Harvard’s Next President Finds a Teaching Moment Even Before Taking Office

Ira Stoll, New York Sun, February 19, 2018

Harvard University had only just announced its next president before he came under attack — not for anything he did, but for who he is.

That is, in the eyes of his critics, at least, a “white male.”

The New York Times greeted the selection with a news article reporting in its second paragraph that, in selecting Lawrence Bacow earlier this month, the search committee had missed “an opportunity for Harvard to choose a leader who would reflect the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements.”

Harvard’s student newspaper, the Crimson, of which I was president 25 years ago, reported that the announcement, “surprised and disappointed some College students who had hoped a person of color would take the University’s top job.”

Such intense reaction tells two newsworthy stories: a negative tale about the politics of race and gender on campus and a positive one about America and its Jews.

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Then the Crimson followed up with an op-ed column by Ruben Reyes Jr., who denounced the choice as “uninspiring and frankly a bit disappointing.” He described Mr. Bacow as “the second white, male economist named Lawrence to serve as Harvard’s president.” (Larry Summers, call your office.)

The Crimson columnist complained that Mr. Bacow “does not understand, first-hand, what it means to be reduced to your gender or the color of your skin.”

And there, precisely, is encapsulated the irony of the situation. The vanguard of the anti-racism, anti-sexism movement on campus looks at an individual chosen for a job and can’t see past his skin color or his gender. If Mr. Bacow didn’t “understand, first-hand” what it means to be reduced to gender or skin color before he was chosen for this job, he sure does now, because it appears to be the only thing, or the main thing, that his critics can see about him.

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Maybe they’ll even see him as an individual rather than as a “white male.” If the new Harvard president can help the critics appreciate that perspective, he’ll be teaching something about world history and perhaps more importantly about examining assumptions. Isn’t that what education is all about?

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