Harvard Faculty Speeches, 1975-2006

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The speeches reported here were given by Harvey C. Mansfield over 31 years to meetings of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. They have been edited by him in 2012. They are based on faculty minutes and on his notes, made at the times of the speeches, together with his recollections. They are emphatically not official minutes of Harvard Faculty transactions. Although they are reported in the third person as if by an observer, they must not be taken as official. Some personal references have been omitted.

November 18, 1975 in Question Period.

Professor Harvey Mansfield asked President Derek Bok what was being done about the problem of grade inflation, particularly among undergraduates. He noted that the matter had been touched upon in Dean Henry Rosovsky’s “Letter on Undergraduate Education” last spring, but Professor Mansfield was not aware that the specific issue had been assigned to any of the Task Forces which were currently deliberating various aspects of undergraduate education. Professor Mansfield declared that when one considered that last June eighty-five percent of the class had graduated with honors and that seventy-three people had received Summas, it was possible to question how much of an honor it was ·to graduate from Harvard with honors. Rather, it was a dishonor not to obtain the degree with honors. Professor Mansfield wondered whether it wasn’t past time when some concerted action on the matter was required, since the shape of the curve in honors had ceased to be that of a bell and had come to resemble a swelled head.

May 1, 1979 in a debate on the divestiture of Harvard investments in South Africa.

Professor Harvey Mansfield said that the Faculty was being asked by its friends on the left to take a symbolic action, or to make a speech–a kind of speaking out–against an undoubted evil, the evil of apartheid. Apartheid, however, was not as evil as genocide. There had been recent instances of genocide in Cambodia. So Harvard speaking out on the question of apartheid would be in the context of its silence on the question of genocide. What could justify this? He did not think that the mere lack of stock ownership could justify its silence on Cambodia. Professor Mansfield thought that it took a high sense of personal drama for a person to look on the receipt of a stock proxy as an inescapable moral entanglement.  Anyone who did had such a fluttery heart that he should stay in bed, and leave his mail in the mailbox. If it were not the question of stock ownership, what could justify this disproportion? He thought that two answers had been given in the debate at the last faculty meeting by two professors.  One of them had said that he would have emphasized rather more the particular cruelty and the particular degradation that was involved in singling out a nation, or a religious group, or a race for systematic oppression. Why did his friend say “nation, religious group or race” and not say “class”? Was not genocide also the genocide of a class? He begged leave of Dean Glen Bowersock [a classics professor] to translate the word “genus” in genocide as the killing of a class as well as the killing of a race. Was not the oppression that had been seen in the world since World War II carried out mostly by oppressors on the basis of class in Communist countries? Certainly the other professor had said that what made South Africa more of a problem than Auschwitz or Cambodia was precisely that South Africans were very bourgeois: they were very much like ourselves; their crimes were bourgeois crimes and the evil that went on in that nation was the kind that Americans found tolerable, perhaps at a different level. So that professor in a backhanded way recognized the problem of equating apartheid and genocide.

Professor Mansfield thought that the serious point being made here was that the American people and the South African people had both been guilty of crimes against blacks. But there he thought the resemblance ended. And even if the resemblance did not end there, was it not irrational to limit one’ s moral concern to those crimes committed by oneself? These were the two arguments which he had found to specialize the question of apartheid over the question of genocide. He did admire President Bok’s two Open Letters, in particular his notion that the University had, not a moral neutrality, but a special mission to convey its own morals and even its own politics.

February 10, 1981 in a debate on Affirmative Action.

Professor Harvey Mansfield also wanted to question the wisdom of Recommendation III d of the report.[1]

At the December Faculty Meeting, Dean Henry Rosovsky had described the recommendation as a departure, and Professor Mansfield thought it was indeed a departure. He wanted to see if he could define the departure correctly: For the first time the Faculty had set up a category of appointments in which, at a certain stage, the requirements of merit having been met, the appointment would go forward if the candidate were a woman or a member of a minority, and would not go forward if it were a white or perhaps yellow male.

At the very least, he said, a category had been set up under Recommendation III d, in which no white male could qualify. He did not think the faculty had had a policy of this kind in its recent history. It seemed to be a departure from the principle which had hitherto governed the Faculty’s affairs in this matter, namely, of equal opportunity for each individual of equal merit. That principle had its difficulties, because it was not easy to discern merit, and it was difficult to compare different kinds of merit. Also, when departments discussed appointments, they had been in the habit of distinguishing merit from the need of the department. The need of the department, however, had always been the need to have a certain array of merit, so it was not a consideration which was essentially separate from the consideration of individual merit.

Professor Mansfield wondered what new principle would succeed the old principle. It seemed to be some principle in which the group membership or category of the candidate would be taken as relevant.

He wanted to suggest some difficulties in any such principle. He began with a scenario of two possible cases: A woman, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, grew up to be unspeakably beautiful and married a man as rich and as handsome as Otto Eckstein [a professor of Economics who had recently sold his consulting firm for over $100 million]. She attended Brearley School, Radcliffe College, and she got a Ph.D. from Harvard. Then when she went on the job market, she was not considered as an individual with her merits, but she became a representative, a role model, and in this guise collected compensation: compensation for all the injustices that had been done to women for generations, or centuries, or even millennia. Who would pay that compensation?

Professor Mansfield asked the Faculty to consider a parallel case of a young man, born in abject poverty of academic parents. He attended North High School in Columbus, Ohio. After that there was nothing for him, but to go to Dartmouth, and, as a crowning disappointment, to get his Ph.D. from Yale. From this pinnacle of educational disadvantage, he went to the job market, and he paid. He paid the compensation that the woman had collected, because he was not considered as an individual with his merits either, but as a representative of a class or a group. The person who collected the compensation did not suffer the injustice, the person who paid the compensation did not commit the injustice. Where, Professor Mansfield asked, was the justice in that?

If the Faculty were going to start considering people by the groups to which they belonged, and to seek for a faculty that was diverse, someone might ask why there were not more Republicans on the Faculty, because they needed role models too. That is politics. What about religion? Suppose someone had looked at the Faculty and said there were too many Jews, that it may be a good thing to have a role model because it improved the self-esteem of the group, but there might be too much of a good thing. How could the Faculty recoil in horror, and get on a moral high horse, and say, they only considered gender and race, not politics and religion?

The first point, then, was what was the principle that was going to govern the new policy, and how would it get around these difficulties?

A second point was that this provision treated women and blacks alike. Professor Mansfield thought that should not be. Blacks had been enslaved, and afterwards kept in a stage of segregation and second- or third-class citizenship. Women had been excluded from the honorable and dangerous occupations, sometimes justified by the lie that women were unequal. Well, he said, that was changing. Women were going to be put in occupations where they too could get ulcers and heart attacks, and where they could pick up the check, not only for themselves, but for others, too. In answer to the clamor from women’s organizations, he said, battalions of rifle persons would be organized, so that women too could end up six feet under in Arlington Cemetery, at an early age. But, Professor Mansfield said, that did not amount to enslavement.

He thought it was wrong and unfair of women to claim, or even to accept, the benefits of affirmative action under cover of the injustices that had been done to blacks. He knew that this policy had been encouraged by the Federal Government, but, he thought, this was an uncompelled action of the Faculty and that it did not have to accept everything that the Federal Government led it towards in this matter. The Faculty had to obey the law of course, but it could question it.

As a third point Professor Mansfield wanted to discuss the way in which appointments might be made from departments to the academic deans in this category. Everyone knew that in departmental discussions there sometimes occurred a conflict between justice and charity, between considerations of merit and desert, and considerations of who the department hoped would be good enough. Everyone knew, too, that the Faculty could not be an eleemosynary institution, and that justice must somehow be made regularly to triumph over charity. But under this provision, it seemed that a department could make a recommendation of the charitable sort, and not have to pay for it. Professor Mansfield thought it was a great addition to the force of justice, in departmental discussions, that actions of charity in appointments would be costly. So, he could foresee a certain corruption of the nominating process possible from this.

Professor Mansfield concluded by saying, that he was perfectly confident that the present administration was not going to flood the Faculty with second raters. He thought their actions and appointments were worthy of the Faculty’s respect and admiration, though perhaps they were not likely to be questioned in the Faculty.

November 18, 1986 on a proposal to establish Women’s Studies as a field of concentration.

Professor Harvey Mansfield said that the appearance of this proposal on the Faculty floor marked a foolish and almost pitiful surrender to feminism. Ordinarily, when a project of such low quality got this far, one might suspect a failure in the Faculty’s system of government; so he wanted to begin with a few remarks directed to his colleagues on the Faculty Council. The people sitting at the round table in front [the President and Deans] could listen, too. The job of the Council was not to vote 13 to 2 for every proposal that came along with the support of some pressure group. The Council was not the platform committee of a political party. This was Harvard, with standards to maintain. People listened to Harvard. But the great disadvantage in that fact was that no one external to Harvard would hold Harvard to high standards. Rather, the Faculty would have to do that itself.

Professor Mansfield asked what objections, then, could be made to this proposal. The first, and most outstanding, was its bias. The explanatory note claimed that this proposal was distinguished by a multiplicity of approaches and an openness to debate–a statement that Professor Mansfield found utterly false. To see the bias one had only to look at the reading list presented for the central course in this field of concentration, Women’s Studies 10. In his 37 years at Harvard, Professor Mansfield had never seen a reading list more shameless and more pathetic than this one. It began in the first term with “Classics of Feminist Theory I,” and then continued in the second term, not with “Classics of Non-Feminist Theory,” but rather with “Classics of Feminist Theory II.” He saw Freud lurking in the reading list, but where was that other grandfather of contemporary feminism, Marx? There were no classics on the reading list–no Plato, Aristophanes, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton. There were no scientific studies, there was nothing on the psychology of sex differences, and there were, of course, no conservative critics of feminism on the list–no Phyllis Schlafly, George Gilder, Michael Levin, or Midge Dector.

The reading list suggested that Women’s Studies was a misnomer. This was feminist studies–the studies of a certain group of women, claiming to speak for all women. Professor Mansfield thought of the young undergraduate women, most of whom would be sensible enough to keep away from this program, after having perhaps tasted it. But some of the best women students, the brightest and most spirited, might be tempted to waste their undergraduate careers in a program such as this. The worst thing they would learn was that education meant elaboration of the opinions one already had, and confirmation of one’s prejudices.

Professor Mansfield’s second objection to this program was one kindly mentioned by his colleague–that women’s studies was not really a subject. Women, of course, had certain things in common, but those things concerned men, and thus books on the list written by feminist authors were as much about men as they were about women. Women might have something in common, but they were not a community by themselves. The focus, therefore, was a certain point of view–the feminist point of view. With that Professor Mansfield noted he had returned to his first point about bias.

Because the Faculty’s government had failed it, the Faculty would have to save itself. He appealed especially to women colleagues: it was time to stop swallowing their doubts. It was time to ask themselves one overriding question when considering this program: “Will it maintain our standards, or will it erode them?”

Professor Mansfield did not think that his accusation of bias had been addressed or answered. He shared his colleague’s dislike of conventional wisdom, but what was the conventional wisdom here and now in this body? It was easy to denounce dead males. The conventional wisdom would be known in a few minutes, after the vote, and he hoped his colleague would come over and stand with him then. Concerning the rest of the Faculty, he would advise: “Girls of America, if you want a husband you can push around, marry a professor. ”

November 10, 1992 on ROTC.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, of the Department of Government, cited two outstanding features of the faculty committee report [on ROTC, stating Harvard’s refusal to have ROTC until the military’s policy on homosexuality was changed]. One had already been commented on by both previous speakers: the report was on a national election issue that might have become moot. His colleague had given an amusing demonstration of the power of modern political science by showing the effect the Faculty might have had on the election. It had been involved in a question of public policy that was an election issue: that was what people called politicization of the University. Second, the Faculty had been involved in a partisan way. He thought he was not misrepresenting the character of the report, and of the two speakers who had preceded him, if he said they gave the impression that on this issue all decent people were on one side, and anyone who was on the other side suffered from a prejudice, a phobia, or, to use the words of the committee, an opinion that was “antiquated or discredited.” That response was the phenomenon of political correctness. Politicization and political correctness were alive and active at Harvard. He would speak about the first of these, but he would ask the committee for help on the second.

The purpose of the University was inquiry into the truth—scholarly and intellectual inquiry. Its purpose was not to improve society. It might improve society, but not if it tried to do so. The University improved society by engaging in an intellectual inquiry into the truth of things, which dignified the common life of both. Harvard’s motto was Veritas.[2] It was not Iustitia.[3] And it certainly was not Potestas.[4] Those words were not Harvard’s.

Professor Mansfield was not presenting a pure case for never getting involved in a political issue. There were two criteria that should be used: Was the subject something that closely interested the Faculty? Was it something about which the University had knowledge? For example, a judge of the Federal District Court had recently criticized Harvard for passing around information about student financial aid. Harvard had protested that decision, and President Neil Rudenstine had talked to the press on the issue. The question of financial aid was of close interest. And its impact on the type of students Harvard would have was something about which Harvard, as a university, had knowledge.

The two criteria did not apply to the issue of ROTC. The University had no knowledge of how the military should be run, and the committee itself had said it had no expertise on this question. To his knowledge, no member of the committee had written a book or article on the subject of military discipline, had served in the armed forces, or had been in combat where the question might have arisen. Even if Harvard did have a few experts, they would not be speaking for Harvard but only for themselves. Second, Harvard had no interest in the issue. Its interest concerned gays and lesbians who were in the University, not those who were elsewhere. The following statement of the President and Fellows appeared in the committee’s report: “The principle of not discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, veteran status, or disability unrelated to job or course of study requirements is consistent with the purposes of a university and with the law. Harvard expects that those with whom it deals will comply with all applicable anti-discrimination laws.”

This statement spoke of the principles being “consistent with the purposes of a university”; it did not discuss consistency with the purposes of a military organization. The statement did not remark on the quality or the nature of the life of gays and lesbians, whether their mode of life should be endorsed by Harvard or anyone else. It declared only that for the purposes of a university, which were learning and studying, this discrimination made no sense. The statement had been sophistically extended by the committee to apply to gays not only at Harvard but also in the military.

It was not enough to say that Harvard was substantially entangled in ROTC. It is substantially entangled in many issues, such as the laws and regulations of the City of Cambridge, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the federal government, on which Harvard would not wish to take a public policy position. Another example would be the tax code. Harvard University was by law a collection agent for the Internal Revenue Service. Was the tax code arranged entirely to Harvard’s satisfaction? Was it not onerous, perhaps, on the rich? Incidentally, gays and lesbians did not get a marriage deduction under the tax code. Was Harvard not complicit in that situation, just as in the ROTC question?

Professor Mansfield read a small portion of a statement by former President Derek Bok in his last report to the Overseers, in which he spoke of the dangers of politicizing of the University. President Bok had said: “Perhaps the greatest danger in exerting political pressure of this kind is the risk of sacrificing academic independence. For generations, universities have worked to persuade society that they should be free to shape their own programs and that their professors should be entitled to teach and write is as they think best. This autonomy is essential to the progress of teaching and research. Yet universities can hardly claim the right to be free from external pressure if they insist on launching campaigns to force outside organizations to behave as their students and faculties think best. Sooner or later, governments, corporations and other groups will decide that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and begin exerting pressure of their own. When that happens, universities will learn to their dismay that they stand to lose far more than they can gain from trying to joust with the outside world. Student activists often argue that this danger is only hypothetical and that the university should ignore the risk until retaliation actually occurs. By that time, however, it may be too late, and generations of effort to secure autonomy will have been placed in jeopardy.” [5]

At the end of the ROTC report was a recommendation that ROTC students at Harvard should not be allowed to have a commissioning ceremony on Commencement Day. Professor Mansfield would rather not read it, because he wished it were not there. Harvard’s commencement was already politically correct; this recommendation would make that status official.

Incidentally, it was time to protest the character of Harvard’s commencement. He would be raising this issue later on. It was long overdue that the political speakers at commencements be equally divided between liberals and conservatives. The speaker last June had been a liberal, therefore the speaker next June should be someone who was conservative to the same degree. The policy of alternation should be continued, as a way of showing that Harvard was equally attentive to both sides. He thought the recommendation of the committee showed a spirit of intolerance and even of moral fanaticism that was unhealthy and unbecoming.

Professor Mansfield concluded with two specific questions for the committee. First, would the committee make any more demands on ROTC? After hearing one of its members, he thought it might. What about the matter of women in combat, for example? Was Harvard satisfied that the military’s position on this issue was correct? And would Harvard next proceed against ROTC on the matter? Second, what was the argument in favor of excluding gays from the military? Although the report was not a scholarly document, it could have been written in a scholarly spirit that required dispassionate consideration and presentation of the other side. He would like to hear a professor on the committee give a dispassionate and complete presentation of the military’s side of the case.

December 8, 1992 on a proposal for a concentration in Environmental Studies.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, said he was one of those objectors to whom his friend had referred. He noted that the proposal [for a major in Environmental Studies] began, “The concentration is designed to provide a multi-disciplinary introduction to current problems of the environment.” Current problems. Was not this focus just the sort of PC[6] thing that the Faculty ought to stay away from, the sort of thing that was gradually transforming Harvard into an intellectual branch of the Democratic Party? That was a rhetorical question for the President.

[The Faculty responded with laughter.]

Professor Mansfield noted that the concentration could be politically balanced—although it would not be—with a course that highlighted the enormous waste and expenditure of most environmental regulation and the resulting cost to everyone’s liberty. Such a course would point out that environmentalism was the name under which this generation proposed to repeat the folly of socialism. But that option would not be sufficient.

Political balance would not be enough, nor would scientific or mathematical rigor, because one could have the same thing in a concentration in accounting. Harvard did not take this approach; it was a university that provided an education in the liberal arts. The liberal arts were not narrow or for the moment, for current problems. Universities were for permanent problems. They were not for the sort of problems that one wanted to read about in magazines.

Professor Mansfield entreated his colleagues to think of themselves as parents and decide whether they would be pleased if their child told them that he or she was majoring in the environment, instead of something solid and reassuring, such as chemistry or women’s studies.

May 18, 1993.

Professor Mansfield had four questions, which Dean Fred Jewett had made three by assuring him that the Harvard standard in this matter was the same as that under the laws of Massachusetts. The statement said that being intoxicated did not diminish a student’s responsibility in perpetrating rape. Was it also the case that being intoxicated did not diminish a student’s responsibility in giving consent? That was his first question: whether what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander.

As his second question, Professor Mansfield asked about the phenomenon of seduction or sexual misconduct, which could be described in old-fashioned terms as a person’s being a cad or a vamp.

For his third point, Professor Mansfield noted that the statement said nothing about false accusation. Should something not be said about the danger, the harm, and the injustice of a false accusation, since in this area a good deal was made of inequality of power. The power of the accuser was often unequal to that of the accused, but a public accusation could bring sympathy to the side of the accuser, outweighing the discrepancy in power.  In any case, to be accused wrongly, even in private, disturbed one’s balance of mind.

Professor Mansfield wondered why that possibility could not be made part of the statement. The recent case of Clarence Thomas versus Anita Hill[7] demonstrated that such a situation could easily arise.

[Later the same day, in a debate on ROTC]

Professor Mansfield strongly agreed with one colleague about the untimeliness of the motion. He thought it was a feeble attempt to insult Colin Powell [Secretary of Defense]. Much water had flowed over the dam since the Faculty’s discussion last November. As a colleague had said, one week after his election President Clinton had learned more about the issue, but apparently the ROTC Committee had not.

The compromise being considered was a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Professor Mansfield wondered whether the Committee or the Faculty Council had a position on this compromise. He noticed that the second recommendation of the Committee’s report began, “If the Department of Defense policy remains in effect.” The policy did not remain in effect, because under the compromise agreement, the DoD would stop asking about the sexual preference of those entering the military. This was the sort of situation that resulted when the Faculty attempted to enter into a political issue directly: the Faculty had no real capacity or interest in deliberation on the matter, and therefore none in compromise on the matter. Professor Mansfield wanted to read a letter from Katherine F. Pearson ’93 [an undergraduate], which said:

. . . I am writing the following letter outlining some of the arguments that I would put forward in support of allowing ROTC to continue to exist as an option for Harvard students under the current agreement with MIT. I am a senior, Midshipman First Class in the Navy ROTC program; during the fall term, I served as the Battalion Commander of the MIT NROTC Battalion. I will graduate with honors in Social Studies in June, and I reside in Eliot House.

 1. The ROTC program allows students to attend Harvard who otherwise could not afford to go; I am one of these students. The Financial Aid Office themselves will admit that there is a certain income bracket that falls through the cracks of the Financial Aid Form, and receives inadequate assistance. Certainly, there is no shortage of qualified applicants to Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, however, the ROTC program attracts a student with particular qualities that are not necessarily valued in the admissions process. Accepting an ROTC scholarship requires a student to take on a four-year commitment to national service. Accepting an ROTC scholarship at Harvard requires a certain strength of character, since all messages from the University admonish ROTC and devalue the activities that occur at the units and the lessons that midshipmen and cadets learn through participation. I have met some of the most inspirational people I have yet encountered through participation in ROTC, and I firmly believe that this “type” of person—the student who is willing to take on responsibility and commitment in order to receive the best education possible—would not be at Harvard were it not for the ROTC program. Personally, I would be at the University of Virginia on a Jefferson scholarship.

 2. Admittedly, the issue of the military policy on homosexual service people and its incompatibility with the policies of Harvard College is a difficult one. However, it is my understanding that the relationship between the Department of Defense and this University is not limited to ROTC; ROTC is simply the most visible of these connections.

 Professor Mansfield interpolated, there are, for example, grants from the Department of Defense for research done at Harvard. And beyond that, Harvard should ask itself if it would decline to be defended—would the University refuse to offer aid to the Navy that it offered during World War II, when Harvard was used for training by the military?

I firmly believe that to sever the ties between ROTC and the University as a means to send a message to the Department of Defense is a bad strategy for two reasons. First, it is not the solution to the problem, since once ROTC has been banished, ties between Harvard and DoD still exist. Second, the solution of severance does not offer a good example to undergraduates as to how to go about solving difficult ideological and practical problems such as this one. I think that the faculty forgets how much undergraduates learn from the example that Faculty and administrators set. By voting to sever ties with ROTC, the faculty is sending a message that the most effective way of solving a problem is to withdraw from it, rather than engage it—to banish rather than discuss. It seems that students should be encouraged to discuss and hammer out solutions, not divide and shout at one another across ideological ditches that we dig to separate us from that with which we do not agree. Only if the faculty sends a message that says, “We understand this to be a difficult issue but wish to contribute our intelligence and energy to creating a solution,” will students participate in a similar exchange. What is needed to solve this problem on both the national and the University level is continued discussion, and I can guarantee that if the Faculty sets the example that withdrawal is an appropriate response, that this discussion will end in the dining halls and undergraduate classrooms as well.

 3. My final argument is actually founded on a subjective observation that I have made in my brief experience in the fleet. Harvard students make excellent, well-rounded, officers: officers of a caliber that this nation needs running its military, officers that do not necessarily graduate from a military academy. The dichotomy that has developed between academia and the military since Vietnam should not become the status quo. We need to re-integrate our thinkers with our defenders, and I think that this process begins by taking advantage of the ROTC programs . . .

Having presented Katherine Pearson’s letter, Professor Mansfield wanted to end with another quotation, one that he had used before—but the words were golden. He quoted President Derek Bok in his last report to the Overseers:

Perhaps the greatest danger in exerting political pressure of this kind is the risk of sacrificing academic independence. For generations, universities have worked to persuade society that they should be free to shape their own programs and that their professors should be entitled to teach and write as they think best. This autonomy is essential to the progress of teaching and research. Yet universities can hardly claim the right to be free from external pressure if they insist on launching campaigns to force outside organizations to behave as their students and faculties think best. Sooner or later, governments, corporations and other groups will decide that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and begin exerting pressure of their own. When that happens, universities will learn to their dismay that they stand to lose far more than they can gain from trying to joust with the outside world. Student activists often argue that this danger is only hypothetical and that the university should ignore the risk until retaliation actually occurs. By that time, however, it may be too late, and generations of effort to secure autonomy will have been placed in jeopardy.

November 5, 1994 in Question Period.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, had a question about grade inflation. He asked what measures were presently being taken to prevent grade inflation. He had read disturbing rumors in The Crimson that suggested foot-dragging and faintheartedness in the faculty Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE). Professor Mansfield emphasized that inflation was a manifest abuse, which he thought was no longer seriously defended by anyone. Grade inflation had been around for a quarter of a century, and he asked whether it was not time that something was done about it. The “barbarians” at Dartmouth had acted; even Stanford had done a little something. Harvard, which should have been in the lead, had yet to act. He asked what Harvard was currently doing.

December 13, 1994 on a proposal for a new dean.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, had three concerns about the proposed Assistant Dean and Director of Public Service.

The first concern was financial. He had read about the proposal in the Harvard Gazette [Harvard’s official organ] and had been surprised that the aggressive, hard-nosed Gazette reporters had not asked how much the position was going to cost. So he would raise the issue. Inasmuch as efficiencies were expected from the new Dean, would there perhaps be savings?

Second, more broadly, how did volunteerism ever get re-baptized “public service”? He asked if it were not private philanthropy, in which the donor gave not a check, like most individuals, but something far more valuable—time, energy, and even love—to the various activities. He wondered whether a large part of the merit of these philanthropic activities did not come from their voluntariness. He asked if organizing such voluntariness under a dean, especially someone called a Dean of Public Service, would not tend to detract from that voluntariness by making it routine and organized, by seeming to elicit and encourage it.

Professor Mansfield’s third concern, which was somewhat at odds with his second, was that not only would the Dean of Public Service detract from the voluntariness of the private activity, but the new structure might seem to recommend it more than it was worth. Students came to Harvard not primarily for public service, but to study, and the Faculty ought to keep that objective always before them as the first of their endeavors. Harvard was starting to seem more a servant of society than a critic, and a source of inspiration by being different from the rest of society. It was as if the University could be likened to a large tower made entirely of ivory.

Professor Mansfield noted that no one had discussed the substance of the issue, and neither would he. It was obvious that the military discriminated against homosexuals and in favor of those with normal sexuality. He was willing to argue the point, but not at this Meeting. He wondered whether others were willing to argue their point of view. Two previous speakers had successfully exposed the moral hypocrisy of the Faculty’s attitude toward the ROTC question. He would add a further point. Part of that hypocrisy consisted in pretending that a moral issue was not a political issue. Faculty members were a bunch of liberals. They had sent a ridiculous ultimatum to the Pentagon and had received a humiliating rebuff from the Pentagon, from the Congress, from President Clinton, even from Congressman Barney Frank, and most recently from the American people.

Addressing the Faculty, Professor Mansfield said: “You think you are so smart. You think you are so moral. You think that if your intelligence fails, your morality will come to the rescue, and if your morality fails, your intelligence will save you. Well, buy yourselves some warm scarves. It is going to be a long winter for you.”

Clearly, he did not care too much about the damage Faculty members were doing to themselves, but he did care about the damage they had done to Harvard. Faculty members had no respect for Harvard. They did not consider the institution as anything bigger or grander than themselves, as something to which one might be devoted. They regarded Harvard as a platform for their favorite ideas. The issue of principle in this question was whether or not the University should stay out of politics.

The Faculty might recall that President Bok had struggled manfully for more than a decade to establish that principle in the case of South African divestiture. President Bok had voiced that principle on many occasions, and it had been the subject of two of his excellent open letters to the University. The present administration, however, had not upheld the principle and had not mentioned it in any of the ROTC debate. It was Professor Mansfield’s belief that the Faculty had lost its way and descended to a much lower level than where it had been in the past.

October 17, 1995 on Harvard documents on sexual harassment.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, asked what the relationship was between this document (Professional Conduct: A Discussion Document) and the College’s “Guidelines on Sexual Harassment.”

Professor Mansfield said that Dean [of Undergraduate Education] Lawrence Buell had disappointed him. He had been hoping Dean Buell would say that it superseded the atrocious “Guidelines on Sexual Harassment.” He had been amazed to receive that document once again this year, over the signature of someone impersonating Dean [of the Faculty] Jeremy Knowles, after the heavy and widespread criticism to which it had been justly subjected last year for being unfair to men—meaning males—and in violation of academic freedom. So Dean Buell’s was not the answer that he had been hoping to receive.

Professor Mansfield had another question, which came to the nub of the issue–the language on sexual advances. What about a professor who had honorable intentions, if he could use that old-fashioned phrase, toward a student; honorable intentions in which a sexual advance was not the sole aim, but was not entirely ruled out? What about that case?

Under the circumstances described by the phrase “honorable intentions,” for example, some faculty members had married former students. What did they have to do according to the new policy, hand their wives back to their mothers? Or were they, so to speak, grandfathered in?

Professor Mansfield commented that this was a point once put by Professor Emeritus John Kenneth Galbraith [concerning his wife] to Dean Henry Rosovsky, who had evaded it.

April 9, 1996 on Affirmative Action and Diversity.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, rose not to dispute or debate the matter [of affirmative action] but to make three observations, which were not meant to be contentious, and then to request information. It seemed to him that Harvard’s position had evolved somewhat from affirmative action to diversity, which made some difference in the justification for affirmative action. Originally, affirmative action had been legitimized as a remedy for discrimination and therefore had been proposed as a matter of justice. But diversity was a matter of choice: it was a policy; it was not obligatory; it was not something, with regard to blacks, that they were said to deserve. It was rather that their added presence at Harvard would benefit the institution than that they were being given something they merited because of their heritage of oppression and segregation.

Affirmative action for the sake of diversity was a voluntary and not an obligatory policy, one that a university might or might not choose to adopt, but it was not a temporary policy. The original notion of affirmative action had had a time limit, in principle if not in practice; but the same program undertaken for the purpose of diversity would, in principle, be permanent. That was Professor Mansfield’s first observation.

His second was that diversity seemed to represent an abandonment of the principle of equal opportunity. Affirmative action at first had been understood as an exception to equal opportunity, an instrument necessary to raise blacks to the level where they could compete on an equal level, and then equal opportunity would take over. But diversity said nothing about equal opportunity. On the contrary, it seemed to suppose that those who Harvard felt would add diversity of the kind it wanted in its University community would have a greater opportunity.

His third observation was that the diversity policy was partisan. No one could help observing that, in a presidential year, it was a political issue that divided the two major parties. With President Neil Rudenstine’s Report on diversity, together with its follow-up, Harvard had jumped with both feet onto one side of that partisan debate. Harvard’s position was, in fact, more extreme than that of the Clinton administration, which had said that affirmative action should be amended, not ended. Harvard had said nothing about amending it.

Those were Professor Mansfield’s three observations: that Harvard was not arguing on the basis of discrimination, that it had abandoned equal opportunity, and that it had taken a big step into partisan politics.

His request was for facts about Harvard’s policy. Just what was Harvard doing for the sake of diversity? He did not think all the actions that were taken to promote this goal were widely, or even narrowly, known. A case recently came to his attention that would illustrate the need. A black student had been admitted to Harvard without mentioning on his application that he was black. When he arrived at Harvard, the color of his skin had become apparent and the authorities were in consternation. So the student had been offered greater financial aid than before his race was known—an offer that was refused.

That was the end of the story; but what was that offer? It was not a quota and it was not a set-aside, because, according to the Report, Harvard did not offer either. It seemed perilously close to a set-aside. It could be called a preference.

What, then, were Harvard’s preferences? What would be a list of all the racial preferences that Harvard engaged in for the sake of diversity—not only the formal preferences, but also the informal ones, which might in actuality be more important? The President might not be able to answer right now, but could he undertake to produce a list of, or perhaps a report on “racial preferences at Harvard,” with that title and a red cover?

May 6, 1997 on the Core Program.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, knew his good friend Professor Sidney Verba would not take it amiss if Professor Mansfield held him in suspense (Professor Mansfield paused for effect) before saying that his presentations at the last Meeting and at this Meeting had been somewhat lacking in “the vision thing,” the wonderful expression that had entered the political vocabulary via President George H. W. Bush. Professor Mansfield could not accept Professor Verba’s disclaimer; he was a consummate politician.

[The Faculty responded with laughter.]

Furthermore, Professor Mansfield claimed that Professor Sidney Verba knew how to deny that he was a politician. Being a politician, he was interested in conclusions and not in reasons. Conclusions were solid; reasons were contentious. Anyone who brought up reasons risked turning the Meeting into a free-for-all. But some people, especially professors, were more interested in reasons than in conclusions. A professor sometimes would not mind being mugged and thrashed within an inch of his life, as long as it was not done for the wrong reason.

[The Faculty again responded with laughter.]

Professor Mansfield believed that was the reason Professor Verba had taken care not to define the Core, or to try to say what it was that the faculty was doing with its educative process. He had not said what appears to be the character of the Core program, that education as understood in the Faculty consisted of two things—a specialization, a concentration, and a certain degree of breadth—but that the breadth seemed to be a smattering of other people’s specializations.

The official definition of the Core was that it contained approaches to knowledge. Approaches—to what, and from what? The core of the Core, it seemed, was the approach of the approaches. The Faculty could agree on the importance of approaches, but of which approaches?

The answer is, its approaches. In other words, when Faculty members were agreeing to the Core, they were agreeing on the necessity of themselves.

That was not good enough. Someone needed to say something more about what the Faculty was doing in the Core. Such a statement existed in a pamphlet given to the Faculty by The Student Committee on Undergraduate Requirements.[8] He would like to read from Appendix C of that pamphlet, titled “The Philosophy of the ‘Great Books.’”

A core program which would center on the study of the Great Books is generally unpopular in the university today. Nonetheless, this fact alone is not sufficient for dismissing such a program; for, in a matter of such importance, we surely do not want to be guided by mere fashion or to be blinded by the dazzle of popularity. We must then look beyond these light or frivolous considerations, to argument and reflect on regarding the proper contents of a core curriculum.

In calling a particular course of study the core curriculum, we imply that this curriculum is somehow the most central and essential—even most important—element of a student’s education . . .

Liberal education is in the first place the education of a free human being. In this sense it is distinguished from technical education, which is intended for those who are bound by the necessity of learning a trade so as to make a living. It is also distinguished from professional training, which aims to meet the requirements of a given profession, rather than to teach that which is important for human beings as such to know. In contrast to these, liberal education is intended for those who are free to study what they want and to live as they want, those whose choices are not determined simply by necessity. But if one is free to make choices in these crucial matters, on what basis should one decide between the various alternatives? Should one, for example, study chemistry or English? Ought one to become an investment banker or a pediatrician, a parent or a priest? . . .

Every student who comes to college holds opinions on these fundamental questions; but does one—or can one—know these opinions to be true? For such opinions take hold of one before one is of an age adequately to reflect on these questions; that is to say, they are unexamined opinions. But does that not mean that one’s education and, ultimately, one’s course in life, are determined by unexamined opinions or prejudices? And if that is the case, how can an education properly be called “liberal,” i.e., appropriate for a free human being, when that education appears to be determined not indeed by necessity, but rather by mere prejudice?

At this point we begin to suspect that the heart or “core” of a true liberal education consists of reflection on the fundamental questions and one’s opinions about them. Without such reflection, one lacks freedom and self-understanding; and one is therefore bound to be insufficiently equipped to make thoughtful choices regarding one’s studies and one’s life. Reflection on these questions would then appear to be the proper subject of a core curriculum; for only by centering on such reflection would the core curriculum provide one with the knowledge which is truly most essential to the rest of one’s studies.

This general argument might be taken to point toward a core curriculum that centers on the study of the Great Books. These books are called great precisely for their deep and powerful treatments of matters of the greatest concern, i.e., the fundamental questions. The serious study of these books can aid us in our reflections on these questions, because their authors possessed such a rich understanding of these questions, and because they thought with the greatest intransigence and clarity about the serious answers to them . . .

But, it will be objected, it was merely a prejudice of the past and these questions are susceptible of answers; for the question “what is justice?” presupposes that there is such a thing as justice, and we now know that justice is merely relative. Yet we must at least face the possibility that this relativism is merely a prejudice of today; and even if it is not, we could not know that until we had reflected on justice itself, with the aid of the most serious thinkers who both advocated and opposed relativism. Hence our relativism itself points toward the study of the Great Books.

It will be further objected that we cannot decide which books are great. However, there is broad agreement as to which books might reasonably be said to merit that title; and a Great Books curriculum would certainly not claim to include every work worthy of being called great. Moreover, the alternative to trying to agree on a certain number of books which deserve to be called great is to include books in the curriculum which can make no claim whatsoever to greatness.

But it is thought to be unacceptable that the majority of those books which are commonly called great happen to be written by “dead white European males.” Yet the justification for reading these books in the first place is the need to gain awareness of the fundamental questions, which implies that these are questions for human beings as such, regardless of race, class, gender, etc. If the fact that Aristotle was a Greek man means that he could not have said anything of interest to a Black woman in America, for instance, then the case for the Great Books is clearly insupportable. However, to know that this is so, one would have to reflect on the relation between the mind and categories such as race and gender, which is another way of referring to the age-old mind-body problem; and it goes without saying that this problem is itself a fundamental question.

Finally one might object, as does Harvard’s official statement on the subject, that the “intellectual breadth” at which the core curriculum aims is not best provided by “the mastery of a set of Great Books.” The “approaches to knowledge” which the current core program aims to provide in its stead are intended to teach one to “think like a historian,” etc. But is one truly liberally educated if one can think like a historian as well as a scientist, literature critic, and so on, without the capacity to reflect seriously on why one should be a historian or a scientist? These disciplines simply assume that science and history are good things to study; one must turn to the great thinkers who laid the foundations of these disciplines for a consideration of the goodness and necessity of these disciplines. A core curriculum which does not speak to the reasons for pursuing the various disciplines is silent on the most fundamental point. For this reason, students now seem to emerge from Harvard’s core curriculum knowing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, without understanding why this knowledge seems to have no essential relation to the rest of their studies.

This situation may seem acceptable to students who are, say, merely looking to explore a few interesting fields while preparing for medical school; but to those students who feel that they lack knowledge about the most fundamental things—the knowledge on which thoughtful choices in life must be based—the current core curriculum often seems inadequate. Perhaps if a Great Books program is not deemed suitable as a requirement for all students, a program of directed studies could be developed as an alternative to the regular core curriculum, so that at least those who felt the desire or the need to read the Great Books would be able to do so.

Professor Mansfield apologized for having been carried away by the eloquence and thoughtfulness of the students’ statement.  [Its author was Kathryn Shea Sensen, ’97]

December 9, 1997 in Question Period.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, questioned the justification for the official invitation that had been issued to President Jiang Zemin of the People’s Republic of China. The invitation seemed to Professor Mansfield to be questionable morally, politically, and educationally.

Morally, it was wrong to entertain a man who was a murderer of students, who represented a regime that had committed aggression against Tibet, and, last but not least had committed genocide against his own people.

Politically, the invitation had tended to legitimize this tyrant and his regime. His appearance had been greeted by protest. How could those who had watched on television, or who might have been at the meeting itself, help being more sympathetic to those outside protesting than to the man on the platform? The Faculty had been placed in the untenable position of protecting him; Harvard police had been serving as bodyguards of a tyrant. This had not been free speech—it had been sponsored speech, which tended to give the speaker political legitimacy. True, he had been asked several hard-boiled questions, but he had handled those with ease. Professor Mansfield had not been favorably impressed by the humility and contrition of his answers.

Last and most important, educationally the invitation had seemed to Professor Mansfield to continue a disturbing trend toward the politicization of Harvard. It was as if Harvard wanted, or had the ambition, to make itself into a factor in American foreign policy. Perhaps he was over-interpreting; perhaps it was merely a more-or-less harmless attack of celebrity worship—but he doubted it. What educational purpose had been served? Professor Mansfield had read about one educational benefit in his hometown newspaper, The New York Times: Jiang Zemin had said he would present to the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research a set of the newly-published Twenty-Four Histories, with Mao Zedong’s comments. Mr. Jiang called it a rich heritage of philosophy in understanding and drawing useful lessons from China’s history. Comments by Mao Zedong!

What would the Faculty say of a visitor who presented a book with comments by Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin? And what was the book that Harvard gave Mr. Jiang in return, to show where it stood? Professor Mansfield’s guess was Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique; could President Rudenstine confirm that that was the gift?

His last question (and he hoped the President had been keeping track of them) was, who was next to be invited—Saddam Hussein?

February 10, 1998 in Question Period.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, had a question about grade inflation. In the hope of coaxing some leadership out of the Faculty’s leaders, he would like to poll those at the round table on the matter of grade inflation.

By “inflation” he did not mean to imply the rate of puffing up, as economists understood inflation, but the condition of being puffed up. Harvard undergraduates were presently in the puffed-up condition of last year having received grades of 46 percent A and A-. The grade most frequently given last year to Harvard undergraduates was A- (24 percent); the grade next most frequently given was A.

What did that mean? Professor Mansfield did not know whether President Rudenstine was a wine maven. But if he was, and if he were to go into a wine store that he had never entered before, he would not say, “My, my, look at all these bottles! Different shapes they are with pretty-colored labels, and liquid inside of different colors as well. This wine must be 46 percent excellent, or almost excellent.”

Similarly, an architect wandering the streets of Cambridge and looking at the houses would not say, “My goodness! Forty-six percent of these houses are absolutely beautiful!” No, an architect would not say that. Some homeless person might, or a recently appointed Harvard professor desperate for lodging.

A football coach looking over the material for next year’s team would not say, “Heavens to Betsy! They are all so big, and they run so fast! Look, there is one throwing a ball and another catching it. Why, 46 percent of these people must be excellent, or excellent-minus!”

Professor Mansfield could go on, but he believed his point was heaving into view.

[The Faculty responded with laughter.]

The point was that those who knew about a thing and cared about it were very critical about that thing; those who cared most were most critical.

A refinement to this point was evident if one went back to the architect who might wander onto Brattle Street, where there were (Professor Mansfield was told) beautiful houses. As soon as he saw them, the architect would say, “How do they compare to the houses on Beacon Hill, to the brownstones in Manhattan, to the townhouses in Mayfair, to the palazzi in Venice and Florence?” In other words, he would not relax in self-satisfaction. He would instantly apply a higher standard: how did these items compare with the very best?

So what could be said of a group of professors looking at their classes—not on the first day, when every face was fresh and bright and smiling, but at the end of the course, after all the work had been finished and handed in and all the lectures given? That 46 percent of those people were excellent or excellent-minus? Professor Mansfield wanted to ask each person at the round table whether he or she found this to be a perfectly satisfactory situation—or did the Faculty have a problem?

October 20, 1998 in Question Period.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, had a question about the progress of political correctness at Harvard. It was another effort in his vain attempt at a Nobel Peace Prize!

[The Faculty responded with laughter.]

Having suffered through yet another excruciatingly politically correct Commencement, Professor Mansfield believed that something needed to be said. In recent years Harvard had given an honorary degree to the prime minister of the Philippines, the prime minister of Norway, and the president of Ireland—three women, three liberals, and three mediocrities. That fact symbolized a kind of liberalism that the Faculty had begun to patronize increasingly. It was satisfied by, or at least hospitable to, mediocrity; for the benefit of faculty members, he would call it grade-inflation liberalism. Two of the women were currently high-level bureaucrats in the United Nations (the only level of bureaucracy in the United Nations!), and they were about ready to be appointed professors at the Kennedy School of Government.

If that were not unfortunate enough, all one had to do was look at the world scene today and ask who was the mightiest woman of the time. Who would be universally acknowledged to be the outstanding woman of the era if not Margaret Thatcher, who had been prime minister of a country called Great Britain? Her length of tenure had been comparable to that of William Gladstone and William Pitt; further, she had transformed the politics of her country and even, one might say, the politics of Europe. Yet Harvard had not seen fit to honor her in any way. What a sorry contrast! How did one explain the fact that Margaret Thatcher had not been invited to Harvard to receive an honorary degree?

More generally, Professor Mansfield asked, what had happened to the policy announced three years ago of giving equal time to liberals and conservatives at the Harvard Commencement? True, he had been the one to announce the policy; that might account for the delay in implementation!

[The Faculty responded with laughter.]

Professor Mansfield asked what was wrong with that as an idea. Was not the noblest and most generous liberalism that of John Stuart Mill, who had said that even truth could become dead dogma if it was not continually open to challenge from error?

The matter of political correctness was not confined to the externals of ceremony. It extended elsewhere as well. Having been a student at Harvard, a parent of students at Harvard, and a professor at Harvard, Professor Mansfield had finally a couple of years ago been deemed capable of becoming a freshman advisor. Perhaps the administration had waited to find something constructive for him to do!

In that capacity, he had come across Expository Writing, a program that was politically correct to the core. It was a required freshman writing course, composed of sections of fifteen students. The primary purpose was to write essays, but those essays were inspired by readings, and by a theme that connected the readings. The faculty usually were not regular faculty but people found in the vicinity. Every single course was on contemporary literature; and most had political themes concerning race, class, and gender. Most were the kind of classes in which one had to say “he or she” all the time. They were, in sum, totally lacking in—and here Professor Mansfield would make a blatant attempt to win the President’s approval by using his favorite word—totally lacking in diversity.

What about those three items: Margaret Thatcher, equal time at Commencement and an attempt at a certain diversity in Expository Writing?

April 13, 1999 in Question Period.

Professor Mansfield, Department of Government, wished to ask about the resounding silence after the disruptive demonstration at the time of the last Faculty Meeting [with students clamoring outside and invited to speak inside]. He wondered why no adverse or instructive comment had been made to the University community at large or to the Faculty’s students in particular. He could understand that President Rudenstine might want to pass over the ploy of the undergraduate who had used a walkie-talkie to quiet the crowd outside while he asked his question, and then with the same device tried to drown out the President’s response. Professor Mansfield would point out, however, that one of Aristotle’s eleven moral virtues was something called Right Anger. It was a virtue to get angry for the right reason, on the right occasion, in the right way, and for the right length of time. (He might be sorry he had said that!)

Professor Mansfield believed the Faculty had a right to carry on its deliberations in calm and quiet. What had occurred at the beginning of the Meeting was an attempt at intimidation from the outside, a direct attack on the very practice of reasoned deliberation. He thought something should be said to the students. It was puerile of them to pound bongo drums and chant slogans. That childishness, combined with the element of intimidation, was quite distasteful. He asked if anyone at the round table [of university administrators] cared to comment.

October 17, 2000 in Question Period.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, congratulated the President on his tenure in office. In President Rudenstine’s time, Harvard had had peace, prosperity, expansion, refurbishment, inclusiveness for the politically correct, moral righteousness, high tuition—many wonderful features. But it had also had, and continued to have grade inflation.

Professor Mansfield did not have the latest figures, but two or three years ago the number of As and A-s being given at Harvard College totaled 46 percent. He understood that at the Kennedy School of Government, 70 percent or more of the grades given were As. So inflated grades had spread to the graduate schools as well. His own department had last year approved twenty-five Ph.D. theses. Of those, nine—or 36 percent—had been graded excellent or excellent minus. These were grades that formerly were given once in a decade. Professor Mansfield did not find this a tenable situation. In fact, it was blindingly obvious that it was not a tenable situation—except that he had been saying so for twenty-nine years! He raised the case of presidential candidate Al Gore. When the vice president was a student at Harvard, he had received only one A-, and that had been in a “gut course” (an easy course), as it had been known in the days when an “average” course was a hard course. Today the situation was reversed. Was Al Gore then so much less intelligent than every current Harvard student? He would hate to believe it.

Professor Mansfield held in his hand a letter from Dr. Michael Shinagel, Dean of Continuing Education and University Extension, dated last February. Written to the Extension School faculty, it raised the matter of grade inflation. Somehow the letter had fallen into Professor Mansfield’s hands!

The fact that Dean Shinagel was a man of almost infinite courage had been attested on many occasions. Professor Mansfield remembered, in fact, that the Dean had stood up to former Dean of the Faculty Henry Rosovsky! Still, Dean Shinagel’s courage was bounded by his sagacity, also infinite. Thus the Dean referred to the problem not as grade inflation, but as grade distribution. He wrote: “Since the majority of faculty teaching evenings in our program also teach at Harvard during the day, it is understandable that grading patterns should be similar.” At the Extension School, the grade currently most frequently given was a straight A.

Professor Mansfield had two comments. He recalled that some years ago, when the Extension School applied to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) for authorization to initiate an M.A. degree program, some members of the FAS had hesitated. The reason they had given was that academic standards at the FAS might be corrupted by the Extension School. But exactly the opposite had happened: the Extension School had been corrupted by the FAS!

As his second point, Professor Mansfield wondered about the argument that Harvard students were much smarter than any other students. The faculty of the College was grading Extension students with the same or slightly higher grades. The Extension School did not have an admissions committee: students got in if they paid their money. Yet they received the same grades as students in the College. This kicks into a cocked hat the argument that Harvard’s grades were justified by the quality of its students.

Therefore, Professor Mansfield’s question to the President was whether during the remainder of his tenure he was going to comment at all on the matter of grade inflation. If the President had already done so, Professor Mansfield apologized for not being aware of it.

April 8, 2003.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, wished for peace as soon as possible. He said a victorious peace could be anticipated, and also wished to express his support for America’s troops, for its government, for President George W. Bush, and for the country as a whole.

With regard to the USA Patriot Act, he would point out that civil liberties consisted of principles and of circumstances, and that the circumstances of war were different from those of peace. The United States was at war with terrorists who had killed three thousand Americans in attacks on the United States, and whose malice was limited only by their means. During times of war, the government was the American population’s protector, and the majority of the population was more at risk than the minority. Although civil liberties would continue, the way in which they were defended changed during wartime.

Professor Mansfield was surprised to hear his left-leaning colleagues complain that dissent was being stifled and demand diversity of opinion in a Faculty with such an apparent left bias. He hoped that those colleagues present who were not on the left would rise and voice their opposition, since Harvard should not be reputed to have but one dominant political point of view.

May 6, 2003 on a Faculty Committee’s Report on Sexual Assault.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, believed that the Faculty had been hindered in its consideration of sexual assault by its unwillingness to recognize that men and women held fundamentally different attitudes toward sex. There was no reference to any such difference in attitudes in the Faculty Committee’s Report, and Professor Mansfield noted that each of the previous speakers had avoided using the words “men” and “women.” He believed that there were three differences between men and women relevant to the current discussion.

The first related to a sentiment expressed on page thirty-seven of the Report: “Reacting to the realization of what has happened [that is, rape], a person is usually thrown into a psychological state of diffuse mistrust (including mistrust of self), confusion, anger, fear, and overwhelming shame.” Professor Mansfield believed that a victim’s response of “overwhelming shame” would be poorly understood by most men. Men, especially young men, might not understand why the victim, rather than the perpetrator, would experience shame. If one’s car were to be stolen, one was victimized. As a victim one might well be angry, but not ashamed. He wondered why there would be such a difference between the sexes, and felt that it warranted an explanation.

The second difference had to do with the role of alcohol as a contributing factor in sexual assault. Professor Mansfield stated that it was a fact that most women had a lower capacity for alcohol than most men, and that a young woman ought to know that it would be unwise to enter into a drinking contest with a young man purely out of a belief in abstract equality.

The third relevant difference, the widely held perception that men were more promiscuous than women, was addressed on page seven of the Committee’s Report: “For many young adults, college years are a time for experimenting with sexual intimacy and it is in the dynamics of these interactions that violence and assault take place.” Professor Mansfield took the phrase “experimentation with sexual intimacy” to mean promiscuity, also referred to as casual sex, recreational sex, loveless sex, or ‘”hookups.” This kind of sex was more congenial to men than to women, but Professor Mansfield doubted that “hookups” were the respectful, mature, and life-affirming relationships for which the members of Professor Leaning’s committee had hoped.

Professor Mansfield faulted the Report, as well as the current scene at Harvard, for espousing a view of sex that was more congenial to men and a view of rape that was more congenial to women. From the standpoint of a young man given to sexual experimentation, it might appear that rape was no more than a sexual experiment that had gone awry. He felt that these two disparate views would need to be brought into harmony, and that in order for this to be accomplished it would need to be acknowledged that we do not live in a community merely of persons—of complainants and respondents, or rapists and victims—but in a community of men and women.

December 14, 2004 on a Faculty Committee Report on Women.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, stated that he wished to add diversity to what had been an extremely homogeneous discussion. He did not think that the Standing Committee on Women had proved that a problem existed, as it had not shown a pattern of discrimination against women. There had been no evidence of undeserving men who had been appointed, or of deserving women who had not been appointed. He believed that the appropriate percentage of women on the Faculty was difficult to determine, as this ration was best determined through a judgment process of individuals in which merit, not sex, was the criterion. Professor Mansfield did believe that a problem regarding female members of the Faculty existed, however; this problem was the absence of conservative women. To date, the Faculty had heard about diversity of race and gender, but not about diversity of political views. He considered the lack of political diversity within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to be astonishing and felt that this was an issue that desperately needed to be addressed.

Professor Mansfield asserted that the lack of political diversity was connected to the rise of women in the Faculty, as he felt that a good many women who had joined the Faculty held the ideology of feminism. Feminism, he emphasized, was the leading force behind political correctness in American universities, as evidenced by the remarks of the previous speakers. He challenged the Faculty to find a conservative woman speaker at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study or conservative texts on the reading lists of feminist professors in the University’s ranks. He asked if feminist professors ever hired conservative women or invited even one conservative woman speaker while they were at Harvard. He was amazed, but not surprised, that no one had raised these issues earlier.

September 27, 2005 on Criticism of President Summers.

Professor Mansfield would suggest that the complaining professor, who was not only a Faculty colleague but a friend and fellow critic of Harvard professors, had “picked on the wrong guy.” Professor Mansfield felt that President Lawrence Summers was the most outstanding major college or university president in the country today and Harvard should be proud of him. For all his merits, the President had received the reward of lots and lots of bad advice, and not only from this professor, but from many others whose names Professor Mansfield had all forgotten.

Professor Mansfield would also suggest that his colleague’s critique was too personal. It would be better to point out policies that he disagreed with and give reasons for disagreeing with them. He added that perhaps a little humor would take the edge off his anger. His colleague’s critique could be described as having the character of brashness. In contrast, a challenge to a fashionable opinion, in the place where it was fashionable, would be courageous.

May 2, 2006 on a proposal to require course evaluation.

Professor Harvey Mansfield, Department of Government, presented to the Faculty a list of seven objections to course evaluation surveys, many of which had not been mentioned. The first was that course evaluations were not just reports of feedback from a class; they affected the dynamic of the class. They tended to make the students believe that they were the ones who should be evaluating. Second, course evaluations introduced the rule of the less wise over the more wise, of students over professors. Third, course evaluations, or surveys for course evaluations, made it seem as if the professor should come to the students instead of the students to the professor, leading some students to adopt a passive “show me” attitude. Fourth, course evaluations rewarded popular teachers at the expense of serious teachers, which made Dean William Kirby’s statement particularly worrisome to him. Of course, there were popular teachers who were serious, but there were plenty of popular teachers who were not, and there were serious teachers who were not popular. Fifth, course evaluation was an intrusion on the sovereignty of the professor in his classroom, and therefore a possible violation of academic freedom. Sixth, the survey, being a typical social science one, was necessarily simplified. It did not distinguish the good students in one’s course from the mediocre ones (or the “A-minus” students), and the opinions of the best students got buried in the mediocrity of the others. Seventh, the use of surveys tended to lead to the overuse of surveys.


[1] Recommendation III d: “departments able to identify qualified women or minorities for whom they do not have an available position should be invited to make a case to the Academic Deans for hiring authorization.”

[2] Truth

[3] Justice

[4] Power

[5] “The President’s Report, 1989-90,” Harvard University, April 1991.

[6] Politically correct

[7] Hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas as Justice of the Supreme Court.

[8] Report on the Undergraduate Requirements of Harvard College (February 27, 1996). Submitted for approval to the Harvard-Radcliffe Undergraduate Council.