… has long been something like the following: Our eminent, money-generating professors will occasionally behave dishonorably – even in ways that have significant legal, not merely moral, repercussions.

We will deal with these events with Ivy gentility — we will say little or nothing, at least publicly. If we punish, we will not say publicly what that punishment was. We will never issue a public statement admitting that something bad happened on our faculty.

So, whether the event was Andrei Shleifer and Russia, or Lawrence Summers and Andrei Shleifer, or three law professors, plus a Harvard Overseer, and plagiarism, Harvard will deal with it quietly, admitting nothing, doing little (at least little that one can measure) by way of punishment.

If, as is the nature of Faustian bargains, Harvard loses a little of its soul with each of these events, well… The main thing is that Harvard can expect its faculty to be still about these things, to keep quiet, to be discreet.


It isn’t always. It was really pissed at Summers and his, er, implausible remarks about his knowledge of his protegé Shleifer’s activities, for instance.

And now, in the notorious case of the Harvard-packed Monitor Group and its relationship to the Gaddafi regime, one Harvard faculty member has decided to say something. Directly to Drew Faust, Harvard’s president. Her reported response to him is telling.


“[A] tyrant wanted a crimson-tinged report that he was running a democracy, and for a price, a Harvard expert obliged in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary,” said Harry Lewis, current Harvard professor and former dean, to the university’s president at a faculty meeting. “Shouldn’t Harvard acknowledge its embarrassment, and might you remind us that when we parlay our status as Harvard professors for personal profit, we can hurt both the university and all of its members? … We can’t keep having these economists go off to foreign countries and fill their pockets and create these huge embarrassments for the university.”

Here, on his blog, is his full statement.

Faust replied that for her to say anything about this would make her “scold in chief.”

That’s a sweet put-down, no? It implies, first, that Lewis is nothing more than a scold, and that no one, including Drew Faust, would want to join him in being a scold. A scold. Uncool. A finger pointer. A finger shaker. Some sort of uptight hyper-moralist. Because I mean there’s no clear wrongdoing here, moral ambiguity and geopolitical complexity being what it is… Remember what Benjamin Barber said: Everyone gets paid.

And after all, if the only thing you can do is scold, what’s the point? Harvard is only one small weak voice in the wilderness; it has no leverage in the larger world; it’s just a teeny overlooked little thing… When it speaks, no one listens.

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9 Responses to “The Faustian Bargain at Harvard University…”

  1. dmf Says:

    ’twas ever thus

  2. david foster Says:

    At least the other Faust (Johann) occasionally *felt bad* about the people hurt by his diabolical alliance..for example, when he finds that his employees have solved the problem of the old couple who were in the way of his development project–by simply killing them and burning down their house–he says:

    FAUST: So you have turned deaf ears to me
    I meant exchange, not robbery
    This thoughtless, violent affair
    My curse on it, for you to share!

    I wonder if any of these Harvardians have reached even the at-least-feeling-bad level…or would they just agree with the response of Goethe’s Chorus:

    CHORUS: That ancient truth we will recite
    Give way to force, for might is right
    And would you boldly offer strife?
    The risk your house, estate–and life.

  3. Chris Says:

    President Faust is a big fan of Porter. In a recent interview, she credited him with giving her invaluable private advice on how to lead the University.

    By the way, in the recent film “Inside Job” there are several wonderful moments when Harvard academics are caught on camera after conflict of interest issues are raised.

  4. Tony Says:

    And don’t forget Marc Hauser. He argued that we were all possessed of a “universal moral grammar” and then got popped for fabricating test results, among other indiscretions and moral ambiguities. Harvard did nothing but try to quietly slip him and their disciplinary actions in his case underneath the rug.

  5. david foster Says:

    Correction: Goethe’s protagonist was *Heinrich* Faust—Johann Faust was his prototype from the medieval stories.

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