Learning from Berkeley

Posted by lex, on May 20, 2008


Former Harvard president Larry Summers was chased into the wilderness for the crime of noting that there were fewer undergraduates of the fairer sex pursuing math and science careers than their representation in the general population might otherwise suggest, and wondering aloud whether it might be worth looking into. But this impertinent asking of incorrect questions was not the scholar’s only heresy: He also went to a ROTC commissioning ceremony for several of his students. And actually spoke:

We as a nation are strong because we are free, because we are a nation that permits, nurtures, and encourages wonderful communities like this one where anything can be said and any article can be made, whenever it is a commitment to the pursuit of truth. Our strength as a nation rests upon our freedom.

But I would say equally to you – this is the point that must be understood but frankly is often misunderstood – that we are free because we are strong, and that freedom depends on our strength. All of us who cherish and pray for that freedom must also support those who contribute to the strength that maintains our freedom. There is much you can do and should argue about every aspect of our country’s policies but the idea that freedom depends on strength is one we should all be able to agree on.

ROTC of course was booted off the Harvard Yard during the Vietnam War, and one reason or another has been found to keep it off campus ever since. It might have been acceptable to the Harvard faculty if Summers had quietly indulged his perverse militarist fetishes in the back of the room, but by actually speaking to the graduating cadets, he put the university’s prestige on the line – a mistake his replacement has thus far avoided repeating.

Until now:

(His) successor, Drew Faust, did not attend last year’s ceremony. Recently, she announced she will attend this year’s ceremony. And in an email, a Harvard spokesman confirms that while President Faust has the “greatest admiration” for Harvard’s ROTC students, she has clearly stated that the opportunity to serve should be open to all Harvard students – and any reference she makes that day will be “respectfully and appropriately conveyed.” In other words, she reserves the right to use the event to voice disagreement with “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

What would this mean? Well, for the Harvard seniors who will be receiving the gold bars of a second lieutenant, it would mean a political note injected into what should be a day of pride and celebration. It would mean that they will be called to account for a political policy that they do not set. And it would mean that in their first moments as new officers, they will be told by the leader of their university that they serve an institution that isn’t, well, quite worthy of Harvard.

This is the kind of opportunity that only the president of an elite university is really evolved enough to savor: The chance to beatifically smile down at students who have attended her university – and helped to pay her salary – and tell them how much she admires the homophobic little wretches. And hey, good luck with all that combat ‘n stuff, too. That whole “defending our country” rigmarole.

To think, with all the advantages of an elite education they could have had lucrative and prestigious careers with private firms like the vast majority of their peers, and instead they chose to squander their youths in the dangerous and underpaid service of their country in a time of war.

There’s one born every minute.

But you know, give credit where it’s due: She’s got the school’s reputation to uphold. People might mistake Havard for a different school, say that west coast, low brow bastion of cultural conservatism and naked militarism: UC Berkeley.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Politics and Culture

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