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Is What's Good for Harvard Good for U.S. Education?


I would like to clarify the process by which Harvard Law School's strategic plan was developed ("Harvard," Cover Story, Feb. 18). During the three years spent crafting the plan, I worked very closely with former President Neil Rudenstine and the Harvard Corp. to ensure that the final plan represented both a blueprint for continued success at the law school and a way for the entire university to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This partnership has continued as we begin to implement specific elements of the plan.

I look forward to working with President Summers as we continue to shape the future of Harvard Law School and, under his energetic leadership, the entire university.

Robert C. Clark

Dean

Harvard Law School

Cambridge, Mass.

Larry Summers has a deeper issue with many of the Harvard faculty than any of those taken up in your story. He signaled this in his installation address, in which he declared a number of times that the mission of Harvard is to seek the truth. This was a clear challenge to faculty relativists who deny that there is any truth to seek.

Daniel F. McDonald

McLean, Va.

Lawrence H. Summers' notions about improving Harvard brought back memories of another Harvard president's grand plans. You note that former President James Conant "championed creation of large, comprehensive high schools in the late '50s." At the time, I was a graduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo and was taking part in a nationwide W.K. Kellogg Foundation study of the way in which various entities--businesses, the armed forces, and educational institutions--were being administered. Our small contribution was to visit public school systems and gather data about lines of communication among teachers, administrators, and students in order to judge how well the schools were run. A major finding was that the larger the institution, the less comfortable the individual. The main complaint of individuals in large organizations is that they tend to feel lost, isolated, and powerless.

Conant's grand idea of the large, comprehensive school was probably one of the worst of the 20th century. Summers should keep that in mind as he develops his own "grand plans" for Harvard.

Armand J. Galfo

Heritage Professor Emeritus

College of William & Mary

Williamsburg, Va.

The dismal state of undergraduate education exists at many universities far less prestigious than Harvard. Without tying teaching performance to tenure, we have reached the stage where professors simply show up, read verbatim from text packaged with slides, and then trip over students on the way back to their research projects. Personally, I would just as soon cut out the middleman and take a canned course over the Internet. Perhaps the various publishing firms should seek accreditation, since they are the ones doing the actual teaching.

Lorie Obal

Santa Rosa, Calif.

After 30 years of teaching "Rocks for Jocks" at the University of South Carolina, I often wonder how can the U.S. be a leader in technology and productivity with such poorly prepared undergraduates. To his credit, our former governor, David M. Beasley, urged our board of trustees to push for more science and math in the curriculum. His proposal was greeted with yawning indifference and, in some quarters, disdain. If Summers succeeds in expanding the math and science requirements at Harvard, perhaps in 20 to 30 years South Carolina will follow suit.

Leonard R. Gardner

Professor of Geological Sciences

University of South Carolina

Columbia, S.C.

Lawrence Summers wants to invigorate his university by grading students accurately, promoting study abroad, encouraging faculty to spend more time with students, putting more emphasis on teaching when awarding tenure, encouraging multidisciplinary studies, bringing more science to nonscience majors, and working more closely with industry. To conclude that Harvard might "set an example other American universities would want to follow" is to overlook the progress at Georgia Institute of Technology and many other universities. We'll be watching Harvard, but innovation is already happening.

Richard Barke

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta

Data presented in your Harvard story demonstrate that a fine university can admit more women and minority students even while requiring high-level performance on the Scholastic Assessment Test. The once-respected University of California and its leaders are moving toward the elimination of the SAT as an admissions criterion, a standard that has been required of and served generations of potential college applicants. The current UC folks diminish the stature and value of their university and degree, as do other institutions that may follow their lead.

Barton L. Griffith

Yucaipa, Calif. "What recession?" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Feb. 11) was the only article I have seen raising questions about the National Bureau of Economic Research's call about the "recession." The decision was obviously flawed. But here are other criticisms that you might have made:

The idea that the recession started last March was so illogical as to be unprofessional. What the NBER said was: "The recession started last March, but we might never have realized it if September 11 hadn't happened." What that boiled down to was: The recession started in March, but it might not have started in March. I'm sorry, that's impossible to respect.

That the NBER was not correctly applying its own four criteria raises the even more pointed question of whether the call was political. What they were really saying was: The recession started in March, just two months after President Clinton left office, so Clinton created the recession. Considering that three of the six NBER members are active Republicans, this is not so far-fetched. The implication is that deficit spending is entirely inappropriate.

Vic Simon

Kensington, Md. "What kind of superpower?" (Special Report, "5 Critical Questions," Feb. 11) noted that an aspect of the Bush doctrine would be the "use of American status as the sole superpower, not only to fight terrorism and the countries that harbor them, but also help weak and unstable states that might naturally attract terrorists." This should be accomplished through the auspices of the U.N. To attempt to "go it alone" will, I fear, only engender greater animosity toward the U.S. as a dictatorial and domineering power to be resisted and persistently attacked.

R. Noel Mendoza

Aptos, Calif. What MTV needs is to get back to its roots--way back ("MTV's world," Entertainment, Feb. 18). I would like to see MTV promote more local groups in the U.S. Rather than focus on the country as a whole, it should look to regions, cities, or states--[similar to the] channels in Europe and Russia. California is bigger than many countries--why not a California edition of MTV?

As a musician, I feel MTV has been a mixed blessing: Yes, it provides exposure, but only to those with a huge budget and backing. If you watch MTV you would think there are four types of music: rap, pop stars/divas, superhard heavy grunge, anduh, never mind, can't think of a fourth. Where is rock, jazz, blues, country, folk, classical? MTV is really selling the listener/viewer, the musician--and our culture--short.

Scott Martin

Brisbane, Calif. "The pension bomb" (Finance, Feb. 18) was the first comprehensive treatment of pension plan earnings and accounting that I have ever seen. But it had certain omissions [concerning] the valuation of the plans' future liabilities. The heart of the matter is that one "enrolled actuary" (as defined in the Internal Revenue Code) is charged with setting the appropriate rate of return to be used to measure future liabilities. Is the enrolled actuary truly independent, or must he go along with the wishes of the plan sponsor? If he doesn't, there is always one such person who will. So the plan sponsor, in direct conflict with the laws, gets to set the rate of return and then has to defend it. This is a pattern throughout the tax administration system on pension plan costs and is just one example in which well-meaning tax laws are impossible to administer.

Paul C. Cowan

Ft. Myers, Fla. I have worked in retail brokerage for 20-plus years. You would do a great service if you would give equal space and time to brokers and their assistants and would remind clients that their behavior is just as important ("Is your broker leaving you out in the cold? BusinessWeek Investor, Feb. 18).

Here is my Top 10 list of how to be a good client: 1) Read your statements and confirmations on a timely basis. 2) Save them. 3) Pay for your purchases on time. 4) Understand that when our day is done, we like to go home; we have families and lives, too. 5) Know your limits. 6) Don't ask us to take returns; we are not a department store. 7) Don't blame us for a hot tip you got that went cold. 8) Be responsible and informed about your investments. 9) Be polite and courteous to the receptionist and support staff. 10) Don't ask us to break industry rules, because we can't and we won't.

Diane E. Alter

Long Branch, N.J. Indeed, consumer wireless networking is not yet ready for serious use ("Wireless networking: Misery awaits you," BusinessWeek Lifestyle, Feb. 11). The problem is interference. WiFi devices operate in the same frequency band as microwave ovens, cordless telephones, and wireless devices from your neighbors. Although I purchased all my WiFi equipment from the same manufacturer, they were unreliable even in the same room--let alone across the apartment.

Alex Matulich

Mountain View, Calif. Medical care in the U.S. could be fixed by the fairly radical device of eliminating virtually the entire current public and private health-insurance infrastructure and, instead, providing only catastrophic coverage to every citizen ("The new power play in health care," Social Issues, Jan. 28). Funding would be through income tax. Catastrophe would be defined on an economic (not medical) basis and strictly means-tested. Nobody would be allowed to suffer economic catastrophe before backup coverage kicked in.

In such a system, your assertion that "finally, we all may have to learn how to shop for health care, paying as much mind to doctor bills as we do to, say, car prices" may in fact come to pass.

Michael D. Zigelman, M.D.

Arroyo Grande, Calif. "Just another Hollywood mad scientist" (Science & Technology, Jan. 21) advances a thoughtful thesis: that A Beautiful Mind does moviegoers a disservice by "insinuating that scientific genius goes hand-in-hand with insanity." I wonder, though, if the article overreaches in accusing David Auburn's Proof of pushing the same unwelcome moral.

As the drama makes clear, especially in its pivotal scene, [the lead character's] mathematical prowess crumbles in his advancing illness' wake. Moreover, Auburn portrays mathematical inquiry as "slogging," a matter of painstakingly "connecting the dots," and as something requiring perseverance--which is far more edifying than the feverish jags Hollywood uses to dramatize genius.

Timothy Chambers

Providence


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