In revamp, Harvard takes its eye off its central mission

December 13, 2010

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IT IS understandable that Tracy Jan’s report on Harvard’s supposedly radical restructuring of its top governing body for the first time in its nearly four centuries omits mention of the one area that is supposed to be central to the university’s mission, namely education (“Harvard revamps its Corporation,’’ Metro, Dec. 7). After all, Harvard president (and Corporation member) Drew Faust and the other members of the Governance Review Committee, in their five-page report, left education out of the areas being reexamined.

Why is this restructuring being effectuated with an eye geared solely to obtaining and managing money, controlling risk, and revamping capital planning practices? The committee saw no reason to look into “academic affairs,’’ according to the report, because that was already “interwoven with all other aspects of university governance.’’

The bottom line is that the restructuring is aimed at advancing the already deeply entrenched corporatization of the university, while it ignores the reason why the Harvard Corporation exists in the first place. There have been many criticisms of Harvard’s academic culture voiced in the past couple of decades — by outsiders, alumni, and even an occasional faculty member or dean with the guts to point out that the Harvard emperor’s academic clothes have become quite tattered. None of this concern seems to have made it to the very top.

Harvey A. Silverglate
The writer is a 1967 graduate of Harvard Law School.