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January 4, 2024

If today you are thinking of attending Harvard in the fall of 2024 as a four-year undergraduate, a three-year law student or even a two-year year graduate student in one of the university’s pricey professional schools, can I ask you something? Before expending the time, money and effort needed to move your stuff to the Cambridge (MA) 02138 area code, let me briefly relate one of my first “lessons learned” as a grad student there nearly a half-century ago.

Walking into the austere elegance of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, I was greeted a small sign prominently displayed next to the only parking space for miles around: DON’T EVEN THINK OF PARKING HERE! That silent scream was effective. On these august grounds the newcomer had the immediate impression not only of academic rank (maybe the Dean Himself?) but also of larger political portents (Senator Edward Kennedy was even then preparing to run for Camelot II). Novices better watch your step, sample the ambience and see where you had landed. Hey, wasn’t that former Governor Mike Dukakis leading a class?

I eventually took a course with the affable former Governor, years before he went on to become a Democratic presidential candidate: But the Harvard of that day was an elite institution in every possible way. Truly distinguished scholars were everywhere. My foreign policy class was team-taught by Graham Allison (founding Dean) and Ambassador Joseph Nye. Professors Earnest May, Richard Neustadt and Thomas Schelling taught Presidential Politics; each having written definitive volumes on that subject. The unstated message to every student: Enjoy your access to these great and near-great scholars but in return give us your best. Like a prequel to The Paper Chase, Harvard demanded critical thinking on every paper and in every class. Fortunately, I had been honing these classic skills as an intelligence officer; my term paper for Allison and Nye even predicted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan weeks before it happened.

The real tests, however, would come much later, while teaching cadets at West Point, advising the Army’s senior leadership, and serving as Dean of the National War College. When confronted by those complex realities, judgment is not contained in the briefing books prepared for a hearing or the painstaking position papers prepared by high-priced lawyers. Just one month ago, nothing that Claudine Gay relied on when congressional leaders called her to accountability would have been more effective than an honest answer, stripped bare of any self-serving platitudes. Of all people, shouldn’t a black woman have sympathized with the fears of a persecuted religious minority – and on the campus where she reigned supreme? After her egregious plagiarism finally caught up with her this week, any remaining questions about Ms. Gay were resolved by her resignation statement, which should have been entitled, “It’s All About Me.” (I stopped reading after her first paragraph, which used the I-word four times.)

But here is the crunch-point for anyone thinking about attending Harvard. How much institutional damage has Claudine Gay done – or is much of the iceberg still lurking beneath the surface? Even as the legacy media ruminated about “conservative entrapment,” Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square capital and a prominent Harvard donor, suddenly went public with a 4,000-word jeremiad on Twitter/X. After a blistering tutorial on DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), “a powerful movement that has not only pervaded Harvard but the educational system at large,” Ackman charged that this ideology had corrupted Gay’s selection as president.

“The Corporation board…selected the wrong president and did inadequate due diligence about her academic record despite Gay being in leadership roles at the University since 2015…The Board failed to create a discrimination-free environment on campus exposing the University to tremendous reputational damage, to large legal and financial liabilities, Congressional investigations and scrutiny, and to the potential loss of Federal funding, all while damaging the learning environment for all students.”

He concluded, “It is time we restore Veritas to Harvard and again be an exemplar that graduates well-informed, highly educated leaders of exemplary moral standing and good judgment…”

Final point: While Bill Ackman deserves high praise for candor and courage, you may want to wait before booking that return cabin on the Titanic!

COL (Ret.) Ken Allard is a former West Point faculty member, Dean of the National War College and NBC News military analyst.

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  • Jerry Kuhl

    01/04/2024 04:01 PM

    Unfortunately the college didn't have common sense to fire her nor did they take time to vet her speeches or personal stories. What does she do but jump on the race train. No respect for that individual period.