On September 3 of this year, Lawrence Bacow, President of Harvard University, sent a welcome letter to everyone in that community. It was a letter filled as one might expect with expansive platitudes about “traditions” being affirmed and our living in turbulent times. It is a letter that could have been delivered at a commencement address or a general convocation on “How To Make A Better World That Is Acceptable To The Ivy League.”
But the focus of the letter – delivered by a man leading a massive research institution, an institution with outstanding scholars in every branch of knowledge – was President Trump’s immigration policy. In July of this year, he had written of his concerns about delays, disruptions, and cancellations of various student visas to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. And, also in July, had visited lawmakers in Washington, DC about the same issues, and also about new taxes on institutions of higher education. Obviously, he was not satisfied with those meetings as he now felt the need to vent his concerns to the entire Harvard community, including alumni.
In his letter he alludes to students and/or researchers from certain countries being disrupted in their plans to come to Harvard, but does not name the countries. And he is frustrated because our government is citing national security concerns which he obviously thinks are exaggerated or even unnecessary. Since self-control is a virtue in the Harvard community and among all highly-educated, civilized persons, even though he is clearly pissed off, he does not say so directly.
In a way, one might say he is being “honest.” Instead of being simply upbeat about what he anticipates will be many achievements by the Harvard community during the coming year, he admits to having this immigration concern, and that it is making him fretful.
What’s going on? In voicing this concern, he is identifying with the left’s concern about Trump’s desire to cut off migration of illegals through the Southern border. He does not say so specifically, but, with unique Ivy League decorum, he is joining in with the crowd of Trump critics about his stated intentions to get the flow of immigration under control. He does not come out and chant, “Tear down the stinking wall, we don’t want no USA at all,” but by insisting that immigration management by the Trump administration is hurting Harvard, he is virtue-signaling that he is on the side of all those who are, rightly, concerned and even dismayed about Trump’s immigration policies and projected policies.
How does he reveal this? In the very same “welcome letter” [sic], in the paragraph immediately after the one dealing with concerns about advanced students or researchers being able to come to Harvard on a smooth path, he suddenly shifts gears. From comments about “American competitiveness” and “our country’s universities greatly benefit from the presence and participation of talented people from around the world,” he refers solemnly to his family background. Now he wants to grab our emotions with tear jerking comments about his parents. He writes: “Not just as a university president, but as the son of refugees and as a citizen who deeply believes in the American dream, I am disheartened by aspects of the proposed new criteria for people seeking to enter our country.” And he adds, “Had these same rules been in place when my parents each immigrated, I doubt they would have been admitted, and I would not be writing this message today.” He now generalizes the predicament Harvard is facing about certain foreign students gaining a path to admission to his parents’ situation (his mother was a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp and his father also was in flight from persecution in Europe).
We don’t know the situation of the foreign students or what countries they are coming from. But we do know that this is a rhetorical device whereby he is pointing to the Trump declared Emergency at the southern border. It may be that the foreign students who want to come to Harvard and find their travel disrupted are children of millionaire or billionaire Middle Eastern princes and industrialists. Maybe delays in their arrival are so offensive to President Bacow because the delays are interfering with the cash flow into Harvard’s coffers. But by this shift to his parents, he wants the readers of his letter to think that his concern is on the same page with many of the Leftocrats reading his letter.
He is implying that trying to stop the smooth flow of students and researchers into Harvard (again, we do not know the number of cases he is referring to) is like trying to stop the flow of undocumented persons who are in flight for their lives from Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, or Guatemala. He wants to leave the reader with the impression – let them come, no matter how unskilled, no matter their legal status – we’ll find a spot for them at Harvard. Of course, he is not making that offer, but by immediately introducing the extreme plight of his parents before they came, he is transmuting his criticism about Harvard student visa delays into the mainstream issue of our day.
We ask simply: does not the President of a great university have anything better to do than to snipe and gripe about the immigration policies of the President of the USA? What kind of doggerel is this coming from Harvard’s President? Harvard is a place with much enlightened scholarship, billions of dollars of endowments ($37 billion in 2017), scientific ventures galore, scholars in every field of endeavor, and all he can find to communicate about — I should say whine about — is President Trump’s immigration policy.
True to the Harvard style he does not want to sound contentious while in fact being very contentious. He tries to sound restrained when in fact his remarks are stirring up trouble that does not have to be done at this time or in this way. What a foul and pathetic way to begin the school year. He complains bitterly, but lacks the cajones to address the matter in a more specific way. He does not say explicitly what policies are egregious.
Sorry Mr. President. I saw this arrogance wearing a Uriah Heep false face of humility during my seven years at Harvard. I doubt it was there in 1636 when Harvard College was founded. Rather, this writer is certain that the false face and political pandering were introduced gradually as Harvard distanced itself from its Puritan roots, and then broke entirely from Calvinist doctrine.
And lastly, as a postscript to this analysis of President Bacow’s whiny, overly political welcome letter, it should be noted that he did not sign the letter “President Lawrence Bacow” or even “Lawrence Bacow.” He signed it simply “Larry.” He’s President of Harvard University. His salary is more than $2 million a year. But he’s just one of the boys, just another hardcore anti-Trumper who can be counted on when the going gets rough.