by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
You know John Lennon's famous song, don't you (1968)? Everyone does. "You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world..." but at Harvard, not too fast. Literally word by patient word.
The issue at the World's Greatest University is this. The alma mater of the University, "Fair Harvard", was written in 1836. It is to be sure a sluggish hymn, played to the dewy-eyed undergraduates when they arrive, and to the misty-eyed when they graduate... when they take the Harvard brand into the real word.
The do-gooders have got the usual bee in their bonnets. They want to change the last line, which reads "Till the stock of the Puritans die." This implies, so say advocates for change, that when the last Puritan dies, Harvard will cease to be the notable institution it has been for centuries.
So important is this issue, the President of Harvard Drew Faust has created a commission titled Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging. This commission is currently in the midst of removing the Puritans and entering the diverse and nonjudgmental world of their imagining and constant search.
This commission, like all kangaroo courts, is not asking the University community whether they wish to continue with an historic song, known by every Harvard student and alumnus... no, they've already decided that the line about the Puritans must go.
They've appointed themselves the re-lyricing folks. They don't like the line, they don't want anyone else to like the line, and they certainly don't want to ask the University community whether it wants to keep the line. Democracy, you see, is for other people, not Harvard poohbahs.
So far, these pocket revolutionaries have announced that all the University community is invited to participate in changing the last line of the alma mater to bring it into contemporary usage... never mind that the song in question has been on the lips of virtually every Harvard student who matriculated since 1836. "What's wrong is wrong," they say. And truth must prevail against all comers.
This situation is tailor made for Voltaire (1694-1778), "History is a pack of lies... the living play on the dead." Time and other precious resources are being utilized this very minute to "improve" what needs no improvement. But what is worse, is that these people, with all their exalted academic titles and colorful gowns, are dealing with literally one word. At this rate, it will take a millennium for these valued academics to fulfill their wishing. Yes, so far, their one "achievement" is proclaiming a contest in two parts.
Part one: a new, more "correct" and contemporary wording. And also, even more extraordinary, to select new music, including such suggestions as hip-hop and electronic. Now our lucky graduates can move the committee so that at future graduation ceremonies, new students can bugaloo, or perhaps reggae. Never let us ask what is appropriate for the ceremony, let us only inquire whether every strain of music has been given the chance to modernize the high festivities and events which characterize the life of a great university.
In addition, they have created a website called the "solution space", which is designed to circulate their fatuous and jejune views.
But now I have something important to say to this committee and to the University community. If the goal is to diminish the reputation of the Puritans, then they are certainly going about this matter completely incorrectly. Sixty people were appointed by the president to this commission. Sixty people for one word... Puritans.
However I am like Louis Antoine de Saint-Just (1767-1794), the "Angel of Death" of this situation... the beautiful revolutionary. He changed the debate for the direction of the French Revolution in one sentence... that "One cannot reign innocently: the insanity of doing so is evident". And on this basis, they guillotined his Most Christian Majesty, Louis XVI. It is now time to strike a blow for this nonjudgmental, diverse, all inclusive revolution. To take it out of the hands of people who think removing a single word is triumph, and to get to the heart of the matter.
That single word – Puritans – shows us that we remain enthralled to our ancient heritage when so much of this palaver does not enhance the debate.
In 1898, Emile Zola wrote perhaps the most famous declaration ever written, "J'accuse…!", where he changed the debate on the Dreyfus Affair (1894), a shameful exhibition of the abuse of power. But Zola and his unforgettable language changed a culture, and aroused a great nation. Now it is time to do this with Harvard, a name universally known, a destination that thousands of young people all over the world chart from an early day, and go to bed every night in hopeful expectation that they may have the great good fortune of going to Harvard and being a part of its community.
Towards this end, I suggest with complete humility this truly new idea: the name Harvard must be stripped off the University. I am not being facetious, or cantankerous, or quarrelsome; I am presenting the solution to the problem of diversity and inclusion.
Let us commence by looking at who this John Harvard was and remember that this is the man who we revere and venerate as a founder and benefactor of the great University and its worldwide reputation and dealings.
John Harvard was born in 1607, and died in 1638, just 31 and a half years old. He bequeathed half his extensive property (over $2 million dollars in today's currency) and a great collection of his books. Since 1636, no one has bothered to go beyond the resource giver and look at his views, prejudices, and positions which so embarrass us today.
In a way, of course, the University was enormously fortunate that so little is known about John Harvard, and even better that virtually all the books that he donated to Harvard, most of them on theological subjects, were destroyed in a fire in 1764. These books would have told us some inconvenient truths about this man, his mission, and what he wanted for Harvard.
Fortunately, the Puritans were epistolary masters, and fastidious diary keepers. If we cannot see into the heart of John Harvard, we can learn a great deal about how he thought by examining places and people he engaged with. At the commencement, the members of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, themselves Puritans, said in their remarks upon accepting his bequest that “He is a Godly gentleman”, in other words that he was a great and good Puritan, and they like him more because they all agreed.
Here are some things which in their eyes made all Puritans great, including John Harvard.
1) They condemned to eternal damnation and the fires of Hell anyone who was not saved. Since only Puritans could be saved, it was a select group. John Harvard was part of it, and he participated in the strongest possible measures to exile and remove those who did not concur with his select opinion.
2) The Puritans were anti-Roman Catholic. The Bishop of Rome was their particular nemesis. Within Puritan communities, Roman Catholic clergy and missionaries were all evil and could be literally thrown off the land and killed because they chose to follow God in their way, which no Puritan could ever allow.
3) They were anti The Church of England. It had not purified itself of Roman influence, and as such was anathema.
4) They opposed Quakers and Baptists, several of whom were hung by the neck until dead… because they chose their way of godliness, and the Puritans could never agree. Tolerance was not their metier.
5) They oppressed women. Running through the Puritan literature, adhered to by John Harvard, women were to be kept for breeding and cleaning… and of course to provide ongoing ecstasy upon demand to their lord and master. John Harvard believed this, because every Puritan believed it.
6) John Harvard believed as every Puritan believed in demons. He along with other Puritans was confident that the demons could do most anything to hurt and harm, malign and destroy any life… and therefore the strongest possible response was not only necessary, but essential. And so other colonists went to the stake, so they might expiate their sins in the fiery flames of Hell and eternal damnation.
The Puritans did not believe in changing their treasured opinions. Those who advocated change were wrong now, wrong then, and wrong forever. They did not need committees of the well meaning, they had God, and He was sufficient. The sad truth of this matter is that it is the very paucity of information about John Harvard and his views that have made him such an attractive founder. There is no opposition to John Harvard because so very little is known about him.
It is altogether fitting and proper that the famous statue in Harvard Yard is not of John Harvard at all, but someone quite different. And so, I charge you Danielle Allen, University Professor, Co-Chair of this commission, and all your 60 members, to drop the petty crusade against a single word and to go to the heart of the matter.
Change the name of the University. Remove it from every degree. Remove it, root and branch, from everything touched by the name John Harvard. Your committee members may well blanch at this startling and long overdue recommendation. If you truly want diversity and inclusiveness you can have it.
Of course some narrow minded people will say things like “They don’t care about inclusiveness and diversity. They didn’t come to Harvard for that, but for degrees which lift them high and above others who attended other, less rigorous educational institutions.”
The very name John Harvard and everything that is known about him and his Puritan colleagues demands that it be excluded from every aspect of the University and its history. And to those who complain I say this: the motto of this great institution is still Veritas; so cease focusing on the insignificant, and focus instead on cleansing Harvard of Harvard.
"You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead"
Click here to listen to the song.