I have just received a mailing from the Harvard Class of 1954 inviting me to contribute a statement of any length to the 60th Anniversary Class Report. I have to decide whether or not to submit something. I actually graduated in '53, but Harvard, in its infinite wisdom, takes no notice of such details. From the moment I enrolled as a Freshman in the Fall of 1950, I was forever a member of the Class of '54, and plans were made by Harvard to start dunning me for money as soon as at all feasible. Had I dropped out after six weeks, I would still be considered a member of the Class of '54, and since Harvard, for some mysterious reason, only has a six year graduation rate of 93% [how on earth can they possibly lose seven percent of each class, considering the care with which each egg is sexed and candled for any lurking imperfection?], there must be a good many aging degree-less chaps out there still considered members of this or that class who can be hit up for donations. In the past ten years, Harvard has also been sending me estate planning tips -- waste not, want not.
I have never actually gone to a class reunion, but I have contributed statements, in some cases hundreds of words in length, to the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, twenty-fifth, thirty-fifth, and fiftieth Class Reports, on occasion using the opportunity to write harsh criticisms of Harvard's rather timid and conservative stance toward the larger world [Harvard refused to divest when it might have done some good in the struggle against apartheid, but as soon as the Robben Island prisoners were released and the fight was over, it awarded Nelson Mandela an honorary degree -- they really have no shame.]
I have actually donated money, but just once. There used to be at Harvard, and perhaps still is, something called the Detur Prize -- your choice of a free book if you get almost all A's one year [this was back in the day when getting all A's was not automatic] I had a good year, and for my efforts got Harry Austryn Wolfson's classic work on Spinoza. I received an appeal from Harvard for a donation to the Detur Prize fund, and thought I really owed them something, since I so cherished the book, so I gave them a hundred. But never again.
My disappointment with Harvard has been overtaken by bigger ideological disappointments, but a statement for the Class Report would give me the opportunity to immortalize my grandchildren, who have come along since my contribution for the Fiftieth Report. Of course, I could revisit the Marty Peretz fiasco, but somehow I just don't think he is important enough to beat up on yet again.
Maybe I should wait for the Seventieth, when they will, I should imagine, be eager to fill up the report with anything they can get. On the other hand, I could use the space to advertise my on-line collections of papers. Now there's a thought.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
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Harvard's six-year graduation rate is 97.4%. Of those I've taught who didn't graduate by six years, most had serious mental health problems. ("Candling" a seventeen-year old has little predictive value for what can happen on this score in years 18-21.)
I am happy that Harvard has brought up its rate. The figure I found on line was 93%. But more seriously, I was snarking, and some liberty is allowable in a snark.
Unfortunately, graduation does not occur for some students because they commit suicide. Based on anecdotal evidence, this occurs in some cases because of overwhelming pressure to be "successful" or "perfect." I suppose this would be an example of Durkheimian altruistic suicide: the student gets overwhelmed by the Protestant ethos of the American Northeast variety.
A recent Crimson article calculated the Harvard College suicide rate at 24.24 per 100,000 - including students on leaves of absence. This is much higher than the 6.18 per 100,000 average rate for US college students reported by a 2010 UVA study. For the original article, please see http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/12/10/suicide-harvard-mental-health/?page=2
The danger with interpreting this phenomenon as a mental health problem is that the pathology is located in particular agents rather than the broader institutional culture. This seems to be what the "Unknown" faculty member is referring to in his comment. The discourse of "mental health" implicitly blames the victim while exonerating the University, which has a habit of sweeping suicides under the rug to minimize its legal liability.
Well, I am now properly humbled and chastened for my casual snark. That statistic about suicide is simply awful. I will take a look at the article. I think it might be best if I refrain from commenting on things I know nothing about!
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