Even in our age of outrage, Harvard’s decision to rescind its offer of admission to Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv is surprising. Kashuv apologized immediately after foolish, insensitive and racist remarks that Kashuv had made as a 16-year-old resurfaced online. He apologized again to Harvard after the university reached out to him to get the full story. Despite this, Harvard has withdrawn its offer and rebuffed Kashuv’s attempt to appeal the decision in person.
Harvard’s response runs entirely counter to the stated goals of any university. Institutions of higher learning are predicated on the notion that young adults are capable of developing toward maturity. That’s why they leave their friends and families and delay entering the workforce. The product that Harvard and other elite universities sell is the ability to teach young adults. Harvard is ostensibly supposed to prepare them for entering the real world, for earning a living, building a family, running for office, leading a community, virtue signaling whenever possible, and so on. If Harvard prides itself on having lessons to teach, then Harvard believes its students are capable of learning — and correctly so, because young people like Kashuv are still growing.
His apologies and his outreach to Harvard’s Office of Diversity Education and Support strike me as entirely genuine. Aside from comments made in private as a teenager, Kashuv has shown no signs of harboring any kind of prejudice. It is patently clear that he has already done a large amount of growing. In a Twitter thread, he attributes his ethical growth to witnessing and surviving the Parkland shooting. It also may be a natural by-product of growing up. What is important is the fact that Kashuv has matured.
Kashuv notes that ‘throughout its history, Harvard’s faculty has included slave owners, segregationists, bigots, and anti-Semites’, and that ‘if Harvard is suggesting that growth isn’t possible and that our past defines our future, then Harvard is an inherently racist institution’.
Harvard and other ‘liberal’ institutions have also made gross ethical miscalculations in their infancy, and often in their adult years. If we reject the concept of growth, these storied universities will be the next institutions to be swallowed whole by the outrage mob. But Kashuv is naively, and tragically wrong on one important point.
If Harvard is a racist institution, it’s not because of its past actions. It’s because of its current actions. Look no further than Harvard’s unjust, unfair, and implicitly racist treatment of Asian American applicants. Harvard still puts people in racial categories and judges their merit on those categories. That strikes me as far worse, and far more dehumanizing than Kashuv’s admittedly disgusting childhood remarks.
The difference between Kashuv and the Harvard administration is that Kashuv has apologized and stopped. Harvard defends and continues its practice. And while Kashuv made those remarks when he was 16 years old, the Harvard administration is made up of seasoned adult cynics who should know better. They should exercise better judgment, and should be held accountable for failing to do so.
Harvard may claim to believe that, other than Kashuv, every member of the Class of 2023 is a completely and utterly upstanding moral citizen who, in his or her 18 years of life, has never said or done anything regrettable. I’ll take the opposite bet. It seems entirely reasonable to assume that every single person admitted to Harvard this year — and every year — has done or said something offensive, silly, unkind, or unwise. It’s certainly possible that admissions officials at Harvard operate under the self-serving pretense that this isn’t the case. It’s also possible, though, and much more likely, that Harvard, like all institutions of higher learning, understands that children do and say horrible things sometimes. Rather than dumping Kashuv in an attempt to purify its intake, Harvard ditched him in a misguided attempt at quelling an online mob that wants to destroy anyone who obstructs its leftist and decidedly illiberal aims.
Let’s say that a hypothetical Kashuv remains an unceasing racist in his private communications. Let’s say that this hypothetical Kashuv, though apparently an avowed racist, is also a masochist who wishes to spend four years in one of the country’s premier ‘liberal’ institutions, a university which has shown time and again that it is not particularly friendly to anyone who diverges from the groupthink it so often inculcates. For if Harvard’s goal is to recreate the world in what it ironically — and incorrectly — believes is its own image, if its aim is to create a population that thinks monolithically, isn’t Kashuv the exact candidate it should most like to educate?
Kashuv is thoughtful, passionate and an accomplished student who has a large following online. In every way, he is the kind of student that Harvard should most like to influence. Admissions officials should be overjoyed at the chance to rehabilitate a talented student that they allegedly see as an unapologetic racist. Instead of reprogramming Kashuv with liberal pieties, they have closed their gates to the penitent sinner. There is only one explanation. Harvard has prioritized virtue signaling over educating a student who by their own calculations, is desperately in need of their education. Where’s the lesson in that?
Daniella Greenbaum Davis is a Spectator columnist and a senior contributor to the Federalist.