Healthy diets, teachers without tenure, mitzvot
Higher Ed Obligations
Julie Reuben’s important review of how brand-obsessed colleges are neglecting the needs and purpose of higher education lists several developments in higher ed (“Ego U,” March-April, page 24), but omits two that apply especially to what she tactfully describes as “less distinguished” colleges. The first is demographics: the declining number of college-age Americans, and within their thinning ranks, the declining number who believe a four-year degree is mandatory for success. With 3,000-plus U.S. colleges, as the spots for freshmen outnumber college-bound 18-year-olds, admissions officers are scrambling for a piece of a shrinking pie.
The second is the dependence, mostly among small liberal arts colleges, many originally affiliated with religious denominations, on high fees from English language intensive programs, often noncredit. For decades, these fees masked how the declining enrollment of matriculated students was creating a tuition shortfall and reducing demand for truly academic courses. Today, with fewer foreign students on campus in any kind of program to provide a financial safety net, too many of these tiny colleges are flailing in their recruiting, struggling to distinguish themselves with promotional language of limited interest to students and parents focused on recognizable degrees and career marketability. (My husband, M.B.A. ’75, and I received a packet from a church-affiliated school with precipitous drops in enrollment and student test scores, entreating us to choose “character education” for our National Merit Finalist.)
The good colleges don’t need branding, and it won’t save the marginal programs. Quit wasting time, energy, and dollars on such frivolous marketing and return to a focus on academics.
Linda Carlson, M.B.A. ’80
Professor Reuben’s article noted that Harvard president, Charles Eliot, led in national higher education as well as transforming Harvard. I suggest that Harvard’s new leadership could promote change in academic areas with troubled national images.
First, the U.S. has arguably the most corrupt and venal legal profession among advanced nations. It levies an effective tax on most societal transactions, and litigiousness obstructs infrastructure renewal. The Law School could advocate national reforms.
Second, the U.S. is among the top four nations in per pupil spending on K-12 education but ranked twenty-fifth among OECD nations in the 2022 international PISA combined science, math, and reading scores. Since the 1950s, the Graduate School of Education has been identified with progressive educational philosophies that have unintentionally promoted educational stratification.
Finally, the history department was once known for dissertations like that of W.E.B. DuBois in 1895: “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in the United States, 1638-1871.” Recent dissertations lean toward specialized subjects. I suggest the department encourage ambitious topics that will make waves.
Frank T. Manheim ’52
I read with great interest Professor Julie Reuben’s “Ego U” (March-April 2023, page 23) as she covers some of the ground on which I spent my career as a professor, researcher, and university administrator. While she paints a portrait of the higher education landscape today, it is only a partial one because she neglects to discuss the roughly one-third of undergraduates who attend community colleges, almost of all of which are relatively low cost and open enrollment, i.e., they accept almost any student with a high school diploma or GED.
In the fall of 2021, of approximately 6,500 undergraduates, Harvard accepted only 14 students—about two-tenths of one percent—as transfer students. While the data do not say how many of these come from community colleges, surely the university could scour the nation’s over 5 million community college students to find a good number who could qualify for admission and benefit from completing the final two years of their education at Harvard. Such an effort would likely also further diversify the student body, as community college students are more diverse racially and economically than the current Harvard undergraduate population.
Two universities with which Harvard completes in California, UC Berkeley and UCLA, accept upwards of 10 percent of their undergraduates via transfers, with most coming from community colleges. Surely if these two prestigious institutions can find community college graduates who meet their admission standards, Harvard could as well. While the university has a fairly limited ability to influence the other 6,000 postsecondary institutions in the country, it could make an important national statement by accepting more transfers from community colleges and demonstrating how this pathway can help save students money and improve educational attainment rates.
Donald E. Heller, Ed.M. ’92, Ed.D. ‘97
Retired Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs
University of San Francisco
In reference to “Live Long—and Save the Planet” (March-April, page 8): How does the healthful plant-based diet compare to the patient menu choices at the teaching hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School? Do the menus list the ingredients for each item?
How does the healthful plant-based diet compare with the vending machine offerings and student cafeteria menus?
Editor’s note: “Healthy Plate, Healthy Planet” (March-April 2020) features the Harvard School of Public Health’s dining options.
Thank you for pointing out that Harvard has joined universities across the country in hiring “faculty in non-ladder positions,” more commonly described as “fixed-term faculty” (“Who Teaches,” 7 Ware Street, March-April, page 5). You fail to explain whether these hires at Harvard share the characteristics common to these jobs: long-term job insecurity, bad benefits, and low wages. This helps explain why students like these classes, because studies show that student evaluations reflect what grades the students anticipate getting from their professors, and faculty in danger of being fired on a whim tend to hand out high grades to secure good ratings from their students. One who held such a position told me that he received an obviously plagiarized paper but wasn’t paid enough to justify confronting the student about it.
I taught general education courses including freshman writing as a tenured professor because I wanted to have significant impact on my students’ lives. I also did scholarship, producing six books and 95 articles and book chapters. My research had a heavy impact on my teaching, which helps explain why I won two teaching awards. In my opinion, people avoid teaching, say, freshman writing, not because it gets in the way of their research but because of the onerous workload: those instructors read a lot of papers. And judging by the writing instruction when I attended Harvard, they often have no idea what they’re doing. On the other hand, thinking about writing year after year can improve both one’s scholarship and one’s teaching.
Nancy Bunge ’64
The discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of hiring non-ladder faculty as College instructors neglected two important issues: labor equity and intellectual community.
Reliance on non-tenure-track instructors frequently entails exploitation of these employees. Besides lacking security of employment and the right to participate in academic decision-making, non-ladder faculty tend to be underpaid and overworked, denied health or retirement benefits, and saddled with spotty, unpredictable appointments—in many cases lacking access to essential teaching resources such as adequate office space. Many are forced to become “freeway fliers,” cobbling together part-time jobs at multiple institutions, just to keep a roof over their heads.
Creating this sort of second-class teaching cadre also corrodes the academic enterprise. Instructors who can be hired and fired at will have fewer opportunities to cultivate collegial relationships with their fellow faculty members, and are necessarily less invested in the life of the schools where they work. Moreover, when employers accord teaching-only posts relatively low status and remuneration, the implied lack of regard for pedagogical excellence cheapens the educational atmosphere.
There are strong arguments for incorporating non-tenure-track employees into the College’s teaching faculty. If Harvard is to continue doing so without undermining its integrity as an institution of higher learning, however, it must take seriously the obligation to do right by these members of its community.
Sarah Rabkin ’79
Mass Hall Mitzvot
Larry Bacow’s origin story of his mother’s survival and arrival here is moving and prescient (“Mitzvot,” The View from Mass Hall, March-April, page 3). The Nazi crime wasn’t just horrific systematic extermination of human life, it was the killing of human potential. President Bacow is a shining example of what could have been for millions of others. Values that Jews call “mitzvot”—good deeds (tikkun olam, heal the world, and derech eretz , follow the right path)—can be anyone’s values, and when expressed with action and enthusiasm will make this country and our world a better place.
Steve Kravit, J.D.’ 75
President Bacow’s view was very moving to me. My parents arrived in America in 1951, when I was six years old, and we settled in Detroit. They had also lost their families in Poland during the Holocaust. My parents lived the American dream and never lost their optimism about the future of America, its promise of living and renewal.
But the memory that stands out most for me was when they visited me in Cambridge in my first year of law school and came to one of my classes. Afterwards, my father laughed, holding back tears, as he turned the pages of my heavy law books. His humble expression, thanking Harvard and America for changing our family’s future, has stayed with me to this day.
May Harvard continue to bless new generations of immigrants.
Joshua Bar-Lev, J.D. ’70
Oh how I will miss President Bacow’s column. Though I am sure he’s a first-class scholar and administrator, it’s a different quality I will miss: namely, his simple, practical humanism. By humanism, I do not mean any political ideology as real humanism belongs to no party or group.Despite all his big words, President Bacow espouses a simple grace, and it’s authentic. I suppose the word that best describes him —unfortunately an overused word—is he is a consummate mensch. Instead of the title “President Emeritus,” I suggest “Mensch Emeritus.” I thank him for his service.
William Choslovsky, J.D. ’94
Henry Clarke Warren, Scholar
Thank you for the “Vita” article on Henry Clarke Warren (March-April, page 26). One pedantic note: The title of his great work is Buddhism in Translations (not, Translation). One poignant note: Given his serious spinal injury, which David Gauld mentions, Warren had to work at a high desk, with crutches under his arms, “one of his dogged efforts,” as his brother wrote, “to render his life and work possible.” And one scholarly note: While many of the texts in his book were translated from printed editions, his pioneer versions of the Visuddhimagga were made directly from Pali manuscripts in Sinhala and Burmese script. His full edition of the work would only be published 50 years after his death, in 1950.
Very few scholars today, whether standing or sitting, could match Warren’s achievement in the few, painful years allotted to him.
Sheldon Pollock ’71, Ph.D. ’75
Raghunathan professor emeritus of Sanskrit and South Asian studies, Columbia University
Founding general editor, Murty Classical Library of India, Harvard University Press
“Nesting Instinct” (Treasure, March-April, page 64) raises the role of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and its holdings of egg and nest specimens .
May I add the role of Richard Harlow, football coach 1935-1947, to this story.
While coaching football he also served as the Curator of Oology—the collection and study of bird eggs—from 1939-1954. He was a busy man: MCZ has more than 40,000 specimens of eggs and bird nests!
Harlow, like this writer, was from Philadelphia and, also like me, attended Episcopal Academy—in his case, the class of 1908. He then attended Penn State ’12 and played football there After that he coached at Penn State, Colgate, Western Maryland, and eventually Harvard, for 12 seasons. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame and died in 1962.
Stephen Dittmann ’71
Harvard Magazine has always been pretty good-looking, but Jim Harrison’s photograph of the Fredericks among their pianos is a particular beauty (“Attuned to Pianos,” March-April, page 37). I hope that Edmund doesn’t mind that I love staring at Patricia with that radiant smile and Irish sweater. A senior-citizen pinup.
Conn Nugent ’68, J.D. ’73
Winthrop House Renaming?
As the eldest male Winthrop with a direct line of descent to the first Governor of Massachusetts, I must object to the movement to rename any of the Houses at Harvard. [Editor’s note: Students have petitioned for an official denaming request, under University procedures, through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, citing Winthrop family ties to slavery.]
Governor Winthrop was one of the few who founded Harvard. It can be argued that neither Harvard, nor Boston for that matter, would exist had it not been for the man who led the Puritans to the New World—leaving a land of comfort for a relatively unknown destination.
He was reelected 12 times for his achievements and was the creator of the “City on a Hill” speech quoted by Presidents Reagan and Kennedy. The purpose of that speech before his followers were settled was to create a moral framework before the arrival of the Arbella.
It must be admitted that the morality of the U.S.A. has never been perfect. However, the first officer killed in the Civil War (Theodore Winthrop), along with the last General (Frederic Winthrop) were both on the Union side intending to eliminate slavery.
More could be said about the Governor, his morality, and his achievements, but renaming any of the houses at Harvard would be a mistake.
John Winthrop ’58
(named after his deceased uncle, not the Governor)
I read with interest the piece in the “Over the River Dept.” in the March-April issue (The College Pump, page 56) on the new applied science an d engineering building on Western Avenue, in Allston, as I had visited there for the first time just a few days before. As a Ph.D. alumnus of what is now called SEAS and what had been known in my era as the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics, I wanted to see the new home of my old department. I agree with Primus VI that this is a welcome addition to Harvard’s architecture—a place where a student might feel productive, able to relax or meditate, and even find a source of tempting food treats.
But I have a complaint and it’s not trivial: the library has virtually no books. The entire holdings, which were on display in a few bookcases, were several dozen newly published and purchased volumes, most of general interest and rather few that are techie. I learned from asking students that books must be requested, via computer, from an off-campus location, and that they then turn up in a locker in the new building in 1 to 4 business days. I remember the old Division library in Pierce Hall where you could stand in the stacks and pull off one volume after another in pursuit of the solution to a homework or thesis problem; there was no waiting for anything. Often, in this way, I learned about some useful publications for the first time.
The disappointing trend that I witnessed in the new building is not confined to Harvard’s new STEM collection that I recently saw. There are remarkably few science books in the Cabot Science Library in the Harvard Science Center. The sole exception is the math collection and I congratulate the Harvard mathematics department for insisting that their collection not be moved off campus. I wish that the faculty in applied science had exercised the same wisdom.
A. David Wunsch, Ph.D. ’69
Book Review Editor,
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine Belmont, Mass.
Supreme Court, Round Three
Brief comments on William Slattery’s letter (Cambridge 02138, March-April, page 61; on Mark Dennett’s prior letter, pertaining to “Justice Elena Kagan, in Dissent,” November-December 2022, page 28):
He does not (and cannot) contest that the cases I cited in my letter are examples of liberal justices creating law out of thin air.
The fact that he can only name two even arguably conservative justices on the Warren Court (questionable in Justice White’s case) proves that there was an overwhelming liberal consensus on the Court at that time.
I was unaware that the more justices that agreed on a decision, the more convincing the decision was. Let’s see—Dred Scott was 7-2, Plessy was 7-1, and Korematsu was 6-3. I assume that Slattery supports all of these decisions due to the number of justices who voted in favor of them.
In my 1L Criminal Procedure class, Professor Weinreb opined that Miranda was a mistake because it let the police get away too easily—once the “magic words” were acknowledged, they could get in any subsequent confession regardless of how it was obtained.
He totally misses the point of my criticism. I do not want to “repeal the 20th century,” an ad hominem attack unworthy of Slattery. My point was that it is obscenely hypocritical to say that it is legitimate when liberal justices make law out of thin air but illegitimate when conservative justices do so. Such naked political calculus will only serve to further demean the esteem in which the Court is held. My personal preference would be for no justice, conservative or liberal, to make law out of thin air, but if the liberal justices are going to continue to do so, it cannot be illegitimate for the conservative justices to do so as well. The future decisions of the conservative majority may be mistaken, erroneous, unwise, or even disastrous and catastrophic, but as they are doing the same thing as their liberal predecessors, the one thing that they most certainly are is legitimate.
Mark Dennett, J.D. ’83
Palm Coast, Fla.
How droll that Adam Kirsch in “The Case for Cultural Appropriation” (March-April, page 46) repeats exactly such an appropriation in his use of the terms C.E. and B.C.E., which is a denial of the Christian origins, starting with the monk Dionysius in A.D. 525, of the most-used calendar in the world. It is analogous to exhibiting an artistic treasure from ancient China or Greece and disguising its origin so as not to offend people who are not Chinese or Greek. Only history-deniers and intolerant antireligious plagiarists should use C.E. and B.C.E.
Samuel Maxwell, M.D. ’73
I enjoyed Geoffrey Jones’s article “A Higher Degree of Responsibility” (March-April 2023, page 33), including the recognition of Edward Filene, whose department store was my first employer and credit union my first lender.
I bought his new book and found the in-depth profiles inspiring and balanced; but I was disappointed that there was no acknowledgment of Social Venture Network (SVN), which was founded in 1987 and was at the epicenter of the emergence of late 20th Century social responsibility. While the biographies of the pioneers were helpful, the recent manifestation was a movement, a community, much more than iconic individuals. In fact, the majority whom Jones writes about were members of SVN, including Anita Roddick, Ben Cohen, Paul Hawken, Judy Wicks, Mark Finser and Matt Patsky (successor to Joan Bavaria).
During the 19 semi-annual SVN conferences that I attended in the 90s, I loved being with these exceptional leaders. The retreats were rich with vision, debate, passion and new ideas, some more aspirational than realistic. The rapid expansion of the natural products industry accelerated from the interconnectedness of the many founders at these meetings.
While there are many member organizations that foreground social responsibility and sustainability, SVN was their “grandparent.” They include: Business for Social Responsibility, Investors Circle, Net Impact, B Lab, Green America, BALLE, and American Sustainable Business Network (legacy home of SVN).
In 2002, I was invited by the Sustainable Business Club of Harvard Business School to speak about my work with mission-driven startups. This was shortly after the dramatic rise and fall of Enron. My non-traditional career path along with the Club received new-found curiosity as then MBA students entered a period of self-reflection. The interest on this campus about this subject has not waned. This month’s HBS Alumni Bulletin has multiple articles related to the Environment/Climate or social equity and inclusion, keeping the SVN discourse alive and well.
Mac McCabe, M.B.A. ’71
When I was a student at Harvard Business School in the early 1960s, we would occasionally remark that the Charles must be the widest river in the world where it divides the Business School from the rest of Harvard. The division was especially noticeable in regard to ethical issues. Geoffrey Jones argues for the possibility of closing the separation. However, there remains much work to be done.
For example, in 1970 Milton Friedman popularized the assumption that the purpose of business is to maximize profits. Given that approach, there is little room for what Jones calls value-driven business. In general, the popular opinion opposed to Friedman’s is stakeholder theory. The contrasts between profit maximization and stakeholder theory are drawn as if they were contradictory so that showing one to be false establishes the other as true and vice-versa. However, they maybe be contrary which means they cannot both be true, but they can both be false. (The recent articulation of the ESG view supports that conclusion.)
During my first year at the Business School, Dean Teele made a brief announcement stating that the previous year the Business School had run a deficit. Subsequently, the New Yorker magazine reproduced that announcement adding “Physician, heal thyself.” Most physicians work in the non-profit sector as do business school faculty. There is a tension here which is worth exploring.
Finally, it is interesting to note that Jones and numerous contemporary commentators continually refer to our economy as capitalistic. It is difficult to know what they mean by this reference. Characteristically, we say that Adam Smith is the original architect of our economic theory. However, the economic reality in which Smith developed his theory does not look like the one we have today. In the present, there is some recognition of this issue by modifying the noun “capitalism” with adjectives as Jones does, but there remains a question whether the modifications are so substantial as to recommend abandoning the noun. This issue does not get the attention given to Friedman’s profit maximization view and ESG, but perhaps some effort devoted to examining it would yield insights and help bring the banks of the Charles closer.
Willard F. Enteman, M.B.A. ’61
A noteworthy aspect of “President Will No Longer Chair Faculty Meetings” (online March 8) was the estimate that only 20 to 25 percent of FAS faculty members attend these faculty meetings.
In the private sector, such low attendance would not be tolerated. Of course, tenure doesn’t exist in the private sector. It is clear that the privilege of tenure is being abused by a majority of faculty members. The sense of entitlement implicit in such nonattendance is outrageous.
I hope that incoming President Gay will take a more hard-nosed approach to mandating attendance.
Frederick C. Lane ’71, M.B.A. ’73
The January-February article on Romanian orphans (“Deprivation’s Mark on the Brain,” page 9) and the March-April letters in response to it enriched my understanding of the ways in which a nation’s ill-advised policies can lead to unusually large numbers of abandoned orphans. But I regret to see that America’s equally draconian foster-care system was suggested as a solution. Is paying families with their own set of psychological deficits the most humane solution to institutionalization? I am not condemning foster parents as being deviant or money-grubbing. Most are hard-working, decent human beings. But human families, including wealthy ones, have quirks, some more destructive than others. A loving bond between parents and children, however poor, is worth all the money in the world. The foster-care system clearly does not remove children from millionaires and billionaires, regardless how deviant or emotionally negligent these parents may be. The alternatives to institutionalization should be subsidizing homeless parents so that they and their children are not living on the streets, providing psychiatric support, and/or putting more effort into locating either relatives or community members to which similar financial and psychological support is offered as needed.
Constance Hilliard, Ph.D. ’71,’77
Hickory Creek, Tex.
Requiem for Commencement
Commencement Week begins with Phi Beta Kappa Literary Exercises, at which distinguished members of the 50th Reunion Class used to be awarded honorary memberships. Because the 50th Reunion Class is no longer invited back to campus until after Commencement Week, this tradition has ended.
To conclude the band and choruses concert on Commencement eve, alumni were invited to come up and sing Harvard and Radcliffe songs. But last year few alumni were present, so mostly just chorus members sang in the finale.
My classmates loved marching through the ranks of seniors to enter Tercentenary Theatre on Commencement morning. It was the climax of our 50th Reunion and those graduating students cheered us heartily! It is too bad that they will not have the same joyful experience when they return to celebrate their own 50th Reunion.
The Commencement program used to describe the people on the platform as representing the three pillars of the University: Governing Boards in the center, faculty on the right, and alumni on the left. At last year’s Commencement, there were no alumni. One pillar was missing.
The day after Commencement is Radcliffe Day, featuring an interesting panel and presentation of the Radcliffe Medal. All graduates of Radcliffe College are invited and several tables are reserved for each reunion class. But last year the tent had many empty tables because reunions were all shunted to the following week.
The band used to march around at each reunion and play the familiar songs. It is understandable that band members do not want to hang around for another week after Commencement, so this experience is now lost.
All of these traditions could have been preserved if the changes to College reunion schedules had been less brutal. It’s sad, and alumni expected Harvard to do better.
Benjamin N. Levy ’69
Amplification and Erratum
It is a well-known fact that institutional memory can get fuzzy over time. “Made You Look” (March-April, page 44) covers Dan Droz, who “studied under design faculty member and founding director of the Carpenter Center, Toshiro Katayama” (the correct spelling is “Toshihiro”).
If you walk through the entrance door to the Center, on the wall at your right is a tablet that honors Eduard F. Sekler. While Toshi did serve as director for several years, Eduard was the first director, given that position in 1966, having been in charge of Center activities from its beginning.
With best wishes from his wife, who shared those early years when the smell of curing concrete still lingered in the building.Eduard thoroughly enjoyed that wonderful challenge of filling Le Corbusier’s spaces with intellectual life and visual joy.
Pat Sekler, Ph.D. ’73
Editor’s note: The name of Faramarz Jahanbeen was misspelled in “To the Rescue” (January-February, page 25), a feature on the University’s Scholars at Risk Program. We regret our error.