When I was a journalism graduate student at Boston University in the late 70s, I spent considerable time on the campuses of Harvard and MIT. I was an avid reader of newspapers and magazines, and Harvard’s business school library had every conceivable publication, virtually all of them untouched. In those days, anyone could stroll into the building and settle in for several hours, which is what I did on a regular basis. The internet hadn’t yet been developed and Harvard’s periodical stash was pure gold.
My connection with MIT resulted from a class assignment covering the city politics of Cambridge, where Harvard and MIT are both located. I wasn’t comfortable asking officials for interviews for a school project, and the editors of The Tech, MIT’s student newspaper, accepted my offer to write for them. I also did some editing for the publication.
A big treat living in Boston was going for lunch at a then local restaurant in Cambridge called Legal Sea Foods, which was in Inman Square, about halfway between Harvard and MIT. You might know Legal Seafoods as a popular multistate chain, but in those days, it was a nondescript restaurant with long rows of tables where people ate with strangers. I enjoyed listening in on conversations by Harvard and MIT professors discussing subjects way beyond my comprehension. It was exciting being surrounded by some of the best minds in academia.
Without exception, every faculty member and student from Harvard and MIT I encountered struck me as having a certain brilliance that one would expect from those teaching and studying at elite schools. Many of the Harvard students I encountered were smug, and most of the MIT students I met were weird and dorky, but all were undeniably top tier in the smarts department. There was a deserved cachet saying one taught or studied at Harvard or MIT.
In recent weeks, I’ve been taken aback watching videos of students at Harvard, MIT, and other supposedly elite schools. One video featured Harvard students chanting “From the River to the Sea” and another involved the menacing of Jewish students. Then there was the video of a MIT student interrupting a math lecturer so he could promote his bogus claim of the “ongoing genocide of Gaza.” The lecturer, who was teaching a mathematical formulation I couldn’t remotely understand in a million years, graciously allowed the student to interrupt his class and unfurl a Palestinian flag to declare, “As you witness an ongoing genocide of Gaza in MIT silence, I’m joining hundreds of students city-wide walking out of class.”
“From the River to the Sea,” is a rallying cry for the obliteration of Israel, although the mainstream media likes to suggest that’s only how paranoid Jews perceive the slogan. In any case, I doubt that most of the Harvard students chanting the slogan were history majors specializing in Mideast politics but rather easily impressionable followers who know that spewing Jew hatred is cool. I’m doubtful the featured MIT student will land a job at SpaceX.
Turns out, there’s good reason for my changed perceptions of students attending elite schools. According to this column by Victor Davis Hanson, after the George Floyd riots in 2020, there was a major push to admit diverse students beyond their numbers in the general population. Abetting this effort was the abolition of the SAT requirement, and often the comparative rankings of high school grade point averages. Meantime, the number of foreign students, especially from the oil-rich Middle East countries whose full tuition rates are subsidized by their governments, have soared.
The number of Jews at Ivy League schools has plummeted to 10-15%, compared to 20-30% in the 70s and 80s. Watching the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn testify before Congress last week made clear that the administrations of these schools would like to ratchet their Jewish student populations even lower.
Underscoring the fast-growing acceptability of promulgating Jew hatred in America, Claudine Gay and Sally Kornbluth, respectfully the presidents of Harvard and MIT, and Liz Magill, who resigned over the weekend as president of Penn, couldn’t bring themselves to say that calling for the genocide of Jews would absolutely, positively, violate their schools’ codes of conduct. Rather, they insisted, it would depend on the “context.”
The soulless and lawyerly answers proffered by Gay, Kornbluth, and Magill were understandable. The New York Times reported that Gay and Magill were coached by hotshot crisis expert attorneys at the white-shoe law firm WilmerHale and that Alyssa DaCunha, who leads the firm’s congressional investigations and crisis management practices, and Felicia Ellsworth, the vice chair of the firm’s litigation and controversy department, were seated in the front row of the hearing. Ellsworth’s bio says she was among the lead trial and appellate counsel to Harvard that argued in defense of the university’s race-based affirmative action programs, which the Supreme Court ruled this year was unconstitutional.
The Times said Kornbluth also met with WilmerHale.
Here’s a valuable lesson I learned in my decades-long career in public relations and journalism: Lawyers are the best go-to sources for counsel on appearances in a court of law but should be avoided like the plague for appearances in the court of public opinion.
Notably, WilmerHale appreciates powerful prose for meaningful statements used outside the courtroom. Here’s a portion of a public letter WilmerHale signed in 2021 with America’s other leading law firms condemning antisemitism.
“As leaders of the largest law firms in the United States, we publicly denounce anti-Semitism and the demonization of Jews pervading the press, social media, and the streets of this country.
“Today, and every day, we stand against the pernicious and violent attacks against Jews in this country. We are horrified by the vitriolic hate being spewed, by both the uneducated and the educated who know better, on social media. We are disheartened and alarmed by the lack of urgency in denouncing these escalating and offensive attacks on Jews. In the face of these acts in our own country, we are frightened by the silence of a nation that vowed never to forget the massacre of millions at the hands of hate.
“An attack on any group based on race, religion, color, sexual orientation, or national origin—including Jewish people—is an assault on the values of diversity, equality and inclusion that are the bedrock of this country and that we as law firms strive to uphold in our own institutions. We call on our colleagues, the leaders of corporate America, and private and public academic institutions, including law schools, to stand with us and publicly denounce anti-Semitism, in all of its forms.”
If WilmerHale sincerely endorsed the letter’s message, it’s surprising the firm agreed to take on Gay, Kornbluth, and Magill as clients.
The three women have diverse academic backgrounds. Gay is a political scientist specializing in America’s racial politics, Kornbluth is a cell biologist, and Magill is an attorney specializing in administrative and constitutional law.
Gay seems drawn to controversy the way bees are drawn to honey. Substack writers Christopher Rufo and Christopher Brunet have alleged that Gay’s dissertation was plagiarized, and the Washington Free Beacon published a report alleging additional instances of plagiarism. Brunet a year earlier detailed a litany of damning allegations about Gay. Not surprisingly, the mainstream media chose to ignore what strikes me as compelling and easily verifiable evidence.
The bios of Gay, Kornbluth, and Magill all emphasize their diversity and inclusion accomplishments, which no doubt factored in their respective appointments. Magill resigned this past weekend, and there are calls for Gay and Kornbluth to step down.
Frankly, I was saddened by Magill’s resignation, and I hope Gay and Kornbluth remain in their jobs. The forces that led to the three women’s ascension to power run wide and deep at their respective universities, and the resulting institutional damage they’ve collectively caused likely won’t be repaired by their departures. Magill’s bio says that when she was dean at Stanford Law School, she “presided over a transformative faculty revitalization, hiring nearly 30 percent of the law faculty.”
It’s best the public continues to associate Harvard and MIT with Gay and Kornbluth. Penn has retained Magill as a law school professor, so she is still representative of the school’s values.
Jews would be mistaken believing that the departures of Gay, Kornbluth, and Magill would be a step forward making the campuses of Harvard, MIT, Penn, and other schools safer places for them. The Jew haters will say the resignations were another example of the undue influence of “Zionist money.” I can imagine Rep. Ilan Omar, named the 2019 antisemite of the year, posting on X, “See, I told you, it’s all about the Benjamins baby.”
I expect Harvard, MIT, and Penn will survive the sorry Congressional performances of their leaders and the media will continue to refer to these and supposedly other prestigious universities as elite institutions. Count me among those who are no longer fooled.