In January 2005, mistaking a feminist pep rally for a
serious academic conference, Harvard President
Lawrence Summers, the former Clinton Administration
Treasury Secretary, committed a
notorious "gaffe" (i.e. he told an unpopular
Summers was no doubt expected to lay on the sonorous
soft soap expected from such an august personage about
how we must all redouble our efforts to overcome the
persistent plague of discrimination. Instead, Summers, a
brilliant but socially maladroit economist, offered a
data-driven analysis of why women are fairly rare on
the science, engineering, and mathematics faculties of
Ivy League colleges:
- Winning tenure and having
children simultaneously are generally more difficult
for a mother than for a father.
- The greater standard deviation
in men`s IQs implies that there are more men at both
the high and low ends of the IQ bell curve…but only
high-IQ people are up for jobs at Harvard.
- Women tend to be more
interested in humanistic fields than in physics and
In response, MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins—who
(conflict of interest be damned!) had headed the MIT
that had investigated her own complaint of
discrimination, leading, not surprisingly, to her
getting a big pay raise—declared that she had to flee
Summers` talk or "I would`ve either blacked out or
And Denice Denton, the chancellor-designate of UC
Santa Cruz, stood up to "speak truth to power" to
her own self-admiring phrase. (In 2006, Denton
climbed to the roof of the luxury high rise in which
lived her lesbian lover—for whom she had arranged a
$192,000 per year job at California taxpayer expense—and
leapt to her death.)
Desperately trying to keep his job, Summers quickly
appointed female historian Drew Gilpin Faust, head of
Radcliffe Institute For Advanced Study, to lead
Harvard`s Task Forces on Women Faculty and on Women in
Science and Engineering.
Heather Mac Donald noted in
Harvard`s Faustian Bargain in City Journal:
"Faust runs one of the
powerful incubators of feminist complaint and
nonsensical academic theory in the country."
[February 9, 2007]
Eventually, Dr. Faust brought back a
$50 million wish list of payoffs to feminist
interests, which the beleaguered Summers immediately
agreed to fund. Hey, the money wasn`t coming out of
Larry`s pocket, so why not?
Despite Larry`s craven surrender to Dr. Faust`s
demands, it didn`t save him. Last year, Summers resigned
under pressure from the faculty.
(Not all of their complaints against Summers were
mercenary or trivial. Mechanical engineering professor
Frederick H. Abernathy led an honorable uprising
over Summers spending tens of millions of Harvard`s
money to defend, unsuccessfully, his best friend,
Andrei Shleifer, from
charges of financial corruption dating to when
Shleifer advised the Yeltsin regime for Harvard.)
So whom did Harvard pick last week as its new
A prophetic clue appeared back in January 2005 in the
Dean Drew Gilpin Faust said Friday that the fallout from
University President Lawrence H. Summers` remarks on
females in science had generated `a moment of enormous
possibility` for the advancement of women at Harvard."
Yes—Larry`s little miscue has indeed proven "a
moment of enormous possibility" for women at
Harvard, such as, oh, to pick a totally random example,
Dr. Faust herself…who has just been named
the new President of Harvard University!
Apparently shaking down the last president for $50
million can help you build your political base for
becoming the next president.
Anyway, $50 million is pocket lint compared to what
Dr. Faust now oversees. The joke is often repeated that
faculty politics are so vicious because the stakes are
so low. But Harvard`s endowment is
Academic feminism: it`s quite the lucrative
You might wonder: how Harvard can risk its reputation
by dumping a social scientist for telling the truth and
appointing a self-serving feminist apparatchik in
Don`t be silly. Colleges are among the least
competitive institutions in this country. Their
reputations are almost foolproof.
If you want to understand status and power in modern
America, you need to grasp how the college prestige game
As a high school junior in 1975, I read a 1500-page
guide to colleges from front-to-back. I recently had
occasion to look through a new college directory and was
struck by what I saw.
Back in 1975, the world was quite different. The
Soviet Union dominated Eurasia while
Maoist China festered in poverty. The most famous
airlines were Pan-Am and TWA, and big computer companies
included Sperry-Rand, Burroughs, Control Data, DEC, and
Yet, despite all this change, the exclusive private
colleges in 2007 turn out to be almost exactly the same
as in 1975.
U.S. News & World Report constantly fiddles
with its ranking criteria so that it can garner
publicity by frequently announcing a new
#1 university in America. But nothing much really
changes over time. Even more locked in amber is its
list of the top liberal arts colleges in 2007. It
looks a lot like a list of the top liberal arts colleges
F. Scott Fitzgerald might have drawn up.
Only a handful of schools have risen sharply. For
example, Pepperdine`s sensational location
overlooking Malibu Beach had finally helped it rise
above mediocrity. Back in my day,
Washington U. of St. Louis was using its big
endowment to buy students with high SAT scores, and
that has finally paid off in a stronger reputation.
Notre Dame has leveraged its football glamour to move up
decline in crime has benefited urban schools like
Overall, though, the Harvards and Stanfords and
Northwesterns of 1975 are still the Harvards and
Stanfords and Northwesterns of 2007.
An Atlantic Monthly study of admissions
selectivity found that
"one good predictor of a
school`s selectivity rank is nothing more complicated
than the date of its founding. The average founding
years of the top five, ten, twenty-five, fifty, and 100
most selective schools in the nation are 1767, 1785,
1822, 1839, and 1850, respectively." [The
Selectivity Illusion, by Don Peck, November
And practically no private college has fallen sharply
in status since 1975. In other words, incompetent
administrators can`t do much damage to a college`s
reputation in less than a couple of generations.
Why this stasis?
First, colleges simply are not judged upon how well
they educate undergraduates. When I was applying, it was
well known that grade inflation was out of control at
Stanford; UC Berkeley was notorious for enormous lecture
hall classes taught by inept grad students with
incomprehensible accents. A friend who started at
homely Cal State Northridge, then transferred to UC San
Diego and on to UC Berkeley in pursuit of a more
glamorous degree, told me the quality of instruction
fell with each step up the ladder of cachet.
Yet, Stanford`s and Berkeley`s renown have only
"Wow," I burbled. "You must have learned a
"Oh, no," he replied. "They were mostly
He explained that Harvard`s policy of luring away the
most celebrated middle-aged professors at lesser
colleges meant that undergraduates were systematically
shortchanged. Harvard`s superstars devoted their best
efforts to overseeing grad students, advising the
President, and other duties more pleasant than
correcting undergraduates` essays.
But, who really cares how much you might (or might
not) learn at Harvard? The point of getting into Harvard
is to be able to say you got into Harvard. (And to make
friends with other ambitious hotshots who also got into
USA Today rightly calls Harvard "the ultimate
brand name." In effect, Harvard is hard to get into
because everybody knows it`s hard to get into. So, no
embarrassments happen on campus, it will remain hard
to get into for, roughly, ever.
A second reason that colleges don`t decline in
prestige no matter how badly they mess up: alumni won`t
let them. If you buy a car and it turns out to be a
lemon, you don`t feel an urge to speak well of the brand
after that. On the other hand, your college stays on
your resume. So you have an incentive to do what you can
to talk up its supposed excellence.
grads salted prominently throughout the media, thus
is in no danger of losing its reputation. And that means
it can afford the most egregious mismanagement.
Nonetheless, there may be one thing Harvard
can`t afford: to be honest about what it is really
selling. Summers, with his talk of
IQ bell curves, came perilously close to spilling
the beans, so he had to go.
What students are actually buying from Harvard is not
so much a Harvard education as Harvard`s certification
that, as high school seniors, they were
among the country`s best and brightest. (A Harvard
degree doesn`t add much distinction over just getting
in, because 96 percent of Harvard freshmen graduate.)
There are, however, potentially much
quicker and cheaper ways to certify such things than
to spend four years and
$185,000 at Harvard—for example, IQ tests. So
Harvard needs to uphold the myth that what makes Harvard
graduates special is the ineffably marvelous education
they obtained on the
hallowed shores of the Charles River.
Harvard trustees don`t lose sleep worrying that the
left half of the Bell Curve will figure out an
effective way to challenge the
hegemony of the IQ overclass. What they do worry
about is attacks on their use of IQ sorting techniques,
such as the politically incorrect but indispensable
SAT standardized exam, from pressure groups who
perform below average, such as
Hispanics. Each group boasts enough
high IQ activists, such as Dr. Faust, to make
trouble for Harvard.
So Harvard buys off potential troublemakers like Dr.
Faust with its "commitment
quotas. By promoting them at the expense of more
competent men, whites, and Asians, Harvard preserves
most of its freedom to continue to discriminate
ruthlessly on IQ in the rest of its selection process.
What Harvard wants is for everybody just to shut up
about group differences in intelligence. Stifling
discussion of IQ allows the IQ upper class to quietly
push its interests at the expense of everyone else.