Cambridge 02138

Climate change, COVID-19, housing inequity

Harvard and the Middle East War

Robert Soto and Robert Park (Letters, May-June, pages 8 and 69) are both very concerned that Harvard doesn’t care about the Gazan victims of the war that Hamas began on October 7. Soto wants “equal condemnation” of what he calls the “murder of 12,000 Palestinian children,” while Park contents himself with abusing Israel as a theocracy and comparing it to South African apartheid.

I leave aside that, by starting the war, it is Hamas that is responsible for all the casualties; Hamas is especially responsible for them by choosing to hide in tunnels beneath its civilian shields; Hamas’s figures, on which Soto relies, are patently bogus, not admitting that any of their fighters have been killed and, as in previous conflicts, exaggerating them in order to gain sympathy; and Israel is patently not a theocracy and that the charge of apartheid is an absurdity in a country where Arabs and Jews study, work, and vote together, and where Arab political parties even have joined in the government.

I leave all this aside because what is really misguided about the two letters is that they seek to establish a moral equivalency between a people trying to survive yet another openly genocidal assault (check the Hamas and Palestinian Authority charters) and those who are trying to destroy them. Their pose is one of impartial justice, wisely weighing both sides. Yet their letters are partisan in that they fully support the classic but loathsome “cry bully” tactics of Hamas, which first boasts of the slaughters of October 7 and promises to commit many more of them, and then comes sobbing to lament the deaths of the very people it has used as cannon and propaganda fodder.

Crybullies are an unattractive phenomenon. But so are those complicit in their hypocrisy.

Fred Baumann, Ph.D. ’73
Professor of Political Science,
Kenyon College
Gambier, Ohio

 

This was an enlightening issue of the magazine. The letters were unusually revealing of a discerning readership with more insights and useful ideas than those offered recently by the University’s leadership.

What was disappointing was the obviously biased slant in John Rosenberg’s Journal report, “Harvard in the Interim” (May-June, page 15). His repeated descriptions of Hamas “terrorists,” their “barbarism,” and “brutal Hamas terrorism,” contrast rather dramatically with his one reference to “Israel’s forceful response.” Coupled with the assertion that Jewish students are a “protected class,” he leaves little doubt on how he sees the merits of antisemitism versus the views of those who are pro-Palestinian. He also is guilty of the popular perception that the story begins on October 7. Perhaps an appreciation of the perspectives provided in the letters from Robert Soto and Wenlong Yang could aid an improved recognition that the events of October 7 were not unprovoked.

Neither the Harvard community nor the public can comprehend the current catastrophes without a recognition of the origins of the antagonism in 1947-1948 and an understanding of the legitimate grievances of the Palestinians who have been denied justice for two or three generations. I recommend The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappé, a prominent Israeli historian, for a basic education on the horrors of the creation of Israel and subsequent abuses. Pappé reveals a conscience too often suppressed by today’s population of Israel and its virulent defenders.

Les Jacobs, J.D. ’68
Cleveland, Ohio

 

Robert Soto is either ignorant or mendacious in his misuse of the word “murder”: what Hamas did on 7 October was murder; the inevitable deaths of noncombatants in war because Hamas embeds itself within them is not murder, or if it is murder, it is murder by Hamas, not by Israel.

But Soto does us all a service in the way he contrasts “Palestinians” with “Jews” (rather than with “Israel”), thereby demonstrating both that Israel is the Jewish state and that demonization of Israel is plain old antisemitism.

Robert Kantowitz, J.D. ’79
Lawrence, N.Y.

 

I am a double Harvard alum. It’s pretty hard to care about this institution when it only protects the speech and views of those who support Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign of killing. I support Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, but Harvard’s administration sees no nuance and just cares about catering to imperious donors like Bill Ackman.

Edward E. Keenan ’07, J.D. ’10
New York City

 

Robert Park leaps past the suffering caused by the fighting in Gaza and Hamas’ ongoing rocketing at Israel. He proposes a single secular state of Jews and Arabs, including 2 million (round number) Gazans and 2 million “West Bank” Arabs. Thus, he would include four million persons who have been indoctrinated their entire lives to hate Israel and Jews and who have never lived in a democracy. How would that work?

Indeed, the Palestinian Arab world has never accepted a Jewish presence or sovereignty in Israel. The 1929 “Hebron massacre” drove the Jews from Hebron. All the bordering Arab countries attacked Israel immediately upon the 1947 partition by the British, and many later launched other wars to destroy Israel. Hamas is doing the same. Iran, of course, in the name of its religion, looms over all.

Even apart from likely physical violence, Park’s construct could end Israel as a Jewish state and homeland. Park’s single state would also include Israel’s 2 million current Arab citizens. Israel would have only a narrow majority of Jews, which could easily change demographically. Where other nationalities have their own states, why not Jews, and maybe more so following their 3,000-year connection to Israel and their persecution throughout history. Israel as a recognized Jewish homeland is long-established, dating to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations Mandate, and a 1947 UN resolution. Maybe it’s time for the eliminationists to move on.

Meanwhile, Robert Soto declares that “No one murder is more justified than any other murder.” However, his premise is wrong. The tragic deaths in Gaza do not result from “murder.” Murder requires intent. Instead, killing in self-defense is the paradigm of justifiable homicide and not “murder,” as defined by Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary, nor is killing a third party while engaging in necessary actions in a just war. Soto’s comparison of the number of “murders” is inapt, somewhat like comparing proverbial “apples to oranges.”

Israel has no rational alternative to fighting until Hamas no longer controls Gaza and no longer poses a threat to repeat October 7 “a second, a third, a fourth” time. Hamas is responsible for every death. Hamas started the war after lengthy planning. The deaths are a direct result of Hamas’ cynical strategy to burrow beneath civilians, use them as human shields, and maximize deaths for propaganda. Israel knows this and far prefers that no civilians be killed, but Hamas has made this aspiration impossible. Hamas wants the world to blame Israel even at a cost of thousands of lives. Soto’s letter is proof that this strategy is working.

Mark I. Fishman ’67, J.D. ’70
Fairfield, Conn.

 

After so many years of arguments about Israel and Palestine, we still find numerous accusations of anti-Semitism. The original use of that word means thoughts, words, or actions opposed to both Israel and its Arab neighbors, but the people who use the word today intend it to mean opposed to Israel and Jews only.

It is possible, and even likely, for thinking people to be opposed to the apartheid policies of the Israeli government while still being friendly with Jews, and yet supporters of the Israeli government are fond of pretending that such a dichotomy cannot exist. They seem to gain an advantage in a gullible press by so doing. Surely it is time to get past that.

John Fitzhugh Millar ’66
Williamsburg Va.

 

I would submit that Harvard got it right by refusing to confer a degree on thirteen of the “protesters”/occupiers this year. I would add that perhaps the University should have shown Professor Walter Johnson the door, as well.

Dr. Liz Currin, M.T.S. ’78
Marietta, Ga.

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.

 


The violence in today’s student protests against the Gaza war, and sometimes against the existence of Israel as a state, reminds me of my experience during protests against the Vietnam War in April 1969 at the time of the student takeover of University Hall. My date and I were watching a film at the Brattle Theater when we heard crashing noises outside. We emerged to find shattered shop windows along Brattle Street with nervous police—brought in from nearby communities—standing in rows to block the street. My date and I made our way carefully back to her apartment overlooking Harvard Square.

I peered outside from her second-floor window and saw a mass of students on JFK Street surging towards police lines and then falling back and regrouping for another surge. Tear gas was in the air. In the midst of the students were a handful of leaders whom we could identify from our second-story perch because they had come prepared with face masks and other protective gear. Each time the leaders issued a battle cry, the students—without protective gear—would move forward against the police. As the protesting students moved forward, the leaders would let the students surge past them. Each time the students fell back, the leaders would urge them forward. This happened repeatedly, with the leaders carefully protecting themselves from actual confrontation with the police lines, and letting students take the hits.

Those students never realized that they were being manipulated. I wonder about the extent to which unrepresentative elements today have turned what should be peaceful demonstrations into provocations that, on many campuses, have led to violent confrontation with the authorities.

Thomas H. Stanton, J.D. ’70
Bethesda, Md.

 

Long before the Gay embarrassment and resignation, Harvard was losing its prestige since it seems to have failed in the past in its mission to teach students both how to think as well as to think for themselves. This has, unfortunately, manifested itself into the current campus protests.

Victor Felszegi ’78
Estero, Fla.

 

It’s a bit cruel, but someone’s got to tell them.

The kids in the encampments don’t understand why they are so irritating. They think the resentment comes from Zionists or from the ignorant or, maybe, from that enormous chunk of the population who care less about humanity than they do.

Nope, what we resent is their theft. You see, everyone instinctively understands that a successful protest has to bring something to the table. It’s like poker, you need an ante or there is no point to the game. In France, the gilets jaunes bring numbers, and they break through the clutter. Or the movement can have a principled, admirable leader; if that’s not available, then a few celebrities might suffice. Even crazy people know they need an ante, so they immolate themselves.

But what if the adherents of a cause are not that numerous and don’t include anyone that is admirable or even well-known? Their only recourse is to hijack a handy reputation and staple it to their cause. And so the characters that seem to think the IDF is some version of the Wagner Group set up their encampment in the Harvard Yard and not some nearby public park. They know Harvard is a Big Thing and so a protest in the Yard will be a Big Thing. These parasites haven’t earned Nobels, donated buildings, or done anything to establish an institution that was flourishing decades, even centuries, before their births.

And they can do it because the people paid to sustain and improve the institution let them get away with it. This is to the fury of most of its alums, who understand that a great university results from a rare collection of people who have created excellence and that this group of giants is completely different from the thousands of mediocrities who cycle in and out every year. Those are like the tourists and docents washing through a great museum; and rather than feel ownership of the museum, they should feel gratitude and humility when thinking about the creators and donors who made the museum possible. This means not taking something they didn’t make to use as a vehicle for their cause.

Another thing, encampment people: if your cause needs an impressive backdrop, maybe it’s because your cause isn’t impressive on its own.

Ogden Cummings, ’80
Mclean, Va.

 

In an effort to find viable solutions to the Israel-Palestine crisis, I offer the following suggestions.

We should start off with the initial proposition that we are working for peace—not for the interests of one side or the other. Both sides are clearly in need of an accommodation.

On the Israeli side, I believe that negotiations should come out of the office of President Isaac Herzog—as he is not tied to a particular political party but, rather, represents the entire nation as a whole. In addition, I believe he is both reasonable and articulate. On the Palestinian side, I would recommend the long-time advocate for peace, Hannan Ashrawi—and for the same reasons.

The Biden administration should then step forward and endorse the effort while offering the services of both the White House and the U.S. Institute of Peace. I went to a presentation at the Institute of Peace a few years back and found that they very well-deserve their name. So, some of my ideas originate with them.

In many conflicts (including Northern Ireland), universities have been seen as places of safety—places where real dialog can take place and where long term friendships can form. We really need a truly National Palestine University. But in its absence (or until it happens), there are other universities in Palestine that could adopt that role to work with corresponding universities within Israel—and other places, for that matter.

Also, in Northern Ireland, independent women’s groups played quite a large role in bringing the two sides there together. This I can see happening—and it should happen—in Israel-Palestine.

And some kind of Reconciliation Council could be set up—as it was in South Africa—to receive and record the stories of those individuals and families caught up in the conflict.

To give this broad effort some additional momentum, I believe that the Arab states in the region (especially Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt) should offer their offices to any Jews or Arabs—or anyone, for that matter—who would like to take up residence in their countries. Egypt has recently restored a major historical synagogue to its former glory. Other nations could, I’m sure, do their part.

And in the spirit of reciprocity and collaboration, I would propose that both Alexandria and Haifa receive the special status of open cities, whereby artists and entrepreneurs could start up new businesses in conjunction with one another. Both cities could, in fact, host new centers of art and technology in stunning new facilities overlooking the Mediterranean.

In addition, the negotiators in this effort might want to bring Oman into their orbit as Oman has long (and often quietly) been open to representatives from both Israel and various Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, at some point in the near future, I believe a referendum should be held in Israel whereby voters could register their preferences as between a one-state or a two-state solution as the best long-term solution to this conflict.

Thank you—and with hope.

Dan Adams ’67
McConnellsburg, Pa.

 

As Harvard students, our right to free expression and free inquiry should not be subject to the looming presence of the Ad Board or of the Harvard Corporation. If it is, this creates an environment of fear and intimidation where genuine scholarship and unfettered intellectual inquiry become impossible. This creates an environment in which one must constantly walk on eggshells and speak with one’s tongue partially bound. If students must constantly live in fear of offending the powers that be, then we are more like subjects than students and that is certainly not the Harvard I want to be a part of.

What we need is a set of guarantees—a free speech bill of rights for all students. Firstly, students should never be subject to disciplinary action or the threat thereof on the basis of their political or social views. Students should be allowed to peacefully express or promote any political or social view they like without exception. This should hold true whether the group in power finds them offensive or not, and whether these views are promulgated through peaceful in-person protests, academic papers, or online. The reason for this is that oftentimes, oppressor groups find certain views offensive precisely because they are true and because they undermine the oppressor group’s ability to oppress. Therefore, the right to peacefully protest should be absolute and should never be the subject of censorship or unjust punishment.

Of course, there should be certain common sense limitations: no physical assault, no threats, no shouting in people’s faces, no disrupting classes or exams in progress, no willfully blocking access to buildings. But other than that, the content of speech should never be the subject of disciplinary action. We the students have a right to peacefully express our political and social views. That right is absolute and it must be protected from the whims of the Ad Board, the Harvard Corporation, and outside politicians who seek to exert undue influence over Harvard’s administrative processes for political or financial gain. We must stand united as a student body against these arbitrary abuses of power and administrative overreaches to protect and guarantee an environment where students can pursue truth and knowledge without any form of duress, fear, intimidation, or threats of unjust reprisal.

Big donors and outside politicians should not have any control whatsoever over how Harvard students may choose to express themselves. These tyrannical outside influences need to be exposed for what they are and immediately halted right in their tracks. By standing firm against these outside pressures and abuses of power, the students of Harvard will be able to engage in a far higher quality of authentic scholarship that cannot be deterred by any entities that seek to limit our right to freedom of expression.

John Na, A.L.M. ’18, M.P.A. ’26
Salt Lake City

 

Let’s suppose that some day Harvard goes out of existence—unlikely, I’m sure, but it does happen to institutions and even to countries.

What would we hope to see on her tombstone (let’s use the feminine, as for ships)?

• She took in a lot of money from her many friends and passed away very wealthy?
• She had many famous and powerful graduates, some of them leading major corporations and even the country?
• She taught her whole community to respect others and perform service to their society and the world?
• She imbued her students with a sense of ethics, and their lives in turn bent the moral arc of the universe toward justice?

Test: please choose two inscriptions and justify her dedication to them.

Nathaniel Smith ’64
West Chester, Pa.

 

Regarding the faculty letter concerning the 13 students whose punishments the Harvard Corporation enforced, the faculty authors conveniently omit some important facts.

We don’t know who these 13 students are or exactly what they did that their transgressions could not be overlooked, since Ad Board proceedings are not public, but it is a fair inference that what these particular students did was egregious and beyond the bounds of peaceful protest. If they and their supporters object to the punishment, then let them come forward with the details so that the court of public opinion can judge the severity of their behavior. Most Americans expect adults, no matter how coddled they have been, must take responsibility for their actions, and most of us are tired of being told to trust the judgment, pronouncements and bona fides of academic elites on the basis of nothing other than their sheer arrogance.

Second, those who foolishly advised the students not to appear before the Ad Board and who now bray sanctimoniously that precedent demanded that no discipline be meted out ignore a critical difference between this and other post-Vietnam War demonstrations. During those other disruptions, did anybody feel personally threatened or unsafe on the campus the way that this time there were numerous documented instances of vile verbal and physical harassment of Jewish students?

And talk of a faculty revolt? Bring it on. When I was in the Law School, there was a rumor that a curmudgeonly professor’s reaction to some now-long-forgotten student demand was the retort, “Students are fungible.” He was right. But so are most faculty, even Harvard faculty. This country does not lack for gifted university instructors eager to climb the greasy pole. Any Harvard professors petulant enough to quit can be replaced in a heartbeat with others who believe that university education is not about acting up but is about knowledge and discovery, civilized dialogue and imparting the spirit of honest inquiry “to the age that is waiting before.”

Robert Kantowitz, J.D. ’79
Lawrence, N.Y.

Climate Change

Benton Taylor is conducting valuable research on plants’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide (“Plants on a Changing Planet,” May-June, page 38). Giving special attention to the growth of young trees, Taylor demonstrates impressive creativity and open-mindedness. At the same time, we need to know much more about mature trees, whose large, leafy canopies often capture high amounts of carbon. I think our society in general places such an emphasis on planting new trees that it underestimates the need to protect older trees.

William Crain ’65
Cofounder, Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary
Poughquag, N.Y.

Benton Taylor responds: Strictly from a carbon capture perspective, once a tree is mature, its photosynthesis (carbon uptake) and respiration (nocturnal release of CO2) largely offset each other, one reason people looking to maximize carbon capture typically don’t focus on mature trees. But mature trees and forests provide many other critical functions, including habitat for biodiversity, and support robust communities of soil-dwelling fungi, which cycle a lot of carbon. So although many people focus on planting young trees to capture carbon, I would personally advocate that conservation managers first opt to protect and maintain a healthy mature forest rather than prioritize young trees that capture carbon at high rates.

 

Research fellow Wake Smith (“Talking about Tipping Points,” online at harvardmag.com/climate-elements-24) proposes high-pressure sulfur dioxide (SO2) tanks aboard high-flying jet aircraft to deliver reflective particles to the stratosphere in order to cool the planet. This is hazardous material at hazardous pressure. As SO2 is heavier than air, if ruptured, the gas from the tank would maim and kill life, nastily, as it spread out widely over the surface. If you are going to venture on stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), it would be more efficient and less dangerous to fill the tanks with warmed, liquid sulfur that could be sprayed into the jet’s exhaust, like afterburner fuel, to oxidize it. Moreover, such a system would not require developing a “life support for the pilots to isolate them from the chemical payload.”

Sev Clarke
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

 

Jonathan Shaw’s article on plants and carbon stated the importance of nitrogen in soil. I’m surprised he didn’t mention “peecycling,” the diversion of nitrogen-rich urine from waste streams. Nitrogen isn’t handled well by sewage treatment plants or septic tanks, yet has great promise as a fertilizer source. I bet capturing and using nutrients from urine will help us in the future both environmentally and economically.

Henry Taves ’76
Peterborough, N.H.

COVID-19 Complications

I was disappointed to note in the article on Nina Jensen ’25 (“Poise, in Spite of Everything,’ May-June, page 60) a reference to her health crisis in which the COVID-19 vaccine “was the precipitating factor.” The journalist and the artist may believe that statement to be true but neither provided any data to support that opinion.

David W. Clark, Ed.M.’85
Brunswick, Me.

Lydialyle Gibson, who reported the article, responds: It caught my attention as well when Jensen first mentioned that the vaccine precipitated her condition. I pressed her on this in our interviews, and we spoke in some detail about the circumstances surrounding her diagnosis and her conversations with her doctors in the early weeks and months after she got sick. She was tested several times for COVID but never tested positive; and based on medical evaluations (in Cambridge and Denmark) and the timeline of when she fell sick, Jensen’s doctors concluded that the precipitating factor was almost certainly the vaccine. Jensen told me that she believes the vaccine is generally very safe and that she happens to be one of the very few who was unlucky. She also believes that her underlying conditions likely contributed to her vulnerability.

 

Universities, Politicians, the Public

According to a Crimson survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last year, over 77 percent identified as liberal or very liberal, compared to 3 percent who identified as conservative or very conservative. If its efforts to foster “healthy disagreement” are to be taken seriously, Harvard must rectify this unhealthy 25:1 imbalance among the faculty. An excellent place for the University to start will be to abolish any DEI loyalty oaths or equivalent statements required of job applicants.

Benj Pollock, M.B.A. ’79
Seattle

 

Thank you for the essay “Raising Voices” (May-June, page 4). We may look forward to the moment when a president of Harvard will speak up in defense of this and other universities and their goals and accomplishments.

In the midst of the meritless attacks on Harvard and other universities, some of my fellow graduates and I have been waiting for what you might call a Joseph Welch moment. It happened in the summer of 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings. For the benefit of the younger folks, this history:

The army hired Boston lawyer Joseph Welch to make its case. At a session on June 9, 1954, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy charged that one of Welch’s attorneys had ties to a Communist organization. As an amazed television audience looked on, Welch responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy’s career: “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

Overnight, McCarthy’s immense national popularity evaporated. Censured by his Senate colleagues, ostracized by his party, and ignored by the press, he died three years later, a broken man.

Welch graduated from the Law School in 1917. His law firm, Hale & Dorr, was one of the predecessor firms to WilmerHale, which did such a poor job of preparing presidents Claudine Gay of Harvard and Liz Magill of Penn for their testimony to Congress last December. Things might have turned out differently if Joseph Welch had been around to do the job.

Santiago Leon ’66
Miami

 

President Alan Garber and Provost John Manning missed a major opportunity with their April 4 announcement of the Open Inquiry and Constructive Dialogue Working Group, and the Institutional Voice Working Group (see harvardmag.com/civil-force-24 and this issue, “Locked In”).

The announcement says, “It will build on the many initiatives already under way that cultivate and support constructive disagreement.” Let’s be realistic. Those previous initiatives failed so miserably that Harvard is rated as the worst college in free expression.

The announcement also says, “It is the University’s unwavering commitment to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas that makes all of this possible.” This is simply incorrect. It is Harvard’s wavering commitment that has made all this necessary.

To repair Harvard’s self-inflicted damage, these two initiatives should be eliminated before they start. Relying solely on faculty and administrators who have stood by during Harvard’s cultural and educational decline will perpetuate its existing problems, not solve them. The better alternative is to start an initiative led by one or more outsiders who can see the University for what it has become and can work with Harvard to restore Harvard.

Don’t waste this crisis! Involving outsiders can give Harvard the backbone needed to make constructive change.

James Schaefer, M.B.A. ’77
Niwot, Colo.

Editor’s note: For a critique of the FIRE organization’s claim that Harvard is “the worst college in free expression,” see the discussion of Ryan Enos’s research in “Raising Voices” (May-June, page 4).

 

Harvard denies students degrees for “not being in good standing” for protesting what many Americans, nations and the International Court of Justice (IJC) are considering and investigating as genocide.

Meanwhile Harvard says not a word about the many Harvard degreed graduates that are intimidating and slandering our educational institutions as they tear apart our nation’s foundations, institutions and democracy. None of these graduates are “in good standing” with the principals and values of Harvard, nor those of our nation’s founders and heroes, nor the best that our world offers.

Stand up Harvard to the bullies of our time, not against those who sacrifice for others.

David Souers, M.A.U.D. ’82
Friendship, Me.

 

The editor’s recent musings on institutional neutrality fail to understand the most compelling reason to implement such a policy: the inherent meaninglessness and illegitimacy of university positions on politics and global events.

Harvard is not its leaders; it is every student, employee, and alumnus who contributes to its community. Any statement on non-academic matters is not and cannot be representative of “the University.”

Such statements are merely the opinions of risk-averse administrators carefully crafted with the hired help of PR professionals to preempt or cool some tumult. They are naked damage control, as evidenced by the glaring selectiveness by which administrators choose topics worthy of comment.

As an alumnus and current employee of Harvard, no university administrator represents me. They are not popularly elected and thus have no right to speak on my behalf. Who sits in the president’s office across the River has never noticeably affected my decade-long life in Longwood, and I care not at all what they think about much of anything.

For some, there is an inexplicable impulse to turn to administrators for an official position statement upon hearing of some fresh horror in the news. To those, I humbly suggest self-reflection on the logic of valuing the opinion of an ultimately powerless bureaucratic stranger.

If there is nothing else the last year should have taught Harvard, it’s that sometimes you just need to keep your damn mouth shut.

G. Kenneth Gray, Ph.D. ’21
Brookline, Mass.

 

Re: Claudine Gay (a report on her Morning Prayers, in April), remarks I wish she had chosen to discuss Harvard matters, rather than embroidering a lovely tale of immigrant struggle and achievement.

She must have some views on improving the governance and general environment of the University, and those would be worth hearing. Some day she will perceive her own missteps, and that perception will also be of general interest.

Re: the same article, I am a person who dropped out of kindergarten in Cambridge in 1940 because of the heavy cloud of religiosity. I’d like to see an end to daily official prayers on campus. Weekly chapel service is enough or too much.

Anne Vohl, J.D. ’71
Reno, Nev.

Teaching about Discourse

Talking about Talking (March-April, page 19) 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.

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. 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.

 

In re: Talking about Talking,” Harvard has come up with a novel teaching style. Act like a university.

Julia M. Robertson ’75
Louisville, Ky.

Housing Inequity

I note in the May-June issue the proximity of “The Homelessness Public Health Crisis” (page 25) and the John Harvard’s Journal picture entry, “Dirt Flies in Allston” (page 15). I suggest that there is a connection between our current investment in real estate everywhere and the housing plight of low-income people.

Some of us may remember that Allston lost a lot of low-income and “affordable” housing and neighborhoods to Harvard’s buy-up. Harvard Magazine itself looks like a real estate advertisement. This drive to put money in real estate is national, probably global, and I would hold is causing a vicious trickle-down of housing ownership which leaves the poorest with no shelter at all. And communities around the country are suffering the loss of housing for many income levels. The result is socially moth-eaten communities and a drive to create more housing while the wealthy sit on multiple, usually empty, houses at the top of the income scale. Bigger is not better. More is less.

Beedy Greenman Parker ’60
Camden, Me.

Editor’s note: Most of the University’s Allston land purchases were of vacant or under-used industrial and commercial properties. The magazine is indeed partly supported by advertising, including for residential real estate. And look forward to a full feature on America’s broken housing market in a forthcoming issue.

 

A Hand, Raised

The March-April Treasure (“Mysterious Minis,” page 64, on two Byzantine icons), states that St. John Chrysostom’s hand is “raised in prayer.” In fact, his gesture is one of blessing. As is customary, the bishop’s fingers replicate a Greek acronym for the name of Jesus Christ.

Andrew Sorokowski, A.M. ’75
Sonoma, Cal.

Privitizing Healthcare

Collen Walsh’s article “Private Equity and the Practice of Medicine” (May-June, page 9) describes the impact of privatization of health on patient outcomes. It does not, however, describe the reasons for privatization except there is money to be made. This should come as no surprise since healthcare generally represents as much as 20% of GDP in the US. There are other more nuanced reasons for this rise, which have a profound effect on the way medical care is practiced in this country and make privatization inevitable.

First, patients, employers, third-party payers, providers, and local, state, and federal governments are all players in the current system. Each player has a different interest, and when negotiations occur, each player stakes out and defends his interest. The current interjection of morality politics makes this cauldron of mixed interests even more difficult to parse. There is no one group responsible for the overall system.

Second, up to 40% of patients are functionally illiterate medically. Even after providers painstakingly detailed medical instructions, prescription regimes, and follow-up requirements, many patients still do not understand what is expected of them or what to do after a medical intervention. Many patients simply want to feel better, and advocating for oneself inside a provider’s office becomes nearly impossible if one does not understand what is being said to them.

Third, the twenty-minute appointment and protocol medicine contribute to the increasing impersonalization of the health care. There is little time or incentive, especially in busy clinics or hospitals, to get to know the patient and his or her life outside the clinical setting or to see the often-subtle signs that the prescribed treatment is not achieving the desired results until a full-blown emergency is at hand. Added to this pressure is the historical mistrust many minorities have of the system in general. Medicine becomes transactional and impersonal and will become more so in the future.

Fourth, the influx of new technologies, both on the clinical side and the administrative side of medicine, adds to the growing impersonalization. More tools mean more tests and less conversation. Medical technologies are expensive to install, manage, and maintain, but unlike other industries, few new advances replace older technologies. MRIs and CAT scans did not replace plain film X-rays. Hospitals’ and providers’ livelihoods depend on the newest interventions if they wish to be viewed as modern, update-to-date, and the best.

Finally, there is truly very little competition in the healthcare system today. The demand for care is inelastic. When confronted with a serious medical situation, especially if one’s children are involved, price does not enter a patient’s calculation. Patients may take steps to mitigate the cost of care by taking half a dose, or ignoring early signs of trouble, but when in the system, cost becomes less important. State, federal, insurance, and professional credentialing push the system toward standardization and push out new and different ways to provide care.

In the face of such systematic chaos, the rise of privations should surprise few. The chaos gives rise to waste, and inattention to the system as a whole. It allows one of the many players to push its interest with little pushback from the other players. The current state of the healthcare system is ripe for more consolidation and privatization, leaving the human side of medicine by the wayside just as the big box stores drove the small hardware or grocery store out of business.

Mark W. Knudsen ’72
Portland, Ore.

The Psychology of Antagonism

The Gravity of Groups (May-June, page 34) adeptly captures the enduring challenge of humanity: the pervasive influence of our “primitive brain functions” in shaping social dynamics. Despite advancements, our innate tendencies to categorize and favor ingroups persist, underscoring that societal progress doesn’t necessarily erode these deeply ingrained cognitive mechanisms.

The article also underscores the implications of these biases for fostering equity and justice. It prompts reflection on the feasibility of transcending group-based thinking. While strides have been made in promoting diversity and inclusion, our evolutionary heritage remains a formidable barrier to realizing truly egalitarian societies.

Edin Maslesa, A.L.M. ’23
Milton, Mass.

John Greenleaf Whittier

I just happened to start reading a friend’s May-June Harvard Magazine and came upon an interesting article by Nell Porter Brown about John Greenleaf Whittier, famous poet, part of the abolitionist movement and resident of Haverhill and Amesbury (born: December 17, 1807, Haverhill, MA, died: September 7, 1892).

Lo and behold...the last paragraph referred to a mountain that my family loved and skied at in the 1970s and early 1980s: Mt. Whittier in Ossipee, NH. What the author may not know is that the three upper slopes share the names of his most famous prose: Barefoot Boy, Snowbound, and Sundown.

Although the area has been closed for decades and those slopes are barely visible now, Mt. Whittier had a wonderful namesake.

Leslie Courtemanche
Peabody, Mass.

Winthrop Bell

I enjoyed the “Vita” of Winthrop Bell (March-April, page 34) except for two sentences.

With a policy of appeasement, Britain did not keep “pace with German rearmament during the 1930s”—although it did some catching up after Hitler’s troops marched into the Rhineland in March 1936. For much of the decade, there was substantial resistance to rearmament in Parliament. And, “Without [Winthrop Bell], the Nazis might have won the war.” What a ridiculous sentence!

Perhaps philosophy professors shouldn’t be writing about history. It is surprising that someone on the magazine staff didn’t remove this sentence.

Keith Cushman ‘64
Professor Emeritus of English
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, N.C.

Universities’ Elitism, Continued

Regarding the excellent recent essays appearing in Harvard Magazine, “Why Americans Love to Hate Harvard,” by Derek Bok (March-April, page 26) and “Raising Voices” (7 Ware Street, May June, page 4), on the annual letter by Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber, the inescapable fact is both institutions (and many more) are elitist and exclusive. This year at Harvard 52,064 students who felt themselves appropriate applicants, already an exclusive group, were not accepted.

There will always be animosity toward an institution claiming unusual excellence and excluding the vast majority of potential members. Such institutions must continually strive to improve and adapt to changing times, responding appropriately to criticism from within or outside their hallowed halls, but an undying loyalty and appreciation for the institution must prevail.

How to explain U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik ’06—the exception who proves the rule? No, she’s just a politician.

Thomas Bettman, M.D. ’69
Eugene, Ore.

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