06 Mar 2019

Harvard Checks “Climate” — Snowflakes Mustn’t Melt!

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Oh, me! Oh, my! Can Harvard students possibly bear up and survive in a climate in which their own House Master/Faculty Dean (and Law Professor) proposes to represent a cad like Harvey Weinstein accused of numberless cases of crude advances, sexual harrassment, and generally being a masher?

Harvard Crimson asks that important question, and apparently is asking it on behalf of the management of Harvard itself. Presumably in the case of unfavorable responses, Harvard’s Administration will lay in a copious supply of smelling salts, fainting couches, and gallon jugs of Lydia Pinkham’s. There will doubtless as well be long queues of desperate Harvard students lining up for counseling.

“Doctor, how could he? How could he represent that… that beast?”

Harvard College’s institutional research office sent an anonymous, online survey to Winthrop House residents Tuesday as part of a review process aimed at addressing students’ concerns about Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.’s decision to represent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as he faces charges of sexual assault.

The survey asks students a series of questions about whether they feel welcome in the House. It also asks them to score Winthrop on a five-point scale based on whether they believe the House is “hostile” or “friendly,” “contentious” or “collegial,” and “sexist” or “non-sexist,” among other metrics.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced that former Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 would lead a “climate review” in an email to Winthrop residents on Feb. 25. Khurana wrote that the College decided to launch the review after hearing concerns surrounding support structures for students in the House following Sullivan’s decision to defend Weinstein.

Harvard College Institutional Research wrote in its Tuesday email that in trying to examine the “climate” of Winthrop, the survey will use Pennsylvania State University professor Sue Rankin’s definition of climate: “the current attitudes, behaviors and standards of faculty, staff, administrators and students concerning the level of respect for individual needs, abilities and potential.”

In response to Sullivan’s decision to join Weinstein’s defense team, some students started protests and wrote open letters calling for his removal as faculty dean.

The survey sent Tuesday begins with a question about students’ level of satisfaction with the House’s climate. It continues by asking students to indicate their level of agreement — from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” — with a series of statements evaluating their experiences in the House.
Some of the statements read “I feel I belong in Winthrop House” and “Winthrop House has a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Another question asks students to rank the House on 12 different characteristics including disrespectful or respectful, elitist or non-elitist, homophobic or non-homophobic, and racist or non-racist.

The survey closes with two demographic questions and a space for additional comments.
The College will use the results gathered from Winthrop affiliates to guide any further action, Khurana wrote in his original email.

RTWT

I try to imagine the Yale Daily News, back in 1966, inquiring if we “felt welcome” in our Yale freshman dorms or residential colleges, and I have to hold on to the arms of my chair not to fall out of it laughing.

Can you imagine not feeling welcome in one of the poshest, most luxurious undergraduate colleges in the country and the world?

I am reminded of the comedy film, in which the upper class mother points out to her unhappy adolescent daughter: “You know, you will never again, in the rest of your life, be this rich or this thin!”

A friend of mine used to remark ruefully that life after Yale amounted to constant struggle to try to live as well as you did as a Yale undergraduate.

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