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Letters

Cambridge 02138

Endowment litigation, food waste, western Massachusetts

January-February 2022

 

Public History, Locally

Kudos to Drew Faust for her reflections on Clint Smith’s excellent new book, How The Word Is Passed (“Getting Close to the Past,” November-December 2021, page 57). Smith illustrates so clearly the vital importance of public historians in sharing history with non-academics, especially the history that has been deliberately excluded. Cambridge is no exception to erasure; enslaved people sustained the earliest white households here, and the forced labor on plantations in Jamaica created wealth that built, among other things, the grand homes on Brattle Street. Yet none of this history is highlighted on the blue markers around the city or the monuments we erect.

Thankfully, we have several history institutions already working to tell a larger and more complete story of Cambridge history. In addition to the efforts of the Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery [see the feature on Radcliffe Institute dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, page 29], Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site openly discusses enslaved people associated with the historic estate and have an ongoing relationship with some of their descendants.

Although not in Cambridge (but with a history intimately tied to Cambridge), Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford and their executive director Kyera Singleton (dissertation fellow in the history department) tackle these issues through the power of place [see “Royall House and Slave Quarters,” September-October 2020, Harvard Squared, page 8]. History Cambridge (formerly the Cambridge Historical Society) has started an anti-racism collaborative of neighbors on Brattle Street to explore this topic together. Earlier this year we highlighted the work of professor of history Tiya Miles and her students on the topic of Harriet Jacobs.

There is still much to be done, and many partners are needed. I invite anyone interested in learning more to contact me.

Marieke Van Damme, A.L.M. ’08
Executive Director, History Cambridge

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].

Endowment and Environment

I agree with John Rosenberg (“Endowment Enigmas,” 7 Ware Street, November-December 2021, page 5) that “higher-education institutions need unfettered room to explore ideas.” However, I would not compare ideas, which are timeless, with institutional investment policies, which are time-sensitive. I use “time-sensitive” advisedly, since most climate scientists (take the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) project 2030, rather than the Harvard Corporation’s 2050, as the deadline to avert global catastrophe. Do universities have the luxury of debating a situation so demonstrably urgent?

Rosenberg further speculates on what Harvard might do with an extra $6 billion or more. Why not build an international climate-studies institute comprising scientists, engineers, and, yes, humanists, to explore the Idea of Ideas, namely, the future of our planet? The dividends of such exploration would be inestimably valuable, affirming Harvard’s place as world citizen, as well as world-class university.

Ira Braus, Ph.D. ’88
Pembroke, Mass.

The column concerning a complaint against Harvard under the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act reflects an arrogant view that the University is a law unto itself. While one could argue that this Act ought not apply to investment of the endowment in fossil fuels, and that would make an interesting student note in the Law Review, treating that issue as an infringement on academic freedom is misplaced. That is nothing like the Florida governor’s efforts to prevent “indoctrination” of students, which clearly does infringe on that freedom, or his efforts to undermine public-health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, which apply to all sorts of entities in Florida ranging from cruise companies to universities.

Endowments and other trusts have long been subject to prudent investor rules. Large institutional investors and advisers are beginning to raise questions about the increasing risks of investments in fossil fuels, so it is an issue that fairly can be raised with regard to the endowment’s investments.

Rene H. Reixach, J.D. ’71
Rochester, N. Y.

U Should Know Better

The late Justice Ginsburg, whom I knew personally, was a fine writer and meticulous editor of her own work. She held Linda Greenhouse ’68, the New York Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter, in high esteem. All the more reason to wish her name had not been misspelled in the introduction to the Open Book on Greenhouse’s new book, Justice on the Brink (November-December 2021, page 51). It’s G-i-n-s-b-U-r-g, not Ginsberg. Think U as in Ruth.

Jacqueline Lapidus, M.T.S. ‘92
Brighton, Mass.

Editor’s note: Our error has been corrected online, and is acknowledged with regret here.

Building (Humanities) Bridges

A brief anecdote for the “Harvard and Liberal Arts” dialogue (Letters, November-December 2021, page 2): perhaps it may edify students and encourage advocates for the value of the liberal arts in pre-professional curricula?

As newly appointed pre-engineering adviser at DePauw University (no one else would touch it!), my first move was to send a request to former students of the program for comments on their experiences. One response included the following: “You don’t need to know Shakespeare to build a bridge, but you’ll build a better bridge if you do.”

Ernest Henninger, M.A.T ’56
Harrodsburg, Ky.

Preventing Food Waste

The article by Jacob Sweet concerning Emily Broad Leib’s efforts to reduce food waste was well done and enlightening (“Waste Not….” November-Decemer 2021, page 34). But I wonder why nothing was mentioned about the use of science to extend produce life such as being done by Apeel Sciences and others (Apeel has developed edible coatings that preserve the life of produce). Perhaps it would be more effective in reducing produce waste to simply extend produce life rather than fight what sounds like a regulatory bureaucratic nightmare.

Wayne Smith, M.B.A. ’68
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Standing Rock

As a grad who lives in flyover country, a nearly life-long resident of South Dakota, and as a former U.S. Senate field representative who traveled to the reservations in the state, I want to alert you to the small error in the excellent article on Amy Goodman (“People-Powered Journalism,” November-December 2021, page 60). The caption under the picture of Goodman and the protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline, page 61, calls the reservation which straddles the border between the two Dakotas the “Standing Brook Sioux Reservation.” It is actually the Standing Rock, the home country of the great Lakota chief Sitting Bull.

Rev. Randy Fredrikson, M.Div. ’72
Sioux Falls, S.D.

Western Mass?

I greatly enjoyed the spotlight you focused on the many cultural, historic and educational sites in Springfield, Massachusetts (“The Places You’ll Go,” November-December 2021, Harvard Squared, page 12E). Just one correction: Springfield is not located in central Massachusetts, as the subhead states, but rather in western Massachusetts, which comprises Hampden County (with Springfield its seat) as well as Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire Counties. Central Massachusetts is essentially Worcester County.

This type of geographical confusion reflects a Boston-centric orientation with which those of us in the central and western parts of Massachusetts are all too familiar. Anyway, Springfield is only 90 miles from Boston and well worth the trip.

Kenneth Neiman, J.D. ’71
Northampton, Mass.

Decarceration

Thank you for your piece on “Decarcerating America”,  (November-December 2021, page 19) regarding the new Law School Institute to End Mass Incarceration, whose stated goal is to “eradicate incarceration, root and branch”.

Will HLS similarly embrace an institute protecting the victims of crime and their wish to see justice done in their cases?  They are universally innocent (unlike the subjects of the IEMI) and certainly deserving of some consideration.  For example, such an institute could argue for the prosecution as world-class scholarly amicus in the constitutional issues that so frequently arise in criminal appeals.

Rauer L. Meyer, J.D. ’73
Tiburon, Calif.

Pantheon of Punters

I enjoyed the profile of punter Jon Sot ’22 in the November-December 2021 issue (“Playing for Kicks,” page 25). However, I wanted to nominate an additional candidate for Harvard’s pantheon of prodigious punters. Pat McInally ’75, while probably known more for his receiving than his punting at Harvard (he is enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame as a tight end), went on to have a noteworthy punting career in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals. In 1981, in fact, he led the league in punting average and was named a First Team All Pro. 

Anil Adyanthaya ’91
   Newton Upper Falls, Mass.

A Glum Alum at the Game

In the blink of 50 years, I've gone from an angry young man to a grumpy old one. This year’s Harvard-Yale Game left me raving on the heath. Somehow, we ended up in the student section, where the students stood throughout the game like thuggish pillars, chatting and snapping pictures of themselves, so you could not see the field. No one hollered, “Down in front!” because no one had noticed the splendor in the grass of young athletes going full-tilt.

When a drunken boy in a backwards baseball cap blocked my view of a thrilling run by leaning back into my lap, he muttered numbly to the air, “Did something huge happen?”

It’s true, even in my day many came to the Game only to glug from silver flasks and shrug their fox-festooned shoulders. Still, they managed to meet the standard of fans. They faced the field and cheered or groaned at meet moments. The game held the stage, as the Boston Symphony did when Grandma poked Grandpa who, after a long day at his office, was snoring in his seat.

Sports evolved in part to display the body and to stretch it—in other words, for beauty’s sake. Saturday, when the two teams took the field in the lengthening shadows and encroaching cold of the second half, they did a hard thing—to take up a fight they had let lapse. I've been on a shadowed field and felt the weight of wanting to win—to catch up or hold on like hell, and I wanted to cheer for those guys. Because a player hears cheers as a dreamer feels his feelings—not as real as the man across the line, but as a warming mist, as Odysseus hears Athena.

Don Barkin ’74
 New Haven, Conn.

Seeing Beyond Tech and Business

When an argument begins, as did President Bacow's recent “Seeing Further”(Nlovember-December 2021, page 3), by using gene editing as an example of an unqualified, unquestionable good, I become wary. I am not a scientist (although I aim to be scientifically literate). More to the point here, I'm not an engineer, but my summary of the argument would read speed; science, engineering, and computation for the second quantum revolution combined in a new initiative, HQI; MIT and profit (the private sector and “potential commercial applications”) all in the patriotic interest of beating our non-American competitors. Yet, Harvard, to my understanding, isn't solely an institute of technology (unlike MIT that gets bragged on more than once in the essay). And, although long a “corporation,” it's not just a business.   

But this latest initiative seems one more step in Harvard's increased business focus, particularly tech business (already embodied in the Office of Technology Development that connects “innovators with industry”). It would be wonderful to see Harvard instead turn from the nationwide trend of the corporatized university, to provide a counterbalance to our nation's fascination with disruption and wealth. 

I recognize that, like any institution, Harvard has many parts that may not all align; still its central mission is supposed to be truth. Also, like any centuries-old institution, Harvard has been on the wrong side of things before—sometimes egregiously. It has worked to address some of those wrongs, particularly concerns of institutional diversity and equity. The profit/power/tech complex seems equally a wrong path, one to stop and examine, rather than accelerate. Isn't the world now trying to dig out from the mess of plastics and fossil fuel caused by following the lead of business and engineering? Going forward, wouldn't it be good to think ahead about proposed innovations, and for a premier institution of higher learning to be a leader in that process? Instead communications from Harvard—the Gazette, the alumni association, the Radcliffe Institute—inundate you with so much promotion of tech innovations, it makes me feel I might as well donate to IBM. And, with a few notable exceptions, Harvard's questioning of these trends seems to me piecemeal and inadequate, the “embedded ethiCS,” the Berkman Klein Center that “behave[s] like a start-up.” Their approach reminds me (ironically) of the geocentric proponents who once tried to tweak a wrong-headed system with epicycles to prop it up. Instead, we could affirm some fundamental rights: to have meaningful work, to think and work uninterrupted by algorithms and programs, to engage with other human beings in our everyday activities. 

We could focus on real problems—poverty, injustice, our unmended planet. The solutions—and the explanations for our failures so far—aren't in technology alone, or even behavioral science, but also in social justice, in the humanities, in how much we care about each other. Bacow ends with what I have come to think of as the future tech imperative, “It is the future.” But engineering and business alone can't tell us all we should do, just what we can do and what we can profit from. Surely the lessons of Covid are not simply technical—zoom lag and PPE—but that we need to live in community, to affirm the humanity of all of us, the right of us all to meaningful lives. That could be a valuable revolution. It's not being forward-thinking to embrace dystopia, or naive or backward to object to one. Our thoughtful choices can guide what becomes the future. If it is brave to speak truth to power, it is the responsibility of the powerful to speak truth. Harvard can do better, and I hope it will.   

Christina Albers ’79
   New Orleans

 

 

An Omission, A Typo

A layout error caused us to omit the final words of Juliet Isselbacher’s “Myth and Memoir” (November-December 2021, page 53). The truncated phrase, on page 55, should have read, “…‘How does this story end?’”Our apologies to the subject, Elisabeth Sharp McKetta, the author, and readers. We also, unaccountably, misspelled the first name of Francis A. Boyle, J.D. ’76, Ph.D. ’83, in The College Pump (page 64); our apologies, and thanks again for his story about Richard C. Lewontin.

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