Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A plug for "Blown to Bits"

A friend who got a copy of Blown to Bits: Your Life Liberty and Happiness After the Digital Explosion when it came out five years ago just got around to reading the privacy chapter and is blown away (sorry) for the way it anticipates issues in the Snowden revelations, and the Eggers novel The Circle and Joe Nocera's column about it. To tell the truth, when I read the Nocera column, I said to myself "so what else is new?" and went back to preparing my classes. Still, it's nice to have someone note the things I and my colleagues Hal Abelson and Ken Ledeen talked about before they were generally apparent. Here are a few anticipatory quotes my friend pulled.

"With corporations trying to make money from us and the government trying to protect us, civil libertarians are a weak third voice when they warn that we may not want others to know so much about us." 

"The Prime Minister [Gordon Brown] had to apologize to the British nation because among the things that have been blown to bits is the presumption that no jjnior staffer could do that much damange by mailing a small parcel."

"The same kinds of clustering algorithms work on patterns of telephone calls. You can learn a lot by knowing who is calling or emailing whom, even if you don't know what they are saying to each other -- especially if you know th time of the communications and can correlate them with the time of other events."

"The snoopy neighbor is a classic American stock figure -- the busybody who watches how many liquor bottles are in your trash, or tries to figure out whose Mercedes is regularly parked in your driveway.... But in Cyberspace, we are all neighbors. We can all check up on each other, without even opening the curtains a crack."

"The government creates projects, the media and civil liberties groups raise serious privacy concerns, the projects are cancelled, and new ones arise to take their place. The cycle seems to be endless. In spite of Americans' traditional suspicions about government surveillance of their private lives, the cycle seems to be almost an inevitable consequence of Americans' concerns about their security..."

[On the failure of the Warren-Brandeis notion of privacy rights:] "Throughout the twentieth century there were simply too many good reasons for not leaving people alone, and too many ways in which people preferred not to be left alone. And in the U.S., First Amendment rights stood in the way of privacy rights. As a general rule, the government simply cannot stop me from saying anything...about your private affairs..."

"Many privacy-shattering things have happened fo us, some with our cooperation and some not. As a result, the sense of personal privacy is very different today than it was two decades ago."

"It is time to admit that we don't even really know what we want. The bits are everywhere; there simply is no locking them down, and no one really wants to do that anymore. The meaning of privacy has changed, and we do not have a good way of describing it. It is not the right to be left alone..... It is not the right to keep our private information to ourselves....."

And finally, the conclusion of the chapter:

In 1984, the pervasive, intrusive technology could be turned off:

As O’Brien passed the telescreen a thought seemed to strike him. He stopped, turned aside and pressed a switch on the wall. There was a sharp snap. The voice had stopped.

Julia uttered a tiny sound, a sort of squeak of surprise. Even in the midst of his panic, Winston was too much taken aback to be able to hold his tongue.

“You can turn it off!” he said.

“Yes,” said O’Brien, “we can turn it off. We have that privilege. ...Yes, everything is turned off. We are alone.”

Sometimes we can still turn it off today, and should. But mostly we don’t want to. We don’t want to be alone; we want to be connected. We find it convenient to leave it on, to leave our footprints and fingerprints everywhere, so we will be recognized when we come back. We don’t want to have to keep retyping our name and address when we return to a web site. We like it when the restaurant remembers our name, perhaps because our phone number showed up on caller ID and was linked to our record in their database. We appreciate buying grapes for $1.95/lb instead of $3.49, just by letting the store know that we bought them. We may want to leave it on for ourselves because we know it is on for criminals. Being watched reminds us that they are watched as well. Being watched also means we are being watched over.

And perhaps we don’t care that so much is known about us because that is the way human society used to be—kinship groups and small settlements, where knowing everything about everyone else was a matter of survival. Having it on all the time may resonate with inborn preferences we acquired millennia ago, before urban life made anonymity possible. Still today, privacy means something very different in a small rural town than it does on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

We cannot know what the cost will be of having it on all the time. Just as troubling as the threat of authoritarian measures to restrict personal liberty is the threat of voluntary conformity. As Fano astutely observed, privacy allows limited social experimentation—the deviations from social norms that are much riskier to the individual in the glare of public exposure, but which can be, and often have been in the past, the leading edges of progressive social changes. With it always on, we may prefer not to try anything unconven- tional, and stagnate socially by collective inaction.

For the most part, it is too late, realistically, ever to turn it off. We may once have had the privilege of turning it off, but we have that privilege no more. We have to solve our privacy problems another way. 

We live in scary times.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Finally, the Harvard Campaign!

The Campaign for FAS and SEAS launched over the weekend (the grand launch for the umbrella University campaign happened a few weeks ago). I was busy catching a bit of my 45th reunion and then went off to a family funeral, but the reports suggest that the kickoff was a great success, with terrific speeches by Drew Faust and Mike Smith. (See the reporting in Harvard Magazine, which seems to catch the spirit as well as the facts.) After years of waiting (remember, there was supposed to be a campaign back during the Summers presidency), I am glad that Harvard has become stable enough to go back into capital campaigning. The promise of SEAS expanding and moving to Allston would be worth a campaign in itself. Harvard is finally going to get the engineering disciplines right, embedded in and not in tension with liberal education.

The bottom line of the FAS & SEAS campaign is on the Priorities page. I smiled when I looked at this page because the photo vignette for the "Leading in Learning" priority is from Eliza Grinnell's wonderful images of my CS 20 course. I wrote about this course for Harvard Magazine, which used others of Eliza's photos; this particular image was not used for that story but was part of the same candid shoot she did during one class meeting. 

Here is the original photo, with me lurking in the background in Pierce 301 while the students are doing their active learning! 

I believe that Eliza is also the photographer of the image of some engineering students further down the Priorities page. We in SEAS are really lucky to have the services of such a talented photographer, and that is not all she does.

While I am enthusiastic about the Campaign and am working to help it succeed, I continue to be puzzled by the deterioration of the language Harvard uses when writing about itself. I blogged already about the the Campaign pre-announcement last spring. "President Faust"'s recent statement about fossil fuel divestment is another piece of prose not worthy of us, whatever one may think of the conclusion for which it argues. I put the president's name in quotation marks because, for example, these sentences (with my emphasis added) could not have been written by the real Drew Faust: Generally, as shareholders, I believe we should favor engagement over withdrawal.  In the case of fossil fuel companies, we should think about how we might use our voice not to ostracize such companies but to encourage them to be a positive force both in meeting society’s long-term energy needs while addressing pressing environmental imperatives.

So what audience is Harvard trying to reach by using the peculiarly informal "Like nowhere else" construction in promoting its ambition to represent the very best in teaching and learning? Whoever came up with the motto for the Chili's restaurant chain was apparently aiming for a more literate audience than Harvard's campaign. (Photo taken yesterday in DTW airport.)

There are plenty of Expository Writing preceptors and underemployed English PhDs who could help the university avoid such embarrassments. If Harvard can make itself #1 in social media, it can again master the art of writing clear, elegant, and correct English prose.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Aunt Mary

More apologies first! All of you who turned out to hear me in Silicon Valley or at the i-Lab know I was moving fast -- thanks for coming, I can't ever remember such nice audiences! The event at the Computer History Museum was very emotional -- most of the audience seemed to have taken a course from me, and the time span went back to 1975. There were lots of people I had not seen in decades, and several people told me things I had said which they believed to be meaningful. About the nicest thing anyone told me was one fellow who told me how "validated" he felt when I paused in the middle of my proof of Turing's Theorem to describe the tragic circumstances of Turing's death (look 'it up if you don't know). He then introduced me to his male partner. Anyway, thanks again to all.

Some of you read or heard my little Morning Prayer service homily about my aunt, Mary Kowal. I delivered it two years ago, after I had moved Mary into Clark Retirement Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mary passed away on October 19. It is not my intention to turn this blog into a series of memorial tributes to my friends and relatives, but it's what's on my mind at the moment. (And fellow H'68ers, it was fun to see you --- sorry to have missed the rest of the reunion for the funeral.)

Something about the experience of knowing Mary over the past few years has left me with hope for humanity, hope that balances my frustration over the meanness of the political process. (For awhile I was really fascinated with politics, but lately I have actually started watching the news less and listening to sports radio more.)

Mary was pretty reclusive and went to Clark only after a great deal of trust-building and persuasion on my part. She was supported by two saintly friends who had gotten to know her, and she finally agreed. We dug up a dogwood tree from her yard when we sold the house and planted it outside her window in the retirement home. Once she began eating three meals a day, her health improved, and her skin and face came back to life. And she became quite social. After living alone for thirty years, she started talking to people and about people, and she loved the visits my children and granddaughter paid her when they could. She got her hair done every week. For what must have been the first time in years, she felt good about herself. Not that she was at all saccharine; 75 years after the fact she wanted me to know how mad she still was at my mother, who died 35 years ago, for walking out on the family.

I am hard pressed to say how much of the  simple niceness of Mary's last few years was the result of a very well run retirement home, which Clark surely is, and how much is simply due to the fact that EVERYONE in western Michigan is nice. The waitresses in the same chain restaurants don't call you "hon" in Boston the way they do in Grand Rapids.

Watching life go by in this retirement home was different from my last experience of the kind, with my father in Boston. All the residents seemed to be compos mentis, if physically enfeebled. And they were all old enough that they knew very well what was coming; people were leaving and new people coming every month or so. Mary, for certain, knew that her days were numbered and accepted it fully.  She had planned and prepaid her funeral thirty years ago. Now, she said, she had led a long life, perhaps because she did not have a nickel during the Depression with which to pay for the bus. She walked everywhere, to school, to work, to shop, and as a result was stronger than her small frame might have suggested. But 95 was old.

About two weeks ago she developed abdominal pains. A visit to the hospital yielded no clear diagnosis; exploratory surgery was the only option for figuring it out. Realizing she would probably not want a colostomy or other drastic surgery (and might not survive it anyway), she chose to go back to Clark under hospice care and wait for the end. Again, the help was superb. She received painkillers, but I and other family members were able to talk to her on the phone several times, and she was chipper to the end. One day I called and was told that she was "actively dying," a turn of the English language I had never heard before. Sure enough, she slipped quietly away a few hours later. Here is the death notice.

We should all be so smart and so lucky.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Crimson on the Dean's Role

The Crimson’s Jared Lucky wrote a good article about the College deanship, including one money quote from me: “Just because you don’t have a lot of budgetary authority doesn’t mean you can’t influence decisions.”

That sums up for me the most important implication of the article. It cuts against the prevailing Harvard fantasy that anyone is really in charge of anything, that we are a businesslike (if not militaristic) place with crisp lines of command and control. A decade ago, the structure was shallower and less clearly defined; frankly, it mattered less. Nobody ever referred to one Harvard official as “reporting to” another the way they do today, though of course no one was under any illusion about the fact that the person who hired you could fire you. Lately we have created so many inflated titles that the community—and the people who hold the titles—too often think that if you need an X kind of problem solved, or if Harvard hasn’t made enough progress on issue X, the Vice-Wumpus for X is the person who can fix it. (For “-Wumpus,” substitute “-Dean,” “-Provost,” or “-President.” Many of the Wumpi are good people, and I mean no disrespect to them personally; it’s their number and their structure that has some downsides.) It is also thought that the lack of anyone with “X” in the title is some kind of proof that Harvard doesn’t care about X. 

But creating an “Assistant Wumpus for X” position may only make the problem worse, because all of the other parties who need to participate in owning the problem to solve it really instead of symbolically  may withdraw, thinking X is that person’s problem. They are reluctant to invade their colleagues’ turf, and the X-Wumpus may be territorial and resent initiatives in area X that he or she did not initiate.

I have a preference for vague, encompassing, ambiguous titles. I like “Bureau of Study Counsel” and “The Harvard Foundation,” which intentionally trade clarity for dignity. It’s OK if you have to explain to people what these are; that provides an opportunity to explain what they aren’t, and why they are different from what other colleges have (a mental health center, a third world house). While I was dean, I actually went so far as to drop the “X” from the titles of several deans, so that when the Associate Dean for Finance and Administration left, I replaced her with a PhD who could do finance and administration but could also be tasked with academic issues. By the time I left I had a strong ball team consisting mostly of utility infielders. We used to sit down together a couple times a week, report to each other on what was working and what wasn’t, and divide up any new problems that had arisen as seemed best, not according to previously defined job descriptions.

The Crimson story positions the deanship of the college in a much-simplified version of Harvard’s org chart today. It looks like a tangle, but doesn’t nearly do justice to the complexities and overlapping directorates. It looks very different from what it was only fifteen years ago—compare, for example, the Provost’s office today with what it was in 2007, 2002, and 1998. And it looks like the webmaster is having trouble keeping up with the additions.

Reading the article, about how much coordinating and cooperating is needed for the dean to get anything done, I asked myself whether I got anything done in the eight years from 1995-2003. It’s easy for me to think just in terms of problems that occupied a lot of my time—peer sexual assault, for example—but those problems are complex and any measure of progress would be highly controversial. If my accomplishments were measured Washington-style, by how many pieces of legislation I got passed, it would be a short list, consisting perhaps of a single act of addition by subtraction—I got rid of the rule against running a business out of your dorm room. A fine thing to have done, but it’s hard to boast about getting rid of a rule when nobody could remember the point of it.

The one thing I did that was really hard to do actually happened before I became dean: “randomizing” the Houses, getting rid of the previous system under which students were allowed to express housing preferences and thereby achieve a measure of self-segregation. Whatever argument from “diversity” one might make for randomization, the new system had the beneficial effect of making any social problem in the College everyone’s problem. I was told in pre-randomization days, for example, that if a gay student wasn’t happy where he were living, it wasn’t really a problem, since he could always transfer to Adams House, which knew how to make people like that feel comfortable. No one would say such a thing today (about the residential system, at least).

That randomization recommendation came out of the “Lewis-Maull” Committee on the Structure of Harvard College which I co-chaired. It issued its report in 1994 and, officially, my predecessor Fred Jewett was the dean who implemented it. Alas, Fred didn’t bother to implement the footnote about randomization in the Lewis-Maull report that called for controlling the gender ratio in each House. Perhaps he thought that all the Houses would come out about 50-50, when statistically it was almost certain that in at least one House the ratio would be lopsided. That House was Currier the first year, and it was not pretty; the oversight was fixed the following year.

At first the Masters were mostly, though not unanimously, in favor, and the student body was mostly opposed. (After all, it takes a lot of respect for the common good to answer “I don’t” when faced with the question “Do you or don’t you want a choice in where you are going to live?”) Maybe nothing I did subsequently as dean had as much lasting significance as the jawboning I did for a couple of years to persuade the key people, especially key student leaders but also alums and Masters, that randomization would not be the end of the world.

That was hard work of enduring importance. It is pretty amazing that it’s a non-issue today; ask students today and they will be astonished at the idea that the system could be anything other than what their predecessors considered an unthinkable abomination twenty years ago. There have been no five-year reviews or student surveys that I know of, no UC bills calling for a return to student choice. I can imagine, however, that the issue may come around again if Houses get built in Allston: will engineering students and athletes be allowed to express a preference to live near the facilities where they spend most of their time?

I wonder how the decision-making about such an issue would be handled today, with so many more Vice-Wumpus for X positions, each with an opinion about how such a change would affect an identifiable population, with so much more centralization of control generally, so much more sensitivity to messaging, branding, and communications instead of principle and substance, and with so much more confidence that student opinion polling and “best practices” of other colleges are relevant to the formation of good educational policy for Harvard. Hard as it was at the time, I wonder if it could even happen today. Randomization might have happened at the last possible moment when Harvard’s undergraduate House system could have been fixed. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Honor and Dishonor

I am in favor of honor. I am not in favor of an honor code.

Talks have resumed at Harvard about adopting a so-called “honor code,” sometimes referred to as a "modified honor code." If I am not mistaken, the "modification" would be that students will not be required to turn each other in. I can see that the code would be more palatable without the snitching requirement, but I wonder how effective it would be with no moral onus for peer enforcement. 

But effectiveness is not my main concern. The deeper question is whether "honor" will mean anything at Harvard beyond its use as a modifier for things having to do with undergraduate cheating. I suspect we will just establish the honor code and some kind of court (which, it seems, may not be dubbed an “honor court”). Honor, quite likely, will be reduced to a vestigial form as a declaration you won't cheat on your tests and papers when no one is watching.

It may be that the mere act of writing words to that effect will have a positive effect on academic integrity, without any larger context of personal or institutional honor. Much as I would like to see less cheating, it doesn't feel quite right to me to reduce the moral issue to an exercise in applied psychology. If someone in William James Hall had demonstrated that the color pink makes people cheat less (in the way that football teams who dress in Iowa's pink visitor's locker room are supposedly less aggressive), would we make all students take their exams in pink clothing, or in pink rooms?

The problem with speaking about honor more generally in the Harvard community is that Harvard has been so reluctant to respond to bad behavior by anyone but students, or even to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with a variety of faculty behaviors that everyone knows are wrong. For example, a bare minimum of honor calls for understanding and owning up to one's malfeasances. Without calling it “honor,” the Ad Board has long considered holding students to that standard part of its educational role. There simply are no such expectations for faculty. 

Let's start with the infamous Gov 1310 "Cheating Scandal" itself, which Harvard publicly labeled  “unprecedented in anyone’s living memory.” This case has entered the hall of Harvard horrors alongside the bust of University Hall in 1969--two tragic events in which the balance of responsibilities, between students and the institution, is highly debatable, and student bitterness about Harvard’s actions has evolved into a lifetime of alumni resentment and mistrust. Already it is common knowledge, even among the Harvard faculty, that the cheating scandal began when the professor made a joke out of his course. This fall, one science professor, when confronted with an unexpectedly overflowing lecture hall on the first day of classes, cautioned the class, “This is no Gov 1310, you know.” That is, I am not going to announce that you don't have to go to class and won't have to work hard to get an A, the way the Gov 1310 professor did.

According to multiple accounts, Gov 1310 was a miserably constructed course with a miserably constructed exam. Since the professor said that no one had to go to class, it was common practice for students to take notes for each other. The exam was "completely open book, open note, open Internet, etc." Harvard, rather than proclaiming to the world that it had on its hands the biggest cheating scandal it had ever seen, should have acknowledged that it had on its hands an awful case of faculty negligence. It should have told the professor that he had made such a mess of his course that there was no way the College disciplinary process could treat all students fairly, so it would not deal with any cases at all---exactly as Dartmouth College did in the year 2000 when a large number of students were accused of cheating in one Computer Science course. Instead Harvard chose to scar dozens of students, and put through a year of hell many who were ultimately allowed to continue. Harvard then let the professor quietly slip away.

I don't actually blame the professor, since I don't know what he thought he was doing. Instead, I hold the department responsible. Departmental cultures vary, and the Gov 1310 professor may have been allocating his efforts exactly as his department signaled he should do. I would not have thought that possible, had I not witnessed as dean the way certain large social science departments work. Rather than talking to the department chairs and directors of undergraduate studies about student complaints, I had a meeting with the department administrators. One of them told me, "the chairman explained my job to me in very simple terms. My job is to keep the students away from the faculty." I realized then that unthinkable things in one department may be standard operating procedure in another. Junior faculty quickly pick up how business is done on their hallway, and the culture is transmitted forward in time.

I don't think what happened in the Government department could happen in Computer Science. If an Assistant Professor were teaching such a course, someone other than the instructor would notice that cohorts of students were being lured into the class for the wrong reasons. Some student in the class would tell one of the faculty what was going on in the classroom, and one of the senior faculty would wander down the hall and wring the instructor's neck. The CS faculty eat lunch together every week and we talk about how our classes are going and how the students showing up in our classes are changing (we had a conversation exactly like that just a few days ago). None of us would want to acknowledge to our peers that our course was a joke.

I have to think that the social bonds that hold the computer scientists to generally good behavior don't exist in the Government Department, and that the expectations on junior faculty of what counts as success have somehow been set wrong. That somehow the norms and incentives for honorable treatment of teaching responsibilities don't exist in any operational sense.

Perhaps I am wrong and something else is going on. But what was going on in Gov 1310 could not have been a secret, since the course had been taught the same way for several years. Even if no Gov 1310 student talked about the course to any Government Department professor, student evaluations are available to department chairs, presumably so they can have some sense of how students think courses in their departments are being conducted.

What was the failure that allowed this course to happen? And why is Harvard’s posture not, as it was with the allegations of student cheating in the course, to say, “It’s something that I think was obviously not going to stay secret, clearly, and nor do we want it to. I think it’s important for us to take an event like this and teach it, to treat it as a teaching opportunity.” Why has the Harvard faculty not taken the opportunity to learn something about itself from Gov 1310, rather than just to make anti-cheating policies clearer?

The failure of Harvard to do anything about a scandalously mismanaged course, and even now to discuss the questions of incentive and reward that drive faculty conduct, seem to me much bigger problems of dishonorable behavior than the behavior of the Gov 1310 students. And yet our insistence that we have a student problem on our hands rather than a faculty problem is leading the College to abandon its century-and-a-quarter-old system of deaning out of the Houses.

For make no mistake about it: If academic dishonesty cases are to be heard by a separate student-faculty body, it will be only a matter of time before the Allston Burr Resident Deans in the Houses lose their faculty status. They are an expensive luxury: the twelve of them are associate-professor level faculty FTEs, half for teaching (but not charged to departmental budgets) and half for administration. If the Administrative Board deals only with issues of academic progress and nonacademic misbehavior, it will eventually be impossible to justify hiring trained scholars, rather than student-service professionals, to be deans in the Houses.

In fact, the downgrading of the Resident Deans has probably begun already. The decision to search their email without telling them would have been easier if they were thought of as petty bureaucrats who must be watched, rather than as faculty colleagues with administrative responsibilities. We don't really know how well this search was thought through---for example, whether it would have been thought OK to search the accounts of department chairs if one of them had in a similar way disclosed some innocuous advising information. I am glad the Barron Committee is thinking all that through, though I remain disappointed that no Harvard official has been honorable enough to acknowledge that the search was a mistake.

Though I spent eight years struggling on the Ad Board with issues of student conduct, I never used to comment on faculty conduct, until I learned about the case of economics professor Andrei Shleifer, who conspired to defraud the government in a case involving tens of millions of dollars of federal funds with which Harvard had been tasked to help set up a capitalist economy in the new Russian state. As I said back in 2006 in an important article about that scandal in Institutional Investor, “The relativism with which Harvard has dealt with the Shleifer case undermines Harvard’s moral authority over its students.” That remains true to this day. One of the enduring, appalling mysteries of Harvard is how Shleifer survived at Harvard (and indeed prospered) in spite of the finding against him in federal court. It is the sort of thing that makes it hard to credit our rules and procedures (there is a Committee on Professional Conduct, after all) as meaning much of anything, and to suspect that power is a much more important motivation than honor in the way Harvard deals with faculty malfeasances.

Where were the Harvard officials who wanted to be sure that, as with the students involved in the Gov 1310 case, the world knew that one of its professors was involved in what must have been one of the largest cases of fraud in Harvard history?

Let's not even talk about Larry Summers, whose double-dipping was in flagrant violation of Harvard policies even before he became Obama's chief economic advisor. Where are the Harvard officials making sure the world knows that its faculty are involved in (I hope!) unprecedented abuses of its outside activities policies? For that matter, where are the Harvard officials telling the world that it is dishonorable at Harvard for a professor to call students “assholes” because they came to his office wearing neckties?

We are “One Harvard” now. Why are we talking only about student “honor”?


A word to my faithful followers: Forgive me for the low blogging rate, I have been busy!

I am back as Director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science, and business is booming. We have very large numbers of students, both in our courses and as concentrators [majors]. Several faculty are on leave, so I wound up with 43 undergraduate advisees this fall. My Theory of Computation class has an unprecedented 140 students, and I am also teaching my freshman seminar on Amateur Athletics. I am helping with the planning for the move of the Engineering School to Allston. Last week I spoke at the conference on the Educated Citizen in Crisis at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. Thursday I will be speaking to a sizable group of SEAS alumni in the Bay Area--I've  looked at the RSVP list and it will be wonderful to see so many old friends and former students. And the night before I fly out, I will be kicking off the President's Challenge at the i-Lab. That will be a fun event--I have some surprises for the audience in my remarks, maybe even expanding on the Bill Gates story Walter Isaacson told in his campaign-launch Gazette piece. It's a ticketed event, so sign up if you want to come!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Charlie Ducey

Charles P. Ducey passed away on Saturday at the age of 65. Charlie had been the head of the Bureau of Study Counsel while I was dean of the college. That's Harvard's ambiguously named counseling service, which also provides academic tutoring and study skills courses. Its creation in the 1940s was an act of genius, since students go the Bureau thinking they need help with study skills and may discover that their difficulties in studying are rooted in their emotional development rather than their academic training. Harvard would never create such an organization today, with its deep history of concern about human development and its peculiar, World War II vintage "Bureau" name. But it worked, and still works--a relic of a more holistic Harvard.

Charlie was trained in the Classics and psychoanalysis. Without pretense and with great care, he could put any situation involving a student in its proper mythic and analytic contexts. His greatest value to me and others in the College administration was not for the good he did students--and there are countless students he helped--but in helping us understand what might lie behind some destructive or aberrant behavior, and therefore tailor the most constructive, educational response, not based on any simple this-act-gets-that-penalty rulebook He could be gentle and he could be tough; he could explain the context of acts but he acknowledged evil when he saw it.

At Charlie's inspiration, there was a Committee on Student Research Participation, independent of the usual IRBs that approve research on human subjects; its sole purpose was to protect members of the Harvard community against the scads of researchers (including Harvard students) who would like to say something "scientific" about Harvard students. It was typical of Charlie to be protective of students and the institution and cautious about the motives of those who wanted to study them. I dug out a typical set of directives Charlie (on behalf of the CSRP) sent back to one researcher:

  • Remove from the survey Questions #2 (race/ethnicity) and #10 (family income). Harvard's policy disallows the first as potentially tendentious (no reason to believe this simplistic classification tells you anything useful about your subjects) and not apparently relevant information, while the second could be regarded as intrusive into a student's privacy. The remainder of the survey seems unobjectionable.
  • Despite the extensive material you sent us, you do not make clear your study's hypotheses or objectives.
  • Your methodology seems problematic, in that you aim to characterize a subculture (athletes) without also surveying the majority culture for normalization. You cannot therefore distinguish sample-specific findings from population trends.
  • We discourage your performing simplistic comparisons of Michigan and Harvard, if you were so inclined. The environments for student athletes, and the significance and organization of athletics at the two colleges, are so disparate as to discourage simple conclusions, certainly from as limited an instrument as a self-report survey.

All of that was hard work, work that required experience, broad knowledge, precedents and pitfalls. For all that I was grateful. Eventually one too many professors got annoyed about the extra layer of approvals they had to get to study Harvard students (as opposed, say, to BU or MIT students); some higher authority got a call, and the CSRP was dissolved.

After leaving Harvard during an inevitable reconsideration of the Bureau's relation to the increasingly medicalized mental health services, Charlie had a private practice for a few years and then suffered a dreadful stroke, which left his speech very impaired and his mobility limited. His kind and agile mind was intact, but the physical trap in which it was imprisoned made productive work all but impossible. Eventually other ailments compounded his debility and he could not survive. Here is the Globe death notice.

I miss him; I don't know anybody like him.