There is a generation gap at Harvard University. The students are far more conservative than the faculty. The aging radical professors haven’t enough to do, so they nitpicked their president’s words and pressured his resignation. The students are dismayed.
President Larry Summers’ resignation last month followed a “lack of confidence” vote by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In a poll released March 13 by the Harvard Crimson, 66 percent of surveyed Harvard students claimed to “disapprove of the way that members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have handled their relationship” with President Summers. Only 15 percent agree with the faculty’s handling of grievances.
The faculty is dominated by left-wing ’60s radicals, all of them aging despite their former fantasies. It is perhaps from the realization that the sands of time are sinking and a new generation is rising on campus at odds with the values of the ’60s that makes the Faculty of Arts and Sciences so desperate. Because they know their days are numbered and that their establishment is uncertain, they sought their president’s ouster. Even left-wing Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz calls it an “academic coup d’?tat by … the die-hard left of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.”
Summers pushed aggressively for progress in science and technology programs, and he developed friendly teaching relationships with students.
Summers also conflicted with noted African-American Studies professor Cornel West, for which West left Harvard. Summers expressed his strong support for the ROTC program, which had been excluded from the campus for decades. For appearing to align opponents of Israel with anti-Semitism, Summers was accused of hampering dialogue. And when Summers dared suggest that differences between men and women cause a disproportionate representation of the sexes in the sciences, the faculty panicked and reckoned upon the advance of Armageddon. Professors met several times and decided to assert their no-confidence vote.
Now, the students of Harvard have no confidence in their left-wing professors.
One editorial in the Crimson headlined, “No Confidence in ‘No Confidence.’” Despite that the FAS is one of nine faculties at Harvard, its radicalism is loud, and it must be held accountable, the editorial urged. “As much as discontented Faculty members may lack confidence in Summers, we would modestly submit that, at this point in time, we lack confidence in them.”
After Summers’ resignation, Pieropaolo Barbieri wrote in the Crimson that “there is a world beyond FAS.” Summers should not have resigned, Barbieri said. “Unlike the Faculty’s foggy qualms, Summers’ achievements keep materializing on campus and in students’ lives.”
Another Crimson editorial stated, “Whatever satisfaction was today enjoyed by the elements of unrest in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, it is unrepresentative of the sobering sense of emptiness that now pervades Cambridge’s streets. Harvard’s loss is real.” The Crimson staff registered their agreement with Summers’ vision, a vision that was perceived as a threat by “too many of today’s entrenched interests” on the faculty.
The day Summers resigned, students repaired in mass to Harvard Yard where they joined in unison, “Five More Years!”
When Summers first spoke publicly about his resignation, undergraduate students flocked to Massachusetts Hall. Summers didn’t know whether they were there to cheer or boo him, but when he began shaking their hands it was clear which side they took. They shook his hand warmly. As the Crimson editorial said, “Students believe in Summers’ vision.”
It is more than a passive belief; it is a belief of action that runs against almost every revolutionary stronghold of the aging professoriate. As Ruth Wisse writes in the Wall Street Journal, “Student response to the ouster suggests another long-term outcome. Although the activists of yesteryear may have found a temporary stronghold in the universities, a new generation of students has had its fill of radicalism. Sobered by the heavy financial burdens most of their families have to bear for their schooling, they want an education solid enough to warrant the investment. Chastened by the fallout of the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family, they are wary of human experiments that destabilize society even further. Alert to the war that is being waged against America, they feel responsible for its defense even when they may not agree with the policies of the current administration.
“If the students I have come to know at Harvard are at all representative, a new moral seriousness prevails on campus, one that has yet to affect the faculty members because it does not yet know how to marshal its powers.”
Here is hope. Even at Harvard, bastion of the left, there is a revolution under way. Not since the professors had their revolution 40 years ago has there been anything like it. Only this time, there is a return to that little word on the Harvard logo that is its motto: “Veritas.” By the generation most counted upon to finally reject truth, truth is welcomed, if yet undiscovered. And even if Larry Summers will no longer preside at Harvard, his legacy is just getting under way.
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