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.