Monday, September 7, 2009

Two Perspectives on Harvard in Sunday NYT

In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Harvard President Drew Faust has an essay (“The University’s Crisis of Purpose “) on the social mission of the university. She questions whether colleges have tilted too far toward moneymaking and materialism:

As the world indulged in a bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism, should universities — in their research, teaching and writing — have made greater efforts to expose the patterns of risk and denial? ….Have universities become too captive to the immediate and worldly purposes they serve? Has the market model become the fundamental and defining identity of higher education?

In the same issue of the Times, we learn that Harvard has lent its name to a line of pricey preppy clothing. In the Harvard Yard menswear line, Oxford shirts start at $165, jackets at $495. Message: Harvard can be bought by men who can afford it.

As is frequently true, those who make financial decisions at Harvard are working at cross-purposes with the institution’s academic leadership. The University spends a lot of time and money trying to make itself welcoming to low-income kids. Image is important, and the image projected by this line of clothing is rich, preppy and male. The few bucks ($500K/year for all licensed clothing, including this line) Harvard makes on this licensing deal are far outweighed by the damage it does to its reputation.