Sometimes we are led to believe that it’s the students, inspired by identity politics and other trendy ideas, who are the real problem in academia.
A Class Day speech at Harvard by Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana serves to remind us that it’s not just the kids. The faculty and administrators have some pretty rum ideas too.
It was a revealing speech. Heather Mac Donald comments on it in this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
Power imbalances were a big theme of Mr. Khurana’s remarks. He proposed to “interrogate” what it means to deserve something, whether being at Harvard or being successful in life.
The “capitalist ethos,” according to Mr. Khurana, tells us that “we deserve to win because of our skill, our hard work, and our contributions.” Mr. Khurana—who is also a professor of business and of sociology—claimed to be mystified by that belief.
In Monopoly, the board game Mr. Khurana called synonymous with the capitalist system, it’s the roll of the dice that determines “whether we land on Park Place or land in jail.” Monopoly is like real life, he concluded, which is often determined by factors beyond our control—above all by “those privileges sociologists call ‘structural inequities.’ ”
So, in the way that liberal commentators used to give the impression that they believed Ozzie and Harriet were real life fifties parents, as opposed to TV parents, the Harvard dean seems to regard the board game Monopoly as similarly real.
Of course his view of our system (it’s still our system, isn’t it?) ignores hard work, virtue, and all the other attributes that used to be hailed in graduation speeches in a simpler age (and, indeed, the attributes that make a Harvard education worthwhile).
But Mr. Khurana knows that he lives in a post-excelsior world:
In Mr. Khurana’s view, it’s time to stop using words like “deserve” and “deserving,” because they don’t account for the “systemic inequities” that play such large roles in our accomplishments. Harvard, he announced, has made progress in “acknowledging and naming the privilege” that makes the language of “deserving” so “insidious.”
And, Harvard grads, don’t indulge in any silly ideas about using your expensive education to improve your lives:
Mr. Khurana also urged listeners to junk the myth of the self-made person. He told his audience to focus instead on recognizing the “increasingly dynastic transmission of political, social and economic privilege governing” life in the U.S. and to work toward a sustainable, equitable society.
Fortunately, this year’s Harvard graduates had already embraced his vision for the future by selecting Al Gore—who leads us “by example to confront the challenges of our planet”—as the main Class Day speaker.
This is a deeply nihilistic view of human possibilities and human achievements.
It also seems to negate the idea of going to Harvard (unless of course, as is not entirely impossible, you see a Harvard degree as nothing more than a certification of your dynastic and social privilege).
Interestingly, Mr. Khurana’s own background seems to contraindicate his trendy blathering. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from India, apparently to take advantage of the stability, freedom, and opportunities offered in this country.
And, as Mac Donald notes, he’s simply flat out wrong about human achievement:
Inherited privilege or a random roll of the dice weren’t sufficient to make today’s business titans or their predecessors successful. Sergey Brin and Larry Page created Google out of a passion for discovery and an all-consuming desire to master computer engineering problems. Did they “deserve” their mathematical talent and entrepreneurial drive? The question is meaningless. But such innate gifts aren’t equally distributed. Only the most draconian government leveling could erase their effects.
Mr. Khurana accuses capitalism of fostering a “zero-sum” mentality. To the contrary, it is the socialist mind-set that insists Messrs. Brin and Page became billionaires by immiserating others, rather than by creating a product that satisfied the needs of countless people across the globe.
And everything Mr. Khurana said is inimical to the way Harvard works. Mac Donald asks:
If the concept of “deserving” is objectionable, Harvard could institute admission by lottery.
Mr. Khurana seems to be ushering in a new generation of graduation speakers: ones who peddle nihilism rather than inspiration.
It should also be noted that Mr. Khurana failed to mention two of his own recent achievements in his talk: his role in the move to banish single-sex social clubs ("safe spaces that are rife with imbalances"), and the removal of law professor Ronald Sullivan from oversight in an undergraduate dorm. Sullivan sin was to represent former mogul Harvey Weinstein. That Sullivan represented such an unpopular client in a rape case, Khurana said, put the "well-being" of students at risk.
A takeaway from the speech: why bother to go to Harvard?
For that matter, why bother to get ouf of bed, if what Mr. Khurana said is even remotely true.