Harvard: Slave to Vanitas

"Smite eternally my ancestors, O Lord, for their iniquities, and be not merciful to them; And bless me for my recognition of their transgressions."
— Woke Psalms 186

In a letter to the Harvard community, university president Lawrence Bacow reported on the work of the Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery. The committee found that Harvard’s history includes “extensive entanglements with slavery.” 

That may shock the consciences of members of the Harvard Snowflake Society, but the Harvard Committee to Eliminate Discrimination against Jews and the Harvard Committee to Eliminate Discrimination against Asians are not likely to be surprised, and neither are the members of the Harvard Committee to Abolish Original Sin, whose members do not include Harvard’s new atheist chaplain.

In order to atone for Harvard’s sins, Bacow has promised to redress its legacy with slavery through “teaching, research, and service,” and has pledged $100 million toward that effort. Think of it as reparations.

[Related: The Problem with ‘Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery’]

A hundred million dollars! “Cui bono?” the lawyers might ask. “Oy vey,” the Jews may say, now that they too can go to Harvard.

What will Harvard teach about slavery? That it was wrong? How much of the $100 million will that cost? Will it be a required course? Are there any required courses at Harvard?

What’s the research for? The committee would seem to have done enough already—enough at least to cause Harvard to allocate $100 million. How much more research is needed? Or is that just a feel-good operation: wallowing in how badly Harvard’s forebears behaved, in order to contrast them with present management? 

And what kind of service does Harvard intend to perform? Extra affirmative action? In other words, more discrimination, this time against individuals and groups who are currently less favored than blacks—the way blacks were less favored in the past?

Who will benefit from Harvard’s $100 million spending spree?

It’s difficult enough for people to atone for their own sins. How does one atone for the sins of others? 

And hasn’t Harvard already spoken on the question? Memorial Hall was constructed in 1875, at a cost of $370,000, then equal to one-twelfth of Harvard’s endowment. (Bacow’s pledge of $100 million is only one twenty-fifth of its current endowment.) The names of the Harvard graduates who fought in the Civil War are inscribed on the building, but not all of them: only those who fought for the Union. 

The Harvard committee report notes that “over nearly 150 years . . . Harvard presidents and other leaders, as well as its faculty and staff, enslaved more than 70 individuals, some of whom labored on campus.” Seventy individuals over nearly 150 years! Yes, yes, that’s too many of course, but how many Jews did Harvard keep out? A lot more than 70, you may be certain.

So why this flashy mea culpa now? Because it’s not a mea culpa; it’s a tua culpa.

Reparations are a perennial favorite cause as elections roll around. This year, the reparations cause is likely to be a special favorite of the woke Left. Donald Trump, the gift that has given so much to Democrats, isn’t the bogeyman he used to be, which is why Democrats are frantic to keep January 6 alive and scandalous. And white racist QAnons are said to be hiding under every bed (move over, Commie, make a little room for me!), coming out only at night to devise methods to keep blacks from voting. The Biden Administration intelligence community and the FBI have said violent domestic extremist movements (notably “white supremacists”) are the most lethal terrorist threat to Americans. Who’s a “white supremacist”? Probably you are, if you disagree in any respect with the approved Democratic Party line.

Even so, the devotion of blacks to the Democrats may be more tenuous than at any time since Eisenhower won 36 percent of the black vote in 1956. Black Americans have watched woke elites defund the police (an amazingly stupid idea, opposed by 81 percent of black Americans), elect get-out-of-jail-free district attorneys in the name of “racial justice,” and teach (in the few days when the schools are open) diversity, equity, and inclusion instead of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Hence the need for a Big Gun: Reparations.

But there are problems—unmentionable and mentionable. The unmentionable one is that blacks who were transported to America were almost certainly no worse off than they would have been had they been kept as slaves in their native land. That does not excuse either their sellers or their purchasers; they may rot in Hell. (Does Harvard’s chaplain believe in Hell?) But being a slave in America was probably better than being a slave in one of those countries, whose accurate description by President Trump caused a run on smelling salts.

And then there is the data (see Thomas Sowell’s work) showing blacks’ economic progress was faster in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s than in the years following the passing (in a previous fit of self-righteousness by Democrats) of the Civil Rights Laws and the Great Society programs.

Today we have 18 (!) inner-city Hell-holes run by Democrats where the total number of annual shooting victims (797 homicides last year in Chicago alone) is magnitudes larger than the total number of slaves who worked at Harvard, whose history is so upsetting to the snowflakes who run the university today.

What good will Harvard’s $100 million “teaching, research, and service” be for those blacks who live, and survive, in America’s inner cities, forced to attend barren public schools? The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress found 85 percent of black students lack proficiency in reading skills.

According to the Harvard Crimson, in 2020, “270 faculty members contributed a total of $317,835 to Biden, while just five faculty members contributed a total of $3,030 to Trump.” Biden (indeed, the entire Democratic Party) is a wholly owned tool of the teachers’ unions. Time was when people thought the teachers’ unions and the Democrats were just selfish in not educating students; now some think keeping blacks uneducated and illiterate is a strategy to keep them voting for Democrats.

As Elon Musk is willing to take a flyer to change the structure of public discourse (for which the woke solons, and probably the entire Harvard faculty too, hate him), so Harvard could show some spunk and take a $100 million flyer on educating black children. 

Dream on.

Instead, Harvard, moored now and for many decades past by moss-covered error, will seek blessings (secular, of course) from the New York Times and the rest of the woke community for recognizing the transgressions of their ancestors’ past.

Now that the stock of the puritans has died, Harvard should change its motto from Veritas to Vanitas.



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About Daniel Oliver

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Email him at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.

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