School faculty, nominated by President Joe Biden to be ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, indeed published an essay in these pages (“The Indispensable Power,” July-August 2020), and been paid for same? We dispelled all doubts. And would he be “eligible for rehire?” Assuredly yes—but we expect he will be busy in the near term.

 

Crimson inclusion. The Office for Gender Equity has posted its Gender Inclusive Restroom Mapping Project. No doubt some people will wonder why providing “inclusive means” for finding facilities for those who are “transgender, gender nonbinary, and gender nonconforming” took so long, and others will be outraged by the idea.

Meanwhile, the Harvard Alumni Association has adopted an Indigenous Acknowledgement, which will be featured at the beginning of each meeting. The board will, in part, pay “its respects to the traditional custodians of the land on which Harvard University stands, the people of the Massachusett tribe and their elders—past, present, and emerging—and we honor the land itself, which remains sacred to the Massachusett people.” Learn more at harvardmag.com/haa-acknowledgement.

 

Admissions agita. The wicked undergraduate humorists of SATIRE V nailed this past spring’s applications frenzy in “Area High School Senior Devastated College Admissions LinkedIn Post Only Got Single Like.” Fictional patsy Oliver Wright listed the seven colleges that admitted him: “the University of Connecticut, Western Connecticut State University, Southern Connecticut State University, Eastern Connecticut State University, Northwestern Connecticut Community College, Central Connecticut State University, and Yale University.” He thanked his “family, teachers, SAT tutor, SAT regrader, life coaches, squash coaches, pediatrician, Sal Khan, Kublai Khan, his hamster Buttercup, and the local fire department for their unwavering support” in his application process. Despite the disappointing lack of readership, “Wright is excited to head to Yale University…in the fall, becoming the fifth generation of his father’s family to have attended.”

Well done, satirists. With only minor tweaks, one might imagine a similar sortie aimed at a hypothetical member of the Harvard College class of 2025.

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Painting: Carnations, Gillyvors, Willow

(1) Carnations. (2) Gillyvors. 
Perdita: The fairest flower o' the season
Are our Carnations and streaked Gillyvors, 
Which some call Nature's bastards 
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