In Harvard's Defense

In Harvard's Defense

I’ve already defended Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), so now it’s my turn to defend the Harvard Crimson–or, more precisely, Harvard itself. 

Conservatives are having fun with a recent Crimson editorial admonishing conservatives not to apply to the school if they intend to trash it later. While the editorial is a typical example of liberal intolerance and Crimson pretentiousness, it also attempts, rather poorly, to make a valid point about school pride.

I’m proud of having gone to Harvard, twice. I’ve never held my degrees over anybody. But I am proud of them, because it took a huge amount of work to get in, and because I’ve used the knowledge I gained there every day since. I would not say I was happy there–it can be miserable–but I did make a few good friends, and I courted my wife on the basis of a mutual Harvard connection. That has since made me very happy indeed.

Conservatives are suspicious of Harvard for understandable reasons. It has long been a greenhouse for exotic left-wing radicalism (which I embraced eagerly in my first few years there). It incubated Barack Obama and his elitist clique, sending them forth into the world with terrible ideas such as Derrick Bell’s Critical Race Theory. Yet it has also produced conservative greats such as Antonin Scalia, and future great Tom Cotton.

I would further add in Harvard’s favor that it was, under president Drew Gilpin Faust, the first Ivy League institution to welcome the military’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) back to campus. True, the faculty had drummed out Faust’s predecessor, Larry Summers, for daring to raise a scientific question about women’s under-representation in the sciences. But the Harvard student body at the time rallied to Summers’s defense.

I have always declined the invitation by fellow conservatives to slam my alma mater. In 2009, when I confronted Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) at a Kennedy School event over his responsibility for the subprime mortgage crisis, our exchange went viral and caught the attention of Fox News and the conservative blogosphere. Neil Cavuto asked whether my debate had incurred the ire of my liberal professors. Quite the opposite, I explained.

In fact, I had received congratulations from some of the most liberal professors on the Law School campus, including at least one who had been close to Obama during his time as a student. Whether they were glad to see Barney Frank taken down a peg, or were just excited to see a student in the news, I did not know. But they did not recoil at the fact that I was a conservative Republican, scoring a few points for the other side.

In our battle against left-wing bias in higher education, we conservatives would do well to shed the notion that students have little responsibility for their own education. I eventually found my way to conservatism because I was curious about ideas, and the redundant orthodoxies of left-wing professors had begun to bore me. I also learned, in between degrees, how bad the real-world consequences of those left-wing ideas are.

It is easier, and probably more effective, to equip curious students with conservative ideas rather than to dislodge tenured radicals or plead for conservative faculty on the basis of “diversity” arguments. 

As for Harvard itself, they may not have realized it, but the editors of the Crimson have defended a conservative principle: respect for the alma mater. It’s not always warranted, but it deserves at least some consideration.