Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Memorial Hall fire, September 6, 1956

Amazing footage of the fire that destroyed the tower of Memorial Hall, uncovered by David Malan and uploaded to Youtube. It seems to confirm that the water pressure was insufficient for the fire hoses to reach the tower.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Remarks to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on fossil fuel divestment

Today the FAS today discussed the advisability of Harvard divesting from fossil fuel investments. This discussion had started at the previous meeting; see Harvard Magazine for a complete transcript of the earlier meeting and also for a transcript of the November 5 meeting. I spoke at today's meeting, as follows:


I am Harry Lewis, Gordon McKay professor of computer science, and I should like to speak against the push for divestment from fossil fuels. 

Let me begin by agreeing with the colleagues who have docketed this discussion that climate change is the great existential threat of our times. The question is what Harvard should do about it. Of course, Harvard can do more than one thing, but as we are an institution devoted to teaching and research, those are the weapons we are best positioned to marshal in the fight. And teaching in particular is the thing that this Faculty, acting as a body, can decide to do. Our undergraduates disproportionately go on to influence the future of the world in industry, the professions, and public service. We could shape our curriculum so that Harvard undergraduates will leave here understanding the nature of the threat and their agency to do something about it. I know that many individual faculty members have, to their credit, stressed environmental issues in their own teaching. But we are now being asked to act as a body to pressure the Corporation for divestment, when we have taken no comparable action as a body to better educate our students. 

For this Faculty as a body to alter our education requires no petition to the Corporation or permission from any dean or president. Someone could put a curricular motion on the table and we could vote on it. If we wanted to make it happen, it would happen, whether the Corporation liked it or not. We could make a requirement, or we could fashion a more creative educational strategy. But mainly I wish that my colleagues had asked us to make a commitment as a body to do something that is actually within our competence and power to do, before asking us to tell the Corporation how it should run the endowment. Rather than piling up educational requirements, we might even decide that learning about climate change is more important than the least important of the many other things we already expect of our students.

As for divestment now. I took some pains a moment ago to name the donor of my chair, to make the point that Harvard can do good works with tainted money. If you do not know the tale of Gordon McKay, I invite you to read the vita I wrote about him for Harvard Magazine a few years ago. He would be a pariah today, but I don’t think that has diminished the good that has come from his endowment. 

Now I have no opinion about whether Harvard should or should not be invested in anything. The job of the endowment managers is to preserve and increase Harvard’s endowment, so that we faculty can do our good works and our students can reap the benefit. Our job is advancing society through teaching and learning.

Universities are the kidneys of society. The main thing you want from kidneys is to produce pure output, whether or not the inflow is dirty. It is odd that we regularly try to seize the moral high ground by discussing divestment from something or other that is considered impure, but we rarely talk about whether our own work advances society or not. It is no breach of academic freedom to seek answers to that question. All it requires is a willingness to be as critical of ourselves as we are of the Corporation and its investments.

At the last meeting Professor Hall correctly described fossil fuel divestment as a political statement, one that would not exert financial leverage on the fossil fuel industry. Indeed, selling supply-side stocks to someone else and leaving all the demand-side stocks in our portfolio---airlines, trucking companies, Amazon, the meat industry—seems to me pointlessly self-gratifying. Really, divestment votes are a waste of time. The country’s two largest pension funds, which are many times the size of the Harvard endowment, divested from gun stocks after the Sandy Hook massacre, but there’s no evidence that did anything to solve our horrible gun problem. But they resisted pressure to divest from stores selling guns, and because they had a seat at the table as shareholders, they helped get some of those companies to change their practices.

One of the things about political statements is that they tend to be welcomed by people who don’t need convincing and to do little to persuade skeptics. They are divisive, when academia more than ever needs friends and allies today. Universities make too many political statements already, and such empty declarations increase skepticism about whether we are really in the business of truth as we claim to be or are now just one more politicized American institution.

What we as a Faculty should instead do to impact the climate, it seems to me, is to use as much money as Harvard can make available to us to fight the needed scientific, technical, economic, civic, and social fights. If some of the money we use to do that comes from the fossil fuel industries themselves, the joke will be on them.  We should accept the profits and use them to help save the planet in the ways we are professionally competent—and powerfully positioned—to do.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Wheaties box

There is plenty of skepticism about the recent NCAA decision to allow athletes to profit from their likenesses, but as I told the Crimson, it's a step in the right direction. The objections are based on predictions of the ruin  to be visited on intercollegiate athletics by any breach of the strictest interpretation of the amateur standard. Somehow the amateurism purists never worry about the student musician who performs in the orchestra and is paid for birthday-party gigs on weekends, nor the computer programming team members who are treated to a fancy meal while they are halfway around the world representing the University in championship competitions. Those activities, of course, have nothing comparable to the labor-market-controlling NCAA setting limits on students' off-campus lives.

To be sure, there are real opportunities for abuse and unfairness as the amateurism regulations are relaxed (not that excesses have been impossible under current rules). It all depends on the way the rules are written and interpreted. I expect that what will happen is that the NCAA, having controlled the market with an iron hand up to now by absurdly inflexible regulation, will be forced by outside authorities to go too far. Had it shown a bit more common sense earlier on, it would not have created the social and governmental pressure that will now decide what's best for universities to do. (Not the first time such a thing has happened in higher ed. Not even the first time in this issue of the Crimson.)

Be that as it may, this image explains my sympathy for the players on this change.

It's a photo of the 1998 US women's ice hockey team, which won gold at the Olympics. Except that a few players are missing, including Harvard star AJ Mleczko. These players still had a year or two of intercollegiate competition ahead of them, but would have been disqualified if they turned pro -- where the standard for turning pro included allowing their images to be used in a commercial promotion like this one, even if they were not being paid. This is not just crazy; it's mean. I hope the rule change will mean that no such thing will happen to students in the future.

The same journalist has a second Crimson story online, about the social isolation of athletes. Meal times are a major irritant on this, as they have been as long as I can remember. I have a win-win suggestion to attack this problem, one I have been advocating since the plan was announced to move Engineering to Allston: Serve dinner at the new Science and Engineering Complex, just steps from Soldiers Field. Athletes tend to rise and go to bed early, engineers tend to be night owls, so there is not much overlap of their circadian rhythms, but they have the dinner hour in common. It would be a great vehicle for social mixing, and would attract arts students too, not to mention friends curious about life on the other side of the river. How about it?

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Kronman's "Assault on American Excellence"

Anthony Kronman at Yale wrote a book a few years ago called Education's End (a pun), which had some resonance with Excellence Without a Soul. He has another book out about higher education, The Assault on American Excellence. It's pretty much guaranteed to make you angry in places, either because you think he misrepresents something you think important, or because you think he exposes some stupidity you can't believe is actually dignified at places like Yale. For me it does some of both, but I tried to swallow all that and write a dispassionate review when asked to. I entitled the review "Overlapping Magisteria" in homage to Steve Gould, and used it in part as an opportunity riff on a problem that doesn't get discussed much.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Let the snitching begin

Too much to discuss today. Of course I am ecstatic about the decision in the Admissions lawsuit; the opinion is well worth reading. (Even if you are just curious to learn how the process works.) And Senator Grassley has taken an interest in what I called The political execution of Dean Sullivan.

But other matters will have to wait. I wanted to call attention to today's report in the Crimson explaining how the USGSO policy will be implemented. From the beginning I have been asking how the College will know who is in a prohibited Unrecognized Single Gender Social Organization, given that only fellow students are likely to know. The published policy reads,
Student Organizations who are found to have elected a member of a USGSO to a leadership position will be put through the Student Organization Discipline process and that student will be removed from the leadership position.
And how will those errant students be found?
[Associate Dean of Student Engagement Alex R.] Miller also said there is no formal process in place for reporting violations of the sanctions policy by student group leaders. The person launching the complaint cannot be anonymous but can be any member of the Harvard community.,“It can be email, it can be a phone call, it would have to be someone coming forward to communicate with our office, whether verbally or in writing, but there is no form,” Miller said. 
Could be anyone with a grievance, or even a dean who notices a student entering the Porcellian. Then what happens? "After the initial report, Miller said that the College would meet with the student in question and `find out more information.' ”

All this is in tension with with the Implementation Committee's commitment to keep other people out of the enforcement of the policy.
We consider compliance with the policy to be a matter between the individual student and the College. Other parties—faculty, faculty deans and tutors, athletic coaches, fellow organization members, teammates—should not be responsible for policing the policy or ensuring that it is complied with.  
Dean of Students Katherine O'Dair tried gamely to split the difference.
"We don’t consider it students’ responsibility to enforce University policy. …That said, students should know that our doors are open if they want to bring concerns to us about any number of policies.” 
So if you are the runner-up in the voting for the presidency of the Republican Club or the captaincy of the women's ice hockey team, and you think that the winner might be in an unrecognized club, you now have a strong incentive to walk through an open door to express what is delicately described as a concern about policy--a concern that just might make you head of the organization.

And there is no official list of prohibited organizations (so I still don't know if the Knights of Columbus is on it). Miller added, "We don’t give instructions to student organizations, but we do give them guidance on policy." One alum who wrote to me described this style as Maoist, another as Stalinist.

I am quite surprised that Harvard is going full speed ahead with enforcement, given the legal setback the policy suffered some weeks ago. To be going on the record in the Crimson today inviting students to start turning on their fellow students, the administration of the College must be confident that it will ultimately prevail on the question of whether the policy constitutes unlawful discrimination under Title IX. Won't Harvard be inviting a civil suit if it damages a student's reputation and professional opportunities by depriving her of a leadership position as it enforces what it has good reason to think is an unlawful policy?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

But for

On August 9, a federal judge, Nathaniel Gorton, rejected, for the most part, Harvard's request that the case against its policy about single-sex organizations be dismissed. The judge agreed that a couple of the sororities and a couple of the students did not have standing to sue, but let the suit proceed with other organizations and students as plaintiffs. 

But the opinion says much more than that. It corrects Harvard’s representation of the relevance of Title IX, and does so in such clear and strong terms as to signal that Harvard is going to lose the argument if it goes to trial. Moreover, a separate part of the opinion suggests that the negative statements Harvard officials have made about all-male clubs in order to justify the policy may amount to unlawful discrimination on the basis of gender stereotyping. 

Two good summaries have been offered by The College Fix and by Forbes. The Crimson just wrote up the decision too.

Harvard argued that its policy is not discriminatory because it applies equally to all-male and all-female organizations. The opinion swats that argument down quite unequivocally.
Applying the comparative or but-for test to the situation of Harvard students subject to the Policy demonstrates that the Policy discriminates on the basis of sex.
The but-for test is this: If a plaintiff is subject to the policy but would not be subject to it but for his or her sex, then the policy is unlawfully discriminatory under Title IX. 
Whereas a male student seeking to join an all-male organization would be subject to the Policy (and vice versa), a female student seeking to join the same all-male organization would not be subject to the Policy (and vice versa).  The fact that the female student would otherwise not be allowed to join the all-male organization because of the organization’s own discriminatory policy does not alter the conclusion that the sex of the student is a substantial motivating factor behind the Policy.  Indeed, sex is essential to the application of the Policy to any particular student.
So it is the situation of the individual that matters. The opinion cites precedents in employment situations in which the but-for test implied that it was unlawful, under Title IX, to fire a worker for being in a same-sex marriage (if the sex of the worker were changed, the worker would be in a heterosexual marriage and would not be fired). The Forbes columnist, Evan Gerstmann, cites an even more arresting precedent. It was unlawful for the State of Virginia to ban interracial marriage, and the fact that the ban applied equally to blacks and whites was irrelevant. How awkward for Harvard to be placed in that company!

I am happy to acknowledge that non-lawyer that I am, I did not see this coming. I argued from the beginning that the policy was wrong, but I always thought that as a private institution, Harvard could implement it if it chose to, however unwisely. I was wrong.

That said, I nonetheless am surprised that Harvard got it wrong. As Gerstmann says, “Harvard should have known better.” It is a mystery that Harvard’s lawyers—who are both good and conservative—could have missed the applicability of Title IX precedents here. Gerstmann goes on to advise Harvard to settle the case before it gets to a jury. I don’t see how Harvard can settle it except by backtracking on the policy, as it should have done long ago. Now, it seems, it has to.

Unless, of course, it is prepared to lose and to appeal, in the hope that the federal appeals court will reverse Judge Gorton and use a different interpretation of Title IX requirements. That seems like a risky proposition—especially given that a separate and parallel case is working its way through the Massachusetts court system, and there is legislation afoot in Congress that would outlaw the policy anyway.

And even aside from these problems, Judge Gorton’s opinion takes Harvard to task for gender stereotyping. 
… [P]laintiffs have alleged facts sufficient to state a plausible claim under a theory of gender stereotyping. Plaintiffs have asserted that Harvard’s Policy was motivated, in part, by the view that single-  sex, social organizations promote sexual assault and bigotry on campus and produce individuals who fail to act as modern men and women should.  It is certainly plausible that Harvard’s purported ideal of the “modern” man or woman is informed by stereotypes about how men and women should act.  Withholding benefits from students who fail to conform to such stereotypes violates Title IX
Ouch. From the beginning, the policy has been justified on the basis of Harvard’s commitment to nondiscrimination; now it turns out that it is exactly the opposite. I always thought Harvard’s argument was hypocritical; I didn’t realize it was illegal. Three years ago I noted how odd it was “to hear the Harvard leadership brandishing a stereotype in the interest of promoting diversity and inclusivity”; I didn’t know it was unlawful too.

The ball is in Harvard’s court.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Harvard's infantilizing private clubs policy is part of a bigger agenda

That is the title the Washington Post picked for an op ed I wrote.

In response to Bill's question: Because the women's clubs are younger and weaker and lack the financial resources of the men's clubs.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The College Freedom of Association Act

As reported in the Crimson last week, two Harvard alums, Ruben Gallego and Elise Stefanik, have been joined by 12 other members of congress in putting forward an amendment by that name to the Higher Education Act. The group includes seven Republicans and seven Democrats. The text is given below; a nicely formatted version is downloadable here or can be viewed on the web here along with other information about the bill.

I will have more to say about this bill at some point, but it looks like the drafters have done a good job not only lining up broad support but anticipating (in the "Rules of Construction") needed carve-outs of importance to religious institutions, for example.

[Congressional Bills 116th Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
[H.R. 3128 Introduced in House (IH)]

  1st Session
                                H. R. 3128

    To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to uphold freedom of 
            association protections, and for other purposes.



                              June 5, 2019

Mr. Gallego (for himself, Ms. Stefanik, Mr. Stivers, Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. 
   Brooks of Indiana, Mr. Gottheimer, Mr. Shimkus, Mr. Cleaver, Mrs. 
Kirkpatrick, Ms. Kendra S. Horn of Oklahoma, Mrs. Lawrence, Ms. Fudge, 
  Mr. Byrne, and Mr. Hudson) introduced the following bill; which was 
            referred to the Committee on Education and Labor


                                 A BILL

    To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to uphold freedom of 
            association protections, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 
United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the ``Collegiate Freedom of Association 


    (a) Findings.--Congress finds the following:
            (1) Single-sex social organizations, including sororities, 
        fraternities, and private social clubs, have existed at 
        institutions of higher education for over 200 years, where they 
        have played, and should continue to play, unique roles in the 
        development of young women and men by creating sisterhoods and 
        brotherhoods that foster leadership, promote academic 
        achievement, and encourage civic and campus involvement through 
        philanthropic activities.
            (2) The freedom of association--that is, the freedom of 
        joining, assembling, and residing with others--is protected 
        under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, 
        and allows individuals to create spaces that are safe, 
        welcoming, empowering, enabling, uninhibited, and free.
            (3) Single-sex social sororities, fraternities, and private 
        social clubs meet the requirements for intimate and expressive 
        associations protected by the freedom of association because 
        they are small and selective, are bound together by friendship, 
        common interests, and common purpose, and create safe and 
        empowering spaces for their members.
            (4) Some institutions of higher education, which stand in 
        positions of power and authority over their students, have 
        increasingly sought to eliminate or restrict access to single-
        sex social organizations, which are designed to nurture, lift, 
        and empower students.
            (5) While the history of equal access in higher education 
        includes discriminatory actions taken on the basis of race, 
        religion, national origin, and sex by students, faculty, staff, 
        and social organizations, many members of these same groups 
        have taken, and continue to take actions to make the higher 
        education community more open and inclusive to all.
            (6) While sex discrimination remains a serious problem in 
        our society, allowing institutions of higher education to 
        sanction members of sororities, fraternities, and private 
        social clubs based solely on the single-sex status of the 
        organization that the student belongs to will not solve these 
        problems, is counterproductive, and violates an individual's 
        constitutional right to freedom of association.
    (b) Purposes.--The purposes of this Act are as follows:
            (1) Protect any student in a single-sex social organization 
        or any single-sex social organization from any adverse action 
        by an institution of higher education based solely on the 
        membership practice of such organization of limiting membership 
        to only individuals of one sex.
            (2) Ensure any student in a single-sex social organization 
        or any single-sex social organization is treated equitably in 
        comparison to students at an institution of higher education 
        who do not participate in single-sex social organizations, or 
        other social organizations at an institution of higher 
        education that are not single-sex.
            (3) Protect the rights of students to freely associate with 
        and participate in social organizations, including single-sex 
        social organizations.


    Part B of title I of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 
1011 et seq.) is amended by adding at the end the following:


    ``(a) Upholding Freedom of Association Protections.--Any student 
(or group of students) enrolled in an institution of higher education 
            ``(1) have a right to form or apply to join any social 
        organization, including any single-sex social organization; and
            ``(2) if selected for membership by any social 
        organization, have a right to join such social organization and 
        participate in such social organization.
    ``(b) Non-Retaliation Against Members of Single-Sex Social 
Organizations.--An institution of higher education that receives funds 
under this Act shall not--
            ``(1) take any action to require or coerce a student or 
        social organization to waive the rights of the student or 
        organization, respectively, under this section;
            ``(2) take any adverse action against a student who is a 
        member of a single-sex social organization, or a single-sex 
        social organization, based solely on the membership practice of 
        such organization of limiting membership to only individuals of 
        one sex; or
            ``(3) impose a recruitment restriction (including a 
        recruitment restriction relating to the schedule for membership 
        recruitment) on a single-sex social organization recognized by 
        the institution, which is not imposed upon other student 
        organizations by the institution, unless the organization and 
        the institution have entered into a mutually agreed-upon 
        written agreement that allows the institution to impose such 
    ``(c) Rules of Construction.--Nothing in this section shall--
            ``(1) require an institution of higher education to 
        officially recognize, or enter into a mutually agreed-upon 
        written agreement with, a social organization (such as a social 
        organization whose purpose is incompatible with the religious 
        or cultural mission of the institution of higher education);
            ``(2) prohibit an institution of higher education from 
        taking an adverse action, which is not based solely on the 
        membership practice of a social organization of limiting 
        membership to only individuals of one sex, against a student 
        who joins such social organization or such social 
                    ``(A) whose purpose is incompatible with the 
                religious or cultural mission of the institution of 
                higher education; or
                    ``(B) for another reason (such as academic or 
                nonacademic misconduct);
            ``(3) subject to subsection (b)(3), prevent a social 
        organization from regulating its own membership;
            ``(4) inhibit the ability of the faculty of an institution 
        of higher education to express an opinion (either individually 
        or collectively) on a single-sex social organization, or 
        otherwise inhibit the academic freedom of such faculty to 
        research, write, or publish material on such an organization; 
            ``(5) create enforceable rights against a social 
        organization or against an institution of higher education due 
        to the decision of such social organization to deny membership 
        to an individual student.
    ``(d) Definitions.--In this section:
            ``(1) Adverse action.--The term `adverse action' includes 
        the following with respect to a single-sex social organization 
        or a member of such organization:
                    ``(A) Expulsion, suspension, probation, censure, 
                condemnation, reprimand, or any other disciplinary, 
                coercive, or sanction taken by an institution of higher 
                education or administrative unit of such institution.
                    ``(B) An oral or written warning with respect to an 
                action described in subparagraph (A) made by an 
                official of an institution of higher education acting 
                in the official capacity of the official.
                    ``(C) An action to deny participation in any 
                education program or activity, including the 
                withholding of any rights, privileges, or 
                    ``(D) An action to withhold, in whole or in part, 
                any financial assistance (including scholarships and on 
                campus employment), or denying the opportunity to apply 
                for financial assistance, a scholarship, a graduate 
                fellowship, or on-campus employment.
                    ``(E) An action to deny or restrict access to on-
                campus housing.
                    ``(F) An action to deny any certification, 
                endorsement, or letter of recommendation that may be 
                required by a student's current or future employer, a 
                government agency, a licensing board, an institution of 
                higher education, a scholarship program, or a graduate 
                fellowship to which the student seeks to apply.
                    ``(G) An action to deny participation in any sports 
                team, club, or other student organization, including a 
                denial of any leadership position in any sports team, 
                club, or other student organization.
                    ``(H) An action to withdraw official recognition by 
                an institution of higher education.
                    ``(I) An action to require any student to certify 
                that such student is not a member of a single-sex 
                social organization or to disclose the student's 
                membership in a single-sex social organization.
                    ``(J) An action by an institution of higher 
                education to interject its own criteria into the 
                membership practices of the organization in any manner 
                that conflicts with the rights of such organization 
                under title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 
                U.S.C. 1681 et seq.) or this section.
                    ``(K) An action to impose any operational policy or 
                restriction that is in violation of this section.
            ``(2) Single-sex social organization.--The term `single-sex 
        social organization' means--
                    ``(A) a social fraternity or sorority that is an 
                organization described in section 501(c) of the 
                Internal Revenue Code of 1986 which is exempt from 
                taxation under section 501(a) of such Code, the active 
                membership of which consists primarily of students in 
                attendance at an institution of higher education;
                    ``(B) the Young Men's Christian Association, Young 
                Women's Christian Association, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 
                Camp Fire Girls, and voluntary youth service 
                organizations which are so exempt, the membership of 
                which has traditionally been limited to persons of one 
                sex and principally to persons of less than nineteen 
                years of age; or
                    ``(C) a single-sex private social club (including 
                an independent organization located off-campus) that 
                consists primarily of students or alumni of an 
                institution of higher education.''.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

History of the Bureau of Study Counsel

There is a bit of a tussle going on about the history of the Bureau of Study Counsel, and the ways in which the new Academic Resource Center represents a clean break from what the Bureau used to be. The history may be significant as it relates to whether the ARC is a new new thing, and therefore it is proper to let go all the Bureau staff since their jobs no longer exist, or is a repackaging of some of the Bureau's functions, in which case some greater continuity might have been expected.

Harvard Magazine's account of the closing of the Bureau of Study Counsel has been expanded at the bottom by a substantial comment by former counselor Ann Fleck-Henderson. Here is part of her comment correcting some of the history as it was related to the Magazine by the College administration:

The Bureau of Study Counsel began in 1947 as a collection of academic support services: tutoring (then called supervision), help with English writing and with speedier reading. It was not built, as Dean Revuluri claims, on a model “... of mental health services.” It was overseen by a committee of faculty and administrators with the intent of feeding back to those most responsible for the curriculum whatever was learned from students with whom the Bureau staff (originally of two) consulted. It is inaccurate to characterize the Bureau as “creating a long-term, one-on-one counseling relationship to talk about coping with academic stress.” The Bureau was designed to be an academic support service. It has offered, from the start and continuing today, a variety of individual and group academic services (eg, tutoring, reading course, study strategies, exam-taking skills), which have varied in different eras as student populations and needs have changed. From prior work as a teacher and administrator Bill Perry, the Bureau’s founder, knew that some well-advised and well-supported students continued to struggle. Those were the students for whom “study counsel” was recommended.
In other words, BSC always had the academic support function that is being described as the sole agenda of the ARC. To sharpen this comment on the Bureau's history a little more, the organization was originally started in 1939 and at that time was called the Bureau of Supervision. (The 1947 vote was just a name change.) From the 1938-9 President's Report:
On June 19, 1939, the [Administrative] Board presented to the Faculty a tentative plan for setting up a supervisory service under the control of the College and recommended that there be established a standing Committee on the Supervision of Students, which should exercise a general oversight of the activities having to do with the provision of special assistance to students who need help in solving their academic difficulties. … The Bureau operates on the principle that students should be taught how to do their own work rather than to have information handed out to them. Some exceptions to this rule are made according to individual needs, particularly in the elementary languages, elementary sciences, and other fields where work of the current assignment is directly dependent upon a knowledge of previous assignments. 
The report emphasizes that the advising would be individualized, since the staff "have been selected … as the most competent persons available to assist students to meet their particular problems." (The 1947 report does specifically mention veterans: "The services of the Bureau have been particularly valuable in this period of large classes and heavy burdens on instructors when so many students have been handicapped by wartime interruptions of their academic careers.") Even in 1938 it was clearly understood that personal and academic counseling were intertwined.
The conference rooms are equipped inan informal fashion - simulating studies or living rooms - sothat the student will feel entirely free of official restraint in his relations with the supervisor. Often the troubles of a boy who has a poor scholastic record are partly personal rather than purely academic, and they may be frankly revealed in an informal atmosphere which will inspire confidence between the student and the supervisor.
So the Bureau's homey furnishings, on which I commented in my first post on this subject, were part of the original design and philosophy, from 80 years ago.  

Does Harvard really believe that the College student body does not need something of this philosophy, that academic difficulties often can't be remediated without personal counseling? The new Academic Resource Center, which it seems will be focused exclusively on academic skills to the exclusion of personal counseling, and will emphasize group rather than individualized academic counseling, does seem to mark a clean break with the past on mission as well as furniture, in the sense that the mission has been shrunk. But that transition leaves it unclear if personal counseling as it relates to academic struggles will be available anywhere, except at the Counseling and Mental Health Services, and if not, where troubled students can be directed if their emotional problems are primarily developmental or if they are unwilling to go to CAMHS because of the shame that is for some still attached to mental distress.

It seems that Harvard is not so much setting a new direction as shrinking its vision, and in the process losing eight decades of institutional memory and significant human resources in areas where the ARC will need to staff up---because, in essence, the BSC staff have personal counseling skills Harvard is, however unwisely, declaring it no longer needs.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Independence and self-sufficiency at Harvard: An essay from a world we have lost

In the course of mourning the death of the Bureau of Study Counsel, and with it the extirpation of any sense that the personal development of students was (except in its clinical manifestations) a matter in which Harvard might need some professional expertise, I was reminded of the report of the Dean of Harvard College from 1983–84, reproduced in full below. It has a good section on the Bureau, quoting from its founder Bill Perry, but more importantly, it puts the Bureau's work in the larger context of Harvard's role in educating students to take responsibility for their own lives, with all the tensions that educational process carries with it.

It's also just a lovely essay. It is hard not to smirk at the idea of "the College's withdrawal … from a regulatory role in students' social lives," given that the College now prescribes what kinds of private clubs students may honorably join. And it probably has a few other anachronisms. But the very idea that the dean would write such a thoughtful report to the President -- and thus to the entire University community -- seems sadly anachronistic in itself. Compare this to the announcement, via a Gazette story, of the shutdown of the Bureau.

Added evening of June 11: Read the comment by retired BSC counselor Ann Fleck-Henderson on the Harvard Magazine story, correcting Harvard's official explanation of the Bureau.


To the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences:

Sir --I have the honor to present a report on Harvard College for 1983-84.

I should like to consider in this report the topics of independence and self-sufficiency in the College.

The College has long been more concerned with the intellectual growth of its students, and the development of their capacity to think for themselves, than with inculcating information. Over the years, of course, there has been evolution both in the ways in which that broad objective has been understood and in the ways in which it has been expressed.

Yet in the past decade or so some observers have come to feel that the College has become too "neutral' in the advising of students, questioning whether our practices effectively serve our broad educational purposes. I believe this is an opportune moment to reflect on those concerns and to consider what guidance is appropriate and how it might be offered more effectively.

Before taking up those questions, I shall say a little about how the College's thinking has developed over time. Some of the agencies through which the College advises students exemplify our approach particularly well, and have provided us with a useful vocabulary through which to understand it. Finally we shall consider the new expectations of students and others, and how we might respond to them.

The value of independent thinking has long been honored at Harvard. Some of her chroniclers have even recognized it as a goal of the early, provincial College. In this 'century, President Pusey could write: "...never has Harvard tried to teach a single narrow orthodoxy in any field, nor does she now. From the time our first president, Henry Dunster, was dismissed for unorthodoxy, it has been her chief purpose to call men to think for themselves."

It was, however, only in the nineteenth century --when Harvard had become an independent, secular institution --that the curriculum began to require any significant exercise of choice. The introduction of the "elective system" during the presidency of Charles William Eliot (1869-1909) offered students some choice in their courses and more courses from which to choose. Increasingly, didactic methods of teaching were replaced by inductive methods, in the belief that an active process of learning could produce well-educated individuals in a very broad range of disciplines. This shift was one of great significance, and not merely because it expanded the number of fields whose study might be considered part of a liberal education. Students became more active participants in the design and process of their own educations, beginning with their choice of fields and courses to pursue.

In the decades since Eliot's tenure, the belief in the responsibility of individual students which seems so characteristic of the College today has informed many changes. Two major innovations of Eliot's successor, A. Lawrence Lowell (1909-1933), the tutorial system and the Houses, have served to stimulate the independence of students.

At the same time as such changes have extended the responsibility of students for themselves, the College has developed a number of institutions intended to assist students in the wise exercise of choice. The establishment in 1888 of a formal system for the advising of freshmen --the ancestor of the present Board of Freshman Advisers --and, in 1890, of the Administrative Board mark the beginning of our present advising system. Both of these agencies, like others to which we shall give particular attention, operated from the outset on the basis of certain assumptions which continue to characterize the College.

Among them is an idea which has the ring of nineteenth century Utilitarianism: that the individual student is the person best able to act on his own behalf. According to this thinking, the making of wise choices cannot be delegated to others: one must learn to seek and use help intelligently in order to take responsibility for one's own life.

The common goal of those agencies and individuals who, together, comprise a counseling "network" is neither to make decisions for students nor simply to impress them with the burden of personal responsibility, but to enable them to make choices well and to believe that they can do so. That last element --the confidence in one's capacity to think and choose for oneself --has sometimes been referred to as a sense of "personal efficacy." That phrase suggests how far we have come from regarding the development of independent thinking as an exclusively academic process. We have come to see it instead as a process of growth involving the whole self, without which intellectual growth is likely to be seriously hampered.

The work of the Bureau-of Study Counsel has been critical to our understanding of that process of growth. Established in its present form in 1947, the Bureau has developed both a rhetoric and a counseling approach which still typify its work. They find full expression in the writing of its first director,William Perry.

Two aspects of his thinking about the nature and purposes of advising have been particularly important to the College. One is the scheme he constructed to describe the personal and intellectual growth of students in the College. (The reader interested in this topic is urged to consult Perry's most complete work on the topic, Perry, W.G., Jr., Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,1970.) The other Perry theme of special importance to us centers around the question of the role the College should take in guiding its students. It may be helpful first to describe briefly Perry's developmental scheme, based on decades of observation of students and their conversations in the Bureau.

Perry discerns nine cognitive stages through which students may pass in their intellectual and ethical development. The nine stages may be grouped into broader, more abstract, categories of dualism, relativism and commitment within relativism. In the earliest stages, notions of right and wrong --as they pertain to ethical questions as well as to academic ones --are seen in simple "black and white" terms. In the middle stages, values and the validity of answers are seen to be "relative"; that is, they are objectively equally valid, and their validity is assigned to them by the individual. In the most advanced stages, the student comes to see values and answers in much more complex terms. The process through which values are reached can be viewed objectively as better or worse. Their validity derives especially from their consonance with other values and beliefs held by the individual. These last stages admit a good deal more freedom than is available to the student in stage one, and are characterized by a much more fully developed sense of responsibility for choices than the middle stages. At this point, the individual is aware of, and may constantly reassess, the context of values in which he or she has chosen to operate.

I have suggested above that in Perry's engaging descriptions of the advising system, he has developed a language which can help us comprehend the College's approach as it operates today. His emphasis on cognitive development (which finds its counterpart in Lowell's belief in the importance of fostering the development of the "whole man,") the recognition of students' differing "learning styles" and of the importance of learning "in one's own voice" --all these have powerfully informed the College's thinking in the past few decades.

The other aspect of Perry's work to which I have alluded has been equally significant for the College. The themes of personal efficacy and self-reliance run throughout Perry's writing on advising. He sees students in a "synergistic" relationship with the College, asserting that the wrongquestion to ask is "what does college do for a person?" In his view, education results from the individual's interaction with the environment.

Although the Bureau is a key part of the College's formal system of advising, Perry is never unaware of the coexistence of an "informal" advising system, through which students receive valuable counsel, perhaps of an even more essential nature. The Bureau and other agencies and individuals comprising the formal network recognize that students, like others, will seek out those whom they respect and find congenial, and that they may consult different people for different concerns. Perry appreciatively describes our elaborate and overlapping advising structure:

A corollary of diffusion and decentralization is diversity. The advising "system," like most systems at Harvard, developed as a loosely organic community of experiments which, at a minimum, never demonstrated such gross evidence of failure as to require them to be stopped. This office, the Financial Aid Office, the Office of Career Services and Off Campus Learning, the Psychiatric Service, the Office of Instructional Research and Evaluation and so on may be thought of as professional and semi-professional resources binding the periphery, rather than forming the center, of the advising circle. At a particular time, a student may seek out someone from this circle, or someone else --such as a proctor, a teaching fellow, a coach or a clergyman --and that person may become for a while the "center" of the student's advising circle.

The other offices comprising the advising "system" of which Perry writes take much the same approach to students' concerns. The objective has been, and remains, to be of assistance when students ask for it, but to permit them to determine when and how they wish to do so.The Office of Career Services --like the Bureau of Study Counsel, the product of periodic re-combination of agencies --emphasizes its educational role. The present-day Office of Career Services and Off-CampusLearning offers the services of a large staff of professional counselors specializing in a full range of career and educational fields, and an incomparable resource library. Although the office maintains employment listings and helps to arrange interviews with recruiters, it is not a mere placement office. It strives, instead, to teach people how to make career choices in a broad context, and how to capitalize on, and even create, opportunities. The emphasis on teaching "self-help" comes from the recognition that many, perhaps most, people will make a series of career decisions as their interests and talents develop throughout their lives, and will need the skills to do so independently.

The advising system for freshmen finds its origins about a century ago. As with the Bureau of Study Counsel and the Office of Career Services, the development of self-reliance has been articulated as an objective of freshman advising. Writing in the Harvard Advocateof October 1928, Dean A. Chester Hanford describes three possible approaches to the challenge of acclimating freshmen to college life, using the metaphor of a river separating the secondary school from the college. Citing the increased unevenness of academic preparation in entering freshmen, Hanford rejects as impracticable the laissez-faireapproach of "sink or swim." Neither, he claims, would much be gained by carrying the student across. Accordingly, he says, Harvard has chosen to bridge the river so students might traverse it themselves.

The "bridge" offered today by the Freshmen Dean's Office features an especially dense advising system. Its purpose is to provide an intensive "course" for new students in the effective use of the College's resources, on one's own behalf.

I have emphasized the fact that the College makes a great effort to encourage students to learn how to seek and use advice effectively. For many, having achieved academic success for years before coming to Harvard, this is a hard lesson to learn. Most Harvard students believe in the importance of self-reliance, and some interpret the need for counsel as a failure of self-reliance. The subtle balance with which this essay has been concerned --between, on the one hand, the College's provision of advice in various forms and from various sources and, on the other, its commitment to the value of autonomy and even of making mistakes --is difficult to appreciate when one is under pressure to navigate this complicated environment.

It does, therefore, happen from time to time that students fail to thrive in the College. Some who seek suitable and timely help are unable to translate it into action appropriate to their circumstances. Some seek help too late to avoid a crisis, and others do not seek it at all. The College intervenes actively on behalf of students who have shown themselves unable to act effectively on their own behalf.

In cases of academic failure, this intervention rarely comes as a surprise to the student. His or her Allston Burr Senior Tutor (or Senior Adviser and Freshman Adviser if the student is a freshman) usually hears well before the end of the term from instructors who are worried about a student. Such communication gives the Senior Tutor and the student a chance to discuss the student's options, which might include withdrawing from the course, "bagging" the course in order to concentrate on remaining courses, or, simply, engaging a tutor or otherwise making an effort to recover the course. Such conversations with the Senior Tutor are, in a sense, a form of intervention, but their result depends on the student's own choice of a course of action. And a successful outcome --by which I mean the student's taking control of his circumstances, even if this means a voluntary withdrawal from College --is possible only if the conversation takes place before the student's overall situation is irretrievable.

When a student has been unable to function successfully in the College, as demonstrated, for example, by the achievement of successive unsatisfactory records or a single extremely poor record, active intervention, such as requirement to withdraw, will result. The assumption is that time away and paid employment will give the student new perspective and, even more important, will increase his confidence in his ability to manage his own life. Our experience in finding such apparently drastic interventions very successful strengthens our belief that personal initiative and responsibility are the essential ingredients for success in the College.

As we have seen, the College has tended more and more to emphasize the importance of individual responsibility. Yet we seem to be encountering a desire on the part of students for better help and, ultimately, for wiser choices. One might construe such wishes as a mandate for more "directive" advising. I think, however, that to adopt a much more directive approach would run counter to our fundamental educational objectives as I have tried to articulate them.

It seems to me appropriate here to reflect on an imbalance that dates back a decade or so. By the late1960s and early 1970s, the College had withdrawn from the last vestiges of the regulation of the personal lives of students, abolishing parietal and dress rules. Contemporary with this trend was a withdrawal by parents from an obviously directive role in their children's lives at the College, and a greater willingness to view students as independent adults. Yet it seems that we may not have compensated for this marked relaxation of external authority with enough of the kind of guidance necessary to help students conduct their own affairs.

Such guidance is, of course, not easy to provide. Rules and regulations are much simpler to formulate, and, if well conceived, they may protect against mistakes. -But the observation of an institution's rules does not, by itself, foster the kind of personal development we have hoped to encourage. In addition to freedom --the absence of constraints --that kind of growth requires the College and schools and families to work actively with students in developing a context in which they can make appropriate choices. This is, of course, the approach to which the College has long been committed in principle, but it is undeniably a relatively inefficient way to advise. Moreover, without some sense of shared purpose in schools and families, it is nearly hopeless, because one cannot start constructing personal goals and values from scratch at the age of eighteen.

Nevertheless, for whatever combination of reasons, we have found that advisers in the College are called on for more of the kind of counsel that many students a generation ago might have sought from home. More particularly, even in extremely serious circumstances in which a student might find himself --an overwhelming academic failure, for example, or an incapacitating personal crisis --parents may hesitate to intervene. This phenomenon has been paralleled, and perhaps fostered, by federal legislation (most notably the Privacy Act, known as the Buckley Amendment) limiting the amount of information that may ordinarily be shared with parents.

In most situations, neither the new legal regulations nor the willingness of parents to honor students' independence present difficulties for the College. Indeed, it should by now be apparent that they are in harmony with our own approach to encouraging self-sufficiency. But because today's parents may feel acutely their own distance, when they learn of problems their children may encounter, they may be quicker to insist that the College "take charge." Another factor which seems to have complicated our understanding of the proper degree of autonomy for students arose, too, in the world beyond the College. Beginning perhaps in the late 1960s, and becoming quite standard in the 1970s, a rhetoric developed in which" love" and "caring" were paramount values. Institutions came to be perceived as intrinsically "cold" and" impersonal": to many, it seemed necessary explicitly to reassure that advisers and faculty members were genuinely concerned for the well-being of students.

The challenge for Harvard --and other colleges for which the encouragement of self-reliance was a major objective --was to demonstrate that institutional concern is consistent with the non-directive approach which this essay has sought to articulate. The literature distributed to students by the College in the past fifteen years reveals little of the rhetoric of love and caring. But members of the College's staff can recollect a growing tendency in conversations, not only with students but among advisers and faculty members themselves, to use such terms and to treat them as actual goals in themselves. Certainly the College's publications of the past fifteen years do show an increased emphasis on the availability of "helping" agencies and individuals. I think the overall trend --outside the College and in informal discussion among students and those who counsel them --has contributed to increased expectations that the College should adopt a more "interventionist," even "protective," role vis a vis its students (though few would use those terms.)

For all these reasons, in both of the spheres of students' experience to which we have given attention-- academic education and more personal concerns --the College has been urged to take a more directive approach. I shall now try to suggest why I believe that, in both those areas, we should resist that temptation.

On the academic side, several factors have been at work. In certain fields there is the concern that course choices are both so complicated and so critical that advising must be expert. Departments have been called on to provide better counsel and, with the growth of a preference for "expertise," the burden of course selection has shifted perceptibly away from individual students. Part of the actual responsibility for choice --not simply for offering informed advice --seems to have been assumed by advisers. This development is more pronounced in fields with highly structured curricula and comparatively competitive academic environments, such as the natural sciences. But even in other concentrations, students who feel pressure, from whatever sources, to maximize the value of each course choice they make do expect foolproof academic advising. The pressure may result from anxiety about achieving the best possible record in anticipation of graduate school application, or simply from a wish to use one's time most effectively. Whatever the reason, it has begun to seem to many that our traditional belief in the value of learning from mistakes is an antiquated luxury, and that it is incumbent on the institution to be more vigilant in preventing wrong choices.

It is not hard to appreciate the appeal of the simplest, straightforward response --to prescribe the courses of study to be followed by students, thereby avoiding academic missteps. However, for those of us who believe that intellectual and psychological self reliance must continue to be among the College's fundamental goals, such a solution would be counter-productive. If we elect to reaffirm the principle that students themselves must be responsible for their choices, we shall be choosing the more difficult course. We should need to ensure that wise and informed advice is available to each student from a variety of sources and, just as important, that the environment encourages consultation. For this approach to work effectively, the roles of families and of secondary schools are critical, because it is under their guidance that our future students begin to develop their capacity for making coherent choices.

I think that advising in the College, even on the simpler academic topics, cannot be effective without a better consensus about the respective responsibilities of students and advisers. I have emphasized our belief that final responsibility for choices should lie with individual students. I believe, too, that few choices, once made, can be considered to be genuine mistakes, if only because the processes of making them and then evaluating them are often in themselves useful. Indeed I think certain shortcomings in our advising might be remedied in accord with those principles.

For example, some members of the community worry that we have grown too reluctant to urge students to explore new possibilities, and thereby to take risks, for fear that that advice --for which advisers feel responsible --will turn out to be mistaken. Others are concerned that in emphasizing the student's own responsibility we may shirk the important duty of expressing our own views, for fear, perhaps, that to do so will impinge on the student's freedom. According to these lines of thinking, our academic advising has become so neutral that it limits itself to what can be regarded as information: that is, that a particular choice will lead to some particular consequence. In addition to depriving the student of a subjective view, this "scientific" approach may actually reinforce the natural tendency of those embarking on adult life to believe that they should strive toward a predetermined goal, usually a career goal, as efficiently as possible. It may be that we should re-examine our deliberate neutrality and perhaps more aggressively encourage students to take full advantage of academic opportunities, and not to confine themselves to those steps that lead in a predetermined direction. And we may not have permitted ourselves --faculty members and administrators who talk with students --to share enough of our individual perspectives on the actual value of many academic "mistakes."

Other examples can be found in the sphere of social and interpersonal relations where, too, I think we are not in a state of perfect equilibrium. I have referred above to the College's withdrawal, over the past couple of decades, from a regulatory role in students' social lives. This trend seemed to meet the unqualified approval of students and has gained general acceptance in the community. Yet there has been pressure --as in academic matters --to return to a system of clear rules governing social behavior. Particularly in the past several years, the College has been called upon more and more often to extricate students from personal relationships which have developed over time into situations of real complexity.

The institution has never abandoned its interest in the behavior of students and has always regarded it as appropriate in serious circumstance to intervene. Whenever a student is said to have acted improperly, either in violation of a specific College rule or, more broadly, in a manner "unbecoming a Harvard student," the Administrative Board considers the case and may make a disciplinary response. Although the Board is prepared to hear allegations of any kind of wrong-doing at the College by students, it has not sought to mediate ordinary inter-personal difficulties, unless a College rule has been broken or a generally accepted standard of conduct breached. 

The dilemma arises because some students wish the College to take a closer look at the conduct of their peers than we have done recently. With growing frequency (though still by no means often) the Administrative Board has begun to hear complaints from students concerning intimate personal relationships. Because there is not a clear consensus on what conduct is appropriate in romantic and sexual relationships between students, for example, it is particularly difficult for the Board to feel confident that it can respond equitably in such situations. A failure to respond --at least to offer its opinion on which party was "right" and which "wrong" --may be interpreted as tacit approval of behavior of which Board members may not, in fact, approve. Many members, and others outside the Board as well, worry that its procedures may in such cases tend to polarize the views of the parties involved, and lead away from the process of reflection and mutual communication that would enable them to learn from the experience.

Even when students bring such concerns informally to advisers or other officers, they may expect the College to intervene on their behalf in ways that, fifteen years ago, might have been greatly resented by both parties. The most difficult situations are those in which a student has engaged in a relationship over a period of time and asks for help only at the point where a crisis seems to have occurred. Seeking advice earlier is almost always more effective --because the situation-will be more fluid --and more appropriate because that fluidity leaves more control in the student's own hands.

Although I believe there is still broad support for the principle that students should enjoy discretion in their relationships with peers and that they should bear responsibility for their own conduct, I think we must begin to examine the questions that have recently been raised. Probably it would be a mistake too readily to interpret students' requests for help and intervention as requests for more specific rules of conduct. It seems more likely that we are being asked for better guidance: in the creation of a broader consensus about the division of responsibility in relationships and, perhaps equally Important, in the formulation of a vocabulary with which to convey expectations of behavior. If there is any area of experience in which communication is critical for students, it is in relationships with peers, who arrive with a great diversity of assumptions and values. Both actions and words can have very different significance to another; students and those charged with advising them would surely find it useful to seek ways to overcome the resulting barriers to communication.

In both academic and the more personal spheres of experience, I have suggested that we --students, faculty members and other officers alike --should take the time to re-examine our assumptions and practices with which we engage in the process of advising. The preferences and perceptions of students would be important factors, because the advising process is, at its best, a dynamic one in which both the adviser and the advisee are participants. The ways in which one seeks help, evaluates and acts on it, are critical to the endeavor.

If we do consider these questions seriously, I think we shall face the choice to which I have already alluded: we can contrive more rigid academic requirements and regulations for the various aspects of student life; or we can seek to improve, at every level (including families and schools) the guidance and support we provide for our students. The latter course is by far the more difficult, but I think it offers more to our students, for whose competence and resourcefulness we have high hopes as they assume responsibilities beyond the College.

John B. Fox, Jr.