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Ruth Wisse: how Harvard went woke

Ruth Wisse as Fiddler on the Roof (of the Memorial Church at Harvard), illustration from the Spectator World

Three months after it was published, I finally found an excerpt from the October 2021 book by Prof Ruth Wisse, Free as a Jew: A Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, that appeared in the Spectator World:

How Harvard went woke
I've exchanged a few messages with Prof Wisse – as two allies sometimes do – during the 2005 (or 2005-2006) feminist-led witch hunt on Larry Summers and I became aware of the fact that she belonged to a handful of Harvard professors who felt self-confident about their moral foundations and ideological compass. In early 2005, I found out that over 99% of the faculty members were either deluded extreme leftists or (and that was arguably the overwhelming majority) totally spineless opportunists who were eager to more or less overtly encourage any immoral and pathological evolution at Harvard. Ruth Wisse and Harvey Mansfield were the unambiguously voices of conservative morality... and if you thought about others with these extra conditions in mind, you could ask "Who is the third?".

At any rate, she explained that as a Yiddish scholar, she spent the years 1993-2014 at Harvard. She came there partly thanks to some kind of quotas on women which she had always criticized – what an irony – and during the years, the thought police and especially the self-censorship of all the members of the community was growing, along with the totally corrupt admission and promotion procedures that simultaneously claimed to respect diversity as well as the rules of meritocracy – which is obviously mathematically impossible because the two things conflict with one another at almost all times.

She describes a course in which a black student and a Pakistani student ended up differently; the first actually did read the assigned literature and her viewpoint on the world (and the desirability or undesirability of revolutions) was enriched; the second student was allowed an easy way out (and a path to confirm his anti-Israel, fundamentally anti-Semitic, prejudices). Wisse has always considered it her mistake that she allowed the corrupt political correct forces to prevail in this particular event.

Needless to say, I add, something like that happened to her approximately once in 21 years; while those 99+ percent of the professors are doing such immoral things and they are lying many times a day.

In the text, she remembers the feminist Summers witch hunt almost identically as I do; it is actually incredible how people from very different departments would summarize the key stories equally. I also totally agree with her that the naturally self-confident Summers (who was pretty much a darling of the students, but not most professors, when he became the President of Harvard in 2001; he was a formal external boss of our Society of Fellows as well so we repeatedly dined with him) incorrectly lost his self-confidence and started to apologize and succumb to the pathological pressures from the extreme leftists. Incidentally, she also repeatedly mentions the author of the most notorious motion against Summers (during the Faculty of Arts and Sciences faculty meetings), the no-confidence vote. That Tuesday, March 15th, 2005 was one of the very bad days that I still remember as if it were yesterday. It was one of the first brutal days in which my childhood-era faith in the American freedom, democracy, and civilization was shattered; what the majority of the professors was willing to approve was worse than most things I remembered from the communist-controlled conferences etc. in Czechoslovakia. (Incidentally, the rest of Czechia was occupied by the Nazis on March 15, 1939, but that is not the second terrifying March 15th of my life that I will never forget although the year is equal modulo 10.) I soon became another target of personal witch hunts by this evil activist, too. It wasn't pleasant to be repeatedly exposed to harassment by a jerk who simply couldn't resist the urge to abuse the fact that jerks had the upper hand at the university (now they have the upper hand with the baseball bat in it).

For a week after the Nancy-Hopkins-led feminist attacks, Summers was saying that it was nonsense that he would be forced to apologize. Things turned in the bad direction after a week. Wisse mentions that some real or imagined (?) pressure from the Harvard Corporation could have turned Summers into a coward (he used this excuse in a chat with her) who allowed the deterioration on steroids to start. I think that Summers should have simply fired or otherwise punished a bunch of the aggressive feminists who wanted to suppress other scholars' freedom of speech. 2005 was a time when people like him actually had the power to rather safely do such things but he has failed, and many people after him failed much more than he did. In recent years, the uninterrupted failure became the rule, not an exception.

She also mentions that as a rare conservative, she was a natural magnet for lots of students etc. because she became a shoulder, even for some more numerous groups that are being terrorized at Harvard. She is no Christian (or eager opponent of abortions) but it was common sense that lots of Catholics wanted to have her as an adviser. I actually knew that as well – I've acted as a shoulder for some Harvard Christians although I am also at most a "Christian atheist". ;-)

Your humble correspondent is an eager supporter of Israel (not of its recent Covid policies, of course) but it is perhaps unsurprising that she considers the topic more important than I do. It has surely been true for decades that the haters of Israel were increasingly promoting their bigotry and anti-civilization bias as a virtue while they were robbing the supporters of Israel of their freedom of speech. The alliances may be different outside the Academia (I am sure that some of you primarily imagine "Jewishness" to be a leading driving force behind the new left and globalism etc.) but make no mistake about it: the anti-Israel pogroms are an inseparable element of the spectrum of far left rituals at the U.S. universities (much of this anti-Israel insanity is driven by ethnic Jews, as she would surely agree). Some powerful sentences about her exit from the end of her excerpt:
The absence of conservative views, most of which were classical liberal views when I was an undergraduate, meant students were being poorly served by teachers who lacked the moral confidence to transmit the foundational texts and ideas of America and western civilization. It was unbearable that this was the academy I left to my students.
In the humanities, the moral confidence is paramount and it has largely evaporated. But at the end, I think that it is important in natural sciences and other fields as well and in the process of evaporation of this vital substance, the humanities were just a decade or two ahead of the sciences. You know, sciences like physics were seemingly not "threatened" by these political pressures because they were assumed to be "independent" of the ideological conflict. But the independence isn't perfect and the drive to politicize and to poison everything is so strong now that even the very weak but nonzero "correlation" of scientific statements with the woke issues is enough to poison natural sciences as well, inhibit the valuable things, and expand the deluded, worthless, and atrocious things. Meanwhile, the percentage that was said to be 99+ percent earlier in this text probably exceeds 99.9% now and just in recent weeks, I decided to burn the bridges and detach myself from everyone who hasn't shown any tangible evidence for belonging to the 0.1%. Thinking what they happily collaborated with in the recent decades twists my stomach and I don't like my stomach to be twisted unnecessarily.

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