I went to Harvard. Once. Which is to say, I walked around the campus one day a long, long time ago during a visit to Boston. It was pleasant enough. It was almost as pretty as Wesleyan, Princeton, the University of Virginia, Duke, Chapel Hill, Michigan, Michigan State, Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, Claremont, McGill, Cambridge, Leiden, Heidelberg, Tübingen, and at least a dozen or so other campuses that I’ve sampled over the years.
Harvard is, of course, the oldest American college. It’s also considered the pinnacle, the zenith, the acme of higher education in the United States. But why? Back when I was studying English at Stony Brook, an accreditation committee gave our department a higher rating than Harvard’s. But that didn’t matter in the slightest after you graduated. On the job market, a Harvard diploma was gold. Stony Brook? Ha!
No, Harvard is Harvard because it’s…Harvard. U.S. News and World Report, which presumes to list the “best colleges” year after year, admits that its ratings are based largely on reputation. Which makes no sense. Everybody knows what Harvard’s reputation is. The point of a rating should be to indicate whether or not a reputation is justified.
And the plain fact is that, no, the reputation of Harvard, at least when it comes to the humanities and social sciences, isn’t justified. And the same goes for the rest of the Ivy League, as well as for Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and all those boutique establishments like Oberlin and Swarthmore. Because these are the places where “woke” ideology has made the deepest inroads – and done the most damage.
On December 15, Claudine Gay, a political scientist who specializes in Critical Race Theory and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and who currently serves as Harvard’s Dean of Arts and Sciences, was selected to be the university’s next president, starting on July 1, 2023. The usual suspects cheered her appointment wildly, most of them celebrating her deep warmth and compassion and noting with glee that she would be Harvard’s second woman president and first black president. What a step forward for the oppressed!
(Speaking of which, Gay grew up partly in Saudi Arabia, where her father worked as a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and she went to Phillips Exeter, Stanford, and, of course, Harvard.)
Chris Brunet, who posts frequently at Substack about academic malfeasance, has written extensively about what he describes as Gay’s “corruption, incompetence, and wokeness,” not to mention her “fraudulent” research. He’s also collected anonymous comments by some of her colleagues about her apparently stunning academic mediocrity. Some excerpts:
- “Does there exist a most egregious affirmative action case in political science? Extremely low productivity, combined with lack of methodological soundness, and replicability issues which may be due to incompetence, dishonesty, or both. Virtually her entire measly body of work is flawed.”
- “She received all promotions and accolades because she was held to the much lower bar that REP [race, ethnicity, and politics] scholars are being held to….Even in REP, it’s hard to find an example of such a thin record of fatally flawed work that doesn’t replicate, full of incompetent mistakes on basic methods, and such an abruptly declining trajectory post-tenure.”
- “Unfortunately she has undermined the credibility of minority candidates, and is a bad role model to them, since her case leads them to believe that you can climb the ladder by playing the race card no matter how flawed and fraudulent your work is, and no matter how low your productivity is.”
In a December 16 post, Francis Menton, a blogger previously unknown to me, discussed two of Gay’s signal accomplishments during her time as dean. One of them involved Ryan Enos, a top-drawer Harvard race hustler, whose career was imperiled when he was caught faking data. Gay ran to his rescue, using her influence to have the case dismissed. “The reason Gay is so aggressively covering for Enos,” explained Brunet at the time, is that he works in the same niche subfield of “racial threat theory” like her; they cite each other in their papers extensively. Despite this conflict of interest, Gay did not recuse herself from investigating Enos. Rather, she used the opportunity to aggressively cover up his research misconduct.
When Brunet examined all the facts of the case, he concluded that “Claudine Gay and Ryan Enos are toast.” Alas, no. It doesn’t work that way anymore. These two are just too PC to fire.
Gay’s other big achievement as dean involved one Roland Fryer. Like Gay and Enos, he’s a black professor at Harvard. But that’s where the similarities end. Abandoned by his mother, Fryer was raised by his grandmother and other relatives, including a crack dealer. He attended the University of Texas at Arlington on an athletic scholarship, earned a Ph.D. from Penn State, then did postgraduate work at the University of Chicago. At 30 he became the youngest African American ever to receive tenure at Harvard. Glenn Loury, the distinguished economist (who’s also black), has called Fryer “the most gifted economist of his generation.”
Most important of all, while the rubbish produced by Gay and Enos in the name of scholarship couldn’t be more consistent with prevailing academic orthodoxies, Fryer’s splendid and pathbreaking work, as Loury puts it, “challenge[s] the status quo” by “upend[ing] many commonly held assumptions about race, discrimination, education, and police violence.” For example, he showed that blacks and Latinos are no more likely than whites to be shot when interacting with police. Such work, notes Loury, requires not just brilliance but fearlessness. And while Gay and Enos aren’t out to solve the problems facing black Americans but, rather, to reinforce the claim that those problems are all caused by systemic racism, Fryer has said that his “life’s work is about making those communities better.”
Can’t have that! Which is where Gay comes in. A few years ago, to quote Loury again, Fryer “was accused of sexual harassment by a disgruntled ex-assistant. In my opinion and that of many others, those accusations are baseless.” An investigation by the New York Times supported Loury’s take. So did a short documentary (which can be viewed on YouTube) by Rob Montz.
But Gay didn’t care. After Harvard’s Title IX office recommended that Fryer undergo sensitivity training, she dismissed that suggestion as far too lenient and urged the president of Harvard, Lawrence Bacow, to revoke Fryer’s tenure and kick him to the curb – in short, destroy his career. It would’ve been the first dismissal of a tenured Harvard professor in well over a century. Bacow refused. But a committee suspended Fryer for two years: his research lab was shut down, his projects halted, his teaching stopped.
And who was the most powerful member of the committee that did this to him? None other than Gay, whom Menton identifies as “the enforcer-in-chief of wokist orthodoxy at Harvard.” “At Claudine Gay’s Harvard,” Menton observes, “there are the right kind of blacks, and the wrong kind. The wrong kind will be taught to know their place.”
The entire Gay-Fryer episode, commented the Norwegian journalist Arnt Følgero in a recent profile of Fryer, “is an example of how far the left is willing to go.” Peter W. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, summed up the whole nasty business as follows: “The higher the educational institution, the more low-down the tactics.” Fryer, lamented Wood, was “another human offering to the gods of wokeness.” And Montz, producer of the aforementioned documentary, has this to say: “Roland’s work represents a mortal threat to some of the most powerful black people at Harvard” – not least Gay, “a silky-smooth corporate operator” whose “career and reputation were directly threatened by Roland’s work.”
Brunet summed the whole drama up as follows: “While Claudine felt the need to protect Enos based on his research agenda, she felt threatened by Roland Fryer’s heterodox research agenda because he published papers with uncomfortable data that do not fit the politically correct narrative — such as the fact that there are no racial differences in officer-involved shootings. So Claudine Gay lynched him.” After learning that Gay would be Harvard’s next president, Brunet threw in the towel: “Alas, I have no will left to fight. I have been totally buckbroken by this saga….truth doesn’t matter, only power matters. You win, wokes.”
All these shabby power moves, moreover, have been going on at a time when, after being turned down by a district court and a court of appeals, a group of Asian-American plaintiffs who are suing Harvard over its patently unjust affirmative-action policies may well win out in the Supreme Court – and, with any luck, spell the beginning of the end of the reign of low-grade affirmative-action hires at what looks less and less like America’s finest university.
As John Yoo and Wen Fa wrote in the October issue of the New Criterion, “[a]n Asian American applicant in the fourth-lowest decile has less than a 1 percent chance of being admitted” to Harvard. But for a black kid in the same decile, the corresponding figure is 12.8 percent – which is almost exactly equal to the proportion of top-decile Asian Americans who get in.
Why such disparity? Because blacks’ relatively low test scores are officially blamed on systemic racism – which, of course, requires radical compensatory action – while Asians’ unusually high scores are treated not as evidence that they’ve managed, through intense self-discipline and study, to overcome anti-Asian bias, but as proof that Asians benefit from some variant on white privilege.
Dare one suggest that the Asian-Americans who score so terrifically on standardized tests might know a thing or two from which many black Americans could learn? Well, one thing’s clear: you’d better not make such a suggestion at Harvard, where helping young black people to get better educations and improve their lot in life is the last thing that Claudine Gay and others of her ilk are interested in.
Which is why Harvard, by rejecting so many brilliant Asians, has probably done them a magnificent service. Better that they spend four years at some other institution of higher education – perhaps even a relatively cheap (gasp!) state college – where they’ll actually learn something, than waste four years at Harvard, which has reinvented Asians as pseudo-whites (and hence as members of the oppressor class), and where, under the control of people like Claudia Gay, serious but politically inconvenient scholarship is anathema while spouting the right kind of ideological propaganda can take you a long, long way indeed.