Friday, October 23, 2009

Yes, the economy continues to be bad: Harvard Edition

Welcome to yet another edition of "Signs That the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This week we have a college edition. Let's get on with it.

According to The New York Times, "Leaner Times at Harvard: No Cookies." Let us look at this tragedy at the venerable institution of higher learning:

  • You know things are bad when the kids at Harvard can't get a hot breakfast anymore. According to the article, "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." Ok, I can kind of see that. Eating cold cereal and milk just does not cut it for some people.Then again, look at this on the positive side if you are stuck with eating corn flakes: "Research from University of Scranton found that breakfast cereals provide a surprisingly large amount of disease-fighting antioxidants" (source).
  • But that is not the horrifying part. Oh no, not by a long shot. What can possibly be so terrible? From the article, "that professors will go without cookies at faculty meetings." Holy Mother of Pearl, you know shit is hitting the fan when the professors can't have their cookies at meetings anymore. It's time to batten down the hatches. Did it occur to anyone to maybe ask for volunteers to bake a batch of cookies, then take turns bringing cookies in? Not from the looks of it, and these are Harvard scholars we are talking about. We'll see how long before the local faculty governance in my school figures they can't afford the wine and crackers they usually serve after the meetings. I can only imagine the horror as they get upset, and things turn ugly. Hey, if it is happening at Harvard, it will eventually trickle down to other universities and colleges.
  • And the horror continues. According to the article, "Mr. [George] Hayward [a junior student] said that those who live on the Quad, a 15-minute walk from Harvard Yard, were disproportionately affected because the library there was closed and shuttle bus service to and from the central campus curtailed." The kids may have to actually walk. Imagine that. And no, I am not being mean, but in my undergraduate days at a certain other fine university in the Midwest, I had walks of 15 minutes or more (often more) to get to classes, with snow in the winter, and you did not hear me whining about the shuttle being curtailed (shuttle? What is this shuttle thing you speak of?).
  • And then we have this tragedy happening to some of the campus athletes: they have to share space in some facilities. Holy crap. The poor kids in the Tae Kwon Do Club have to "to share practice space with the Crimson Dance Team." This could get ugly.
Let's be honest, it is kind of hard to be sympathetic to Harvard, which, although their precious endowment has lost money since last year, they still have 26 billion (that is billion with a B) dollars sitting on the endowment as of June of 2009. I think the folks do protest too much. Of course, Harvard feels they need to cut even more. They did, according to the article, lay off 250 staff members. But, here is the most horrible idea that's floating around to save money. Hold on to your hats now, here it goes. Don't say I did not warn you:

  • "The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has started an online “idea bank” where students can suggest savings. The 170 submissions so far include charging tour groups to enter Harvard Yard and having students clean their own bathrooms instead of paying other students to do it under a work program." (emphasis added).
Imagine that, the poor children of privilege may have to learn to clean after themselves. What is this world coming to?

The New York Times is not the only place that picked up this story. The Harvard Crimson picked up on the cookie tragedy too in their article "Faculty Meeting Lacks Usual Cookies." This is certainly a hot topic if their campus newspaper picks it up. The cookie tragedy gets worse:

  • "'As part of our cost-cutting efforts, we’re doing our little part here in our Faculty meetings, saving about $500 per meeting for cookies and coffee,' Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith explained during the meeting." Where the hell are they getting their cookies from? I guess Pillsbury's finest are not good enough for these people. And I take it Folger's is not an option; they are probably drinking the most expensive coffee in the world. Having to go down to Folger's or Maxwell House could be a tragedy. Heaven help them if they have to end up with Sanka. Doing your little part, yea, sure.
  • Of course, the self-delusion that they, the faculty, are somehow suffering continues: "'This is the first time in modern times with no cookies,' Faculty Council member Harry R. Lewis ’68 said as he held a white mug of tea. 'We are sharing the pain with the undergraduates.'” Are you effing kidding me? The world will not end because you did not get your cookie after the meeting. Ask the angry kids with no hot breakfast, and then come talk to us. Boo effing hoo. Take turns baking cookies or bring your own and share. The Humanity! The first time in modern times with no cookies? What's next? No coffee in the break room? Or no tea for the esteemed old timer?
  • And you can speculate the lack of cookies is already having an effect: "But few professors were there to be disappointed as the meeting was more sparsely attended than usual, with several of the front rows almost entirely empty." No cookie, no meeting. Harvard faculty unite: "Hey hey, ho ho, I want my cookie dough!"
Drew A. Bennett, writing an opinion piece for Inside Higher Education on "Picking Up Crumbs" may have said it best:

"GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!" (emphasis in the original).

I will concur. The folks at Harvard need to get a grip. There are real economic crises at colleges and universities across the nation, situations that seriously affect students and their ability to get educated. I will be blunt: those folks in Cambridge need to suck it up. Mr. Bennett's story set in "an open-admission, two-year college within the 14th poorest congressional district in the country" is something worthy of sympathy and something that needs serious addressing. Heck, that is a lot like the open-admission place I used to work at, and we certainly did miracles with what we had, which was nowhere close to what Harvard, even with their "cutbacks" currently has. Harvard losing its faculty meeting cookies, not so much. Get a life.

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