Ho hum. Another day, another Harvard graduate sentenced to life without parole for murder. One skims the story and turns the page. What’s Garfield up to these days?
Amy Bishop: Nice job on the bangs!
The case of Amy Bishop–Harvard Ph. D., Unitarian Universalist and do-it-yourself bangs cutter—convicted of shooting three academic colleagues after she was denied tenure, gives new life to a question that surfaces from time to time, like a menacing German U-Boat. To wit: Is it time for preventive detention of the Harvard community–for the protection of the rest of us?
Garfield: Didn’t go to Harvard, and didn’t kill anybody.
Consider the numbers. Harvard has 22,750 students and faculty, while the town of Wellesley, Mass. has a population of 26,600. When Dr. Dirk Greineder murdered his wife in Wellesley in 1999, there hadn’t been a homicide there in thirty years, and there hasn’t been one since.
I forgot to mention—Greineder was a professor at Harvard.
Dirk Greineder: I . . . (gulp) . . . I’ve walked around Morse’s Pond!
As for Harvard, before Bishop there was the Unabomber, Harvard Class of ’62, who killed three people. In 1995 a Harvard junior murdered her roommate. In 2003 a Harvard graduate student killed a Cambridge teenager with a four-and-one-half inch knife. Dr. Richard Sharpe, a cross-dressing wife-killer, was a resident at the medical school. And these are just the recent cases.
Ted Kaczynski, a/k/a The Unabomber
In 1906 Erich Muenster, a Harvard instructor, took out a life insurance policy on his wife, who suspiciously died of arsenic poisoning shortly thereafter. In 1900, Harvard instructor Charles Eastman shot his brother while the two were practicing with firearms; Eastman claimed it was an accident, but five witnesses testified they heard the dying man say he’d been murdered.
The grandaddy of all Harvard killings was perpetrated in 1849 by John Webster, a Harvard professor who couldn’t repay a loan from George Parkman, a Boston Brahmin physician. The two men quarreled, and Parkman’s charred remains were found in a locked vault at the Medical School.
The murder of George Parkman
What is it that drives Harvard-types to kill? William F. Buckley famously said that he’d “rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University,” but this was not for reasons of public safety.
It may be a matter of Sayre’s Law, to wit: “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low,” an aphorism often attributed to Henry Kissinger, holder of three degrees from, and a former faculty member of the school. Kissinger has had many opportunities to properly credit the author of this witticism, Wallace Stanley Sayre of Columbia, but has failed to do so, a form of casual plagiarism that is practiced in more formal terms by both Harvard faculty and students, such as Kaavya Viswanathan, whose novel “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life” was apparently traced rather than written.
Leopold and Loeb, the kittens, and Leopold and Loeb, the murderers: Coincidence–or something more sinister?
Of course, an institution of higher learning can use a reputation as a dangerous place as a recruitment tool, what rappers call “street cred.” There are more students at the University of Chicago who know of Leopold and Loeb, two students who murdered a young boy in the 20’s, than Jay Berwanger, a halfback on the school’s football team who won the first Heisman Trophy. (Full disclosure: During my senior year at Chicago I had a pair of cats named Leopold and Loeb, but to my knowledge they were unrelated to the killers.)
But, you protest, internment—the imprisonment of people in large groups without trial—is unfair. To the contrary, it is a halfway measure; there is no finding of guilt, and inmates are released once the group to which they belong has ceased hostilities. Where we have later come to regret its use, such as the confinement of Asian-Americans during World War II, selection was based on obnoxious racial distinctions. The Harvard community is a diverse one, and no suspect criteria would be used to confine them.
Harvard Graduate School of Hamburgers
I’m not talking ticky-tacky offenses, like Professor Elizabeth Warren’s practice of law without a license. No, a minor offense like that, punishable by six months in jail for the first offense, a year for each subsequent violation, is penny ante stuff. And we’d let Harvardians go off-campus for brief periods to have their dissertations copied at Kinko’s–with ankle monitors or other appropriate security devices so that they could be tracked down if they didn’t return from furlough, a la Willie Horton.
Harvard does the city of Boston a great deal of good. The Harvard Gardens, a bar at the base of Beacon Hill that is apparently affiliated with the university, serves a mean hamburger. But there’s an old saying: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.
Is it too much to ask the Ten Thousand Men of Harvard to lay down their arms, pick up their books and study homicide no more?
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Veritas About Harvard.”