Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up and Go to Harvard

Mercy!  Watching the debacle of the three sirens (the presidents of Penn, MIT, and Harvard) testify about calls for genocide was frightening.  The three managed to reach the same conclusion:  Halting calls for genocide of Jews or imposing sanctions on students who do so is controlled by context. Until there is physical harm or action taken, no harm, no foul.

The three got things so wrong. There are tips we can all take away from this experience.

  1.  Don’t allow lawyers to prep you for public hearings.  Two of the sirens (Claudine Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill (formerly of Penn)) were prepped separately by teams from WilmerHale.  WilmerHale also had a separate meeting with Sally Kornbluth of MIT.  Apparently the message and advice was the same (although the Barometer is guessing that the billing was separate although the prep was, no doubt, the same).  When testifying in a public hearing, the key is not legalisms.  The key is public perception. Outrage at the witness is not a good outcome when  an executive gives public testimony. (Lauren Hirsch, “One Law Firm Prepared Two Colleges for Hearing,” New York Times, December 10, 2023)
  2. Check your records for what your organization has done vis-a-vis abusive language before testifying.  Hypocrisy is a killer when it comes to posturing. Dr. Gay would have known that Harvard’s code  prohibits “using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.”  Perhaps she also would have known that Harvard ranked 248 out of 248 schools on individual rights of expression.  That’s dead last. Using the terms “fatphobia” and  “cisheterosexism” are a form of abuse at Harvard as described in Harvard’s required training materials for all students. Harvard revoked the admission of several potential students several years ago for their offensive posts on Facebook. In fact, the training teaches that using incorrect pronouns to refer to someone is abuse.  Calling for genocide of a group surely has a place in that code somewhere . Ingrid Jacques, “Harvard president botched her testimony on antisemitism. Firing her would’ve made it worse,”  USA Today, December 12, 2023,
  3. Forget the First Amendment stuff the lawyers drilled into you. Free speech does have that “Don’t yell fire in a crowded theater!” exception.  More importantly, Harvard is not a public entity; it is a private one.  It has the authority to control speech on its premises without trampling on First Amendment rights. Answer as a human being — not a puppet for big law firms who trickled legal technicalities into your brain.
  4. Lose the subterfuge. The plagiarism investigation probably should have been disclosed  — again something Harvard has done to students in the past, along with penalties, such as expulsion.
  5. As the lawyers say and should have told you, this phrase works wonders, “Mea culpa.” Not pledges to do better, Not, “Here’s what I meant.”
  6. If you have been accepted at Harvard, decline the offer.  If you are the parent of  child who been admitted, tell them this tale of, “The Three Sirens Go to Congress.”  And then ask the question, “Is the cost of attending an institution that lacks structured thoughts, clear values, and consistent standards for all worth it?” Explain that putting Harvard on your resume now will probably get some giggles and smirks, but not a job.  What has been done to chip away the value of a college degree and now Harvard’s standing is a tragedy.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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