Harry Lewis has been at Harvard, man and boy, for fifty years. He’s a professor of computer science, and formerly Dean of Harvard. He has long been a Cassandra, a vox clamantis in deserto, alarmed about the state of education at Harvard, where he has registered the decline brought about by the madness of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and by self-indulgent faculty members who teach what they want — their niche subjects — rather than what the students need. More on Professor Lewis’s analysis of Harvard’s “debased curriculum,” and comments on it by Professor Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution, can be found here: “Harvard’s Crisis Stems From Debased Curriculum,” by Peter Berkowitz, Real Clear Politics, February 18, 2024:
Last month, Harry Lewis published a Harvard Crimson column that squarely laid the blame on Harvard for the crisis that has engulfed the great university. Fifty years of experience on the banks of the Charles River inform Lewis’ severe judgment: He is a longtime Harvard computer science professor, a 1968 Harvard College graduate, and, from 1995 to 2003, he served as dean of Harvard College. Nevertheless, while illuminating Harvard’s damaging politicization over the last 20 years of its undergraduate curriculum – and despite his half century at Harvard – Lewis overlooks the full extent of the crisis.
In “Reaping What We Have Taught,” Lewis maintained that the surge of antisemitism on campus following Hamas’ perpetration of mass atrocities in Israel on Oct. 7 was not the fault of Claudine Gay, who resigned as Harvard’s president in early January. Nor, he asserted, had Harvard admitted antisemitic students or hired antisemitic faculty. The problem, rather, lies in Harvard’s curriculum: “Unapologetic antisemitism – whether the incidents are few or numerous – is a college phenomenon because of what we teach, and how our teachings are exploited by malign actors.”
Lewis performed a simple experiment. He typed into the Harvard online course catalog search box key words associated with fashionable progressive ideology. The word “decolonize,” he found, “is in the titles of seven courses and the descriptions of 18 more” – more than triple its appearance before 2000. The words “oppression” and “liberation” are each “in the descriptions of more than 80 courses,” while “‘Social justice’ is in over 100.” Lewis also searched for “white supremacy” and “Enlightenment” – these days, it is often said, the latter arises out of and perpetuates the former. He discovered that the terms’ appearances in the online course catalog run “neck and neck, both ahead of ‘scientific revolution’ but behind ‘intersectionality,’” which barely registered before 2000…..
Consider the Ethics & Civics category. The 2024 spring semester offerings feature such options as “Ethics of Climate Change,”; “Evolving Morality: From Primordial Soup to Superintelligent Machines,” and “Ignorance, Lies, Hogwash, and Humbug” (which deals with fake news and other forms of deceit that mark “the post-truth era”). With one of these courses, students can check the ethics and civics requirement at Harvard without ever studying Western civilization’s biblical and classical foundations, the synthesis of faith and reason in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Middle Ages, the modern tradition of freedom’s emergence in the 17th and 18th centuries, and, not least, America’s founding principles and constitutional traditions.
The post-Oct. 7 educational crisis at Harvard, entwined with antisemitism, has been several decades in the making. Effective reform must replace the current curriculum, which advances professors’ interests in niche scholarship and partisan politics, with one that serves students’ interests in acquiring an organized introduction to the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and in undertaking a reasoned exploration of the United States, the West, and the world.
Can the curriculum be changed at Harvard, removing niche subjects offered by self-indulgent professors, so that again requiring that students be provided with what they need to know: the “general education” that demands basic instruction in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences? And who will remove the modish madness of DEI from the campus, so that it no longer the deciding factor in determining the courses that are taught, the faculty who are hired, and the students who are admitted? What Dean or future President of Harvard would take on the twin tasks of DEI removal and curriculum reform? Perhaps, despite his age, the Harvard Corporation will offer the job of President to Harry Lewis himself. That would be a welcome sign from the Corporation that it’s willing to break with the past. Harvard could not do better.
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