Features

Harvard vs. education

National | Campus publication reveals the narrow-minded prejudice that has overtaken a once-great school

Issue: "Gunpoint evangelist," Oct. 9, 1999

Harvard reveals all!

Well, not completely, but the revelations in the recent Harvard magazine border on true confession. The article, "The Thirty Years' War: Cultural conservatives struggle with the Harvard they love," by contributing editor Janet Tassel, admits that America's most celebrated university has become narrow-minded and disconnected from the rest of society.

"There's this presumption that the rest of the country thinks like Cambridge," notes senior John Couriel. He sees a unique role for fellow conservatives at Harvard: "Sometimes I think we're here to remind the liberals that there's an America out there that doesn't think like Harvard."

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Harvard University-founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Mass., as a training school for ministers-has become the icon of American higher education with a $13 billion endowment and an annual income of $1.6 billion. Eighteen thousand students attend, with undergraduates paying a hefty $32,000 a year in tuition, fees, and expenses.

Even beyond the gaudy numbers, Harvard considers itself so far above other institutions of higher education that it is virtually unaccountable. It is not even accredited by a regional accrediting association-Harvard doesn't need it. But, according to Harvard magazine, the prospects are slim of obtaining a broad education in an environment open to the world of ideas.

Liberal positions-pro-abortion, anti-military, racial preferences, radical feminism, and religious relativism-are considered gospel on campus. At the divinity school, Professor of Jewish Studies Jon Levenson admits, "Harvard Divinity School prides itself on its liberalism and open-mindedness, its embrace of diversity, but in fact there is no diversity in those issues. Political correctness is the new orthodoxy." Some students on the university side of the campus agree. Harvard's Ms. Tassel quotes one recent graduate who claims that a prejudice against Christianity pervades Harvard, quite a contrast to its founding purpose.

Ask Christopher King. A junior at Harvard, Mr. King was accused of having ties to religious groups and as a result lost his bid to become president of the Undergraduate Council. After the election, he lamented, "I have struggled with the fact that in 1999 at Harvard you could be so persecuted for being a Christian."

Harvard is not alone in higher education's cloistered world of liberalspeak. But the left-leaning tendencies are only symptoms of what many are discovering: Higher education is increasingly unable to provide academic and moral training for the next generation.

In spite of America's profound prosperity, teenagers struggle for identity, significance, and purpose in a culture unable to provide a foundation for moral and intellectual truth. The conclusions of a study by the American Medical Association and the National Association of State Boards of Education tell us what we already knew: "Never before has one generation of American teenagers been less healthy, less cared-for, or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age."

Last year, the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement in Teaching issued a scathing indictment of the status of undergraduate education. Many students graduate, the report claims, "without knowing how to think logically, write clearly, or speak coherently." Most undergraduates at research institutions are victims of boring freshman classes taught by unprepared teaching assistants or "tenured drones" lecturing from yellowed notes. The report concludes, "The university has given students too little that will be of real value beyond a credential that will help them get their first jobs."

Social critic and New York University professor Neil Postman agrees, noting that "modern secular education is failing because it has no moral, social, or intellectual center." The result, he claims, is not an educated person, but "a technocrat's ideal-a person with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketing skills."

Moral bankruptcy follows intellectual bankruptcy. Alcohol abuse, grade inflation, and a lack of personal accountability are no longer considered "problems" but become "expected benefits" for students at today's universities. The fact that the college years are crucial for the development of moral priorities makes the failure of higher education a cause for alarm.

Fortunately, some colleges fight upstream and provide an education of breadth and depth in an environment of spiritual and moral development, but these institutions are few.

Harvard once provided such an education. Inscribed on an archway above a gate leading into the Harvard Yard, an early seal of Harvard is visible. Chiseled in stone, the seal declares Christo et Ecclesiae ("For Christ and the Church"). On this coat of arms are two books turned upward, symbolizing the truth that can be discovered by study and the senses. A third book is overturned, indicating truth that can only be known through God and His Spirit.

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