The Worst Class Evah?

Daniel Pipes graduated from Harvard in 1971, the same year in which Paul and I graduated from Dartmouth. To Daniel’s misfortune, one of his college classmates was Chuck Schumer. Schumer, the next year, was one of my law school classmates. Happily, I have no recollection of ever having met him. Daniel writes:

“The worst class ever”: that’s how Nathan Pusey, Harvard’s then-president, described my undergraduate cohort of 1971.

What a time, when a college administrator would say such a thing!

With a half century’s leisure to contemplate that bitter judgment, I’ve concluded that he was just about right. Of course, one can’t be sure, as no one can know all of Harvard’s 385 graduating classes. I can assert, however, that ours was not just feckless in college – what Pusey observed and condemned – but in the fifty years since, when it actively joined in the degradation of American higher education and culture.

It is one thing to be dumb when you are 19. It is something else entirely to be dumb when you are 50.

We entered a liberal university in 1967 and left a radicalized one four years later. Consider the innovations: pass-fail courses, student representatives on tenure committees, politicized “studies” departments and majors, relevancy the new yardstick. In addition, student life was transformed through co-ed housing, co-ed nude swimming, and an end to the dress code, ROTC, and parietals. (As an experiment, ask someone under 70 what parietals means.)

Heh. At Dartmouth, we didn’t have nude co-ed swimming. For that matter, we didn’t have co-eds, period. Let alone nude ones.

Christi Gloriam (“For the glory of Christ”) served as Harvard’s motto during its first two centuries. To adapt to different times, that was changed to the secular Veritas in 1836. This motto now again being woefully outdated, it urgently needs to be replaced. Our class of ’71 should propose Propaganda. This Latin term has several advantages: it conveniently dates to 1622, or just before Harvard’s founding in 1636; it requires no translation into English; and it precisely captures Harvard’s new spirit which our class bumptiously promotes.

Almost every institution of “higher education” in the U.S. has undergone a similar devolution. Pipes understands what has been lost:

We were among the last to receive a solid, demanding, apolitical education; for this, I am deeply grateful. I learned from masters of their craft. Guided by them, I wrote classical music, puzzled over differential geometry, memorized Chinese dynasties, understood the importance of Marsilius of Padua, stumbled over Arabic grammar, and appreciated the impact of the Six-Day War. I relish that training the more knowing that few of today’s undergraduates experience anything like it (and, being the parent of a college junior, I know this first hand).

Sad but true. Paul and I feel the same way. With only one exception that I can remember, I never had any idea what my professors’ political opinions were. Why would it even come up?

On to Senator Schumer:

Our cohort did its share to transmute crazed ideas from the aeries of our ivory tower a half-century ago into the lunacy that has become dogma among half the American population. Our classmate Chuck Schumer symbolizes this extension. During Harvard’s years of revolution, he was president of the Young Democrats. Today, he is majority leader of the U.S. Senate. In both capacities, he triangulated between moderates and radicals; in both cases, he ended up facilitating extremism. His apprenticeship at Harvard prepared him well for national demolition today.

That is our dismal legacy.

Schumer then and now

I can’t defend what certain elements of my generation have done to undermine American civilization. All I can say is that some members of our generation–Paul, Scott, and I to name a few of the less important–have done what we can to fight back.

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