The Party of the University

Rita Koganzon:

But all this takes place in the context of inward-looking institutions, which engage with the outside world for the sake of scholarship, but are not open to its input about how they should be run. The comparison to the Venetian Republic is not so far off, for it is a kind of late-medieval republic, governed by and for its citizens. It’s not always well governed, but it is self-governed.

Gray’s almost unswervingly positive accounts of the faculty and administrators at every institution, even those which slighted her in ways that would today inspire national protest campaigns, are especially striking. By contemporary standards, Gray has pretty good cause for resentment. She is a Jew (at least by the expansive Nazi definition) who fled Germany with her family in 1934, she was a female academic in the 1950s and ’60s, and she is a multiple winner of the “first woman” prize for holding major administrative positions at American universities. She should have a list of grievances long enough to constitute a book of its own, but there is hardly a trace of bitterness in her account, and indeed, a surprising gratitude instead, even toward institutions that were expressly hostile to her—like Harvard, where women were prohibited from entering the college library and made to enter department meetings through a side door. Gray did not protest any of this, but she ended up occupying buildings in a different and more consequential way, namely by governing many of these institutions and overseeing the reversal of discriminatory policies.