HARVARD THEN AND NOW: Harvard is in a world of hurt!


Questions unasked, unanswered: Harvard College is the undergraduate arm of Harvard University. At least on the national stage, that world-famous institution suddenly finds itself in a world of hurt.

So many alumni, so little time! Let's touch on one famous pair:

In the fall of 1936, Pete Seeger and John F. Kennedy enrolled as fellow freshmen in the class of 1940. 

Seeger dropped out after freshman year. A few years later, he became a member of the American Communist Party, a membership he maintained for seven years. 

Kennedy graduated on time in June of 1940. Later, he served as President of the United States for a bit less than three years. 

(In our own street-fighting class of 1969, Gram Parsons dropped out after just one semester. He became a musical icon himself, then died at age 28.)

Many well-known figures have emerged from the "10,000 Men of Harvard," a group which now includes a very large number of women. (That was already true when we were at the famous school, though the women were enrolled at that time under the Radcliffe name.)

Also, a number of highly accomplished figures have emerged from the famous school. That said, let's return to the current state of affairs, as overseen by the New York Times in an awkward news report from yesterday's print edition:

Claudine Gay Turmoil Forces Harvard’s Secretive ‘Corporation’ Into Spotlight
Harvard’s powerful board has backed its president and said little else, yet a member privately said “generational change” may be needed.  

Oof! Online, those are the headlines which sit atop an awkward report. The report spotlights Harvard's "powerful / secretive board," which describes itself, on its website, as "the oldest corporation in the Western Hemisphere."

(It does so in a slightly tone-deaf way, perhaps for better or worse.)

For ourselves, we'll guess that Harvard and its board could benefit from something more than a bit of "generational change." In fairness, the same can be said of all of us, red and blue tribals alike.

At this particular point in time, we've moved past Frost's "darkest evening of the year"—or at least, we've moved past the year's longest evening. That said, Harvard is in a world of hurt—and so is the "Corporation."

How the mighty are possibly falling! Print edition headline included, the news report, by Copeland and Farrell, started off like this:

Claudine Gay Turmoil Brings Harvard Board Out From the Shadows

On Tuesday, the day before Harvard acknowledged more problems with its president’s scholarly work, two members of its governing body sat in a private dining room at Bar Enza, a popular Cambridge restaurant, and faced a grilling.

It was an exceedingly rare opportunity for a small group of prominent academics to speak directly to members of the reclusive board in charge of the school, as it endured a turbulent period. The campus was convulsed by demands for the resignation of Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, after allegations of plagiarism and anger over her handling of antisemitism and threats to Jewish students, which spurred a donor revolt.

The two board members, the nonprofit founder Tracy Palandjian and the private-equity executive Paul Finnegan, were told directly that they had to do more to address the ongoing maelstrom consuming the campus.

“You need to be more out front of this,” Jeff Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, recalled telling them. “If people are saying the university is making mistakes—they are talking about you!”

Board members were grilled—in a dining room—concerning a range of problems. A maelstrom is consuming the campus, the two board members were told. 

The maelstrom concerns the university's president, but the maelstrom doesn't end there. Having said that, we'll also say this:

In the stillness of the Christmas season, we found ourselves thinking back on certain things we observed during our own freshman year at the famous open-air prison in question.

Harvard is in a world of hurt, but so is our struggling nation. It seems to us that this news report in the New York Times allows us to ponder the formal and informal ways we Americans are all governed. 

That includes the ways our public discourse is formed by our most elite institutions.

Seeger came and Seeger went; we stayed for the full four years. Along with one of our roommates, we stumbled upon the brand-new Hee Haw TV program in June of our senior year! It happened on Cape Cod!

For ourselves, we still have basic, somewhat amusing questions about the things we saw freshman year—questions we've never seen asked or answered. These questions take us to the heart of the way our failing discourse functions.

For starters, though, who sits on the "secretive" board in question? Two members were willing to subject themselves to a grilling, and they deserve credit for doing so. 

All in all, though, who sits on that board? We'll start with that question tomorrow, though we'll soon let our memories emerge.

Tomorrow: "The board seeks to build a well-rounded group of people who have complementary expertise."


  1. Dahlia Lithwick:


  2. Samuel Adams attended Harvard College, which was founded before our nation. His undergrad thesis presaged the ideas he would use to foment the American Revolution and help write our Constitution. He didn’t have to abandon his education to be a revolutionary leader. The same with his contemporaries. Those who left early didn’t like school, ran out of money, or had other things to do (like Bill Gates).

    Somerby’s reverse snobbery is tiresome and Harvard is not in deep trouble.

  3. I highly recommend the Lithwick piece linked by 9:46. It gives some insight into the problems of the Supreme Court, and Justice Thomas in particular. I’m the nice Corby.

  4. It’s a good thing that Tom Cotton hated the liberal elites so much that he attended Harvard instead of some podunk Arkansas backwater college. It has served him well in his current role of Trump toady and lickspittle.

  5. Claudine Gay is a fake scholar. I am the real Korbi.

  6. “Claudine Gay Turmoil Forces Harvard’s Secretive ‘Corporation’ Into Spotlight”

    It’s so secretive that they have a web site with the names of its members listed on its home page.

    It’s terms like “secretive” and “world of hurt”, Somerby’s editorializing phrase, that shed no real light on matters, but serve to suggest nefarious or inept goings on.

    Since this all stems from Gay’s appearance before Congress, one wonders how much of the world of hurt is media-generated. For example, pundits saying that Gay did a poor job at the hearing quickly became standard narrative, and the negative publicity likely upsets rich donors.

    1. The term "world of hurt" implies a situation of great trouble or distress. It does not inherently suggest nefarious activities or ineptitude.

    2. Somerby is projecting his own world of hurt onto Harvard.

  7. The newest accusation is that Gay may have falsified data, or at least may have used incorrect data, and is trying to hide the problem.

    Claudine Gay has been asked for, but has refused to provide, the data that underlie a 2001 article she published in the American Political Science Review (“The Effect of Black Congressional Representation on Political Participation”). The 2001 APSR article was a critical piece in Ms. Gay receiving tenure from Stanford. In 2002, two researchers who had looked at the APSR paper — Michael Herron of Dartmouth and Kenneth Schotts of Stanford — thought the result anomalous and sought the underlying data from Gay. Herron and Schotts reported the results of that effort in a working paper they presented at the 2002 conference of the Society for Political Methodology....

    As far as I am concerned, failure by a researcher to share the underlying data as to published work is prima facie evidence that the data have been falsified. The ability to disprove that inference is completely in the hands of the researcher, here Ms. Gay, and there is no reason to refuse disclosure other than known problems in the data.

    Will Gay survive this newest accusation?

    1. Link to above is https://www.manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2023-12-24-claudine-gay-update-now-its-data-falsification

    2. David, you’re not always wrong.

    3. Replace her with Dylan Mulvaney.
      Everyone wins!

    4. Gay's job at Harvard these days is not to produce research but to be an administrator. Why should she be removed for performance unrelated to her current occupation?

    5. Because she’s dishonest. Donald Trump is unworthy of the Presidency for the same reason.

    6. When they fire Marc Hauser, they can get rid of Gay for "dishonesty".

    7. Somerby cannot properly credit sources here at his own blog. When he starts doing that, he will have the right to criticize Gay.

    8. Next some asshole Republican will be suggesting that Biden should resign because he was accused of plagiarism a few decades back.

      Gay's research has been approved by dissertation chairs and committees and by peer reviewers, none of whom apparently caught whatever is being claimed she did wrong today. That means it is likely trivial and being brought up now for political purposes, as a gotcha excuse to call for her removal for ulterior motives. This kind of attack is more dishonest than anything Gay did or didn't do.

      This is the mob with the torches and pitchforks. It is ugly and those doing this should be ashamed of themselves.

    9. 4:26: There are several reasoning and logic flaws in your passage. Let's analyze them:

      Appeal to Authority and Popularity: The argument that Gay's work was previously approved by authoritative figures (dissertation chairs, committees, peer reviewers) implies that these approvals negate the possibility of wrongdoing. This is a flawed argument because it assumes that authority figures are infallible or that widespread acceptance equates to correctness. In reality, even experts can overlook errors or misconduct.

      False Dichotomy: The passage sets up a false dichotomy by suggesting that the only two possibilities are that the allegations are either trivial or politically motivated. This ignores other possibilities, such as the allegations being both serious and non-political, or being serious and only incidentally related to politics.

      Ad Hominem and Poisoning the Well: The passage attacks the character of the accusers (labeling them as a "mob with torches and pitchforks") rather than addressing the substance of the plagiarism accusations. This tactic aims to discredit the accusers in advance, irrespective of the validity of their claims.

      Relativism Fallacy: By stating that the actions of the accusers are more dishonest than whatever Gay did or didn't do, the passage engages in a form of moral relativism. It attempts to diminish the seriousness of Gay's potential misconduct by comparing it to the perceived greater misconduct of others. This is a flawed argument because it avoids addressing the actual issue of Gay's alleged plagiarism.

      Assumption of Motive: The passage assumes that the motive behind the accusations is political or retaliatory. This is speculative and not based on presented evidence. Without concrete evidence to support this claim, it remains an assumption and weakens the argument.

      Ignoring the Possibility of Late Discovery: The argument that the previous lack of detection implies triviality overlooks the possibility that plagiarism or misconduct can sometimes go unnoticed for long periods, especially in complex academic work. The timing of the discovery does not necessarily correlate with the seriousness of the offense.

      Emotional Appeal and Shaming: The passage ends with a call for the accusers to feel ashamed, which is an emotional appeal rather than a logical argument. It attempts to shift the focus from the rational analysis of the situation to the emotional response of the involved parties.

      In conclusion, while the passage raises points about the potential misuse of allegations and the importance of considering the motives behind accusations, its arguments are weakened by logical and reasoning flaws, including appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks, assumptions about motives, and emotional appeals.

    10. She cheated and got caught. You do the crime, you do the time. It's not political.

    11. An attack on Gay isn’t ad hominem. It’s ad canem.

    12. The penalty for this crime is not firing. It is definitely political and she is being targeted.

    13. If Gay keeps her job, the moral will be taken as praising power: If you're part of the power group, whatever you do is OK. If you're in the out group, nothing is OK. Bullying is fine, independent thinking is risky.

      Gay's appointment at our leading university already reduced academic standards throughout the country. Her retention will reduce moral standards.

    14. Consider the possibility that Gay has been doing a fine job in her position as President of Harvard. She doesn't teach classes or do research so her past academic performance is irrelevant to her current position.

      They kept Marc Hauser on faculty for four years after he was found to have fabricated data for some of his studies -- then he ultimately resigned. He wasn't hounded off the roster the way people are attacking Gay who did something trivial by comparison.

    15. Just because Hauser was kept on faculty for a certain period after being found guilty of fabricating data does not provide a valid benchmark for how Gay's situation should be handled.

      Do you feel she should not suffer consequences for cheating? You would feel differently if the politics were different. Can't you see that?

    16. “Consider the possibility that Gay has been doing a fine job in her position as President of Harvard. She doesn't teach classes or do research so her past academic performance is irrelevant to her current position.”

      This is wildly dense and stupid. It’s like arguing that the discovery of a priest’s past affair with a parishioner is insignificant because he’s now in an administrative role.

      Plagiarism is a cardinal sin in academia. It denotes a lack of character and standards that is anathema to the rigors of the field.

    17. She did nothing equivalent to that. See Kevin Drum’s take on it.

    18. Is he a mind reader and thus back in your good graces?

  8. That Harvard board and the school's endowment (which they manage) is why middle class and diverse students from all over the country are now able to go to Harvard, instead of just legacies and rich families in New England's upper classes (like Somerby and Al Gore). Without that endowment, there are no scholarships, no financial aid.