Tag Archives: harvard

The University Isn’t Going Anywhere


There is a lot of talk going around about how universities are broken, and Silicon Valley is going to put the Ivy League out of business. Certainly change is afoot, and continued tuition hikes at twice the rate of inflation are ridiculous. Online universities like Udemy and the Miverva Project are interesting, and may even succeed, depending on whether success is measured in teaching students or in making tons of money. But if success is measured in pushing the existing elite universities out of their current position, don’t hold your breath.

Kevin Carey wrote a piece in The New Republic saying how the roster of leading companies has completely changed over the last century but the roster of leading universities has not. American Cotton Oil is gone, but Harvard remains. Carey states that this is unsustainable; education should be as prone to disruption as business.

But there is a deep flaw in Carey’s analogy. Companies go out of business mostly because people no longer want their products. When was the last time you bought cottonseed oil, or film for your camera? But people still want what universities are offering, especially elite universities. Is education still valuable? Yes. Is a Harvard degree still valuable? Yes. I don’t want any cottonseed oil, but I sure want my kids to get a Harvard education and diploma. And as long as the desire for education and prestige remains (ie. as long as human nature still rules), the elite universities will remain so.


Americans Want Income Equality

Despite all the rhetoric out there about free markets and entrepreneurship and meritocracy and winners getting just rewards, results from a new survey (done by a professor at Harvard Business School, the fountainhead of free enterprise) show that Americans actually want a more equal distribution of wealth. Moreover, it turns out that most Americans have no idea how unequally wealth is currently distributed.

I posted recently about Timothy Noah’s long piece on income inequality; now he summarizes the results of the aforementioned survey. The survey shows that Americans generally think that the richest 20% of us own 60% of the wealth. In reality, the richest 20% own 85%. The survey also reveals that when shown graphs illustrating America’s income distribution, Sweden’s income distribution and an equal distribution, most American’s chose the Swedish graph. The equal graph was second, and the actual American graph came last.

Or, look at this graph from the survey (hat tip to Baseline Scenario for pulling the graph from the original pdf):

American's ideal wealth distribution

Americans very clearly want a more equal distribution of wealth than they have now. They aren’t agitating for it because A) they have no idea how unequal things really are; and B) there is an aspirational optimism in Americans whereby they always think that they will end up at the top.  But the next time some Tea Partier or Fox pundit starts talking about how Americans love the current system and are totally OK with hedge fund managers making $1 billion per year, remember this graph.

LSD and Human Frailty

I went to a book reading the other night by Don Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club, a new bestseller about the period in the early 1960’s when Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, professors at Harvard, were conducting free-wheeling experiments using LSD and other psychedelic drugs. It sounds like a great book, and well worth reading.

The book discusses the broad theme of how psychedelic use ushered in the 60’s as we know them, but I want to focus on two of the personality issues that Lattin brought up last night. It turns out that one of the Harvard undergrads who tried to get involved in the experiments was Andrew Weil, who would later become Dr. Andrew Weil, bearded king of holistic medicine. Weil was rebuffed, since Leary and Alpert had promised not to use undergrads in their experiments. He did not take this rebuffery well, and used his position as a reporter for the Harvard Crimson to dig up dirt on Leary and Alpert, lying, cheating and betraying his best friend in the process. So to clarify: Dr. Andrew Weil, who has made millions on “balanced living,” got his start by sliming other people.

After being fired from Harvard, thanks to Weil’s sneaky maneuvers, Richard Alpert traveled to India, found a guru, and came back to the US as Baba Ram Dass, becoming a well-known spiritual teacher who wrote the bestseller Remember, Be Here Now. Since then, Alpert has dedicated himself to living, and helping others live, a spiritual, be in the moment kind of life. Despite that, Lattin described how when he was spending time with Alpert while working on the book, Alpert still got angry at the thought of Andrew Weil, even 40-plus years later. This is not exactly the behavior one expects of a spiritual guru.

My point is not to criticize Weil and Alpert. My point is to note that even the most centered among us is still human, and thus fallible. Actually, Weil may not be centered – he may be an ambitious, money-grubbing jerk – but that is beside the point. Whether centered or not, spiritual or not, LSD-gobbling or not, we are all human, all too human, and with our humanity comes frailty. We would do well to remember that as we observe the behavior of those around us.