A 2011 Harvard Retrospective

By on January 4, 2012

The bucolic red-brick environs, falling leaves, and austere columned library bespeak an institution rife with history and a word Chaim Topol popularized with his portrayal of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: "tradition." Indeed, Harvard has developed and grown over its 375 years, forging for itself new qualities with every generation, yet maintaining its identity as a unique backdrop to the education of the country’s elite. Harvard has been around longer than the government of the United States—140 years longer—making it the oldest continuous institution founded in the country. Harvard not only teaches American history—it has long produced educated men and women who have helped create American history.

While many wonderful traditions still abound at the most famous of American universities, a new one has developed which can erode any university’s fundament, and runs counter to the school’s stated purpose. Two events this year—one involving freshmen students, the other a longtime faculty member—remind us that despite the pursuit of "Veritas," Harvard remained in 2011 among the vanguard of the politically correct, embracing a cynical suppression of speech and academic discourse in favor of dishonestly built ideas of comfort.

Swearing an Oath to Kindness 

At the outset of the 2011-12 academic year, Harvard College attempted to institute a new tradition when Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman pressured the class of 2015 to sign a pledge placing kindness on par with academic achievement. Former Dean of Harvard College Harry Lewis broke the news and posted the pledge on his blog. The oath envisions Harvard’s commencement exercises as a morality play, reading in full:

At Commencement, the Dean of Harvard College announces to the President, Fellows, and Overseers that "each degree candidate stands ready to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society." That message serves as a kind of moral compass for the education Harvard College imparts. In the classroom, in extracurricular endeavors, and in the Yard and Houses, students are expected to act with integrity, respect, and industry, and to sustain a community characterized by inclusiveness and civility.

As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment.

Continue reading this article on The Lantern, FIRE’s academic journal