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What’s really going on at Harvard?

It’s a seller’s market for intersectional academics


A pedestrian walks through a gate on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass., on Jan. 2. Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne

What’s really going on at Harvard?
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When it comes to real estate, we’ve all heard the mantra: location, location, location. I’ve lived through at least four seller’s markets in real estate, and I’ve seen the mind-numbing power of a seller’s market on the intellects of otherwise prudent people.

When I was a pastor on Cape Cod in the early 2000s an elderly widow in my church lived in a ramshackle house, falling down all around her. But it was on a prime piece of land, on the water in fact, with ready access to the sea. The house was worthless, but the land was worth well over $1 million—real money in those days. She often asked the men of the church to help with small repairs—and sometimes not so small.

One time I said to her, “Beth, why not sell the place and buy a condo here, and another one in Florida? You know your kids will sell the moment you’re gone, and the new owner will tear the old place down and build a mansion.” She couldn’t bear the thought, for the house was full of cherished memories. But I was right, and the kids didn’t value those memories, and the moment she was gone the place was on the market. It sold in a day for more than they asked. I knew it would. They’re not making land like that anymore, and demand was high. It sold for crazy money.

Laws of supply and demand apply to other things, too. And a superheated market can make you do crazy things—as Harvard University recently learned.

I’ve had a foot in the academy my entire adult life. I taught philosophy to undergraduates for a decade, I’ve been an officer in an association of scholars, and I’m now on a college board. So, I think I have a pretty good basis for judging trends in the academy. And today the high demand and short supply of intersectional minorities has sent the price of hiring them into the stratosphere. Schools are paying crazy prices for shabby accomplishment and toxic ideas.

Back when schools like Harvard commanded the heights of academic achievement, they could demand real achievement from rising scholars. They still can if you’re a middle-aged white man. If you’re one of those, you’re not going to get a top administrative position at Harvard these days unless you’re a combination of Albert Einstein and Dale Carnegie—impressive smarts and stellar business acumen. That’s the only way you’ll beat out anyone from the approved list of hires seeing as the demand for such people is through the roof. The reason, of course, is everybody wants them, and there are so few of them.

When it comes to intersectionality, Claudine Gay made Harvard look good—until she didn’t.

And like real estate, it often comes down to optics. A house with a view of the ocean is in crazy demand, and there are only so many properties like that out there. And when it comes to intersectionality, Claudine Gay made Harvard look good—until she didn’t.

You always had to squint to overlook her mediocre scholarship. But like the widow’s real estate, she had something in short supply. But as for academic output, you just had to keep on squinting.

But things can always get worse if you can’t improve a property. And once Claudine Gay had testified before Congress and gave everyone a reason to notice she’s rather unaccomplished, some people had a harder time looking past things. In fact, they’ve noticed some things for the first time, like the fact that she only has 11 published scholarly articles, and a number of them look like they include plagiarism.

Harvard Corporation put up a good show of support. But we all know that was because the optics of firing her would look very bad. But keeping her also looked bad. The only question in my mind was, how long would it take before things looked so bad Harvard looks less bad letting her go? We just learned how long. Yesterday, she resigned. With examples of plagiarism growing, I suspect that was because she was told she would be fired if she didn’t.

In the end too many people noticed that it’s impossible to reconcile “veritas” (Harvard’s motto), and plagiarism. And the instances of suspected plagiarism just keep surfacing. Fifty, last I heard.

In the end even the wealthiest and most prestigious university in America had to live up to its reputation. Less prestigious institutions should take note. Hopefully, the member schools of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities learned a lesson. But I’m not counting on it. Many of the people I know in that world have followed the trends set by schools like Harvard, and unless there is pressure from the outside, they won’t change a thing.

I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I’m not.


C.R. Wiley

C.R. Wiley is a pastor and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of The Household and the War for the Cosmos and In the House of Tom Bombadil.


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