Crimson, No Clover

Harvard revisited: outsiders, 'parlor liberals,' snobs, econ majors, and resisters

Most of my four years in Cambridge were spent figuring out how to do just that, and so my education became a test of will and ingenuity—finding ways to operate at the margins and still benefit from the university's fullness. The advantage of a school the size of Harvard is that while the nearly half of my graduating class who majored in government or economics may have dictated the tenor of the place, several small pockets of difference—if not quite resistance—were flourishing. It was easy to develop a passion about something and find a nurturing, if slightly undernourished, home for it.

"The problem of being a complete outsider," one particularly progressive Harvard lecturer is quoted as saying in Harvard Rules, "is that you have no power. But you have a certain sort of freedom as well." And it's that notion—because of and in spite of Harvard's prevailing structures—that allowed Harvard to be something more than a place of mythology. Douthat calls it, in a fit of tough love, "An incubator for an American ruling class that is smug, stratified, self-congratulatory, and intellectually adrift." Sure, and also a place where you can carve out a niche in relative silence while the university churns around you. In March, for the first time in the school's history, the faculty issued a vote of lack of confidence in its president. It was largely symbolic—the Harvard Corporation has say over any hiring or firing decisions—but in a way, in his bullheadedness, Summers got his wish. The hidebound institution had been awakened. The headphones were off.


Harvard Rules author Richard Bradley
photo: Richard Mitchell
Harvard Rules author Richard Bradley

Jon Caramanica has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Vice.

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