Rachel Donadio in the New York Times:
In 1937, H. L. Mencken offered some advice to the son of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. ”My guess is you’d have more fun at Yale than at Princeton, but my real choice is Harvard,” he wrote. ”I don’t think Harvard is a better university than the other two, but it seems that Americans set a higher value on its A.B. If I had a son I’d take him to Cambridge and chain him to the campus pump to remain there until he had acquired a sound Harvard accent. It’s worth money in this great free Republic.”
And so it is. No university occupies a more central place in the American imagination than Harvard. In ”The Sound and the Fury,” the Compson family sells an inheritance of pastureland to send their son Quentin north to Harvard. His experience there, albeit fictional, does not become the stuff of university promotional materials. Bedeviled by a Southern past at odds with the secure respectability that Harvard promises to confer, Quentin cracks up and drowns himself in the Charles River. ”Harvard my Harvard boy Harvard harvard,” he daydreams at one point. Repeated over and over, the word is reduced to syllables, those syllables to nothing.
Harvard, boy, Harvard. What is Harvard? That question has come to the fore more than ever during the tumultuous presidency of Lawrence H. Summers. A brilliant economist who took office in 2001, Summers has become known for his brutally direct leadership style. As one joke circulating has it, he opens his mouth only to change feet.