Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Harvard (and all other) faculty made clear

Joe linked us to the Harvey Mansfield piece on Harvard President Larry Summers and political correctness. I have read it and am compelled to say a few words about. First, it is a terrific piece of writing. This piece should be used in writing classes. It is perfectly clear and there is nothing in it that shouldn’t be there. This is what language is for, to clarify. Second, it is true. It is true in the larger in the sense that both feminism and political correctness are understood; what they are, and what effects they have. It is also true in its understanding of both Summers’ character and the nature of intellectual inquiry in the academy. The two things are related.

Summers’ accusers are relentless and humorless. "They complained of being humiliated, but they took no care not to humiliate a proud man." That Summers lives (unlike most university presidents) by "straightforward argument" is a significant point. He isn’t, Mansfield explains, looking for victory in argument. "But his forceful intelligence often produces it, in the view of those with whom he reasons. Sometimes the professors he speaks with come out feeling that they are victims of ’bullying,’ as one of his feminist critics stated. As if to reason were to bully." This latter point is critical--and clear and true--to anyone who has had experience in conversation and even argument with a professor. A collegaue, a reasonable and quiet gentleman, and I recently met with another professor on a curriculum issue. We engaged in perfectly balanced and quiet conversation for about an hour. Our interlocutor then made clear that the next time we make our case to anyone else (or a committee on campus) we should be less "bullying," less "intimidating." After we left the meeting my colleague and I spent a half an hour trying to figure out what she could have meant since we were certain we did not bully. We concluded that to give reasons for something was to bully, according to our interlocutor. It was a bit of a revelation, I’ll admit. But it was true. Mansfield clarifies this problem, and it is a much larger problem than feminists running amok, or mere political correctness, and I thank him for it. You must read his essay.    

Discussions - 2 Comments

This is a copy of a letter I sent to Harvey Mansfield regarding his essay, "Fear and Intimidation at Harvard."

I thoroughly enjoyed your recent essay in "The Weekly Standard,", Fear and Intimidation at Harvard. I received an undergraduate degree in government some thirty-five years ago and suspect I would enjoy your classes.

I have read many of the discussions on the net in articles, news, and blog reports regarding Larry Summers’ circumstance. It was most interesting to read your viewpoint from the recent faculty meeting.

One point I have considered and yet not seen in the many commentaries about this situation is this; I believe Summers’ castigation by a portion of the Harvard faculty which you describe as being made up of half "feminists and left" and the other half, "moderate liberals who are afraid of the feminists," is facilitated by what must be, with respect to your description, a most glaring lack of ideological diversity and diversity of thought present in the Harvard faculty. I also pondered the question; to which half do you belong?

I believe that this lack of ideological diversity and diversity of thought is a very dangerous condition at most of our major universities today, indeed it permeates our private and public educational systems at all levels. For institutions that profess to value and indeed, legislate and require ethnic and gender diversity among its faculty and students, a similar concern for the value of diversity of thought and ideology is ignored.

To me, this leads to an environment that permits others to " ... insist on a welcoming atmosphere of encouragement to themselves and to their plans." If there were more diversity of thought and ideology present, respected and permitted in your faculty group, there would be less validity given to what I view as a most xenophobic position of all of the feminists and leftists clamoring to criticize Summers the ideas he presented.

While I recognize that one of your points was also that his own personality and style of governing was part of the issue, that argument begs the question of whether Larry Summers is the only person among the entire faculty and administration at Harvard whose style is not particularly suave and who is given to being blunt at times. Perhaps the Harvard faculty also needs a more diverse collection of personalities as well so that a succinct expression of opinion is not such a rare experience for the more tenuous among the colleagues you deem worthy of your regard.

In essence, a faculty that enjoys diversity in thought and opinion has strength and is not as prone to "fear and intimidation" at any level and from any source.

Good thing Mansfield has tenure. If a lecturer wrote a letter like that, he would be off to Sundown Tech at the end of his contract...

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