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Harvard Professor Explains How the School Went Woke

Harvard Professor Explains How the School Went Woke

“In coming to Harvard to teach Yiddish literature, I had not considered Jewishness a matter of concern.”

Ruth Wisse teaches Yiddish literature at Harvard. In a new article at Spectator World, she describes how the Ivy League school went woke. It’s a long read, but interesting.

Here’s an excerpt:

How Harvard went woke

On January 1, 1993, I arrived at Harvard to take up a newly endowed professorship in Yiddish literature. It seemed preposterous: me at Harvard, Yiddish at Harvard. The university had never figured in my aspirations. My impressions of the university had been formed mostly from what I knew of its program in Jewish studies, which was jokingly referred to as ‘the Yeshiva on the Charles’ because of its emphasis on Talmudic and medieval sources. Its almost exclusively male Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations felt obliged to appoint a female.

My gender played an even more prominent part in the deliberations of the Department of Comparative Literature where I was to hold a joint appointment. By 1993, no self-styled academic conservative like me — who taught literature old style, reading along the grain rather than against it, with appreciation for its texture and its historical, cultural and linguistic contexts — could have won the vote of some of the literature department’s trendsetters had I not been a woman. In yet another irony, these progressive members of the committee did not know that I had opposed affirmative action for women at my then-job at McGill University. In short, I was appointed on the basis of a policy I deplored. Still, I accepted the position and the following year I was made the Center’s director. Having been assured that my chair would be accompanied by a lectureship in Yiddish language, I set up language instruction, undergraduate courses, and a track for graduate students supported by generous stipends.

In coming to Harvard to teach Yiddish literature, I had not considered Jewishness a matter of concern. There had been little anti-Israel agitation or Jewish discomfort at McGill, and I expected even less of it at Harvard. But university culture was becoming less tolerant of Jewishness, not more, quite as though it had expected Jews to shed it in return for being admitted.

Read the whole thing.


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Excellent article! Thanks for recommending it.

    Sonnys Mom in reply to gibbie. | October 3, 2021 at 8:40 am

    Yes, Ruth Wisse is a true scholar with impressive historical memory. Makes me want to read her entire book, “Free as a Jew”, from which this article is excerpted.

Outstanding article. When I was at Harvard (early 1970s), the common belief was that Harvard limited the number of incoming Jewish students to 40% of the freshman class.

“I would witness academic decline over the next 21 years: a decline I was powerless to arrest and see no immediate prospect of being reversed.”

I witnessed that decline, too.

Excellent article. It’s still hard to believe what’s happened.

The Ishmael vs. Isaac war is everywhere and I keep finding it behind one current event after another. Esau and Jacob are fighting too.