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On the Continuing Oxymoron of Ethics at Harvard

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There is so much crookedeness among our elites that it’s hard to know, absent more systematic study, whether Harvard is playing a leading role in this decline.

However, the glaring gap between Harvard president Drew Faust’s talk on ethics and her recent actions has stuck with me and I’ve concluded it merits discussion.

One of the basic rules of corporate behavior is that who you pay, promote, and appoint to plum jobs sends strong messages about what sort of behavior the organization really values, as opposed to the ones it professes to value. One common way in which companies signal that the official policies don’t matter all that much is via the Big Producer Syndrome. That occurs when individuals or units not only reap high compensation and other rewards, but are also subject to lower oversight. Most Wall Street firms, in the days when they were partnerships, recognized the need to strike a balance between giving employees the latitude to grasp fleeting opportunities and making sure they didn’t wind up doing harm to the franchise in the long term. The firms that didn’t manage that tension well over time were less successful than the ones that did. But that concern has long gone out the window in a world where financial services companies play with other people’s money and the notion of ethical standards is a quaint relic.

Nevertheless, when the ethics of executives generally and some of its graduates in particular come under harsh scrutiny, Harvard Business School tries to do a bit of image burnishing. After HBS grad Paul Bilzerian was sentenced for securities fraud in 1989, which was also when savings and loans and leveraged buyout companies were collapsing, the school went through a bit of soul searching. I was told by someone deeply involved in fundraising that it had concluded, based on some study, that ethics could not be taught, so it needed to rethink how it selected incoming students. I doubt anything came of that, since there hasn’t been any evidence of meaningful changes in Harvard’s or other school’s screening policies. Sociopaths could easily game any questions aimed at getting at ethical stances and real due diligence on that front would take more time and effort than an admissions department could undertake.

Fast forward twenty plus years. We’ve seen widespread bad behavior among the political and corporate elites, with Harvard at least holding its own. Former Harvard president Larry Summers was singled out by Inside Job as an example of corruption among academic economists. That isn’t surprising, since Summers protected fellow Harvard economics professor Andrei Shliefer when he and one Jonathan Hay were charged with conspiracy to defraud the US government, and Harvard was sued for breach of contract over an advisors program Shliefer and Hays ran in Russia in the 1990s. Some have claimed the real reason the faculty eventually revolted against Summers wasn’t his famed foot in mouth incident about women in math, but simmering anger about the failure to take action against Shliefer given that Harvard paid at least $31 million to settle the litigation.

Summers’ successor, Drew Faust, has tried to signal that Harvard has changed direction under her leadership, but her gestures range from unconvincing to all too revealing. For instance, she talked a good deal about how Harvard Business School had lost its ethical direction (that of course assumes it ever had one) and made a great deal of fuss about the selection of a new new dean who would help remedy this problem. From the Boston Globe:

A professor who has a strong interest in business ethics will become the new dean of Harvard Business School, at a time when the corporate world’s image has been pummeled by fallout from the 2008 collapse of financial markets and ongoing allegations of corruption and greed….

In his more than two decades on the school’s faculty, Nohria has been particularly active in business ethics, frequently writing and speaking on the need for changes in business and leadership training. A 2008 article written by Nohria and fellow faculty member Rakesh Khurana for the Harvard Business Review said “managers have lost legitimacy over the past decade in the face of a widespread institutional breakdown of trust and self-policing in business.’’ The two called for a “rigorous code of ethics’’ for business leaders, similar to the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath.

If you believe crossing your heart and swearing you will behave in an upstanding manner will make an iota of difference in corporate conduct, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Indeedm, Faust seems to be a fan of the sort of ethics posturing that is regularly lampooned by Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times. Last April, she pointedly refused to take up a call by professor and former Harvard college dean Harry Lewis to criticize (mind you, merely criticize) professor Michael Porter for his role in producing a well paid report that depicted Libya as a shining example of democracy. Per the Harvard Crimson:

In February 2006, Porter presented a 200-page document to officials in Tripoli as a consultant to Monitor, a firm formed by several Harvard professors that was under several million-dollar contracts with the country.

In the report, Porter argued that Libya “has the only functioning example of direct democracy on a national level,” and that Libyans were able to directly contribute to the decision-making process, which drew heavy fire from Lewis in yesterday’s Faculty meeting.

“To put it simply, a tyrant wanted a crimson-tinged report that he was running a democracy,” Lewis said, bringing up the question of whether the University should acknowledge the “shame” when a faculty member disgraces the University in such a way…

In response to Lewis’ criticism, Faust said that it was not the president’s responsibility to serve as “public scolder-in-chief.”

She said that Harvard recently conducted a review of the University’s policies on conflict of interest. But she said it should also be the University’s priority to support all faculty members to pursue academic inquiry.

I’m sure you recognize the Newspeak. Being paid lots of money to gain access to a valued brand is depicted by Faust as “academic inquiry.”

In January, Faust again showed what the real game is at Harvard by naming Krishna Palepu, a professor at HBS, as her senior advisor for global strategy. An article in Harvard Gazette makes clear that he’s not simply providing input to Faust and other University leaders but also playing an important ambassadorial role:

As senior adviser, Palepu will work closely with the president, provost, and colleagues to help guide the University’s international strategy, refine and test some operational proposals of the International Strategy Working Group, and develop a more effective and coordinated approach to international fundraising and to engaging Harvard alumni living abroad. Palepu will consult widely with colleagues within the University and in the broader Harvard community as he undertakes this role.

In case you missed it, “engaging Harvard alumni living abroad” translates as “traveling to fundraise from rich alumni living overseas.”

Why is this a cause for concern? Palepu is accounting professor turned governance guru who took huge consulting fees by Indian standards while serving as a director of what turns out to be the largest corporate fraud in the history of the country, Satyam Computer Services. An op-ed by Premchand Palety in Mint, one of the biggest daily business newspapers in India, depicts Palepu as a bad role model in the ethics department:

Now the big question arises about the role of independent directors who are supposed to protect the interests of investors…Krishna G. Palepu, who belongs to Harvard Business School, has been too closely associated with Raju to qualify him for an independent director’s post. He has been [founder Ramalinga] Raju’s adviser for over a decade and was also actively associated with the Satyam Learning Centre in Hyderabad.

Palepu should have recused himself from taking the responsibility on grounds of conflict of interest…Palepu and Rao [another business school professor on the board] should have shown their leadership skills in influencing Raju to follow a better governance model . If Raju thought otherwise, as a last resort, they should have resigned from the board. Unfortunately they did nothing of the sort and have lowered their image and also the image of the institutions they represent…

The following is an excerpt from Palepu’s bio data on the Harvard Business School website:…

“Professor Palepu’s current research and teaching activities focus on strategy and governance…

In the area of corporate governance, Professor Palepu’s work focuses on how to make corporate boards more effective, and on improving corporate disclosure. Professor Palepu teaches these topics in several HBS executive education programmes aimed at members of corporate boards: Making Corporate Boards More Effective, Audit Committees in a New Era of Governance. He also co-led Harvard Business School’s Corporate Governance, Leadership, and Values initiative, launched in response to the recent wave of corporate scandals and governance failures.”

Is it so difficult to practice what you preach, Professor Palepu?

The past few months have witnessed many scams in the corporate world; most of them have been a result of bad governance and unethical practices…

The best way to inculcate ethics among students is to have a culture of ethics in the institutions, with faculty members as role models. Rao and Palepu have set a bad example by their conduct in the Satyam-Maytas case. They need to own up responsibility.

Note that this pointed piece ran on December 28, 2008. On January 7, 2009, Raju admitted that Satyam’s accounts were bogus (among other things, Raju had been withdrawing funds monthly to pay for 13,000 fictive employees). Per Wikipedia:

On 10 January 2009, the Company Law Board decided to bar the current board of Satyam from functioning and appoint 10 nominal directors. “The current board has failed to do what they are supposed to do. The credibility of the IT industry should not be allowed to suffer.” said Corporate Affairs Minister Prem Chand Gupta.

So the apparent message from Drew Faust is that being directly involved in an Enron-level scandal doesn’t count if it took place in a third world country. She is happy to have what amounts to a corporate governance fraud as a face to the international business community.

Faust can talk all she wants to about ethics. Her actions repeatedly indicate she isn’t willing to take any action that might get in way of the University’s fundraising or “entrepreneurship” by individual professors. I quit giving money to Harvard long ago, and her stance confirms my decision.

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99 comments

  1. Middle Seaman

    Harvard and any other school reflects the morality and ethics of society. The days of low compensated faculty are long gone. In todays schools many professors are highly or at least reasonably highly paid. Schools themselves are run like businesses making the bottom line more important than quality, ethics, student education and community service.

    President Faust is first and foremost in charge of a large business. In society today, business is by and large outside the law, has huge leverage over the country leaders and the move from government to business and back is seamless.

    Faust and Harvard are the rule and not an abberation.

    1. bmeisen

      Yes. Neo-liberalism has destroyed the public-private model that made Amer higher ed the envy of the world. We now have an elite system dominated by private institutions that makes substantial efforts to cultivate a lucrative international clientele while placating the politically-sensitive domestic base by underpricing. 55k/yr sounds like a lot but they could get twice that much. This is part of the calculation that motivates alumni donations.

      1. Tiercelet

        Yeah, that’s the awful thing — there’s no sense any more of the mission.

        Harvard’s net endowment is something like (no joke) ten billion dollars. It could offer free tuition to the entire student body just by buying T-bills. But that’s not how these schools roll.

        The only difference nowadays between a non-profit and a for-profit institution is that the former happens not to have shareholders, just some vague “endowment” whose job is to be grown. It’s the exact same number-maximizing business school ethic (since it’s the same people who sit on Harvard’s board as on any of the other transnational corporations’).

          1. Nathanael

            Harvard is extra specially bad.

            I know a lot about the corporate-driven rot which has set into a great deal of academia, and it’s bad a lot of places, but it’s extra specially bad at Harvard.

    2. bhikshuni

      Yes but due to the likes of Larry Summer’s impact (let alone Obama et al) Harvard is deeply implicated in the national malaise.

      One need merely take a stroll around Harvard Square to see its degeneration from a unique, pedestrian center of independent businesses to what is now a square mile of megabank real estate peppered with strip-mall retail chains. The whole area from Central-Square to Somerville and Arlington is completely gentrified, such that few families (let alone students) can afford to live anywhere near the campus.

      I turned down my 2011 admission (I am already Ed school alum)to the Div School in favor of California. Now Rupee-style fraud gets rewarded? The stink from Harvard Sq is getting worse and worse!

    3. JTFaraday

      “Schools themselves are run like businesses making the bottom line more important than quality, ethics, student education and community service.”

      To an extent, and certainly the Saints like to blame everything on corporations, but academia is and always has been an elite, insular culture that protects its own. Especially in New England.

      1. F. Beard

        Along with the banks, I might add. LS

        So who get’s the “credit”? And how much? Will windmill builders get more than new coal-fired plant builders? Will there be consumer loans? Will the rich qualify for more credit than the poor? Will one have to have a “666″ tattoo to qualify?

        What part of “credit creation = theft of purchasing power” don’t Progressives get? But I suppose theft is OK so long as the right (read Left) is in charge of it.

        1. digi_owl

          Credit is a bit more complicated than that. It helps getting new companies and ideas off the ground, and smooths out valleys in the income/expense flow. But when credit is created without any attachment to reality, and one insist on said credit being payed back in full no matter what happens, one get the issue your talking about where one is in essence writing cheques that is impossible to cash.

          1. KnotRP

            Credit should be granted by the person who will be providing the savings as investment, not by the middleman (banker) who gets fees whether it blows up or not.

    1. alex

      It’s got nothing to do with Internet vs. banking per se. Due to strong competition a mere “million dollar business” is below the dividing line between criminal and business person. If he’d help steal a billion dollars it would’ve been ok.

  2. jake chase

    Yves,
    You are apparently still daring to hope that the business and professional and educational elite harbors some shred of morality, that, until “something went wrong”, the corporatist system was built on free enterprise and entrepreneurship and wholesome collegial effort from society’s best and brightest as measured by SAT scores and admissions essays and high school and college grades. Have you learned absolutely nothing from twenty (thirty?) years up to your elbows in this snakepit? Harvard ethics my ass! Harvard has always been a cesspool of elitist corruption and newspeak toadyism and bogus idealism, while the real business of fund raising, football games and drunken rentier revelry paid lip service to merit and a nod to affirmative action tokenism. What Harvard turns out is class after class of overprivileged twits on a pipeline to big finance, big law and big consulting gigs, where their carefully crafted literacy and urbanity are placed into service in our foremost extraction industries, which continue digging deeper and deeper holes in what remains of our social fabric. All anyone needs to have done to understand this is waste a year or two of adolescence there at any time in the past 250 years.

    1. votersway

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Twenty years ago it was a different country, a different reality altogether, albeit the erosion had started much earlier.

      Is there anyone who still respects the Ivy League? I can’t talk about them without holding my nose…

      1. Nathanael

        There are many Ivy League professors worth respecting.

        Then again, there are many who aren’t worth respecting. But more importantly, are there any Ivy League *Presidents* or *Boards of Trustees* worth respecting any more? I submit that there are not. And “a fish rots from the head”.

  3. burnside

    I think you can look with some confidence to the era of Walter Pater – and surely to the subsequent generation of William James and George Santayana – with some confidence that ethics cut a figure at Harvard in those years.

    Much later, when Berenson was settling his estate at Settignano on the Harvard Corporation, he noted in his diaries some concern, in fact real distress, whether his wishes would be honored or even valued. In the end he found no satisfying alternative and, accepting various assurances, made the gift of his property and of a substantial endowment for post-grad residencies there.

    I’d be curious to learn the extent I Tatti today resembles his vision of it and of its best uses.

    1. ginnie nyc

      Um, B. Berenson is not the best example of the ethical nobility of yore. See Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen (1986). Dude was a major inside trader, forger, liar, and outright thief.

      1. burnside

        You might benefit from examining source documents as opposed to accepting received opinion on the matter. Berenson was aware of his critics in his own day and responded to them. He hasn’t that luxury posthumously.

        Lovely how we freely defame the dead.

        1. ginnie nyc

          For the record, Berenson’s self-defense can hardly be considered an objective proof, can it? My background in art provenance and tracing historical art theft is the primary ground for my opinion on BB. The book reference is for non-specialists, as it is widely available.

  4. toofunny

    Neo-liberalism? Too funny. It is Neo-communism that has destroyed so-called “higher education”. It has become a scam and a lie. You parrot more lies.

    Oligarchic Collectivism is always about “business”. It just requires chumps like you to imagine that they have noble motives. You socialist masters are laughing at you all the way to the bank.

    How like this denizens of this site to blame this on “neo-liberalism”. At least you are honest about it, though only by accident. You are not liberals at all, You are mixture totalitarian socialists and fascists.

    You cannot help but to get matters completely wrong–completely backwards.

    You ma get your wish of your New Order. How surprised you will be,

    1. bmeisen

      Oligarchic collectivism is a challenging term too. What is called neo-conservatism in the USA is called neo-liberalism where I now live, and I think rightly so as the term liberal originates in Europe and refers to an defender of individual rights especially when oppressed by the state/monarchy. German liberals are free-market, anti-government fans.

      1. JohnH

        I think that’s code for “I’m a libertarian” or Rand follower, but in a kind of passive way that offers the obvious opinion without the label.

        1. JohnH

          And to which I ask, neo-communists like Larry Summers? This guy has obviously not spent time at leading business schools and economics departments in the US lately.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Finally, someone who gets it! For the last century we have witnessed the complete destruction of value based education as witnessed by the communist propaganda masquerading as “scientific fact” that our universities spew out such as evolution, climate change, and that most insidious of all, sphericalism.

      But hope is on the way as the recent heroic but failed legislation on “modesty probes” attests; a true clarion call to our most noble Salem spirit, if ever there was one.

      By the bye, with your finely tuned discriminatory faculties, do I ever, and I mean ever, have a deal for you…

    3. votersway

      Take it easy, these labels mean nothing anymore. Get out of the left/right train and open your eyes. The devil is in the details and his the train is about to depart with you on board.

      Libertarianism is just another poison, grown and nurtured by Ivy League. In its logical conclusion it’s sheer madness like the rest of them.

  5. JTFaraday

    Cronyism is endemic throughout all of academia. In Faust’s native specialty of Southern history, perhaps the ethical lapses and groupthink that comes with the unchallenged insularity of so-called “peer evaluation”– and ultimately, peer protection– doesn’t matter so much (although one could argue otherwise), but it does matter when we’re talking about the management of large economic time bombs directly connected to the State.

    If someone has been percolating in this (slightly disgusting) culture for 40 years, I doubt they can’t even see it.

    1. JTFaraday

      Oops, typo–

      If someone has been percolating in this (slightly disgusting) academic culture for 40 years, they CAN’T even see it.

        1. Mel

          “Soaking” is more neutral. The other choices offered all relate to cooking, and cooking is one of the best things we have. Except perhaps for the poor guy who, wishing nothing but good, got his own chapter in a Berton Roueche book with his marinated mushrooms. They turned out to be a botulism culture. Apart from that …

          1. JCC

            “The other choices offered all relate to cooking, and cooking is one of the best things we have.”

            Especially “cooking the books”.

  6. Dan B

    C. West Churchman argues that ethics are embedded within epistemology, but this is rarely acknowledged in business or public policy institutions of higher education. This is reflected in health care “policy,” where it is presumed that profit making remains unscathed (Max Baucus asking for more cops when single payer advocates arrived at HIS hearing); and also in climate change policy, where world population reduction and lowering consumption are taboo. See Mitroff and Slivers’ book, Dirty, Rotten Strategies.

    1. K Ackermann

      ethics are embedded within epistemology

      That is a zero-information statement. Are ethics codified in law?

      Should we feed terminally ill people?

      1. citizendave

        I had a similar question. How is/are ethics embedded in epistemology? My admittedly undergraduate take-away from the study of epistemology was “when can I say ‘I know’?” If I ever ran across ethics embedded in epistemology, I cannot recall it. Seems like I would have dwelt upon that confluence because ethics and epistemology were my two favorite areas. Maybe it’s because I attended a land-grant university in Wisconsin. If I had gone to Hah-vud perhaps I would see the connection.

        1. Nathanael

          Very interesting question. I can come up with one way in which ethics is embedded in epistemiology:

          The things we claim to know, without proof, constitute our ethics.

          So if we claim that “torture is wrong”, well, we can’t *prove* that, which makes it an ethical statement.

    2. votersway

      Thanks for the references. It’s always nice to read about sane people, even partially.

      But I disagree about “lowering consumption” – it’s in vogue now under the Austrian school-sounding name of austerity. And it has nothing to do with either ethics or epistemology.

      It’s all politics… yes, dirty one.

    3. votersway

      After looking at the book, it turned out to be the same old, same old. The authors declare that dirty tricks is everything that their sponsors don’t like… Type 4 nonsense, stay away.

      Oh, and it’s Stanford Business School… should I say more?

  7. Jon Paul

    Raymond Gilmartin anyone? Where does one find employment after resigning as CEO after the Merck Vioxx scandal? Harvard Business School, of course. I know there was an article in February on this, but I’m not sure it pointed out that Harvard seemed to have no qualms about hiring him.

    1. et

      Are you referring to

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust

      Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend; a highly successful scholar, but also dissatisfied with his life, and so makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

      Faust, and the adjective faustian, are often used to describe an arrangement in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success: the proverbial “deal with the devil”.

    1. another

      Indeed, only reality can have a character with such a transparent name. Still, I think the fact that one of our blithe masters is named Blythe Masters provides the strongest evidence of the existence of a rather puckish Creator.

  8. Crimson Snot

    Summers, specifically Larry. He never mentions derivatives, does he? If he did, he would have to finally apologize to Brooksley Born, then soon after, his limbs would shrivel after exposure to sunlight.

  9. Robert Dannin

    If you think HBS is bad, then take a look at Harvard Law School. For more than twenty years this illustrious institution has been raking in millions of petrodollar donations from the Saudis, including the bin Ladens, for its Islamic Legal Studies Department. The goal is to legitimize Wahabi tribal custom as a system of modern, demmocratic jurisprudence. Another kind of laundering operation.

    1. Heavy Armor

      That’s a rather explosive charge. I am going to assume that you have some equally convincing (and concrete) evidence of actions taken by the Islamic Legal Studies Dept in this regard.

      Or should I translate “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu to Klingon while I wait?

  10. John Zelnicker

    Yves — Every time I see something like this I think of the investment bank insider who admitted that they recruit for psychopaths intentionally. The way things are set up, currently, those are the people who generally make it to the top. Only those who completely lack any semblance of morality can climb the hyper-competitive ladder to the executive suite.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        I don’t know about private universities in general, but Harvard will go bankrupt the day that Texas proves corporations are people by hanging one of them.

  11. SR6719

    Excerpts from “The Harvard Boys Do Russia” by Janine R. Wedel:

    1. The privatization drive [in Russia] that was supposed to reap the fruits of the free market instead helped to create a …..corrupt political oligarchy that has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars of Western aid and plundered Russia’s wealth.

    2. The architect of privatization was former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, a darling of the U.S. and Western financial establishments, while at the same time “he may be the most despised man in Russia.”

    3. Essential to the implementation of Chubais’s policies was the enthusiastic support of…. the Harvard Institute for International Development. Using the prestige of Harvard’s name and connections in the Administration, H.I.I.D. officials acquired virtual carte blanche over the U.S. economic aid program to Russia, with minimal oversight by the government agencies involved.

    4. By unconditionally backing Chubais and his associates, the Harvard operatives, their U.S. government patrons and Western donors may have reinforced the new post-Soviet oligarchical system.

    5. Yet few Americans are aware of Harvard’s (H.I.I.D.’s) role in Russian privatization, and its suspected misuse of taxpayers’ funds.

    6. Western policy-makers…. have depicted Chubais as a selfless visionary battling reactionary forces. In the spring of 1997, [Larry] Summers called him and his associates a “dream team.” With few exceptions, the U.S. mainstream media have promulgated this view.

    http://www.thenation.com/article/harvard-boys-do-russia

  12. Phichibe

    Lest we forget: Dr. Robert Jaedicke, Dean of the Graduate School of Business of Leland Stanford Jr. University and holder of an illustrious endowed chair in the Department of Accounting, was head outside director and head of the Accounting Committee of …. wait for it …. Enron.

    All of the fraud and chicanery of Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow was blessed by the head of the highest-ranked MBA factory in the world. Sort of tells you all you need to know both about business ethics and about the academic state of the study of business.

  13. craazyman

    If I take a class at the Harvard Extension School is it just feeding the beast?

    I think so.

    I see their “Introduction to Museum Studies” is $2,000 for graduate credit. What is there to study? And how can there be any more to study once you’ve had the “introduction”? What else is there? You get a big building, hang up some pictures and throw a party where folks get dressed up and pay $200 to come. Then repeat. After a while you’re rich.

    People just can’t do it by themselves. They need to be in mobs with leaders, that’s the biggest problem.

    Beard don’t get huffy with me! I was agreeing with you in my own obtuse way. I mean really. :)

    1. LucyLulu

      True. A brand whose degree pays off quite handsomely over the years (law, at least), gaining one not only the best jobs, but at premium salaries. Say what you like about Harvard, I’d be tickled pink to have a Harvard MBA or JD after my name. It may well be more a function of who they can get as students than the education provided, I can’t comment on that having attended more lowly institutions, but the graduates I’ve known have been very talented individuals.

      Ironically enough, per my sister, while gaining admission is difficult (no connections to help), the curriculum is surprisingly unchallenging. And she may have the most strict ethical standards of anybody I’ve known, a trait that at times is rather annoying.

      But she’s my little sister and I’m very proud of her. And 100% bias free.

    2. Nathanael

      The Harvard brand is getting deservedly tarnished. I can tell you first hand that among professors, they tell each other not to send their kids to Harvard for undergraduate school because the teaching is crap. And that’s as of 20 years ago. And it has only gotten worse, because Harvard spends most of its time sitting on its laurels.

      The rot will seep in all directions. I don’t see Harvard reforming itself. It’ll be interesting to see the first time it starts dropping in college rankings.

      1. Nathanael

        This particular trait (lousy teaching) is not consistently true of the rest of the Ivies or the other “competitive” private colleges, mind you. This is just Harvard.

        Harvard, because of its reputation, manages to attract a lot of the best students — including many who are literally so good that they don’t need teachers. Those students do very well at Harvard, because Harvard has immense resources for a self-directed person. But that doesn’t make it a good school.

  14. Blurtman

    Most of you are condemning the school from a position of worship and dissapointed admiration. You are part of the problem, too. It’s just a brand.

  15. René

    VE-RI-TAS = biggest howler of the 21st century.

    That Old College Lie

    http://www.democracyjournal.org/15/6722.php?page=all

    The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

    http://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/

    Brown University: Cashing Out on Cornell Corrections

    http://www.dunwalke.com/15_Cashing_Out_on_Cornell.htm

    “One of the most notable facts about the life of John Stuart Mill is that he refused to attend University at Oxford or Cambridge. His refusal was due to the fact that these institutions were under the rule of the Anglican Church, which Mill referred to as the “white devil”.

    http://www.easyphilosophy.com/Mill.asp

    1. craazyman

      yeah Wm Blake called them “Satanic Mills”. churches, factories and the church’s mind factories. all in 1.

      but he was a little nutty. to say the least.

      1. René

        Blake was a little nutty in a good way :-)

        “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

        William Blake

      2. SR6719

        Blake’s wife Catherine is reported to have told a friend, in all seriousness: “I have very little of Mr. Blake’s company; he is always in Paradise.”

  16. docG

    I agree with what you’re saying here, Yves, as I usually agree with most of your posts. But I can’t let this one pass. An oxymoron is a figure of speech and though the term is often used as a synonym for “contradiction in terms” it is in fact nothing of the sort. If you’d gone to Harvard, you’d know that. :-)

    1. JurisV

      Gee whiz docG ! Yves doesn’t need my assistance, but I just can’t help myself.

      1. She did, in fact go to Harvard

      2. Language evolves and the use of “oxymoron” with terms that are not explicitly contradictory is just fine to many of us that appreciate rhetorical flourishes and Humor — calling Harvard ethics an oxymoron is one. A better, and great, example is George Carlin’s use of “business ethics” as an example of an oxymoron.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Wrong. Oxymoron does indeed mean contradictory terms…

      From Wikipedia:
      An oxymoron (plural oxymorons or oxymora) (from Greek ὀξύμωρον, “sharp dull”) is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. Oxymorons appear in a variety of contexts, including inadvertent errors such as ground pilot and literary oxymorons crafted to reveal a paradox. [emphasis mine]

      1. docG

        If she went to Harvard, she should have paid better attention. The dictionary defines “oxymoron” as I do. It’s a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. That is NOT the same as a contradiction. If you were to claim that the term “business ethics” is an oxymoron, you’d be right, or at least you’d be amusing. But a policy that hypocritically endorses an ethical policy while favoring business interests can be accused of being contradictory, but NOT labeled an oxymoron. Not unless you are willing to risk having them take back your Harvard degree. :-)

        Here’s what wikipedia has to say(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxymoron):
        Although a true oxymoron is “something that is surprisingly true, a paradox,” Garry Wills has argued that modern usage has brought a common misunderstanding[4] that oxymoron is nearly synonymous with contradiction. The introduction of this usage, the opposite of its true meaning, has been credited to William F. Buckley.[5]

        I’m sorry to give Yves a hard time over this, and I really hope she can keep her degree, but this egregious error has bothered me no end from the first time I identified it. No doubt it had something to do with William Buckley, who was an insufferable prig.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          A course I took at college was on the evolution of the English language, and my Harvard education says you are all wet. If we were all as pedantic as you are, most of the inventiveness that we laud Shakespeare for would be impermissible. The English language was in a particularly adaptive phase and a lot of new words and expressions were created.

          Sophisticated, for instance, once meant pretty much the opposite of what it means now. Its original meaning was more akin to “showy, tawdry, trashy.”

          Similarly, when I was young, a split infinitive was considered a terrible grammatical error. But that was over time treated as silly and precious, since the idea that a split infinitive is verboten came from Latin, and English is NOT Latin.

          In other words, stuff it. Usage changes. Get with the program.

          1. docG

            You’re right, Yves. Usage does change and language does change, and in many cases for the better. And the use of “oxymoron” as equivalent to “contradiction” has indeed become common. But so has the use of Credit Default Swaps as a means of hedging risk.

            Your usage is not unusual and maybe I’m being unfair or even pedantic in bringing this up. But not all “innovation” is a good thing, as we know from the recent history of financial innovation. And imo confusing a figure of speech with a direct reference to the idea the figure is intended to symbolize weakens the language. Just as the misuse of Credit Default Swaps to gamble on the market weakens the economy.

            It doesn’t surprise me that William F. Buckley introduced this usage, as a means of making himself sound more “sophisticated” by introducing an esoteric term. As far as I’m concerned that (mis)usage was a perfect example of both his pretentiousness and his shallow disregard for logic and truth. To see his “innovation” now being used so widely and, indeed, as you say, becoming an accepted part of the English language galls me no end.

            So I beg you on behalf of all that’s nobel and fine in both English and economics: recant!

            Your humble slave,
            DocG

  17. KingSalomon

    Just to make you smile while reading this comment want to remind you that other schools are no better. Seif el Islam Kadahfi got his Phd at the London school of economics, no doubt for his excellent academic achievements….

  18. Hugh

    Universities are purveyors and defenders of the status quo. The Ivies are this on steroids. And the status quo if you need reminding is kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war.

    Faust was hired to run a pirate ship so of course she is a pirate and is going to hire pirates. It sort of goes with the territory.

    1. Dr Winkle

      Uncle Kurt agrees with you and others posting above:

      Kurt Vonnegut – Breakfast of Champions
      - The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were.

  19. Brooklin Bridge

    Harvard’s mission is actually simplicity itself, four astronomical years in which you learn to spell meritocracy, A.R.I.S.T.O.C.R.A.C.Y.

    The sublime rightness of 1%; Obama can not only spell it, it’s his deepest and perhaps only personal belief.

    1. UnderwaterFL

      Recently moved to Cambridge area from FL. The locals are ecstatic and eager to re-elect Obama and to help Warren win the Senate seat. The HOPE and CHANGE signs are starting to sprout. Cambridge residents live in the gentrified bubble described by an earlier commenter, with no appreciation or first hand account of the economic suffering happening elsewhere. As a member of the lower order who was lucky enough to move up to the middle class I’m struck by how many locals believe they are merely middle class, and yet live in million dollar plus homes while owning a second home on the cape. Was it not the “educated elite” (top 20% to 5% in income distribution) that in the not so distant past kept the top 1% “vampires” in check, protesting the worst offenses? The white haired bespectacled men walking about look innocent enough but I wonder how many were involved with, or actively designed, the neo-liberal/middle class assault.

      1. Nathanael

        Remember, MIT is in Cambridge too. While also an elite school, it doesn’t have… the same *attitude* as Harvard does.

        And of course Harvard is happy to hire famous iconoclasts, so many Harvard professors are working directly against the mission of the hedge fund which runs Harvard.

  20. Jean Paul Marat

    Distilled genius, Hugh.
    “Universities are purveyors and defenders of the status quo. The Ivies are this on steroids. And the status quo if you need reminding is kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war.

    Faust was hired to run a pirate ship so of course she is a pirate and is going to hire pirates. It sort of goes with the territory.”

  21. Gil Gamesh

    Feel free to send your (what would have gone to Harvard, but for its ethics issues) gifts to me. I have ethics.

  22. Makryu

    I find the concept of donating to the university you graduated quite strange. If you paid for your education, then they already got what they deserved. If you didn’t then you’re an investment and do your job by serving as their posterboy. I just can’t think of a way to justify it other than a fraternity/secret society mentality. Maybe that’s because I’m from another country and that’s a cultural thing.

    On the other hand, the fact that they earn a lot from ex-students makes them even less willing to criticize or get away from these people, as they’re very nice sources of (stolen) revenue.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Harvard is very much each boat on its own bottom, and I gave only to the parts I liked: Radcliffe and the art museum (and that was as bit mercenary, if I had stayed on the corporate meal ticket, I could have gotten advice on collecting art).

      And no, I didn’t at all socialize (I turned down the opportunity to be a Racliffe trustee, which is completely dopey from a network building perspective). Don’t you believe in giving back? Harvard was a vehicle for my upward mobility, and when I went, middle class people could afford to send their kids there. The endowment (then) kept the education pretty affordable. Obviously the economic proposition has changed a lot over time, but the big runup in tuition started after I stopped giving.

      1. LucyLulu

        “but the big runup in tuition started after I stopped giving.”

        Wow, Yves. You must have been a really big donor. ;)

        1. Paul Walker

          bwaaahaaahaa

          Mumsy loved Radcliffe, but attended before the endowment focused some effort at working class kids and had to cut her stay short for a return to state school. The attributes of Scone College were reportedly prevelant then.

      2. Makryu

        Okay, I guess I understand how the idea of donating to keep higher education affordable for middle class can spark some interest.

        “Don’t you believe in giving back?”

        Yes, but that must occur when something has been given to me, hardly the case with privately funded education. You paid for the service. That’s it.

  23. Paul Walker

    Being paid lots of money to gain access to a valued brand is depicted by Faust as “academic inquiry.”

    Reminds me of the reasoning used by The University of Claifornia, Berkeley for tenuring John Yoo at its law school. Perhaps we’ll hear similar from Northwestern University when it accepts Eric Holder into its ranks of esteemed accelerants of academic inquiry.

  24. Rotter

    “To put it simply, a tyrant wanted a crimson-tinged report that he was running a democracy,”

    “crimson tinged”? Is that the same as rose colored? FUCK! Thats perfectly representative for me. Thats a perfect example of the complete intellectual bankruptcy of these popmpous posturing vapid fraudulent phony lying empty gas bags. Im sick of their magical alchemical transformations of perfectly useful things into worthless garbage, all the while growing fat of the fees they charge for the service. With Harvard the same as wall st. They dont have a useful thought in thier heads (much less an original thought). Its the process and not the results that matter in this worthless age, and God help the future. They make me want to projectile vomit my guts out my mouth.

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