Cambridge 02138

Leadership crisis, Israel and Gaza, “Undergraduate” Insights

Hating Harvard

Congratulations to the editors for featuring “Why Americans Love to Hate Harvard” (March-April, page 26), and congratulations to Derek Bok for his contribution to a much-needed public discussion. His thoughts are well balanced and are based on decades of direct involvement in the issues at hand at the highest levels. Bravo!

Gilbert Doctorow ’67
Brussels

 

Former President Bok’s article eloquently explains some of the factors driving Harvard’s and other elite universities’ disconnect with parts of the Harvard community and, more importantly, with our society.

But it comes up short on remedies. One that may seem helpful at first blush is fraught with problems, [given that Bok proposes improvements] “particularly appropriate for elite universities, whose graduates are especially likely to eventually occupy positions of importance in government and the professions.” I think this way of articulating solutions is likely to reinforce the growing distrust of elite universities as elitist. The very term liberal education, which, to many in the Harvard community, implies openness to all ideas and views, connotes to others the elitist attitude that we will tell you how to live your life.

To earn back their elite status as universities, Harvard and others should go back to first principles. As did the University of Chicago’s Kalven principles (1967), Harvard should affirm “the University’s commitment to the academic freedom of faculty and students in the face of suppression from internal and/or external entities while also insisting on institutional neutrality on political and social issues.” To quote from the report, “A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”

Those principles were more prevalent at Harvard when I started as an undergraduate in 1964. It won’t be easy to change. But striving to achieve it will be worth it.

Dick Berner ’68
Rye Brook, N.Y.

 

Editor’s note: See “Harvard in the Interim” (page 15, this issue) for coverage of a discussion of institutional neutrality, among other issues. For more on these matters, as raised on campus, see harvardmag.com/neutrality-24 and harvardmag.com/fas-agenda-24.

 

Derek Bok’s article is absolutely magnificent. He shows the strengths and weaknesses of America’s elite universities, together with recommendations for improvement—a rare accomplishment.

Russell Robert Harris, M.B.A. ’60
Ogden, Utah

 

Elite: “A group or class of persons considered to be superior to others because of their intelligence, social standing, or wealth.” President Bok’s use of that term to describe the group of higher education institutions to which Harvard belongs is part of the problem. “Highly selective” is better. It conveys the idea that Harvard has high standards without letting everyone know we’re better than they are.

Steven Schreiber ’63
Voorheesville, N.Y.

 

President Bok’s piece is characteristically discerning, especially about academic freedom, liberal professors, and overweening politicians. Yet he neglects a simple, common-sense reason why Americans love to hate Harvard: the school’s been overrated. Like any organization, it can be smug, brittle, inward, tedious, whatever. But the Harvard brand’s excessive cultural power has long—maybe for generations—been due for a public takedown, and now it’s happened. There’s nothing mysterious about it.

Frank J. Popper, M.P.A ’68, Ph.D.’72
New York City

 

Derek Bok called for elite universities to “build public confidence” by “[devising] a truly successful model of civic education.” I find few ways of civic education to be more powerful than interacting and learning from real people, especially from folks whose backgrounds differ from mine. Such has been my experience since moving to Utah over 10 years ago and working on environmental issues such as improving air quality and saving the Great Salt Lake.

To overcome the current challenges of public confidence and restore the bonds of affection, elite universities have to reconnect with their communities at the grassroots level. Harvard College should take this opportunity to consider a public service graduation requirement, building on the work of organizations such as Phillips Brooks House and AmeriCorps. This crisis should not be wasted.

John C. Lin ’97, Ph.D. ’03
Salt Lake City

 

While there are points in President Bok’s article that I might quibble with, I also think he misses the basic why. President Gay’s testimony and history placed Harvard in the unpleasant position of being the obvious public target of the pent-up hostility that a large number of Americans feel as the result of the intrusive contempt of a cadre of very intelligent, very well-educated, self-appointed arbiters of democracy and culture who believe it is appropriate to use the government and any available non-governmental institution to compel their intellectual inferiors to conform to proper behavior and thought. Harvard may want open intellectual inquiry, but it is easily identified as part of an elitist control apparatus.

William Watson, J.D. ’68
Denver

 

President Emeritus Derek Bok misses what, I suspect, is one of the main sources of hatred of elite universities—or indeed all universities. It is that, in our supposedly meritocratic world, people without college degrees are looked down upon and often ignored. They are not listened to respectfully or are treated with scorn even when they may know more about some practical matter than a degreed administrator, manager, judge, or the like who happens to have power over them.

Is it any wonder that resentment arises? It hardly matters whether the offending graduate is a Harvard summa or someone who got through a low-ranked college by the skin of their teeth, though possibly Harvard grads are a bit more arrogant.

Further, until very recently—and very egregiously—hiring personnel routinely required college degrees for many jobs, regardless of other experience, abilities, or knowledge that might have proved even more germane. Not only is this a huge waste of talent, but it is surely another deep source of resentment.

I would guess such resentments are a main source of the appeal of the MAGA movement, and explain stances by the likes of Rep. Stefanik in her attack on (sadly, now Emeritus) President Gay.

Michael H. Goldhaber ’63
Berkeley, Calif.

 

I humbly suggest an addition to President Bok’s characteristically thoughtful list of ways that elite universities can counter the erosion of public support: inculcate a campus culture that clearly and consistently distinguishes academic from moral authority.

In my experience, most people are respectful of and will seek out expertise when needed (hence the relatively high rate of trust for personal physicians). What many cannot abide (and not just conspiracy theorists) is the use of credentials as a cudgel to dictate life choices. To cite come recent examples, a history diploma does not confer omniscience to tell people whom to vote for; an epidemiology degree offers little insight into how to prioritize among health, education, protest rights, religious worship, and the economy; and board certification in psychiatry has almost zero relevance to labeling public figures one has never met, let alone examined, as “dangerous.”

Being affiliated with Harvard in any capacity is, of course, a tremendous honor, achieved against long odds. But professional qualifications and institutional pedigree cannot stand in for even harder-earned wisdom and virtue.

Charles G. Kels ’00
San Antonio, Tex.

 

I truly appreciated Derek Bok’s recommendations for overcoming the negative reputation that Harvard has acquired since the time of my first matriculation, 1962. That liberal professors outnumber conservatives by 10 or 15 to 1 is no surprise to me. According to a survey at 50th reunion time, liberal Radcliffe alumnae from my class outnumbered conservative classmates by about 30 to 1. I usually throw out Harvard Magazine without reading more than one article. (I’m a Republican.) So glad I majored in math, where unpopular ideas can mostly be proven or disproven. In my midlife GSAS incarnation, I got to know atmospheric scientist Mike McElroy, and was gratified 10 years ago to see him defending the Keystone Pipeline. Not all Harvard professors are nuts.

Mimi Gerstell ’66 A.M. ’91
Vero Beach, Fla.

 

Former President Derek Bok makes a reasoned and thought-provoking case that Harvard and its peers can change to reduce attacks—predominantly from right wingers. But he misses one solution. The Ivy League schools and MIT would be viewed much more favorably by the general public if they would improve and open their athletic programs to facilitate greater participation in postseason tournaments and bowl games. Judging from the folks around here, in North Carolina, most Americans know colleges only by their football and basketball teams. But Harvard doesn’t much enter the consciousness of these sports fans. Perhaps that’s why Harvard, Penn and MIT are singled out while Stanford, Duke, and Notre Dame—all elite schools—get a bye. When it comes to sports, they mix it up with the regular folks and so appear a lot less elite.

Thomas P. Southwick ’71
Biltmore Lake, N.C.

 

Unfortunately, Dr. Bok missed a leading cause of resentment against Harvard, etc.: the self-perpetuating elite class that stuffs its children with advantages to get them into elite schools and good jobs. It’s not good for the kids, who lack time and space to find themselves (probably contributing to the continuing suicides of students, at Palo Alto High School and others). Meanwhile, tens of millions of ordinary Americans are stuck with dead-end employment at best. Many work two jobs and live in their cars, with no improvement on the horizon. Much of rural America doesn’t get any mobile phone service, let alone internet. Can we fix this?

John S. James ’63
Philadelphia

 

According to Dr. Bok, critics of elite universities conduct withering interrogations and public shaming, deliver angry responses and angry reactions, accuse, look askance, interfere, and threaten, based on suspicions and heightened suspicions. Liberal professors, on the other hand, merely express disapproval, although careful studies have found them to have tendencies enhanced by distaste. What a contrast, but does it fully reflect reality?

Peter Jacobson, A.B. ’75
Livermore, Cal.

 

Hurrah for Derek Bok’s “Why Americans Love to Hate Harvard” in the March-April magazine. One suggestion I especially liked—to the extent I understood it—was to find “a successful model for civic education,” and to help students acquire “a knowledge of practical ethics and proficiency in moral reasoning.” “Civics” was a required class in my high school, to help us understand how our government worked, how it ought to work, and the responsibilities of citizens. From my observation of present-day Boobus Americanus, I doubt that good civics classes are still being given.

Citizens should have interest and a basic knowledge about how governments work, how to evaluate political issues, how to engage in the political process, and especially how to tell a “phony.” This is needed for all government levels, federal, state, and local. Perhaps in a future Harvard Magazine article Bok could elaborate on how he thinks we can promote better engagement in the broad area of “civics.”

Nick Carrera ’60
Frederick, Md.

The Gay Presidency and Harvard in Crisis

Someone should have looked at this op-ed (7 Ware Street, “A Look in the Mirror,” March-April page 4) before it was published to try to resolve the clear inaccuracies and inconsistencies therein:

1. “alleged antisemitism”: At this late date, you have the gall to equivocate on the clear antisemitic mobs that have coursed through Harvard. This shows that you have learned nothing from the entire President Gay matter other than you got caught.

2. “acceded to a public narrative…that is a caricature at best”: The clear and obvious plagiarism exhibited in Gay’s prior slim portfolio of works is scarcely a caricature. Perhaps if she had written more widely, as most previous Harvard presidents had, her plagiarism might have been more understandable or explainable. However, given the incredibly meager academic output, the fact that perhaps a majority of her published works contained evidence of plagiarism is self-condemnatory. It is interesting that, when a dean, Gay was very strict about those students accused of plagiarism and was not above handing out severe penalties for students found guilty. I am reminded of Matt. 7: 1-2, which seems applicable here.

3. “given the cardinal virtue of open campus discourse”: My only experience was at the Law School from 1980-83, but at that time, the cardinal virtue was pressuring everyone to think the same. HLS had the quaint tradition of expressing disapproval of anyone’s opinions given in class by hissing at the offending opinion, which was usually conservative, but could also cover other sins outside of the accepted groupthink.

4. “the risks of destructive change are rising, and could become existential”: Great! Harvard needs to be drastically revamped. Very little of what I learned at HLS was applicable to or helpful in my legal career, and the groupthink mind that was present there just did not (at that time) exist outside of academia. Harvard has a special responsibility to raise society up to be the best possible version of itself, and not divide us into groups based on incoherent or unintelligible criteria. My hope is that whoever succeeds Gay will listen and try to reform the institution to meet these goals and not to continue to divide us by unimportant characteristics.

Mark E. Dennett, J.D. ’83
Palm Coast, Fla.

 

“A Look in the Mirror: Challenges for Harvard governance and leadership” is what I would have expected from the editor. He gives us a politely restrained yet bravely pointed performance review of Harvard governance. He observes that elite and great institutions “can falter if they get too enamored of themselves.” He makes it very clear that the Corporation members “need to take a look in the mirror,” make a “tough-minded, realistic assessment” of the outside perceptions and forces confronting Harvard, and “must understand fully where Harvard can be improved.” He invites the Corporation members to invite advice from outside experts. Aspiration to reform must be accompanied by commitment. And the resulting plans and their implementation must be continuously communicated to all who would and should know.

Richard W. Emory Jr., J.D. ’67
Boynton Beach, Fla.

 

I am excited for the opportunity that this moment of turmoil provides for Harvard. This is a wonderful crisis upon which to capitalize to put Harvard back on the path of national leadership. While the proximate issues are complex, the big-picture lesson is not: Harvard must embrace its role in creating leaders of the common society we call America rather than individual achievers.

In his famous 2001 essay The Organization Kid, David Brooks contrasts the Ivy League of a century ago with the one we have today. According to Brooks, in the early twentieth century, the elite American universities considered their obligation to students to be to “toughen them up, teach them a sense of social obligation, based on the code of…noblesse oblige.” How different this is from the Harvard I attended early this century, where the culture promoted the maximization of personal success for the sake of oneself, rather than any sense of duty to our society.

In the interest of the country and all Americans yet to be born, I hope Harvard will seize this turbulent moment and orient its mission toward training students—who by virtue of attending Harvard assume the privileges of being the American elite—for service rather than selfishness.

Sam Slaughter ’09
San Francisco

 

Sadly, the congressional hearings, spotlighting the tone deafness of the university presidential “three blind mice,” dramatically pulled back the curtain on extensive, hidden, deeply entrenched moral and policy failure in hiring, admissions, and operations. The pathology is likened by some historians to the infamous “treason of the intellectuals” at the top, formerly world-class, German universities in the 1920s and 1930s.

Today, truth, merit and teaching seem to have degraded to indoctrination and stifling anti-merit abuse. Veritas has been replaced with Marxist “DEI,” including equity/equal outcome with highly divisive and abusive oppressor-oppressed gaslighting guff. In practice, for “violations” against the “historically oppressed,” the code is strictly, hypocritically enforced in draconian style. The historically “oppressed” can do no harm. Students fear to speak the truth and fear, even, for their safety. The current institutional status is inconsistent with the many millennia of the Western intellectual tradition.

In assessing the grim, repressive pall over the institution, the dean insightfully responded with the historic, “Houston, we have a problem.” The tragic difference is that Houston implemented spontaneous, creative, effective solutions to the problem. The opaque University, in stark contrast, seems to demonstrate few signs of intelligent life of any sort. Perhaps, things can only get better.

Paul B. Steiger, M.B.A. ’71
La Jolla, Calif.

 

Methinks there is a simple solution to Harvard’s current angst. Simple solutions are usually less costly and work best. Employ “kitchen table” wisdom, taught in most homes: If you make a mistake, admit it and, if possible, reverse it (adding a brief apology). This can also be taught and practiced at elite universities. Specifically, the Harvard Corporation should: 1. Invite ex-president Claudine Gay to resume her work as president. 2. Apologize briefly for the flip-flops by the board. 3. State publicly (especially to alumni) the reasons for steps 1 and 2. In a nutshell, though lawyerly answers to captious questions at a Congressional hearing in December did not “play well,” the leadership of the University is hardly determined by “what sounds good,” especially in a politicized environment. The board unanimously endorsed Gay twice in short order, first when it chose her as president, soon, again, after the calamitous Congressional hearing. The board intends to make good-faith decisions which last. 4. If Dr. Gay demurs, resume the search for a new president.

John Kahler, M.B.A. ’63
Cincinnati

 

Questioned about campus anti-Semitism, President Claudine Gay provoked congressional anger, says Derek C. Bok, with answers that were “too legalistic.” She tripped up over her efforts “…to explain the intricacies of the First Amendment….” One of those intricacies, though, is that Harvard, not being an arm of government, is not bound by the First Amendment. But, as Harvard Law professor Randall L. Kennedy explains in the February 1 Crimson, Harvard adheres to the First Amendment as a matter of policy.

That policy is a mistake. Even without legal compulsion, Harvard’s policy would ineluctably mirror the First Amendment. That’s because Harvard lives within a society that exalts the First Amendment’s ideas. Still, Harvard has distinctive interests that the First Amendment does not protect. Harvard Magazine’s own standards illuminate those interests. The Magazine won’t publish ad hominem attacks or letters containing objectionable language. Why? “We believe correspondents can effectively critique ideas, policies, or performance without crossing those lines—and doing so promotes discourse and is more likely to engage others than to alienate them” (March-April, page 2). That credo, I’d argue, advances Harvard’s academic mission. But it diverges from the First Amendment. Assigning no value to civility in discourse, the First Amendment protects both ad hominem attacks and objectionable language. So when Gay told Congress, “it depends on the context” whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s speech codes, she may well have been, as her supporters maintain, correct. Correct, that is, under the First Amendment. It seems, then, that Gay’s undoing was not in her words but in Harvard’s policy. Harvard should reconsider that policy. The First Amendment allowed neo-Nazis to rally in Skokie, Illinois. Need they be allowed to rally in Harvard Yard? I would hope not.

Bernard Joshua Kabak, J.D. ’66
New York City

 

When Claudine (“it depends on the context”) Gay disgraced herself and Harvard when she testified in Congress, I feared there would be impact on the value of my degree. Sure enough, an article in the February 16 New York Times confirms the negative effect on the Harvard brand of selecting this unqualified person as president.

David Fishman, LL.B. ’63
Belmont, Mass.

 

James Uleman writes that Dr. Gay’s “plagiarism infractions were minor” (Cambridge 02138, March-April, page 2). I found this quite distasteful, particularly in light of the multiplicity of episodes. Had I been responsible for “minor plagiarism infractions,” especially if multiple, I would have been flying out of Winthrop House with a large boot-heel mark on my rear end.

O. Philip Catalano ’56
Bradenton, Fla.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was viciously harassed by charges that he had plagiarized passages in his dissertation. Examination by qualified scholars led to their explanation that in his scholarly field, discourse style would normally include similar passages needed to illustrate the academic study, and in that context, his peers did not see plagiarism.

A few years later, at Marquette University, where I taught, a dean of the Liberal Arts College was summarily dismissed on charge of plagiarism in his dissertation. John Schlegel’s dissertation was accepted by the London School of Economics. Marquette appointed a committee to examine the charge of plagiarism. The committee was chaired by a mathematician, and none of its five members had any experience in political science. The chair dutifully produced a decision affirming plagiarism, in return for which his son was guaranteed his B.A. in spite of several years of Incompletes. Schlegel was immediately dismissed, ending his efforts to combat blatant racism on campus and to support women faculty and women’s studies.

Clearly, there is a regular procedure in our society for getting rid of liberal activist scholars by charging them publicly with plagiarism.

In Dr. Gay’s case, the March-April 2024 issue reports that “[Harvard’s] analysis found no violation of Harvard’s standard for research misconduct” (“A Presidency’s End,” page 14). No violation!

Claudine Gay joins the group of scholars who stand out from the ivied halls to uphold justice and democratic ideals. The patently false and malicious charges of plagiarism worked to wreck her career and, worse, to loudly signal the continuing control of America by an entrenched capitalist white male power consortium.

Alice B. Kehoe, Ph.D. ’64
Milwaukee, Wisc.

 

It is revealing that the very first paragraph of Derek Bok’s apologia distorts history. The question that led to President Gay’s resignation was whether a call for the genocide of the Jews—not merely for “intifada” or “from the river to the sea”—violates Harvard’s code of conduct. While I cannot say that I hate Harvard, I do find its inability to get this right pretty appalling. By the way, I am neither a Republican nor a supporter of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

Andrew R. Solow ’77
Woods Hole, Mass.

 

We need effective definitions supported by effective use of language in addressing our most pressing questions and issues, both in society and in academic settings. What we mean, and what words mean should not be up to our imaginations, nor our personal agenda.

[In response to the March 1 announcement that Law School dean John Manning would become interim provost, see harvardmag.com/manning-provost-24.] What does “institutional neutrality” mean? What do “nurture,” “open inquiry,” “respect,” “academic freedom,” and “academic excellence” mean?

The recent upheavals at Harvard, at many of our institutions, and within our contemporary politics have resulted from attacks on our words, their application and their meaning. George Orwell’s 1984—with “Thoughtcrimes,” “Doublespeak,” “Doublethink,” etc., shows us the world we are now dealing with. The “Thought Police” accused Harvard and students of “Thoughtcrimes.” They did this at the House hearings, as did certain donors, certain foreign nations, who define our words and thoughts with their “Doublespeak.” We cannot be neutral about this.

David Souers, M.Arch. ’82
Friendship, Maine

 

I am a proud Harvard Extension Alumnus, and a part of the Harvard community. I was appalled when it came to the plagiarism accusations of Dr. Claudine Gay. For a period of a few months, Dr. Gay was reported to have “lifted”, “borrowed” and even outright “taken on as her own” academic work of other scholars. I was even more taken aback at the relaxed forgiveness that Dr. Gay was afforded, predicated on what I view as optics. Dr. Gay did not even offer an apology for her plagiarism in her New York Times Op-Ed.

When I applied, tested, and was accepted into the Harvard Extension School in ’97, I was required to attend a mandatory orientation session where academic integrity and honesty was discussed. Likewise, I was required to take EXPO E-15 and E-25 and there, too, academic integrity and honesty was a focal point. The message was delivered to me loud and clear, so what happened, Dr. Gay?

Henry W. Piel, A.A.E. ’01, A.L.B. ‘06
Bridgewater, Mass.

 

Call me a contrarian, but I think all that has happened at Harvard of late—Supreme Court ruling admissions practices unconstitutional, President Gay resigning due to plagiarism and antisemitism, and public scorn—is actually a good thing. And good not just for Harvard, but, if handled right, also good for the country. In short, we actually now have an opportunity to lead, but that requires some objective introspection (which my therapist friends tell me can be painful if done properly). As the “great and powerful Oz” learned—and more so, all his pliant subjects in his kingdom learned along with Dorothy—nothing creates real transparency like ripping the curtain open and exposing all that…isn’t really there.

And so it now goes with Harvard, which is arguably now just the poster child for much of “higher” education, if not more broadly for all “esteemed” institutions. Less haughty, Harvard’s woes show that neither the far right nor the far left has a monopoly on destruction. For those who gleefully use Gay as a symbol of all that is wrong not just with Harvard, but America, shame on you. And for those on the other extreme who act as pure apologists for Gay and claim she is but a victim, shame on you too. You both reflect not just the problems with Harvard, but our country at large.

However, for those who can see both some shortcomings and some validity with both extremes, guess what—there’s actually a University that needs tending to, and yes, some turning around. You, the moderate, common-sense middle—a sadly shrinking middle—are the solution. All should agree that the old Harvard way— “all is fine, nothing to look at here, carry on”— is not the solution.

I look forward now with hope to the University’s sober, objective introspection. If done right, we can emerge from all this better than we began with, dare I say, real veritas. If you have any doubt, just ask Dorothy and her friends.

William Choslovsky, J.D. ’94
Chicago

Israel, Gaza, Harvard

Let us go down the rabbit hole together holding hands. On October 7, 2023, 1,200 Jews were murdered by Palestinians. Since October 7, 2023, 12,000 Palestinian children have been murdered by Jews. No one murder is more justified than any other murder. The students and teachers of Harvard University must not be afraid to express the truth as it is obviously presented by rational observers. Either we agree that one plus one still equals two, or else the field of education should be discarded as an empty shell without any basis in truth. I have read and reread the statements of President Gay sent to the Harvard community via email regarding the murder of 1,200 Jews by Palestinians. They clearly condemn those horrible murders. What I have not heard from those who conducted the billionaire-funded witch hunt against Gay is the equal condemnation of the murder of 12,000 Palestinian children by Jews using American arms. Keep Harvard an open university unafraid to debate the many truths that circulate on this planet.

Robert Soto, Ed.M. ’84
San Francisco

 

I am sorry to see the split in campus regarding the conflict in Palestine. I think Harvard should play its role in reducing hatred on this issue by bringing more facts to the public. I saw many comments mentioning Oct. 7, 2023, but the current conflict is actually a continuation of a hundred-year war between Arabs and Israel. There was more than a thousand years of antisemitism in Europe before that and even today. It is also not just an issue between Arabs and Israel—instead, it is heavily influenced by global politics. I think a lot of anger and arguments nowadays are due to limited knowledge on this issue. Can Harvard gather historians, scholars of three Abrahamic religions, and Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, British, Frenchmen, Germans, Americans, and Russians to work together and bring the whole historical picture from every aspect of the Israel and Palestine issue to the public?

Wenlong Yang, Ph.D. ’17
Boston

 

The shame of Harvard is that an apparently large majority of this community has failed to recognize there are two populations that, at this time in history, should have a clear, constitutionally protected right to live as full citizens in the country of Israel (which happens to include Gaza and the West Bank). One population, primarily the Jews, lives under the protection of a theocracy—the Jewish State. The other population is dispersed behind an automated military barrier (Gaza), surveilled and corralled by IDF, police, or proactive vigilantes (West Bank), or scattered about the Palestinian diaspora since 1948 in refugee camps (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria). Both populations have cultivated or tolerated political leadership that denies the other population’s legitimate existence in Israel. This is not about Israel’s right to defend itself; it is an asymmetric civil war in which one side has F-15s, Predator drones, Patriot Missiles, 2,000-pound bombs, tanks, and the full panoply of precision-guided weapons in unlimited quantities (free from America), while the other side has no air defenses and limited quantities of low-tech rockets, small drones, and, lately, more sophisticated missiles (mostly free from Iran), a large proportion of which was likely depleted on October 7. Clearly racism and religious bigotry over centuries (and oil politics) have set this stage, but any reasonable analyses of fundamental material interest would conclude that a single secular state would be highly advantageous to both groups in terms of security and economic integration (both national and international). Gentle persistent persuasion, however, often fails to clarify flawed perceptions of self-interest and other methods are needed. In South Africa, white denial of apartheid was present right up to the day it disappeared, and it didn’t happen by gentle persuasion. Without a University consensus on this matter of justice, not to mention the absence of such wisdom and leadership in either major political party, it is very difficult, as we have seen, for university presidents to navigate the shoals in a contemporary political confrontation.

Robert Park, A.M. ’67, S.P.H.’ 82
Cincinnati

 

I am writing in response to the letter by Dr. Steven Patt (March-April, page 5). The import of his anti-Israel rant was that Israel supporters conflate what are legitimate attacks on Zionists into false antisemitic attacks.

As Dr. Martin Luther King said in Boston years ago: When people say they don’t hate Jews, they just hate Zionists, it means they hate Jews.

According to Patt and his ilk, the following are attacks on Zionists not antisemitic attacks on Jews:

In Sydney, Australia, the pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted “Gas the Jews” not “Gas the Zionists.”

Harvard students sent out a cartoon on Instagram of a gnarly arm with a Jewish star on it holding a rope with nooses around the necks of a Black man and an Arab.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in this country constantly chant genocidal screeds against Jews everywhere in the world such as, “Global Initifada.” When the Palestinians of Gaza voted Hamas into legislative power, they well knew it was in the Hamas Charter that Muslim scripture demanded that it is the duty of all Muslims to kill Jews wherever they can be found in the world.

Jews in New York City were warned not to wear a kippah, not for fear they would be misidentified as a Zionist but for fear they would be correctly identified as a Jew.

The Jews for Palestine that Patt praises likely have their synagogues ringed with extra security, not for fear the synagogue would be mistaken for a Zionist entity but for fear it would be correctly identified as a Jewish entity.

The only way Patt’s assertion that Zionists, not Jews, are the target of the pro-Palestinian groups is if their definition of Zionist is “every Jew.” Echoing Patt, the so-called moderate head of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, recently stated that Hitler did not kill 6,000,000 Jews because they were Jewish. He had to kill them because they were all money launderers and engaged in usury, apparently including the 1.8 million children murdered.

David S. Gould, J.D. ’71
Port Washington, N.Y.

“Undergraduate” Insights

Aden Barton’s AWOL from Academics” (March-April, page 53) is fascinating. His picture of Harvard students whose time spent in extracurricular activities dwarfs that spent in doing work for courses in which they are enrolled is disturbing. I wonder if he mostly interviewed students concentrating in the humanities. Is the same kind of imbalance present in the lives of students focused on science and engineering? I can’t imagine a student trying to learn how to use Maxwell’s Equations on the night before an hour exam. Perhaps he can do a follow-up article investigating the difference, if any.

A. David Wunsch, Ph.D. ’69 Book Review Editor
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine
Lowell, Mass.

 

Isabella Cho’s Is Pedagogy About Us?” (January-February, page 58) was timely and uncommonly mature. My politics lean left, but I see alarming trends on both the right and left. On the left, sensible concerns about cultural appropriation have morphed into a pernicious kind of identity politics. In the publishing world today, for example, “We need more stories from underrepresented minorities” has become “Only underrepresented minorities may tell stories about them.” I applaud Cho for very thoughtfully looking at how this focus on identity, and the validity of personal experience, risks interfering with the very pursuit of knowledge and truth that our universities should exalt above all.

Richard Bedard ’84
Port Washington, N.Y.

Avian Evolution

How Birds Lost Flight(March-April, page 30, on Scott Edwards’s research on bird evolution): a narrow title for one of Harvard Magazine’s all-time best articles. And the subject of the article is both worthy and interesting!

Elizabeth (Lily) Delaney ’66
Arlington, Mass.

 

I read “How Birds Lost Flight” and noticed some mistakes in the opening paragraph, which distract from the otherwise very nice piece about Scott Edwards. There was never a widespread scientific theory that crucial changes in flightless birds originated in a shared common ancestor that lived 200 million years ago. The single common ancestor of all birds did not evolve until approximately 150 million years ago and did not diversify until much more recently—around the time that dinosaurs went extinct, 65 million years ago. It is impossible for the breakup of Pangea, which occurred around 200 million years ago, to have played any role in separating populations of flightless birds.

James H. Gallagher
Postdoctoral Researcher University of California, Davis

 

Editor’s note: The article should have stated that the common ancestor of the flightless paleognaths lived 80 million to 100 million years ago (MYA), before the breakup of the Gondwanan supercontinent, not 200 MYA before the breakup of the Pangaean supercontinent. However, the common ancestor of all birds did not first appear 150 MYA, as Gallagher states. Recent genetic research suggests that the common ancestor of all birds—as yet undiscovered in the fossil record—lived about 100 to 130 MYA. Gallagher may be thinking of Archaeopteryx, which did live 150 to 155 MYA but was not the ancestor of modern birds.

Vigilantism

Professor Susanna Siegel makes some good points about vigilante violence and political vision (“The Philosopher of the ‘Real World,’” January-February, page 30). What appears to be a random act of violence many times turns out to be linked to a particular movement or cause. In 1980, Louis Beam, a former leader in the KKK, coined the term “leaderless resistance” as a cover for random acts of violence connected to the white power movement. The term means that no one takes credit for the terrorism and then the media publicizes it for other like-minded individuals to follow. This dark vision is unfortunately becoming more predominant in our country. Thanks to Siegel for shedding light on the vigilante mindset and its consequences.

Patrick Stanford
Alamosa, Col.

Admissions

A couple of years ago, I interviewed a student candidate for the D.C. Harvard Club. He was an engineering student who excelled in AP college courses. Not only that, he was concertmaster for one of the excellent county symphony orchestras in Northern Virginia. He could have become concertmaster for the Harvard symphony orchestra, besides his coursework.He had a clear idea of what he sought from Harvard studies. On graduation, he planned to go back to his native Peru to help the nation’s progress. With rare idealism, he was planning to pass up a potentially financially rewarding career in the United States to serve his native land. This student walked on water in my estimation. But he was not accepted. I was crushed—could hardly believe my eyes on seeing the notification. I shared deep regret to the student, who was philosophical about the outcome.

This was the cost of the (then) 4.9 percent acceptance rate—it’s apparently even lower now. There’s nothing we can do to about Harvard’s capacity and the number of students applying. I don’t envy the review committees, who face this heartache every year.

Frank T. Manheim ’52
Fairfax, Va.

Speech on Campus

Concerning the article in the March/April issue of Harvard Magazine titled “Talking About Talking,” I find the comments in the article good, but it falls very short of placing sufficient emphasis on one important aspect of achieving free speech.

If effective communication is to take place between people of significantly different opinions, it is absolutely essential that all parties to the conversation must visibly, effectively, and from the beginning demonstrate that they respect the other parties.

There is a quotation stating that students “were thirsting for people to have the argument, not a faux polite conversation” (and by implication not just a fight). To “have the argument” clearly implies that each party to the conversation must speak civilly when it is his turn to speak and listen carefully when other views are being expressed.

For there to be effective communication of different views on difficult controversial subjects, the respect must clearly extend to the person expressing the views. If that kind of respect is not clear from the beginning, then the communication is likely to be ineffective.

The deepening divide between Republicans and Democrats results largely from lack of respect. There is no reason why a person on one side should make any attempt to communicate with someone on the other if the opposition is judged to be incapable of rational thought. In this case, any exchange of viewpoints is clearly a waste of time.

Almost everyone has some thoughts worth listening to, even on the subjects of politics and social affairs. We must show that we believe this to be true. We must clearly demonstrate respect for the people with whom we are communicating.

F. Arnold Romberg, ’55, S.M.’58
La Grange, Tex.

Errata

In the profile of Major League Baseball’s Michael Hill (“Leading with Care,” March-April, page 49), the author misspelled the name of then-Marlins president, David Samson.

 

A Presidency’s End (March-April, page 14) briefly made note of the review of then-Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s research, observing that the review found errors of supervision, prompted corrections to and the retraction of multiple published papers, and led to his resignation. That succinct account did not indicate that the review of Tessier-Lavigne’s work exonerated him of research misconduct while noting that a reasonable scientist would not have been in a position to detect manipulation of research data. But it did find that he “failed to decisively and forthrightly correct mistakes in the scientific record” when concerns were raised about his papers and that the culture of the laboratories he ran could have benefited from “improve[d]…oversight and management,” given that “multiple members of Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s labs over the years appear to have manipulated research data and/or fallen short of accepted scientific practices.”

 

“Museums Maestro” (News in Brief, March-April, page 25) reported that repatriation of Native American ancestral remains and cultural artifacts falls under the new executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture. Our error: that work is the direct responsibility of the Peabody Museum. “Arrow Street Arts” (Harvard Squared, March-April, page 8E) mixed up David Altshuler, founder of the arts center, with the eponymous M.D.-Ph.D. scientist who is now chief scientific officer of Vertex, the pharmaceutical company.

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