The French seem to have become rather obsessed with Harvard all of a sudden, or perhaps I should say yet again. The immediate pretext seems to be the book published by Stéphanie Grousset-Charrière, which I mentioned here a while ago. This was followed by two articles in Le Monde.
Inevitably, I suppose, things will look quite different from the perspective of Cambridge, Mass., than that of Paris, France. But even superficial observers of Harvard must have noticed that the university seems lately to have been gripped by a certain anxiety, which these French commentators seem to miss entirely. Take two recent initiatives: the creation of a Harvard Innovation Center and an agreement with MIT to produce on-line courseware that will be distributed free of charge. Both are signs that Harvard authorities are nervous about the future role of the private liberal arts college in a world where the function of higher education is increasingly seen as advanced vocational training and entrepreneurial incubation. In short, Harvard is suffering from Stanford- and MIT-envy, while France seems to be suffering from envy for a Harvard it has taken from the pages of The Education of Henry Adams.