'Each student went about his or her daily life believing that he or she can and would change the world'

August 14, 2008

The following is a selection from the more than 110 comments posted on our website, timeshighereducation. co.uk, in reaction to John Summers's essay:

"You mentioned a 'few shining exceptions', we are not the exceptions, we are the majority: honoured to be here, excited for the many opportunities around us, and aware that we have potential to do great things. That's not arrogance: that's hope. And it's not because we go to Harvard. It's because we're young; it's because we're idealistic."

"Of course there were a few obnoxious kids in every batch, but it's simply inaccurate to describe that as the norm for either the students or the university. The great thing about that environment, which I miss terribly, is that each student went about his or her daily life sincerely believing that, for better or for worse, he or she can and would change the world."

"The nostalgic evocation of a dorm full of 19-year-old kids in sweatpants, fully assured that they will 'change the world' doesn't put the lie to Summers's point; it underscores it. This education is the first stop on a career path pointed straight at making money; this teacher is just another potential professional reference."

"I too taught at Harvard in a similar position to the one John describes, during the same period. While there were certainly wonderful students there, what he describes is spot on. I am sure similar truths hold at other elite institutions, but you will never know the amazing sense of entitlement these Harvard undergrads have until you have taught them."

"I was a graduate student at Harvard until very recently. I left because my students - generally depraved in all of the ways mentioned - were driving me crazy. Their moral imagination is fundamentally limited, and they cannot conceive of any form of value that is not, just as Summers says, regulated by the market."

"In the end, the ugliness rears its head as the nihilistic forces inherent in the market come crashing down. Questions unasked in the formative years of intellectualism will eventually be answered in maturity regardless of wealth accumulated, and the shallow pleasures found in blondes with prosthetic breasts and 5th Avenue lofts will quickly transform into a deep-seated despair."

"Thanks to the author, both for the piece and the riotous commentary it inspired. At Lewis Black's (an American comedian) recent appearance in Harvard Square, he was asked, 'What would you do if you were appointed president of Harvard?' 'Offer a course called Fuck Your Entitlement Mentality,' he replied. Riotous laughter ensued, but some conspicuously didn't join in. That made many, me included, laugh even harder."

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