Posted tagged ‘Harvard’

At Least I Don’t Have To Cop To Yale

May 30, 2013

This is going to be a rooting-for-injuries post, I know, but reading this made my happy from within a pool of wince:

To get to Yale, you effectively must pass through a fifteen year funnel. No company can match that kind of screening rigor, so why not leverage it? From a company’s point of view, it would be dumb not to. (Also, think about it this way — if you are a high school senior with a choice of any school, and therefore one of the smartest in your class, will you choose Yale or a state school? I parenthesized this because it’s a straw man argument, but do consider that financial barriers to the Ivy League are basically non-existent nowadays.) Yes, you can get qualified candidates from other schools. But your chances of getting a “lemon” candidate from Yale are, I presume, much lower than getting one from another school.

That’s from a Yale student responding to Tom Friedman’s column in which he asserted that

[Employers] increasingly don’t care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale. They just want to know one thing: Can you add value?

 

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Now, as many of you have probably already guessed, Friedman’s column is business-as-usual for the MOU. It is interesting to Friedman-observers mostly for its wrinkle on the taxi-driver standard.  This time, the material for the column comes from Friedman’s daughter’s former Yale (sic!) roommate, the co-founder of what seems to be an out-source skills-vetting operation of the sort businesses used to do for themselves.  Slightly fancier identifiers, then, but the same trope: someone Friedman happens to know holds the secret key to explain some huge public issue.

Friedman also manages to avoid grappling with the basic logical problem that flows directly from his claim that “jobs are evolving so quickly, with so many new tools, a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered an adequate proxy by employers for your ability to do a particular job.”  In such a circumstances specific skills may well be less significant than a capacity, however demonstrated, to acquire new competences as needed.*  I’m not asserting that as truth (I haven’t done the work needed to speak intelligently about hiring and workforce issues), but it’s basic (honest) argumentation to take on the strongest counters to your claim, and not simply assume your way past any inconvenient difficulties.

But, as I said, this is a pox-on-both-sides moment.  And I guess I have a personal rooting interest.  Harvard — and by extension those identified with or credentialed by the place — has had a bad run lately, what with the troubles within their economics shop (Alesina-Ardegna, Rogoff-Reinhardt); the Kennedy School (Jason Richwine’s Ph.D) general folly (the cheating scandal and the following e-mail search scandal)…and whatever else may be laid on the doings at the Kremlin on the Charles.    As some of y’all may have twigged, I’ve got Harvard on my resume — I earned my (one and only) degree there back when we still used our number 2 chisels on our slates, and I feel at least a bit personally angered and embarrassed by that (partial) list of folly and worse.

But at least for this morning, I don’t have to wallow in Harvard’s slop.  Instead, I’m enjoying the billowing scent of unexamined entitlement wafting up from New Haven.  For which, Mr. Anonymized Yalie Blogger, my thanks.

*Not to mention the dead give-away of the passive voice in that sentence “a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered…” Really?  Not saying that it’s not — I haven’t read any studies that may exist nor spoken to hiring executives at the range of places that would allow one to make such an ex-cathedra statement.  But again, I’d like to see something more than MOU’s say-so, if you know what I mean.  Or to be clear:  this is an instance of the failure of high-profile punditry.  This is essentially unforgivable intellectual sloth, enough to render the entire column meaningless.  But the Times seems unable or unwilling to ask their resident pooh-bahs to defend what they claim up to the level I would expect of anyone I teach past their freshman year.

Image: Limbourg brothers, Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Folio 3, verso: March (Labors of the Month), between 1412 and 1416 and circa 1440.

Political Correctness Wins Again ;)

May 10, 2013

I’ve a few things to get off my chest following the news that I got via Dave Weigel, that Dr. Jason Richwine, our favorite race(ist)/IQ/no-Latino-immigrants need apply scholar aca-hack, has “resigned” from the Heritage Foundation.  Richwine, recall, was the co-author of Heritage’s now roundly ridiculed immigration study released earlier this week.

George_Romney_-_Refugee_Group_-_Google_Art_Project

Weigel asked what Heritage knew and when they knew it about Richwine’s dissertation and public statements asserting his race-IQ connection.  Heritage declined to reply, but earlier in the week, Heritage vice president of communications Mike Gonzalez posted a disclaimer that read, in part, like this (via):

The dissertation was written while Dr. Richwine was a student at Harvard, supervised and approved by a committee of respected scholars. The Harvard paper is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings do not reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation…

It falls to Heritage to answer (to itself, perhaps?) the degree to which Richwine’s views were the reason he was hired…but as to whether they knew about them before they brought him on board?

There really are only two choices here.  Either they didn’t, and the folks that hire over there are so incompetent that it might be wise to remove all silverware more dangerous than spoons from the staff lunchroom.

Or they did…and to the limits of inference, they sure did know what was behind door number one.  Why do I say this?  Because of what Richwine tells us in the acknowledgements to his dissertation:

I am indebted to the American Enterprise Institute for the its generous support, without which this dissertation could not have been completed.  In particular, I must thank Henry Olsen, vice president of AEI’s National Research Initiative for bringing me to AEI and supporting my research. The substance of my work was positively influenced by many people, but no one was more influential than Charles Murray, whose detailed editing and relentless constructive criticism have made the final draft vastly superior to the first.  I could not have asked for a better primary advisor.

I take two things from that passage.  First, it reminds us of the degree to which AEI is a dog-whistling race shop — as Charles Murray himself confirms in his  reaction to Richwine’s firing decision to resign:

Thank God I was working for Chris DeMuth and AEI, not Jim DeMint and Heritage, when The Bell Curve was published. Integrity. Loyalty. Balls.

Second, in the real world, anyone who’s done any hiring knows that the person doing the intake finds out what the potential employee did in his last job(s).

Richwine may have been getting his degree through Harvard (and that’s a post for another day) but the attempt to hide behind that institutional affiliation is a text-book baffle-with-bullshit moment.  His diploma may read Harvard, but the work was, by his own admission, essentially part of the AEI pipeline advised intensively by one of AEI’s  best known members.

And here’s the thing: the Potemkin village of wingnut  DC policy shops is not exactly some humongous impersonal word factory.  It’s a village. If AEI has some hot shot graduate student breaking old ground on the inherent wonderfulness of white people, then the folks at Heritage had to have known about all that when the newly  elevated Herr Doktor comes calling for a job.

I mean, you can believe otherwise, and I can’t say for sure…but in my decade or so as a small businessman, I called the last couple of places would-be interns had worked for just to see what I might be getting into.  It strains waaaay past my willingness to suspend disbelief that name-brand purveyors of right wing propaganalysis wouldn’t have done at least as much.

So, is the Heritage Foundation a racist shop?  Maybe. Perhaps. Maybe not — there could be more economical explanations for the determined comforting of the comfortable that is the constant theme of the right-wing policy racket.  And wondering whether the whole place, or Jim DeMint, or even Jason Richwine — excuse me, Harvard Dr. Jason Richwine — is personally a bigot is on some level the wrong issue.

Rather, the proper question is what to do with an institution and a movement who can muster no better arguments, and no better arguers to advance their radical agenda?

At a minimum:  Scorn, ridicule and public humiliation is my prescription…repeat as necessary.

Oh — and serious mobiliation for 2014 and beyond.

Image: George Romney, Refugee Group, undated (before 1802).

A Joyful Voice Stilled: RIP Peter Gomes

March 1, 2011

I got an email this morning telling me that the most purely wonderful voice in Cambridge is now silent.

Peter Gomes died yesterday, of complications from a stroke.

He was sixty eight — younger than I would have guessed, for he seemed somehow outside of time — and much too young to be gone.

As I think I’ve said before, I’m a committedly Jewish atheist, and so the loss a Baptist minister — Peter’s full title at Harvard University was Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in Memorial Church  —  whose services I never attended might seem of little moment personally.

Acquaintances die; famous people die, and we note each loss as a marker of time passing; the sadness we might feel could simply be the chill on the back of our necks felt as the loss of those not-quite-known anticipates that moment when we must answer the call.

But with Peter, it’s not that.

I did not know him well, but like a lot of people, I think, I found it very well indeed to know him.  In the decades since we first met I learned not just to enjoy his company — that was easy, for he was an absolute beast (in the best possible sense) of sociablility, a grand companion and an extraordinary artist of conversation — but to admire who he was and what he did in the world.

I (again, like many others) owe Peter a personal debt of gratitude.  We met first in my junior year of college when he led the wedding of a couple of friends.  We happened to sit at the same table for the wedding lunch, and we talked, and he asked me what I hoped to do after graduating.  I wanted to travel, I told him, and in particular I wanted to go to places where I would be absolutely unmistakeably an Other, an outsider and a not-much valued one, because I wanted to learn how to step outside at least a little the envelope of American white, male, fancily-educated status.  I planned to go to Japan, I told him, then Number 1, according to my department head, where there would be no doubt that I would be a possibly slightly pitied someone else.

Peter listened — I can’t imagine with what internal sense of irony as an gay African-American Baptist who had somehow managed to overcome the booby traps and ambushes that Harvard University can deploy.   He gave me some advice…and then, when he turned up, months later and unexpectedly on a committee awarding travel grants to (as I remember it now) unbelievably callow seniors, he elicited my story again, then impressed upon his fellow committee members what he saw as the merit of my application.  I got the fellowship; went to Asia; started first writing, then science writing; and thus found a life-long (so far) delight that others call work.

I thanked him many times after that.  But on a day like this, it seems I never quite said it well enough.  It’s the nature of these things, I suppose.

In the three decades since, I would see Peter here and there. I moved back to the Boston area a few years after my travels, and once there, found myself at lunch with him fairly often.  That’s where I learned to call him Peter, rather than Rev. Gomes, sitting at a table with a half dozen or so folks, where, over a two hour meal and conversation, the Rev. Gomes would draw out and offer given  — he might have said Christian — names.

The talk would move around the table, though often I’d simply surrender to that wonderful sound, and listen to Peter declaim.  He loved to talk, and he had a lot to talk about, and he had that voice.

Have I mentioned his voice?

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His was a bass instrument, resonant.  It had all the power you would want in the bottom range — but also strong overtones a good way up, a voice that could both ground you and cut through the clutter and distraction of the inside of one’s head.  He was a famous pulpit preacher, but at table he could pitch his volume low, and sound almost miraculously as if he were both declaiming and confiding.  He spoke in round sentences, with pleasure in the music of words.  He was, simply, a grand talker.

All this of course, dodges around the blunt, beautiful fact that Peter Gomes was a public man and a good one.

It’s true that part of why this Jewish atheist so misses him — already — is that I loved that his very person gave the lie to the worst mock-religionists and bigots of our public life:

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There he was, an African American spiritual leader of one of the most elite, mostly white congregations in America.  He was gay.  He believed utterly in his God and in his saviour — and he was wise enough to read in scripture the meanings that celebrated rather than condemned his person and his life. He accepted the wages of rage and invective that his words and his existence sometimes evoked.  He found the best revenge:  a life both well lived and deeply enjoyed.

Again:  his faith I never shared. I argued with him when I thought he was poaching — he spoke at an Aspen  conference where I’d been asked to talk a bit on Einstein, and I told him then that I did not buy his particular path through the science-faith minefield.

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He parried with enormous gusto, and a bit of that gift of ironic amusement I’d felt before, because, I think, to him the urgent task was to find ways to be of use and value to others and one’s self.  Which is to say that, at least as we talked, we converged on the view that the point of doing religion was not to buy a ticket on God’s train, but to act well enough in this world so that were such a train to come, you’d be able to get on board.  I believe he simply saw the science-religion wars as rather missing that point, which is a view I agree with in the abstract, though I regret that the faux religiousity of the anti-science crowd among us now makes it almost impossible to escape that particular battle.

Peter had flaws; he was, as the rest of us are, hardly a perfect human.

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But the measure of the man is that he used his public position to preach with firmness in the right as his God gave him to see the right.  He self-described as conservative, but undertook radical action and argument as required — famously coming out publicly in 1991 when incidents of gay bashing at Harvard evoked his sense of duty:

“I don’t like being the main exhibit, but this was an unusual set of circumstances, in that I felt I had a particular resource that nobody else there possessed.”

He was radical too, in his claim that a commitment to Jesus demanded something more than mere fandom.  In an interview on NPR on 2007, he said:

The scandal is the fact that we seem to pay so little attention to the content of Jesus’ teaching and a great deal of attention to Jesus.

So I am proposing here that we might, in fact, look at what Jesus says, rather than who it is that says it, and that might be exciting, and we might find something, by our modern standards, which is rather scandalous.

…I mean, if you look at Jesus in the New Testament, you will discover that he spends almost a disproportionate amount of time with the people who were on the fringes of his society.

And so, if he came back today, we might wonder, who are the people on the fringes of our society with whom he would be spending time? And my guess is he wouldn’t be spending time with most of us who are at church all of the time. I don’t think he’d be spending time with most of the theologians or the radio or TV evangelists.

I think he’d be spending time with those people whom we tend to marginalize. He’d still be spending time with the prostitutes. I think he’d be spending time with minorities of every kind — racial and sexual and others — and I think we might be surprised to discover that nothing on that point has changed, as far as Jesus is concerned.

…Do we practice these things [love thy neighbor, etc.] among people who are very much like ourselves, which tends to be what the church does? Or are we meant to practice them among everybody? And that means people who don’t vote as we do, or who don’t look as we do, or who don’t live where we do, who don’t share all of our values.

It’s Jesus who redefines who the “other” is. There is no other, as far as Jesus is concerned.

I don’t speak Jesus-speak; I don’t go to church; I’m rarely in synagogue these days.  But I get the meaning of what Peter said here in his terms.  It translates just fine into mine.

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I hadn’t seen Peter for at least a couple of years when I got the news this morning.  The last time I ran into him in Harvard Square he told me to rejoin the lunch group I’d left years ago; there was always more to talk about.  I planned to, and I told him I would, but being a father, trying to grab time with my wife, writing, students, moving house, cats to the vet…you know the tune.  It didn’t matter.  The Rev. Gomes was made of granite, and the mighty river of his voice ran through it.  He would be there when I had time.

And now he is not; Peter Gomes is dead, much too soon.

RIP.

Image:  Claude Monet, The Lunch, c. 1874