Saturday, July 25, 2009

What a Harvard education gets you

It was my privilege, for about eight years, to serve on a board at Harvard University. My employer at the time - GE - was in the business of making loans for many things, including home improvements. And as part of being a "good corporate citizen" they helped fund an ongoing research project at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Because they were a donor, they got a seat on the board that oversaw the project, and somehow it fell to me to fill that board seat. And so twice a year I would pack up and head for Boston and Cambridge for a couple days of meetings, presentations and very nice lunches, and while it wasn't all that interesting, it seemed to impress people when I'd say "I've got to go to Harvard for a board meeting," so I kept on saying it.

What I learned over the years is that, while Harvard may be one of our more revered places for higher education, it's full of a lot of very silly people. Like most of academia, they operate in an atmosphere of unmatched political correctness. Also like most of academia, it's populated by people who have managed to weasal their way on to the higher-education gravy train by studying some tiny, arcane subject and convincing others that what they do is VERY important.

All you need to know about the efficacy of the Joint Center for Housing Studies is that every year we would get a presentation from some numbers nerd who sat down, analyzed every piece of data, talked to various "experts" and presented some very pretty charts that told us, year after year, "There is no evidence of a housing bubble." Turns out there WAS a housing bubble, and when it burst it took down large chunks of the global economy, but hey, even Harvard gets one wrong once in a while, I guess.

Which brings us to Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard professor and a ridiculously silly man in his own right. A Yale law school dropout, he quickly latched onto the intellecutally rigourous "Afro-American studies" scam and worked his way through the important left-wing college campuses - Yale, Cornell, Duke - before landing at Harvard. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about his "important" work:

"As a literary theorist and critic, meanwhile, Gates has combined literary techniques of deconstruction with native African literary traditions; he draws on structuralism, post-structuralism, and semiotics to textual analysis and matters of identity politics. As a black intellectual and public figure, Gates has been an outspoken critic of the Eurocentric literary canon and has instead insisted that black literature must be evaluated by the aesthetic criteria of its culture of origin, not criteria imported from Western or European cultural traditions that express a "tone deafness to the black cultural voice" and result in "intellectual racism."

Nice work if you can get it, eh? Here's a boiled-down version: Gates rants and raves about how evil America is, how racist everyone else is and he produces nothing of value to society. A couple decades of that have brought him wealth, Harvard tenure and a small measure of fame.

(It should also be noted that as a literary expert, he's no great shakes. In the '90s he was called as an "expert witness" in the obscenity trial of rap group 2 Live Crew. Defending their profane lyrics he said, “It’s like Shakespeare’s ‘My love is like a red, red rose.’ ” Which is nice, except that Shakespeare never wrote that. The line was penned by Scottish poet Robert Burns about two centuries later. But that's okay, Prof. Gates: Those dead white people all look (and sound) alike, right?)

By now most of you know the current controversy. A neighbor of Gates' called the cops because she saw two men forcing open the door to Gates' home, and suspected a burglary. The cops arrived, found a man inside the house, and asked for ID. Drawing on his vast reservoir of intelligence and sensitivity, Gates responded to the request by saying, "Why? Because I am a black man in America?"

It seems to me a better response might have been, "Sure, here's my ID. I live here, and I appreciate the fact that you would respond so quickly to the report of a break-in at my house. But it's a simple misunderstanding. Thanks again." But of course, I'm not the enlightened beneficiary of a Harvard education, so what do I know?

From there, Gates escalated the situation by saying things like, "I'll talk to your mama," "You don't know who you're messin' with" and "You haven't heard the last of this." Eventually he became so belligerent that the cops arrested him for disorderly conduct.

At which point the political correctness heirarchy went into full-blown panic mode. The charges were dropped, the Governor of Massachusetts and the Mayor of Cambridge (both black) denounced the cops and the king of all diversity hires - President Obama - declared the police had "acted stupidly." Not as stupidly as, say, mouthing off at a press conference without knowing all the facts, but still pretty stupidly.

Then the pendulum swung the other way. Obama seemed to realize how stupid he sounded, and tried to back away from his own remarks, though without really apologizing. Then he called the cop involved to talk things over and now the empty buzzwords such as "teachable moment" and "racial reconciliation" are being thrown around. Everyone involved seems to be staking their claim to be offended and victimized.

Which is the logical product of all the silliness that goes on at places like Harvard, where the real world and common sense can't puncture the bubble of political correctness and identity politics that surrounds everything.

Parents, if your child has a chance to go to Harvard, here's my advice: Take the $50,000 per year you were going to spend, put $35K in the bank and use the rest to send them to St. Cloud State. The education will be just as good, and they'll have ample opportunity to learn that when a police officer asks for ID, your best move is to show him your drivers license.


  1. Oh, so much to say about this whole thing, but what gets me are the headlines screaming "Police arrest man for robbing his own home" or something along those lines. Hello, he was arrested for being a belligerent pain in the butt. Get it right.

    And that last sentence of the Wikipedia entry is a fine example of the garbage you'll be fed from any university English department. Trust me, I've been there.

  2. Nice summary Tim.