Does Harvard have a secret history as a major force for evil?
“Verita$” was a best seller in Korea, author Shin Eun-jung’s native country, because she asks the question that’s hardly ever asked: Why Harvard?
Eun-jung says the third word a Korean baby learns, after mom and dad, is “Harvard.” She argues that this is a tragedy, because Harvard isn’t the global intellectual powerhouse of reputation.
Now, there are plenty of criticisms of Harvard, though rarely the one Eun-jung levels: that Harvard swanned its way to dominance by maintaining a false front of liberalism when it is, in fact, an arm of the governing right.
“Verita$” recites a litany of bad acts: the Salem witch trials, eugenics, a so-called “collaboration” with Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler, architects of financial collapse such as Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, McCarthyism, racism, sexism, tyrannical labor practices and “a poison called elitism.”
Her list is long. I might add Harvard produces such venerable alumni as Henry Kissinger, Ted Kaczynski and Dr. Oz.
The institutional corruption stems from Harvard’s hungry endowment, Eun-jung says. The Harvard Corporation invests wisely if not well, for instance backing Enron then mysteriously cashing out before it tanked the energy markets. This black box of university finance, she says, shows Harvard is an undemocratic pawn of international corporate overlords.
“This made me wonder: Why would Harvard go through the trouble of hiring leftist professors in the first place, if they are only going to marginalize them while they’re there?” She asks. “After thinking about this question, the answer became obvious: Harvard’s pride in the myth of its progressive character.”
I wish the author understood how hiring decisions are made — that is, in departments and not some sinister university-wide level. Also, that Harvard tends not to raise its own faculty. The assistant professorship is nicknamed “the folding chair,” as there is slim chance of rising to tenure.
It would have been nice too if the author had spent enough time on campus to unpack the multiple Harvards: the college, the professional schools (law, business, medicine, dentistry, design, education), the divinity school, school of government, oodles of institutes and an extension school.
When writing about Harvard it is helpful to ask, which one? There might not be a monolith called Harvard.
Within the college — the core of Harvard’s elite brand — there are many mansions: WASP legacy Harvard, the dirty white baseball hats of athletics and male-only drinking clubs; the precious, artsy and gay Harvard; a drone-like premed Harvard, and so on. These Harvards hardly know each other after freshman year — they are all too busy taking over the world.
I confess I am a child of the hegemama, class of 1996, and it was fascinating (by that I mean tedious) to read what other people think of mea mater.
The greatest criticism I, as a graduate, can lob goes unmentioned in “Verita$”: Harvard takes the finest collection of scholars and the ablest young minds and throws them together in the most mediocre educational infrastructure.
But are impressionable students really being brainwashed into right-wing conservatives? Hardly. There are hundreds of examples of notable graduates from both sides of the aisle. George W. Bush graduated from its business school; Elizabeth Warren its law school.
Shin Eun-jung sees Harvard’s investment in Kenneth Lay’s (center) Entron as a sign of the school’s cozy relationship with corporate interests.Photo: Getty Images
“Verita$” is on more solid ground when it takes the university to task on the taboo subject of class in the classroom. Harvard selects students primarily from advantaged backgrounds. Blue-collar kids have a hard time finding each other. Harvard can and should do better.
With a fraction of the endowment, Stanford recently announced free undergraduate tuition for families making less than $125,000 a year. That would be a good start.
Let us stipulate that “Verita$” is true, every terrible charge. We are left with the question: Who cares?
I happily concede Harvard is a massive, moneyed institution lurking with unnamed evil, but I can’t grant the warrant that an exposé on this order matters.
Eun-jung’s Harvard is attended by straw men. Is some other school a nobler model? When rebels topple the John Harvard statue guarding University Hall, who replaces him? If Harvard were not Harvard, every other elite university already is.
Eun-jung’s book reads like a campus tour delivered by an embittered sophomore. But I would not hesitate to recommend it as a graduation present to this year’s seniors denied admission at the world’s fanciest university.