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Remarks of Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers during Freshman Parents Weekend

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

I’m really glad to welcome you back to Harvard. I had a chance to welcome you to Harvard just a month and a half ago, so I’m going to be very brief now and try to respond to any of your questions and comments about Harvard or about your children’s experience here so far. Let me just say three things.

First, your children as a group are already having an enormous impact on this university. It was a member of the freshman class who is responsible for the fact that our football team remained five and zero with a great victory last week. By the way, Harvard has not lost an Ivy League game at home since I have been president. Let’s keep it that way. I have already been savagely attacked in The Harvard Crimson, in an article written by a member of the freshman class at Harvard University. Papers have been published in scholarly journals by members of the freshman class at Harvard University. The student arts organizations, the a cappella groups, the orchestra have already been greatly enriched by members of this year’s freshman class. We are very glad to have all of your students here.

I have had the particular satisfaction of teaching 16 members of the Class of 2007 in a freshman seminar on globalization. And we have been discussing what I think is one of the two preeminent challenges of our times that will challenge the world, that will still be in history books 200 years from now: the coming together of rich countries and poor countries, something that brings with it staggering potential for human betterment, but as words like Iraq, AIDS, and genocide suggest, also carries with it enormous challenges and risks for humanity. We’re trying to look both at the moral aspects and at the economic and analytic aspects, because I believe firmly that the more morally important a problem is the more important it is that you think about it in a careful, analytic and rigorous way.

So for example at our last session we debated on the basis of a set of readings something that had happened about a year and a half ago. The Harvard Crimson had hired a company to prepare its archive. That company had hired workers in Cambodia for four dollars a day to keypunch the record of The Crimson’s archive, and type it into the computer so that that archive could be preserved. And the question was, was that immoral exploitation, or was that positive progress in globalization, or was it somewhere in between? And what I felt was most important about the discussion was not any conclusion but that a number of people had a different view after an hour of discussion than they had had beforehand. And that’s what education is all about. It is a remarkable class.

I would just say a third thing, and it’s something I said in the course of my remarks in the Yard a month and a half ago, but I’ll say it again. And that is that Harvard is here for its students, and your children should feel entirely free to visit any member of the faculty to pursue any area of their interest. You do not have to have a good reason or a smart question to go to a Harvard faculty member’s office hours. One of the most satisfying parts of every month for me is the office hours that I have for students, and I know many members of the faculty feel the same way with respect to their office hours. So I hope you will encourage your students, your children, to take advantage in every possible way of the opportunities that are provided by being here at Harvard.