The Harvard Crimson reported this week that Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, an accomplished historian of the Civil War, will dedicate a plaque at Wadsworth House in Harvard Yard to four slaves who worked at Harvard in the 18th century, known as Bilhah, Venus, Titus, and Juba.
But Harvard is not stopping at recognizing the history of slavery. Instead, Faust announced, Harvard will acknowledge the “legacy” of slavery into the present day.
The plaque is Harvard’s latest response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which prompted the law school to ditch its colorful shield in March, which had honored a family of 18th century donors who happened to own slaves.
In February, Harvard’s house “masters” — the resident faculty members in dormitories for upperclassmen — agreed that they will now be called “resident deans.” (There was no historical connection between the “masters” and slavery.)
In an op-ed for the Crimson Wednesday, Faust announced that in addition to the memorial plaque, she is convening a committee of historians to help Harvard identify “other sites on campus that should be similarly recognized as significant symbols of Harvard’s connections to slavery.”
Next March, Harvard will also host “a major conference on universities and slavery, offering a broader exploration of the complexities of our past,” bringing the cause nationwide.
… Harvard was directly complicit in America’s system of racial bondage from the College’s earliest days in the 17th century until slavery in Massachusetts ended in 1783, and Harvard continued to be indirectly involved through extensive financial and other ties to the slave South up to the time of emancipation. This is our history and our legacy, one we must fully acknowledge and understand in order to truly move beyond the painful injustices at its core.
Oddly, she makes no mention whatsoever of Harvard’s deep history of involvement in the abolition of slavery. There is no campaign to honor abolitionists as such — though abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner is memorialized in a statue on Massachusetts Avenue, outside the university’s gates. For a historian of the Civil War, this is a significant oversight — and, at the core, a political one, reveailing the true purpose at the core of Harvard’s new campaign.
Note carefully how Faust describes the path forward: “There is a second essential purpose in confronting the distressing realities of America’s racial past and Harvard’s place within it. We need to understand the attitudes and assumptions that made the oppressions of slavery possible in order to overcome their vestiges in our own time.”
Certainly defenders of slavery relied on “attitudes and assumptions” to make their case, but to describe the slave trade as an outcome of cultural insensitivity is a gross distortion. And what “vestiges” remain of the idea that one human being may own another, 233 years after slavery ended in the state? Final exams? Graduate student pay?
Faust explains: “If we can better understand how oppression and exploitation could seem commonplace to so many of those who built Harvard, we may better equip ourselves to combat our own shortcomings and to advance justice and equality in our own time.”
If there is anything Harvard does not stand for, it is equality. On Friday, Harvard announced proudly that it had only accepted 5.2% of the more than 39,000 undergraduate applicants for the fall of 2016, a record low. Harvard stands for excellence; “equality” is a defense against envy.
And what “justice” does Faust have in mind? What racial barriers still exist — other than Harvard’s affirmative action policies?
The equality Faust has in mind is not the utopian idea that social conditions must be arranged such that every human being on planet Earth should be born with an equal chance of admission to the College 18 years later. It is, rather, equality as a kind of intellectual cudgel against conservatism in academic life, and against individual liberty itself.
There is a difference between recognizing the “history” and “legacy” of slavery. History is fact; legacy is politics.
A historical approach would mount a plaque for the four slaves, but would also reject the stupid idea of changing the House masters’ title. The legacy of slavery is an interesting topic of academic debate, but to force a university to acknowledge a highly politicized interpretation of that debate is an insult to the purpose for which Harvard exists.
Faust concludes her op-ed: “At its heart, this endeavor must be about ‘Veritas’…”. It is anything but that, as she reveals by leaving out any mention of abolition.
Harvard has enslaved itself to the leftist mob. Nothing more.