What Is Happening At Harvard?

There is a Crimson elephant in the room that, while I wouldn’t walk under it, does deserve a good look and a peanut.

This is the first paragraph of Claudine Gay’s resignation letter:

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

It is with a heavy heart but a deep love for Harvard that I write to share that I will be stepping down as president. This is not a decision I came to easily. Indeed, it has been difficult beyond words because I have looked forward to working with so many of you to advance the commitment to academic excellence that has propelled this great university across centuries. But, after consultation with members of the Corporation, it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.

The Harvard Corporation – don’t let that scare you. “Known formally as the President and Fellows of Harvard College, the Harvard Corporation is the oldest corporation in the Western Hemisphere.” (From their site.) They are the highest governing body at Harvard.

There are two factors at play here. The first is the resistance to change. And this is where the Ivy comes in. I remember about 5 years ago when I took over the Ivy FB Group, the literal mass hysteria when I suggested 3/4 zips be considered. Now imagine the intensity of the fervor when this same group of like-minded individuals see change not at the fashion level but at the administrative level. Harvard and its administration don’t look like they did 70+ years ago, and thank whomever you thank for that. The idea that any corporation (and let us be clear, as Harvard is being clear, it is first and foremost a Corporation) can survive without forward progress and change has been made so evident that you don’t even have to give examples anymore. Resistance to change is ego.

The second is the demand that any change be the last change, and I say this to the group surrounding the table at the Corporation this morning vetting candidates. You create more friction with an unwavering footplant in your own ideas than if you continue to have a dialogue even after change has taken place. Because you got there doesn’t make you any more or less correct in your thinking than the people who were they before you because they, too, got there.

Same with Ivy Style. Because you wore something in the hey doesn’t mean those are the only things you can wear now. Companies like Press and Duck Head who are, in my opinion, brilliantly evolving the fashion, are thriving because they are mindful of this principal, must not make the mistake of walking completely away from the foundation, because and I am not dropping any names here, we see what happens when you do that.

In fact, I point the Corporation to the work of Press and Duck Head. If you are a visual learner and want to see how to move forward and maintain tradition at the same time, go shopping. You will see.

Finally, Harvard must, as must we all, understand the idea of a forgivable mistake. Perfection is not the only standard by which we can gain or maintain support. There are, of course, unforgivable mistakes. I think Dr. Gay made one and then compounded it. But the mistake for which she is leaving has yet to even be filtered through any process.

My own view on plagiarism is that the line between saying something someone else said but framing it in a slightly different way to bring your own energy to it, and plagiarism, is pretty murky. It most certainly is in music, where if these standards were to be applied you would have… 8. 8 songs.

My own nominee for President of Harvard? Rhys Moore, CEO of St John. Well, at least consultant. Use his approach. Go back to what you are good at, do that better, then build out, step out, always one foot at least halfway standing in your tradition.


51 Comments on "What Is Happening At Harvard?"

  1. Richard E. Press | January 3, 2024 at 9:39 am |

    Tom Lehrer dimmed the day: Fight fiercely Harvard/Fight fight fight!/Impress them with our prowess do!

  2. The resignation is disheartening and maddening. To me, Dr. Gay’s departure is not a mere a loss to Harvard; it’s a loss to free speech. If we’re being honest and keeping our eye on the ball, the story isn’t about plagiarism; it’s about neo-McCarthyism because of a culture war wrought by an imploding GOP (i.e., MAGA movement).

    • If Harvard scored higher than a 0 on FIRE’s College Free Speech Rankings (https://www.thefire.org/college-free-speech-rankings), then people would perhaps feel differently about the sudden cries that free speech matters. If it matters for Claudine Gay (and for that matter, Liz Macgill) then it matters for both sides – or people ousted from academia over things much more trivial than abhorent.

  3. This seems to be turning into a J. Press blog!

  4. Are the Royal and Ancients missing the point … Does Free Speech permit Hate Speech in America and does my style encourage hate?

    If Royal and Ancient institutions, the lineage of a thing we hold in high esteem, become the battleground for a discourse on whether Hate Speech should be supported to ensure the right to Free Speech, should we have a conversation on the subject?

    Ok, let’s do, but first I offer a few insights. For starters, I am neither Jewish nor a Palestinian, therefore my emotional attachment to current events is the overwhelming suffering of others.

    According to Wikipedia, “Hate speech is a legal term with varied meaning. It has no single, consistent definition. It is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.” This definition is good by me, it is specific, covers both the act of expressing hate and encouraging violence.

    Now comes the hard part. Is Hate Speech that only expresses hate the same as Hate Speech that encourages violence?

    Here’s my conundrum, I hate all groups that encourage violence against others. So, by making this statement I perform Hate Speech.

    Here is the next conundrum, according to Oxford Languages, hate is to “feel intense or passionate dislike.” So, without the action of writing this submission, is this just my feeling? By writing this submission have I encouraged my rabid followers to make violence against those who make violence? Will my followers attack one another?

    If I yell “Fire” in a crowded movie theater I likely violated the Clear and Present Danger Test, a legal concept established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Schenck v. United States (1919) to determine when the government could limit an individual’s right to free speech. So here I ask, why can a university allow speech on its campus that encourages others to murder, rape, perform genocide, and take human slaves? Isn’t this Hate Speech?

    Clearly it is, and under their blanket of ‘inclusive for all’ thinking, the powers that be at the Royal and Ancients have lost sight of the goal of Free Speech, to allow those with adverse opinions to speak their opinion. Have these institutions Crossed the Rubicon from which there is no return, or merely let the pendulum of supporting diverse, divergent, and diametrically opposed speech swing too far in a direction? The answer to this question is this, only time will tell. Until then, I must worry about whether being associated with a Sartorial style with Ivy in the name. Why?

    My clothes could be seen as supporting intolerance, or supporting violence, or suppressing free speech, or supporting plagiarism, or not….

  5. I could not agree with Ignatius more.

  6. whiskeydent | January 3, 2024 at 1:15 pm |

    None of this would have amounted to a hill of beans if she were not president of Harvard and screwed up the congressional testimony. But she was the Harvard president who screwed up and should have resigned when her sloppy scholarship (not plagiarism however) came to light.

    The standards for proper citing of sources in academia are very high — almost to the point of silly. She was castigated for the lack of quote marks and incomplete footnotes, after all. Nonetheless, she knew what those standards are and failed to meet them. Adios.

    Conservatives should not celebrate. Forcing her out will only encourage Harvard to find someone even more liberal to avoid charges of caving into racists and misogynists. Careful what you wish for.

  7. MacMcConnell | January 3, 2024 at 1:49 pm |

    The story is about DEI, bad scholarship, anti semitism running wild at our elite universities. No wonder people have no confidence in our elite institutions.

    Yes mistakes are forgivable. Maybe Harvard will rebound and hire a actual scholar for their next president, there have been some famous ones. But, considering the “corporation” that hired Gay is incompetent, maybe they should resign. Equity hires sometimes don’t work out. Harvard is important to America and the world. It’s important to get it right. FYI, Harvard is at the bottom in ratings for free speech, as are most Ivys.

    If you are interested, read Bill Ackman’s X posting on the matter. Ackman is a hard core dem, not MAGA. He’s Harvard undergrad and Business School.

  8. Harvard no longer exists and has not for some time. True, there is a school that occupies the same physical space and uses the same name. But what was no longer is. That died long ago.

  9. “The culture war is over. We lost”. “I have no idea who first said this, hence no citations, only quotation marks”. “Sue me”.

    “”Back in “the “heyday””, I would use a “flat 9” as a “passing tone” over a “dominant chord”. Later, it “came to my attention” that Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, and many others before me (“et. al.”) had done this. So, I quit “doing this”. I have since taken to using “flat 7ths” over “Major 7th” chords and “6/9” chords, because almost nobody else “does this”. I “don’t get no more gigs”, “but, hey”, I’m simultaneously “keeping it real” and “covering my “arse””.

    Y’all please excuse me if I don’t take any of this too seriously. Every “once-in-a-while”, those who make the rules have to play by the rules. Meanwhile, I dress like I damn well please, within budget.

  10. There are standards, and then there are standards. As arguably the most prestigious institute of higher learning in the nation (easy, there, non-Harvard grads), Harvard should hold its faculty, staff, and students to the highest of standards.

    Dr. Gay stuck to a lawyerly and tone-deaf response to questioning about antisemitism on campus. This is an issue where there is no moral equivalence. Calling for the genocide of a people—any people—must not be tolerated and should not be excused as merely “free speech.”

    Unlike the UPenn board that unseated Liz Magill, the Corporation stuck by Dr. Gay following her dreadful performance in Congress. It was the accusations of plagiarism that have brought her down.

    I haven’t seen the evidence and so cannot pass judgment on whether she is guilty of plagiarism, but, again, the president of an Ivy League school should be above suspicion. As a current graduate student, I recently (in the last week and a half) had to take a mandatory tutorial in academic integrity—no doubt inspired by current events.

    More than simply a matter of a lack of quotation marks or incomplete footnotes, if what has been charged is true, then Dr. Gay is guilty of plagiarism, according to the content of the tutorial. If the allegations are accurate, she appears to be guilty of both “mosaic plagiarism,” which includes using phrases from sources without providing citations or quotes and/or switching a few words with synonyms but keeping the structure of the phrase or sentence the same, and “self-plagiarism,” which entails re-using one’s own past work without citing that fact. Sloppy? Perhaps, but there is a difference between direct and accidental plagiarism. Direct plagiarism is intentionally using someone else’s words as your own without giving credit; accidental plagiarism is the sort of sloppy, unintentional kind that includes incorrect citations or paraphrasing others’ works or words without citations. Both are considered true plagiarism. If the president of one of the nation’s premier universities isn’t held to the highest standard, how can we expect students at that institution (or lesser ones) to be held accountable? My tuppence.

    • John Burton | January 4, 2024 at 8:17 am |

      I find myself leaning this way too – but this is such a judgement call in so many ways. I come from more of a creative background. If we had to cite every time we wrote “I love you” in a lyric, you’d never have a song. Same of musical structure. Part of my show sometimes is to play the same chords in the same sequence and show you how many songs are built on that. Plagiarism? Same with sampling in music? Or, is using a piece of an intellectual property to create your own intellectual property commonplace in which case we need to rethink what plagiarism is.

      • The way to get around that is to change the word “You” to “Ewe”.

        I Love Ewe; It Had to be Ewe; Ewe are My Shining Star; Ewe, The Night, and The Music; If Ewe were the Only Girl in the World; Ewe Light up my Life; Only Ewe; Ewe’re So Vain; If I had Ewe; Ewe’re Nobody ‘til Somebody Love Ewe; etc., etc.

      • whiskeydent | January 4, 2024 at 11:11 am |

        I encourage y’all to read this article: http://tinyurl.com/p6uhd6cr

        In it you will find a sober review of the events and informed opinions from plagiarism experts (not a bellicose billionaire with ethical problems of his own). And yes, it’s about quote marks.

        • John Burton | January 4, 2024 at 12:47 pm |

          Read it. One of the people she allegedly plagiarized says that it isn’t even close to plagiarism. As a matter of note.

          • There’s one paragraph in the CNN article in which quotation marks would have been appropriate, if only for readability/clarity. But, hey, we’re talking journalism here.

  11. Nice clock. I hope it strikes ship’s bells. Mine does. I find the lengths to which the Ivies go to stay front and center sad. I find the mixing of campus management’s views with those of students misguided and unlikely ever to achieve the intended result. Students need to work these and other issues through on their own. It is a valuable part of the educational process. Let them deal with media spin. I recall when NBC came to my alma mster and handed out sign so . We hastily scribbled out our messages about fake signs. If students are portrayed as antisemitic or anything else, they should be called upon to answer for themselves.

  12. It is truly incredible how the mainstream narrative has shifted away from a literal genocide and onto a feigned one. RIP freedom of speech on campus

    • John Burton | January 4, 2024 at 8:10 am |

      Complicated and fraught. There is an argument to be made that we could RIP freedom of speech in testimony.

  13. She gets to stay on for $.9M/Yr as a professor. That’ll teach her.

    • John Burton | January 4, 2024 at 8:09 am |

      Or – she resigned because the kerfuffle was distracting and she wasn’t providing the best service as a President. That does not mean she does not have value as a professor. BUT. 900K?

  14. Shalom! I published three articles in international academic journals before graduating from my Ph.D. program and my dissertation is available online. I’m a university administrator. The review process my dissertation mentor put me through included using software and going back to double check each citation, and each “synthesis of information” was extensive. Her book is co-authored and eleven total academic publications for a tenured professor–let alone university president is ridiculously small. My sister is a tenured professor at a state school and has well over forty with two books. And I’m not from the MAGA right.

    • John Burton | January 4, 2024 at 8:07 am |

      Hi Philip – one thought: strategic hires (and I am not saying this was one but I am also not saying it wasn’t) aren’t always inappropriate, in fact, sometimes they aid in turnaround. The best person for the job is not always the best on paper.

  15. James LaRue | January 4, 2024 at 9:41 am |

    But jazz is not academia, and there are no footnotes in the songs, but perhaps there are in the liner notes. I like to note (no pun intended) how often Pat Metheny quotes a bit of the jazz standard Summertime in his solos (and even quotes the melody from Rock Around the Clock in one song). These little quotes and clichés appear in so much of jazz, it’s a part of the genre and it’s fun to be able to identify them. And, unlike rigorous academic standards for quoting the works of others, it’s up to the listener to know them. There’s jazz standards and there’s academic standards, and shall the twain ever meet?

    • John Burton | January 4, 2024 at 12:48 pm |

      I made the same point. Bravo.

      • James LaRue | January 5, 2024 at 10:35 am |

        Yes, you made the same point. In fact, if it wasn’t for you and your efforts here, I would have never connected Ivy Style and jazz. I’d only be at the level of connecting preppy with yacht rock.

    • A student made the correct point in The Crimson – the president of Harvard should be held to the same standard as the lowliest, least powerful undergraduate when it comes to plagiarism accusations. As long as Harvard is willing to be consistent and advertise accurate standards across the board, that’s fine. But if the powerful in the school get one standard and mere students another, that’s not.

  16. Eric McLeod | January 4, 2024 at 1:34 pm |

    I like to visit this site for a discussion of fashion, not politics. People of good faith have different views on controversial issues, including those addressed in this post. However, there are numerous other sites I can visit to read others’ opinions on politics and social policy.

    • John Burton | January 4, 2024 at 2:04 pm |

      Hi Eric! When I took over the site the first move I did was feature someone who identifies as female in a ocbd and a tie, which believe me, was worn better by her than it was by any of us. I have, as a result, been trolled to the point of hiring representation. If you think there isn’t a degree of politics to fashion, you are incorrect. Much fashion actually STEMMED from politics. 1970’s anybody? What we do not do here is disparage, and we engage in civility. Plagiarism is not a political issue by the way. Harvard is Ivy, by the way. Thanks.

      • Eric McLeod | January 7, 2024 at 11:53 am |

        Thank you. I appreciate your thoughtful response. Either way, I love the site and enjoy all of Facebook posts.

  17. whiskeydent | January 4, 2024 at 3:20 pm |

    One thing to keep in mind about free speech. We are free to say whatever the hell we want, but that does not mean we are free from the consequences of that speech. Somebody might say you’re full of it. Or worse.

    And if your words are the kind that injure people and/or incite violence — or a holocaust — then the consequences will be something more than a little pushback. At Harvard or any other university, endorsing or aiding Hamas’s efforts should lead to expulsion.

    In my opinion, Gay’s failure to say she would punish a student for harmful hate speech was a firing offense. It was plain stupid. In effect, she made political correctness imore important than morality. Some will disagree and question my intelligence, motives, integrity and parentage. That’s free speech.

  18. Concerning sampling, I don’t know, but I would assume that permissions are gained and fees paid before publishing. (Personally, I find sampling to be gimmicky, not my bag at all). As for “quoting” in jazz, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Do it too much, and it’s boring and amateur. There are purists who don’t approve of it at all. I only wish I had had that kind of purist chops. (Not to mention that there are, after all, only twelve notes and only so many progressions and cadences from which to choose.) And like JB does, make a master class out of it. Edifying.

    Speaking of cadences. Our Church choir did a WW II era, German setting of a 16th century “Kyrie” during Advent. Excellent three voice counterpoint, and contains what I dubbed the Roberta Flack “Killing Me Softly” cadence. Great works!

    As for academic writing, there are sins of omission and sins of commission. Errant citations on a “DRAFT” copy can be caught and corrected in the editorial process. Too easy, Private. It’s paraphrasing that will getcha. It’s lazy and it’s theft. Nothing to do with it except enter the work into the bibliography. Way too easy, Private.

    Concerning Ivy Style, If it were available, and I could afford it, I would choose an “Ivy purist” wardrobe, not too big, just very good for every occasion. If I did not know this style was “Ivy purist”, what would be my actual sin?

  19. Bit surprised that the (former) head of an Ivy League school mistook “principle” for “principal”.

  20. MacMcConnell | January 4, 2024 at 7:06 pm |

    I agreed in general. I’m a conservative, I don’t support any limit on free speech. I support anyone’s right to voice an opinion whether I find it repulsive or not. Speech isn’t violence, but physical intimidating others violence is in a civil society.

    I support campus free speech in the mid-sixties. I worked hard for the eighteen year old vote. Unfortunately eighteen year olds didn’t care.

    Gay’s failure was her response in congress, which lead to the exposure of her scholarship. All she had to say to congress was that she disagreed with the anti semitic speech and would not tolerate physical intimidation, but supports students’ right to free speech. She might have been applauded. Who wouldn’t support a black female Thomas Jefferson?

  21. NaturalShoulder | January 4, 2024 at 9:12 pm |

    1/4 zip, 1/2 zip, or 3/4 zip or any derivation are dreadful. No need to deviate from a crewneck which look far superior.

  22. As a product of 16 years of Jesuit education, where open inquiry and dialetic are baked thoroughly into its DNA, I couldn’t disagree with “Ignatius” more. As KT mentioned earlier, Harvard’s dismal record on free (vs. favored) speech and Dr. Gay’s prosecution of that direction, are clear reasons of why so many from both sides of the aisle are saying that now is time for a change. And I’m speaking as a dyed in the wool liberal, albeit in the classical sense.

  23. MacMcConnell | January 5, 2024 at 9:12 am |

    Thanks, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole listening to 16th century “Kyrie”s. I find out I’ve been hearing them my whole life at Mass. Is it just me or do Germany chorals always sound better in German?
    Dress Ivy and sin no more. Just kidding, do what you can afford which is actually an Ivy virtue.

    • It’s not just you. Most, if not all things are better in their original language.

      Where might one study to learn these things? Probably not Harvard.

  24. What Whiskeydent said.
    While I’m here, I just want to say I just finished the Andover Shop book. Enjoyed it immensely! History book made up of memories of a subject by many people is a “novel” idea, indeed. It’s up to the reader to sift and sort. And what a pile to sift and sort through!
    I’m a rube from the woods but I did visit ground zero 3 times for 3 weeks on one of those executive education courses. I didn’t even make it to the Coop, let alone get kicked out of the “Shop”.
    Dang. I envision Larry showing me the door for wearing cowboy boots and Charlie saying…hold on a minute…those cockroach killers have red tops!
    I coulda been a contenda. Sigh.

  25. Halberstam shed light on the theory, now proven thoroughly and tragically delusional, that the Ivy League has consistently given us “the best and the brightest.” Kabaservice went further by reminding us of how, for all the Ivy blah-blah (“Dink Stover crap and Bonesy bullshit…”– Kingman Brewster), the truth of this particular matter is that the tiny, narrow universe of the The Big Three, maybe Stanford, and probably U of Chicago isn’t nearly as glorious-and-awesome as nostalgia-driven imagination (see F. Scott Fitzgerald for more on this) would have us, well, romanticize — and market. As a buddy of mine, a seasoned lawyer and jurist, puts it bluntly: “I’m not aware of anyone who actually believes the nine judges sitting on the highest court of our land are the absolutely very best legal minds.”

    Does an Ivy League degree doesn’t offer reassurance of excellence? Hmmm. Does it confirm high-mindedness or honorable character. My (and my friends’) physicians, all of them superb, attended other schools. My lawyer, accountant, and investments guy, all of them A++, alums of other schools that lack the haut monde patina. My favorite neighbors, colleagues, friends — only a few Ivy alums among this grand lot, and, well, they don’t boast about it.

    Apropos this forum, wouldn’t it behoove J. Press to finally relinquish the association, rooted (we all grant) in history, with the Ivy’s? It’s difficult to believe that the exalting of this connection is a boon to a longer-term marketing strategy. Receive the lessons Ralph teaches: look-and-reach further back (before 1902 certainly) — to a sinewy, verile Anglophilia that’s less Brideshead Revisited and a good bit more John Bull. Keep the beefy oxford, the hefty flannel, the rough-hewn worsteds, the rugged cavalry twills, and the cragged shetland. Lose the gentrified high society nonsense, including the mythos of aristocracy — intellectual or otherwise. After all, it’s pathetic.

  26. MacMcConnell | January 6, 2024 at 10:41 am |

    Where there is cattle, horses or polo being played there is western boots. Mine are parked between my Alden tassels and my Weejuns.

    I also own a 3/4 zip. I sometimes rake my leaves wearing it. It’s hung on a nail in my garage. 😉

  27. addendum: it’s worth noting that many of the retail outposts who fair (quite) well with this look/style never (like, NEVER) reference any connection, historic or otherwise, to Ivy League universities. A boring but predictable rejoinder is that “it’s unspoken because it’s obvious,” but, actually, well, not so much. My pals who buy regularly from Sid, Drake’s, The Armoury, Ben Silver, and a very few traditional men’s stores (mostly in the South) — they would judge the proposal of such a connection to be unfortunate. Detrimental. Injurious, even. According to a growing percentage of (well-to-do and probably well-dressed) Americans, the so-called “Liberal Establishment” has, well, flunked. I remain convinced any affiliations with Northeastern elites (and their academic institutions) would prove ruinous. Stated more simply: this style is conservative Anglophilia accommodated to a version of soft tailoring. It will far outlast the attempted associations with American subcultures (for the purposes of marketing), including 20th century Ivy campus nostalgia.

  28. Mac
    Respect. Sounds like we’re playin’ the same game. Equal parts Alden and MLLeddy seasoned with a pinch of Crockett and Jones makes a savory dish indeed. No leaf blower for me either.

Comments are closed.