Matt Yglesias detects the specific stink of the Martin Peretz situation. He begins by quoting Harvard’s defense of its celebration of Peretz (background here):

“We are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment to the most basic freedoms that enable the robust exchange of ideas,” the statement said.

Yglesias comments:

It’s really too bad that Harvard has chosen to take this tack. Obviously the only person in this conversation who’s questioned anybody’s right to “free speech” or exhibited a weak “commitment to the most basic freedoms” is Peretz himself. Equally obviously, Peretz’s right to be a bigot does not create a right to be honored by prestigious universities. My alma mater is doing a disservice to their brand and to public understanding of the issues by deliberately obscuring things in this manner.

It would be more honest to say that Harvard is a business run for the benefit of its faculty and administrators. The business model of this business is the exchange of prestige in exchange for money. Peretz has friends who have money that they are willing to exchange for some prestige, and Harvard intends to take the money. It is what it is.

As an alum, I’d like to pretend to believe that I find this particular transaction outrageous, but it merely goes to illustrate a point I’ve made before. If you’re a person of some means who wants to make a charitable donation to make the world a better place you have a lot of options available to you. And one of the very worst things you could do with that money is give it to a fancy university. If you’ve specifically decided that you want to make a charitable donation to a provider of education services in the United States, you should find one that has a good track record of serving poor students. There are plenty of charter schools and colleges that fit the bill, but none of them are famous fancy schools with multi-billion dollar endowments.

[T]he reason Peretz’s friends are giving money [to Harvard in his name is that Peretz] has a deservedly bad reputation in many quarters, and in exchange for money Harvard University is willing to try to raise his reputation.

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One Response to “The Robust Exchange of Money”

  1. Richard Says:

    Peretz saying, if offhandedly, that he doesn’t need to defend himself (or can’t, or doesn’t want to) dissolves his licence (such as it was) as any kind of public intellectual. The specific stink, for me, issues from that remark.

    Harvard’s more general, cloud-like stink goes without saying – or goes according to Yglesias’s account.

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