I want to tell you what it has been like to spend my life as a professor at Harvard, the most prestigious university in America, perhaps the world. In my time there, Old Harvard, a place of tradition with its prejudices, has become New Harvard, a place of prestige with its prejudices. What’s the difference?
There are two old jokes about Old Harvard: “You can always tell a Harvard man but you can’t tell him much,” and “You will never regret going to Harvard; others may, but you won’t.” These describe arrogance, and of course the arrogance of Harvard men, not the women who are there now in profusion and force. With arrogance went a certain fastidiousness mocked in another joke: “A Yale man washes his hands after he goes to the bathroom–a Harvard man washes them before.” No doubt this one came from Yale, as it makes Yale represent normal male humanity in contrast to a studied, self-conscious few. This Harvard attitude survives today in the act that students call “dropping the H-Bomb”–that is, disclosing that you go to Harvard. Even I never announce that I’m a Harvard professor. I say that I teach. Where? In a college. Yes, but where? Around Boston. Oh, I see: you must be a Harvard professor.