Far be it from us to nitpick another publication for catering to the affluent, educated market they want to be able to tell advertisers is their main readership. Plenty of newspapers and magazines do it. But we just have to get something off of our* chest: The New York Times’ obsession with Harvard is verging on the maniacal.
Stories about Harvard professors who win science awards, accounts of how the endowments at Harvard and other elite institutions have tanked, and profiles of Larry Summers — stuff like that is perfectly understandable, even necessary, for a national paper like the Times to cover. But has it struck anyone else that they’re getting a little extreme in their devotion lately? Let’s take a walk down recent-memory lane:
• Two weeks ago, there was the story about new grass in Harvard Yard. (With a sidebar about how to make compost, the Cantab way!) Takeaway, from University President Drew Gilpin Faust: “You could really see the root systems and how different they were.”
• There was also the lengthy analysis, by the ethicist, of whether you should donate money to Harvard. Takeaway: We should maybe think about giving to other schools, too. You know, the ones who don’t have $26 billion endowments.
• Also last month, William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard, was asked to do an online Q&A with readers to help them figure out how to get into the No. 1 U.S. News university. Takeaway: Let’s just not talk about how many legacies we and other Ivies admit every year.
• Oh, and there was the fawning story about Professor Michael Sandel’s “Justice” lectures getting broadcast on PBS. But with slightly better cameras than in front of which every other professor has ever lectured on TV. Takeaway: Even though Sandel is a beloved figure at Harvard, he may be the inspiration for Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons, because he has a receding hairline, and as you may have heard, every writer for the show graduated from Harvard.
• Then, of course, there was the story about how Harvard fashion (!!!) is different from everywhere else. (Though, in the Times’ defense, the story was inspired by a licensing deal made by the university with a fashion company — and not just to put their logo on some hoodies, which is actually what everyone there and at every other college mostly wear.) Takeaway: “There was an overwhelming sense of affluence, and it was really reflected in the dress styles,” the dean of admissions (again) said of his time as an undergrad. “I was stunned to see people sockless in the winter.”
• And now, in today’s paper, there’s a story about how the endowment situation at Harvard is so bad, faculty are having to sit through meetings without cookies. WITHOUT COOKIES, PEOPLE. AT HARVARD. Takeaway: “The loss of scrambled eggs, bacon and other cooked breakfast foods in the dorms of upperclassmen on weekdays seems to have stirred the most ire. ‘Students generally feel that if you come to Harvard, for what you’re paying, you should probably have the right to a hot breakfast,’ said Andrea Flores, a senior.”
And that’s just since September. Now, granted, you could argue that the Times has written as many specific stories about, say, Yale in that time. But that’s because someone there got murdered and stuffed in a wall. Cookies? Really? Cookies.
*Okay, just Intel Chris’s. Yes, yes, he is biased because he went to a rival school. And bitter.