With the exile of Larry Summers, it seems that everyone in the country is required by federal law to have a strong opinion about the state of affairs at Harvard. Having carefully studied the various proclamations about Harvard made by faculty both there and elsewhere, I've come to an unavoidable conclusion: Harvard University does not exist.
Some of you out there will no doubt scoff at my claim. "Oh my," you protest, "of course Harvard exists. It's right next to Atlantis and El Dorado."
No, Harvard does not exist outside of legend. The evidence is clear. If Harvard really existed, there would be some consistency to the various descriptions of it. In fact, there is far more consistency to depictions of the Loch Ness Monster than Harvard. Everyone agrees that Nessie is a large, saurian aquatic animal with a long slender neck. No one can seem to agree on what Harvard is like: some say it is the flagship school of the country, others that it is the arbiter of high culture, others that it is a cesspool of self-important faculty floating in muck, others that it is a sanctuary for tenured plagiarists, and still others that it is the elephant graveyard for faculty -- the place old professors go to die. No, if Harvard were real, we would be able to find at least a few descriptions that were similar to one another.
"But," you protest, "I've been there." Oh, you have, have you? Well, I've "been" there too, and all I saw were a bunch of buildings stuck in the middle of Boston. I saw a pagoda at the Epcot Center, too -- does that mean I've been to Japan? I saw a pyramid in Las Vegas, but I wasn't dumb enough to think I was in Egypt. So, someone showed you a building and said, "This is Harvard." Do me a favor, and come to this swampland I own -- I'll tell you, "This is valuable beachfront property!"
Still, you persist. "But I went to school there!" Sure you did. I'll bet you were at Woodstock, too. And I'll bet when you were in high school you really did have a model/girlfriend who was in college two states away and couldn't seem to schedule your school dances into the time between her photo shoots. I'll bet you really are a blackbelt, you really have lived in Europe (not just taken a ten-day-long guided tour), and you really don't think that dress makes your girlfriend look fat. Pu-leeze. I wasn't born yesterday.
No, if Harvard were a real place, people wouldn't invoke its name mystically, and make silly claims that the rest of academe follows its lead. If I remember right, Harvard supposedly has about $20 billion (yes, with a "b") in its foundation, and let's just say that the letter "b" doesn't appear anywhere in most universities' spreadsheets. The idea that we are somehow following Harvard's lead is a bit like suggesting the weather on Venus is affected by events on Neptune. We're worlds away; they have nothing to do with us.
So, please, stop asking me what I think of Larry Summers. I have no opinion: I've never met him, see no reason that I would ever want to meet him, and doubt he much wishes he could meet me. Besides, since we all know Harvard doesn't exist, Larry Summers might not exist either.