Course registration versus niceness; success versus compassion; “attainment” versus kindness. Something is missing from all these dichotomies, and that something is the life of the mind.

Where in the list of ranked values are curiosity, discovery, reason, inquiry, skepticism or truth? (Were these values even options?) Where is critical thinking? No wonder the pledge talks about “attainment.” Attainment equals study cards and good grades – a transcript to enable the student to move on to the next stage. Attainment isn’t learning, questioning or criticizing. It’s getting your ticket punched.

Harvard is the strongest brand in American higher education, and its identity is clear. As its students recognize, Harvard represents success. But, it seems, Harvard feels guilty about that identity and wishes it could instead (or also) represent “compassion.” These two qualities have a lot in common. They both depend on other people, either to validate success or serve as objects of compassion. And neither is intellectual.