Is the right’s critique of Harvard anti-intellectual?

I agree with John’s contention, sparked by an editorial in the Harvard Crimson, that populist anti-intellectualism isn’t a wise approach for conservatives to adopt. But I want to add that the editorial in question doesn’t show that the conservative critique of Harvard rests on populist anti-intellectualism.

The Crimson cites three conservative “attacks” on Harvard. The first came from Ted Cruz, who complained that, during his time at Harvard Law School, the faculty contained a sizeable number of Marxist professors. This beef isn’t anti-intellectual. There is no inconsistency between intellectualism and the belief that a law school faculty shouldn’t include many Marxists.

The Crimson sniffs that “education gives people new ideas that they might not have otherwise had.” But even assuming that Marxism is a new idea that won’t have occurred to law students during their undergraduate years, one or two Marxist law school faculty members would be sufficient for that purpose. And the Crimson makes no mention of Cruz’s complaint that, in his time, the Harvard Law School faculty was nearly devoid of openly conservative professors.

Bill O’Reilly is the second conservative purveyor of anti-intellectualism identified by the Crimson. O’Reilly was unhappy that his alma mater accepted something called Harvard College Munch, a group for students who share an interest in kinky sex. But there is nothing anti-intellectual about O’Reilly’s displeasure. Intellectuals can and do take either side in the debate over whether a college should accept or sponsor groups that promote off-beat sex.

The Crimson’s last example is Mitt Romney. During the presidential campaign, he criticized President Obama for having spent “too much time at Harvard.” Since Romney spent more time at Harvard than Obama, I hope that Romney made this comment with tongue somewhat in cheek. If not, then the remark is mildly anti-intellectual (not to mention ridiculous). But it provides slender support for the Crimson’s suggestion that conservative criticism of Harvard is anti-intellectual.

The fundamental conservative criticism of Harvard is the same as its criticism of academia as a whole — that some of its precincts tend to provide students with leftist indoctrination rather than an intellectually balanced education. This critique, whether or not one agrees with it, isn’t anti-intellectual.

As to whether conservatives students should apply to Harvard, I’m reminded of when I told a leading figure in the Bush adminstration, with a distinguished background in academia, that my daughter was applying to Brown and Dartmouth. “Equally bad,” was his reply. When I asked where his kids had gone to college, he said that one of them had attended the notoriously leftist Reed College.

As John suggests, for conservative students few alternatives to Harvard exist that aren’t “equally bad.” So why not try to attend Harvard and annoy the Crimson?


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