11 Jan 2017

Harvard’s Brand Besmirched

Yalies got Harvard fans to hold up these signs in 2004.

Harvard-man Teddy Wayne does not feel like dropping the H-bomb.

[A]fter several incidents that have besmirched the university’s reputation, and in an era of heightened self-consciousness over privilege, that formerly contrived embarrassment may be ceding to sincere shame and a reassessment of the merits of a Harvard education.

The university has been in the news quite a bit lately. Its gargantuan $35.7 billion endowment, the largest in the country by far, was cited in articles about dining-hall workers who went on a successful three-week strike for a salary increase to $35,000 per year. The school canceled the men’s soccer team’s season after the discovery of a 2012 “scouting report” in which team members rated the sexual appeal of individuals on the women’s team; the men’s cross-country team was just placed on athletic probation for doing the same thing in 2014.

Also, Harvard had the sixth-most-reported rape cases on campus in 2014, and its law school figured prominently in the controversial documentary about campus sexual assault, “The Hunting Ground.” Students in all-male final clubs, Harvard’s longstanding and exclusive version of fraternities, will now be penalized for their membership (as will members of female final clubs).

The brand has also had an unexpected collision with that of the incoming presidential administration. Stephen K. Bannon, Donald J. Trump’s chief strategist and the former executive chair of Breitbart News, is a 1985 graduate of Harvard Business School. More than 600 female students and alumnae signed a letter to The New York Times denouncing his selection by Mr. Trump, accusing him of engineering “a movement that preaches white nationalism, racism, misogyny and hatred.” Mr. Bannon dropped out of a postelection event at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, perhaps because of a planned large protest.

Daniel Golden’s 2006 book, “The Price of Admission,” about how the rich buy their way into elite schools, has become newly relevant for its disclosure that Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, received acceptance to Harvard despite an unremarkable academic record, possibly thanks to his father’s donation of $2.5 million. (A spokeswoman for Mr. Kushner denied the allegation, noting that Mr. Kushner graduated with honors; Mr. Golden observed that, in a climate of rampant grade inflation, so did about 90 percent of Mr. Kushner’s graduating class of 2003.)

Beyond the unsavory headlines and questionable associations, swelling populist resentment for bastions of exclusivity and obscene wealth — from many of Mr. Trump’s supporters and critics alike — may inspire alumni of Harvard, and similarly elite schools, to be even less conspicuous about where they received their degrees.


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