Why Americans Love to Hate Harvard

Derek Bok in Harvard Magazine: IN DECEMBER, the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT were summoned to appear before a congressional committee. For five hours, they were subjected to withering interrogation about the response of their universities to the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students following the massacre of 1,200 people in Israel and the subsequent invasion of Gaza. In response to repeated questions about how their universities would deal with students calling for “intifada” or chanting “from the river to the sea,” the answers the presidents gave in seeking to explain the intricacies of the First Amendment provoked an angry response from several members of the committee for being too legalistic and even calls by a few for the presidents to resign. Within days, M. Elizabeth Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania, stepped down from her position. And January 2, Claudine Gay, facing a growing number of plagiarism accusations, announced her resignation as president of Harvard University. “This is just the beginning of exposing the rot in our most ‘prestigious’ higher-education institutions,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik [’06], Republican of New York, after Gay resigned.

The public shaming and subsequent resignations of the leaders of some of America’s top universities may shock some observers. After all, these institutions dominate every list of the world’s finest universities. Their faculty members figure prominently in each new crop of Nobel Prize winners. Students still clamor to gain admission, to such a point that Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford admit fewer than 5 percent of the students who apply. And year after year, these universities receive hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from individuals and foundations.

Yet these same institutions are under intense attack from both ends of the political spectrum. Liberals berate them for not doing more to enroll low-income students, pressure them to divest from companies that pollute the environment, and urge them to pay reparations for their complicity with slavery centuries ago. Meanwhile, conservatives—chiefly governors, legislators, and right-wing pundits—accuse them of indoctrinating students with liberal beliefs and paying excessive attention to the welfare of minority…

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