Monday, May 01, 2006

would you like some grey poupon with your oligarchy?

Harvard Magazine has an astonishing interview with two former members of the Harvard Corporation, the seven-member self-perpetuating governing board that, "structurally and by custom," oversees all major decisions at the university. In an attempt to clarify some of the notoriously mysterious goings-on of the Corporation, the interview highlights how little its members are willing to give away. Some of the best moments:
Henry Rosovsky: One of the difficulties is that there is a difference between the legality and the reality. The legal owners of Harvard University are the President and Fellows of Harvard College. That is the Corporation, and every document, every copyright, all of that is legally owned by the Harvard Corporation. In the same way, every major appointment, every award of tenure—many decisions legally are made by the Overseers and the Corporation, the two Governing Boards. But by the time those decisions reach the Governing Boards, under normal circumstances they are not really involved in the details.

Good to know we can rely on "normal circumstances."
And Rosovsky again:

Now I am sure that in a strictly legal sense the Corporation could interfere with any of these issues[degree requirements, admissions, curriculum, and the like]. But of course they have never done so, and I am sure they never will...
Rosovsky on decision-making through schmoozing:
...most of the members knew or know deans and I think it was quite natural for a member to have lunch, have dinner, talk, write a letter. That level of informality is one of the things that this system can achieve.
Rosovsky on why democracy just sucks:
The genius of the American system is that, compared to Europe and Britain, we do have strong executive power both in the deans and in the president. In Europe, everybody’s elected—deans are elected, chairmen are elected—you really have a sort of participatory democracy that so often prevents any action.
When asked whether there was anyone on the Corporation whose "natural gravitation would be to academic matters," D. Ronald Daniel replies, "There’s no scientist there and we used to talk about that regularly."
Rosovsky: I wouldn’t go to the trouble of formally changing the structure: the price of saying we need nine members of the Corporation instead of seven is too high.
Daniel: Especially if those next two members weren’t the right members.
There's also a good moment in the middle of the page when Richard Chait, a professor at the Graduate School of Education, tries to pin down exactly what kind of "intellectual capital" the Corporation brings to the table. Everyone has difficulty answering that one.

It's kind of worth reading the whole thing, though it's long and sometimes tedious, for the insight into the sheer talent for obfuscation these men have developed, and the elitism that trickles down from the top of the Harvard pyramid.


Phantom Scribbler said...

Oh, dear. Now I wish I'd actually read the thing instead of quickly scanning my class notes and tossing it in the recycling.

kermitthefrog said...

Ha. It's online, if you care enough (or want to be alarmed enough).