washingtonpost.com  > Columns > Art Buchwald

Veritas Non Sequitur

By Art Buchwald
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page C04

As everyone knows, Harvard University is in crisis. It is not in as much crisis as Social Security, but it is in enough of a crisis to be on the front pages for something other than winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

The trouble started when Harvard's president, Larry Summers, delivered a speech in which he said, among other things, that women were not as successful in engineering and math as men. He also said that men would work 80 hours a week, while women had other things to do. (Read: Give birth, clean, cook and raise a family.)

This and other gender and ethnic slurs enraged the faculty, and they held angry meetings where Summers was pilloried and denounced by professors for sullying Harvard's good name.

As with any crisis, there are two sides to the story. On one side, you have an unyielding university president who speaks out on academic issues, but also raised millions for the school endowment. And since he is a former secretary of the treasury, he has clout in Washington. The alumni and the board of overseers backed him, and the students were split on his remarks.

On the other side were the faculty, who accused him of being abrasive and using his position to speak publicly on issues that they considered politically incorrect.

While this began as an in-house crisis, it became everybody's problem when it got into the newspapers and on television.

The country became divided. Those who believe Harvard is the Taj Mahal of learning (students and alumni) were grief-stricken that their school's name was muddied.

The campus filled up with more national reporters than the number of attendees at a Harvard-Yale football game.

Summers brought the gender gap out of the closet.

It is sad to say that not everyone cried for Harvard. Many people enjoyed its misfortune. These were not Harvard people but those who didn't go to the university.

Harvard is considered by many to be an elite school attended by snobs who look down on everyone else. To say you went there is enough. It is a smug indication that you are on the top of the educational food chain. As far as Harvard is concerned, Yale, Princeton and other Ivy League institutions are no more than trade schools, where you learn how to build bookshelves.

Unlike Notre Dame, which is beloved by everyone, Harvard has never had a Knute Rockne or a former president who asked the coach to "win one for the Gipper."

I am not one who enjoys bashing the school because of what Larry Summers said. I flunked math and science, so I can sympathize with women who are not too good at these subjects. Also, I have no problem working an 80-hour week, especially since I don't belong to a longshoremen's union.

Underneath their hubris, Harvard people are just like you and me, ready to take on the world by hook, crook or networking.

The Larry Summers remarks will blow over. Someday a woman will invent a light bulb that will never burn out. Thanks to paltry Social Security payments, everyone -- men and women alike -- will have to work 80 hours a week, at three different jobs.

Like so many others who never went to Harvard, I don't consider the Summers flap my problem, but that doesn't mean we can't all sit back and enjoy it.

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