I’ve always loved The Lawrenceville Stories, written by Owen Johnson in the early years of the 20th Century. Johnson wrote about his prep school, using friends’ actual nicknames, “The Varmint,” “The Tennessee Shad,” “Hungry Smeed,” and particularly, “The Prodigious Hickey.”
Hickey, on his way to becoming the Prodigious, pulls off increasingly disruptive pranks, ever suspected but never proved. Finally, after sending the entire school into a turmoil, he is summoned before the Doctor (headmaster), whom he has heretofore outfoxed. Now, he says only, “We’re going to let you go.” Hickey challenges, “For what reason?” “For no reason at all.” To Hickey’s “Do you call this justice?” the Doctor replies, “No, I call it a display of force.”
Earlier this year, some ten students from the Harvard College Class of 2021 (2,056 students from 39,506 applicants) had their acceptances rescinded. The established Harvard College Class of 2021 Facebook group invited, “Join this group to meet your classmates, share where you’re coming from, ask questions, keep in touch, etc. Your experience starts with the amazing peers around you, so stay connected.”
A darker spin-off formed and some students, according to the Harvard Crimson, “sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children. Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups. One called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child ‘piñata time.’”
The official Facebook clearly stated, “Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.”
Some have questioned free speech, but no student was told they couldn’t post, just that they would not be speaking so at Harvard. Ever. Some mentioned that when incoming members of 2020 shared racist, sexist posts in an unofficial group, Harvard officials said only they were “troubled and disappointed” and shut it down.
Perhaps the University has matured. Perhaps Harvard, like Lawrenceville’s Doctor, realizing they stand in loco parentis for all their charges, decided to use “force,” or decided, to paraphrase the (disputed) words of Winston Churchill, that up with this we will no longer put.