In John Donnelly’s April 24 Boston Globe piece on the AIDS scandal at Harvard, provost Stephen Hyman gave this explanation for why the university waited five months after receiving a federal grant before beginning to purchase AIDS drugs for dying Africans:

<<"One major concern for Summers and members of the Joint Committee of Inspections, a Harvard audit board, was whether the US government or patients could sue Harvard for any perceived future problems, Hyman said. In 2000, the US government had sued Harvard for alleged misuse of federal funds in a development grant in Russia. 'That lawsuit sensitized [Larry Summers] enormously for the need for Harvard to do this right,' Hyman said.">>

But just three days before that, on April 21, Corporation senior fellow Jamie Houghton told the Crimson something very different.

<<...James R. Houghton '58 said the University's actions on the Kanki grant were not related to the HIID investigation [of Harvard in Russia]. "It was a large grant that we just felt in that part of that world needed controls," Houghton said. "I don't think that that's an abridgement of academic freedom at all.">>

Well, gentlemen—which is it? A “major concern” or a non-issue? If you’re going to craft a message to explain this tragic inaction, everyone involved has to stick to it. Otherwise, it looks like you’re not telling the truth.

Regardless of whatever impact the HIID fiasco had, one can’t help but wonder: If those people dying of AIDS happened to live in, say, Boston, instead of Africa, would Harvard have waited for five months before purchasing medicine that could have saved their lives?

One suspects that legal concerns, if any actually existed, would probably have mattered less if it it were white Americans who were dying, rather than black Africans.