Archive for August, 2006

Maybe They Should Ask Harvey Mansfield

Posted on August 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

“What is a man?”
—from the cover of the new Barney’s fall catalogue, which I just received.

The catalogue then includes various quotes purporting to answer the question.

“A wise man puts his eggs carefully in one basket and then watches the basket.”
—Andrew Carnegie

Or this:

“Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.”
—Mark Twain

Although if you ask me, Twain is referring to “man” as a species here, and not a gender, in which case his quote doesn’t really belong. On the other hand, perhaps I am asking too much of the Barney’s catalogue people.

But here’s the really interesting thing: Watch how these quotes take on a new dimension of moral authority and existential despair when you add to them a small image of a hideous albino monster living deep in a cave.

“The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.”
—Alfred Lord Tennyson

“No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.”

“The average man has carefully cultivated ignorance about household matters.”
—Chrystal Eastman (Ed: Who the heck is Chrystal Eastman?)

“Manly men defend their turf, just as other male mammals do.”
—Harvey Mansfield

(Okay, Barney’s didn’t really use that last quote. I found it online. But it kind of works, no?)

Your thoughts welcome on this important topic. What is a man?

The Woes of Being a University President

Posted on August 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Every so often, someone writes an article about how tough it is to run a university these days—they’ve been doing it for at least the last ten years, and probably the last 50. One interesting change is that a standard requirement for these articles is that they must now include a reference to Larry Summers.

Case in point: this Los Angeles Times piece, “PhD in Patience Required.” (Registration also required.)

The writer, Elizabeth Mehren, focuses on the case of Ralph J. Hexter, a classics professor and dean at Berkeley—three nouns which, combined, would give Larry Summers a coronary—who became president of Hampshire College. The search process, Mehren argues, is mortifying.

“It is almost incomprehensible to business people why we go through this,” said Deborah Raizes, head of the committee seeking a new president at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. “They ask me, ‘Why would you let people who are going to be working for someone have a say in who their boss will be?‘ “

Well, that’s one view of the world, isn’t it? Imagine, letting people who will be working for someone have a say in who their boss will be.

Here’s my favorite part of the article, though:

At a “meet the candidate” forum, the slender, gray-haired classicist said, he was taken aback by how brash some students were. The first student who interrogated him, Hexter said, wanted his vision for Hampshire, admonishing him not to “use any of the usual cliches, like ‘excellence,’ or ‘distinctiveness.‘ “

When I was writing Harvard Rules, trying to explain President Summers’ vision for Harvard, I grew increasingly frustrated; the man’s every speech seemed a vine-like collection of cliches. Pull the vines apart one by one, and…and…well, there just wasn’t much there at the end. And yet, every time I picked up the paper, Summers was being congratulated for his bold vision. Was I missing something? One wanted to be fair—Summers is, after all, an extremely smart guy, and he certainly had proposals—but there just didn’t seem to be any there, there.

I would like to have heard Summers answer this student’s question.

A Post to Remember

Posted on August 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

Occasionally I put posters’ comments on this main screen when they seem just too good not to highlight. The post below, about the Harvard Magazine features on Larry Summers, very much falls into that category.

It’s one of the last gorgeous nights of the summer, but who could resist the invitation to comment….

First, in response to anonymous above: OK, maybe the editor’s retrospective pulled its punches. But two points: (1) Although HM is independent of HU, it is reliant on the contributions of alumni for a large share of its budget. And how many alums are anxious to read yet another retrospective dumping on a president who was fired? (2) The retrospective does make the very important point that one of the major legacies of LS is the massive growth in the presidential-provostial bureaucracy (ironic given LS’s complaints in the accompanying interview about how bureaucracy prevents change and leadership). It is good to see the count of increase in provost and vice president positions. Even better would be to see a full count of the number of staff employed by these new offices and the budget devoted to them.

So I think that HM has adopted a brilliant strategy: let LS talk long enough and he’s bound to say something that makes him look bad. His interview is an amazingly clumsy exercise in revisionist history. Let’s take a closer look:

• The vision that LS “articulated” “was a product of a great deal of deliberation within the Harvard community during the search process.” A contorted definition of community, maybe. There was essentially no faculty or student input into the search process. What community is he referring to here, exactly?
• The second part of LS’s vision of the future involves the “transformation in human nature” brought about by progress in the life sciences. This is either nonsense or seriously scary. No serious life scientists that I know believe that their studies are creating a transformation in human nature; instead, their efforts are about understanding basic biological processes, including perhaps insight into human nature. If LS is suggesting that the point of life sciences today is to effect a transformation in human nature, this is deeply unsettling, for reasons that hardly need to be elaborated.
• After talking in completely anodyne terms about the importance of global inequality, progress in the study of biology, and the need for leadership (institutional or individual?), LS goes on to assert that these observations constitute a challenging “vision” for the future of Harvard. Come on.
• Simple factual error number 1: it is not the case that “we now do have freshman seminars for all students….” Only about half of all College freshmen take freshmen seminars. Not enough seminars are offered to accommodate all freshmen. Doing so would involve either reducing the number of lecture courses offered (increasing yet further the enrollment of each lecture course) or staffing freshmen seminars with visitors, lecturers, etc. Beyond this, many freshmen continue to find the demands of their concentrations (particularly in the sciences) so intense that they cannot spare the time to take an entertaining but not required seminar in their first year.
• Second factual error immediately follows: we now do have “faculty led junior seminars in all the major departments.” What exactly constitutes a “major” department? Surely that classification should include the Economics department. And it is true that Economics has just introduced junior seminars. But these are only “faculty-led” if you adopt a pretty generous definition of “faculty.” Just check out the 2006-07 course catalogue.
• Student-faculty contact is a big problem at Harvard, all agree. But LS’s suggestion that this “will be helped by the major expansion of the faculty” is misguided. As his comments suggest, this expansion will largely occur in the sciences. In intellectual terms, fully justified. But it completely misses the fundamental problems of faculty-student contact. One is just sheer numbers: if Harvard wanted to get the same faculty-student ratio as someplace like Princeton, it would need to increase the number of FAS faculty by something like 500, not the 50 being contemplated. (Never mind LS’s desire to increase the size of the undergraduate body, exacerbating the faculty-student ratio issue.) Second is distribution. FAS faculty are about evenly distributed among the 3 divisions (sciences – social sciences – humanities). But half of Harvard undergraduates concentrate in the social sciences. This is where the huge crunch in faculty-student arises, with big concentrations like Government, Economics, and History simply unable to provide the small courses, good advising, and close contact with faculty that students demand. Really want to address this problem? Give each of those departments 30 more faculty, at least, and require all faculty in those departments (including Economics) to teach at least 2 undergraduate courses a year.
• LS says the concept of general education has to change so that students actually learn more science. I couldn’t agree more strongly. But during the period that he was closely involved with the curricular review, he opposed any reform that would actually forward this agenda, instead focusing on more showy reforms like sending students abroad for a few weeks or making them take a freshman seminar.
• Another factual error: LS refers to “the decision we’ve made to create a new school of engineering.” Who is this “we?” Yes, the DEAS plans to transform itself into an SEAS, and that will probably in the end happen. But to claim this as a done deal is way premature.
• LS complains about departments that allow one or two faculty to block “great appointments.” Just can’t resist pointing out the irony that his department, Economics, is probably the major offender in this regard.
• The claim that there has been no change in departmental structure in 40 years is silly. Departments have split, created wings, created joint concentrations, etc. The biological sciences this last year just reformed themselves to offer 6 rather than 2 concentrations. Yeah, some of the smaller humanities departments should probably be consolidated. But this is hardly a major governance issue. And how surprised could someone who worked in DC be that established institutions protect their interests?
• The statement about “our students’ desire for a common calendar in all the Harvard schools” is just laughable. I thought LS was an avid reader of the Crimson. How did he miss all the articles and editorials bloviating about how horrible a change in the calendar would be? Exactly where has this student demand for calendar change been expressed?
• The charge that FAS is somehow protected from the competitive pressures that the professional schools face is absurd. FAS finds it harder than ever to recruit and retain faculty and students. We are in a highly competitive environment, and struggling to adapt to it. To suggest that somehow the KSG, HBS, or HLS are more responsive to a competitive environment seems far-fetched – just ask students who have defected to their competitors. If there is one school at Harvard that seems to have kept its competitive edge in objective terms, it’s the College.
• The interview concludes, as it begins, with an allusion to the growth in the endowment. This should make us all very happy. But it doesn’t, because of the artificial and punitive approach to budgeting that has been adopted under LS. I’ve gone on far too long to elaborate on this, but let me try to put the point sharply: if a major goal of the university is to enhance faculty-student contact, why is FAS being taxed and subjected to non-negotiable budget demands rather than being allowed to share in this lovely increase in the endowment to engage in a major increase in the size of its faculty?
• Overall, the tone of this interview, with its laudatory treatment of the professional schools, is astounding. Given LS’s testy relations with most of the professional schools, it seems downright disingenuous. It is the case that LS has had or has appointed deans of some of the schools – HBS, KSG, HLS – who are willing to put up with being publicly bullied and humiliated by him in exchange for a few bones, like their nice treatment in this interview. Suggesting that this model of “governance” is appropriate for structuring the education of undergraduate and Ph.D. students at Harvard is just pitiful.

Sorry to post this anonymously, but I am truly embarrassed to be spending one of the last beautiful nights of the summer getting worked up about the dear departed leader.

Whole Lotta Manliness Going On

Posted on August 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

In Human Events, the conservative journal, Harvey Mansfield is interviewed by one Benjamin Van Horrick, who really ought to be a character in a 19th-century novel. The subject: Manliness.

I am fascinated by the obsession conservatives have with this subject; liberals just don’t seem to think about it as much (at least, judging from the differing receptions Mansfield’s book has received in conservative and liberal circles). At the risk of sounding partisan, I would suggest that manly men don’t spend quite so much time thinking about being manly. They just are. One wonders if, as they go on and on about why women aren’t manly, and why liberal men aren’t manly, conservative guys aren’t reflecting some greater insecurity. One thing the sexual revolution has accomplished: it has given liberal men the opportunity to come to a fuller understanding of sexuality, which is a) something conservatives lack, and b) explains why all the real sexual pervs (with the possible exception of Jeffrey Epstein) are right-wingers.

In any case, it’s a bit of a nutty interview. Mansfield has a frustrating tendency to make provocative, declarative statements without providing the slightest evidence to support them. (He’ s the Naomi Wolf of conservatism.) We are supposed to believe them because they emanate from…him, Mansfield, about whom there is a conservative cult of personality. But if you haven’t bought into that idolatry, Mansfield’s pronouncements just seem a bit silly.

For example:

“Manly confidence and manliness means an ability to take charge or to be authoritative in that situation. Women also have confidence, but they don’t seek out situations of risk the way the way that manly men do.”

“Boys are being raised in such a way as not to cultivate their manliness. Their manliness is being neglected or ignored or put aside in favor of a gender neutral quality, which you might call feminization, but is meant to be between the sexes, or at least in no way sexist.”

“Women are great critics of men. Under feminism, they’ve lost their faculty or at least their vocation for criticizing men, and I think that’s a great loss.

I don’t think everything Mansfield says is loopy; some of it is sort of interesting. But if you stumble around in gender politics long enough, throwing out broad generalizations and sex-specific declarations, you’re bound to get something right after a while.

My great question about Mansfield’s work is, what is the point?

I disagree with him about manliness; I think you can find that quality of risk-taking in both men and women, and so I fail to see the sense in trying to define it as a male-specific quality. But even if you agree that “manliness” can be defined and categorized as something generally limited to men…so what? I’ve never heard Mansfield delve into the larger importance of the subject, but I’d like to.

Coming Soon

Posted on August 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

As soon as the pain in my wrist fades just a little, I aim to write about the very interesting new issue of Harvard Magazine, which looks at the Summers presidency and contains an interview with the man himself. Lots to talk about…. If you have thoughts before I get to pen mine, please, post them below…..

If You Could See Me Now…

Posted on August 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

…you’d see a sizeable bandage on my right wrist, like two overlapping starfish. Looks kind of dramatic and hurts a bit—you wouldn’t want to take a ballpeen hammer and smash it down with all your force upon my wrist right now, that would really smart—but everything seems to have gone A-okay. Doctor John Adams and his trusty assistant Nils shot me up with some painkiller (they should have that stuff for life, not just surgery) and cut out my skin cancer. (I wish I could say that I miss it already, but I don’t.) Good thing it wasn’t a vine. Or, for that matter, a hideous albino monster living deep in a cave, like the one below.

If cancer were a
monster, it might
look like this.

While Doctor Adams and Nils worked, we talked about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which apparently no one does anymore. (Nils had taken a course as an ambulance attendant, is how the subject came up.)

Did you know that there’s only a five percent survival rate for people who get mouth-to-mouth? Me neither.

Anyway, these days, people intubate the patient and then fill their lungs with a hand pump. I’m not sure if that works better, but it seems to spare everyone some awkward moments in those rare instances when people regain consciousness.

About the time that that conversation was wrapping up, Doctor Adams put a bunch of stitches in me, and then Nils showed me my lesion, which, along with a circumference of surrounding tissue (they have to make sure they got all the cancer), now resided in a clear liquid in a sample jar. It’s headed off to a lab at NYU for testing, to make sure that the surrounding tissue is cancer-free. Whoo-hoo! Got you, you little bastard.

Anyway, I can’t play piano for a couple weeks, but that’s okay, because—oh, hell, you know what I’m going to say. Sadly, I can’t play tennis for the same time, and I’m not supposed to type, which restriction I understand, because at the moment my wrist is starting to throb like you did smash that hammer down upon it….

The sacrifices one makes…to blog.

P.S. I have really come around on this doctor’s office, by the way. Before the surgery, Nils asked if I needed some water. I inquired about a cup of coffee. (It was only ten in the morning, which, to my mind, is early to be operated on.) Two minutes later, someone brought me a darn good cup of coffee, with packets of sugar and a small pitcher of milk, on a bamboo tray, like something from a boutique hotel. If I had to lose some blood, dammit, at least I was going to be well-caffeinated.

Another Republican for Joe Lieberman

Posted on August 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Now Jack Kemp plans to campaign with Lieberman. What does this man (Lieberman, not Kemp) stand for, anyway?

Meanwhile, over at MediaMatters, they report that the AP continues to cite a poll showing Lieberman up by twelve points, when in fact the poll is two weeks old and there are at least four newer ones. In fact, the race is neck and neck…. (But that’s not the impression you’d get from reading the New York Times, either.)

I have to say, I’d love it if Lieberman lost twice…. Probably too much to hope for, but I will anyway.

Shots in the Arm

Posted on August 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

I’m off this morning for a little cancer surgery. (Nothing serious—just that little patch on my wrist.) I’ll be back later today….

Joe Lieberman’s Secret Friend

Posted on August 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In this week’s (9/4/06) New Republic, a correspondent named William C. Danvers writes to defend Joe Lieberman from any suggestion that Lieberman has “gone national” and forgotten the people of Connecticut. According to Danvers, “Joe Lieberman just does what he thinks is right.” Etc.

What Danvers, who lives in Arlington, VA, doesn’t say in his letter—and the New Republic apparently doesn’t bother to ask—is that he happens to be a political consultant who used to work for Lieberman in the Senate.

Relevant information, wouldn’t you think? It took me exactly six seconds (I’m not boasting, it’s just typing) to find that out on Google. You’d think the editors of a political magazine might check. And if they weren’t so deeply in the tank for Joe Lieberman, they probably would.

By the way, remember how Lieberman used to accuse Lamont of trying to buy the election? Lieberman has now raised almost $7 million in 2006 alone. How much of that money is in-state? Not much, I’ll bet. But he has outspent Ned Lamont by almost $3 million.

If he wins, Lieberman is going to have a lot of debts to repay.

The corruption of a senator continues….

Posted on August 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Ann Coulter Walks Off Hannity & Colmes

I’m not sure what’s the most interesting part of this video: the fact that Ann Coulter says that catching Osama Bin Laden is “irrelevant” and “things are going swimmingly” in Afghanistan; the fact that she seems lost and defensive in the interview; the fact that Sean Hannity lets her twist in the wind; or the fact that she actually appears to walk off the set. As always with Ann, it’s great TV…but for her, this time, it’s also ominous TV. Is the tide turning against her at last?