Harvard Goes Gaga

by Nathan Harden

Some Ivy League universities are content to host guest lectures by MTV personalities. Others, like Harvard, have taken the trend a step further in the form of long-term collaboration. This news comes from the AP:

Lady Gaga is launching a foundation with the help of the MacArthur Foundation and Harvard University.

The Grammy-winning singer announced Wednesday that she is launching the Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on youth empowerment and “issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development.”

Gaga’s partners include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The California Endowment and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

The foundation will be directed by the 25-year-old singer and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta.

“Together we hope to establish a standard of Bravery and Kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment,” Gaga said in a statement.

Nothing wrong with someone advocating for “bravery and kindness.” And I’ve got no problem with universities’ engaging with artists or celebrities under circumstances that make sense. But one wonders: What is the driving force behind our leading universities’ growing obsession with pop-culture celebrity? Is it compatible with these universities’ proper goal of advancing higher learning? Are we infantilizing college-age kids and trying to keep them entertained at all costs? Does a long-term partnership with Lady Gaga, despite her considerable abilities as an entertainer, really make sense for Harvard University?

The purpose of this post isn’t to poke fun at a pop singer. Rather, in my mind this story raises important questions about Harvard. On the surface, a Gaga/Harvard partnership is just silly. Good for a chuckle. It’s also a symptom of a deeper problem. How does Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying foundation connect to Harvard’s purpose as an institution of higher learning? That is, I think, a question without a good answer.
What we are seeing is an elite academic culture that is adrift, with no real sense of why it exists or for what purpose.

Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.