On the weekend before the opening gavel of what’s being dubbed the Harvard affirmative-action trial, a record-breaking 597 of my fellow members of the class of ’88 and I, along with alumni from other reunion classes, were seated in a large lecture hall, listening to the new president of Harvard, Lawrence Bacow, address the issue of diversity in the admissions process. What he said—and I’m paraphrasing, because I didn’t record it—was that he could fill five whole incoming classes with valedictorians who’d received a perfect score on the SAT, but that’s not what Harvard is or will ever be. Harvard tries—and succeeds, to my mind—to fill its limited spots with a diversity not only of race and class but also of geography, politics, interests, intellectual fields of study, and worldviews.
I loved my four years at Harvard, largely because of the diversity of its student body. I don’t love the fact—now made public through the trial but previously understood by all of us to be true—that the kids whose parents donate buildings are given preferential treatment over those whose parents don’t. But I understand why the development office, which allows the university to give a free ride to any student whose family makes less than $65,000 a year, might encourage such a practice, which is hardly unique to Harvard. I also don’t love the fact that the Harvard fight song is still “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard,” in a school populated by at least as many women as men, and yet hearing its opening notes can still make me deeply nostalgic. Moreover, I am appalled that all-male final clubs—fraternity-like eating clubs in which the sons of America’s privileged class have traditionally gathered—still exist on campus (albeit with sanctions) without commensurate opportunities, with rare exceptions, for women, minorities, and others, but I also call some of their alumni members my closest friends.