Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University
The University in Crisis? poster

The University in Crisis? Teaching Truth and Reason in the 21st Century

April 26, 2024, 1:00-3:00pm
HKS, Darman Conference Room (Taubman 135)


Harvard and universities in the United States writ large have drawn increasing scrutiny in recent years, and more so in recent months, as institutions “in crisis.” The role of the university in society is implicated in several large problems of the 21st century — whether regarding freedom of speech and war in the Middle East, or teaching students and producing research to address what are often termed “grand challenges” that cut across disciplines, including artificial intelligence and climate change. Harvard has recently inaugurated several efforts to respond to some of these issues, yet questions of how universities should aspire to define and serve the public good while shaping what societies know in common reach far beyond specific topics.

To address these broader concerns, this discussion-based event aims to step back and reflect on the very nature of the “crisis” in which Harvard finds itself. How do we know the university’s educational mission, who defines it, and where do students’ imaginations of the right ways to meet their needs find, or not find, resonance? How have Harvard’s various educational policy committees framed some of these problems, and what might they be failing to capture? What is the relationship between the experiences of students, faculty, and administrators at Harvard and discourse on digital platforms about these issues? Finally, how might Harvard and other elite universities reimagine what it means to be responsible, yet critical, custodians of knowledge and to cultivate more engaged forms of citizenship? This roundtable will bring together diverse experiences and perspectives to address questions that are vital to the mission of educational institutions in contemporary societies through two panels: What is Harvard today? and What should Harvard be (for)?

A roundtable hosted by the Program on Science, Technology and Society’s Undergraduate Fellows, with faculty panelists Amanda Claybaugh, Jeff Flier, Ned Hall, Julie Reuben, Dan Schrag, and Larry Summers (on Zoom) in conversation with student panelists Tommy Barone ’25, Hannah Duane ’25, Ari Kohn ’26, Eric Li ’24, and Jeremy Ornstein ’24

Register here


Panel 1: What is Harvard? 

Larry Summers is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University. During the past four decades he has served in positions that include 71st Secretary of the Treasury for President Clinton, Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama and the Chief Economist of the World Bank.

Tommy Barone is a junior concentrating in Social Studies with a focus in post-neoliberal American politics and culture. His thesis will focus on how student protest has reshaped Harvard — and been reshaped by Harvard — in the last fifty years, beginning with the Vietnam War. Since December, Tommy has served as one of The Crimson’s two editorial chairs, in which capacity he has led all opinion coverage of the University’s most significant crisis in recent memory.

Ari Kohn is a sophomore in Leverett House concentrating in Social Studies. She is studying societal moral formation and 21st century youth reactions to liberalism. Ari is an undergraduate fellow in the Safra Center for Ethics and the student co-Chair of Intellectual Vitality initiatives, helping to foster a spirit of rigorous and open inquiry among undergraduate students.

Jeremy Ornstein is a senior in Social Studies from Adams House. He has been organizing for many years for a Green New Deal to stop climate change, leading campaigns and telling public stories as part of the Sunrise Movement. Here at Harvard, he has been a lively presence in many clubs and social efforts, from dramatic plays and improv shows, to public protests and Town Halls. Jeremy is often wondering at and working toward bringing people together. 

Amanda Claybaugh is Dean of Undergraduate Education and Samuel Zemurray Jr. and Doris Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of English and Harvard College Professor. Her scholarship focuses on nineteenth-century literature and history, with a particular attention to the role that teachers and writers play in times of social change.

Dan Schrag is the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, and Co-Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. He studies climate and climate change over the broadest range of Earth history. Among several other roles and honors, Schrag served on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology from 2009 to 2017.


Panel 2: What should Harvard be (for)? 

Hannah Duane grew up in San Francisco and spent her first two years of college at Deep Springs — a two-year great books program on a cattle ranch in California. She is currently a junior in Social Studies studying religion in twentieth century politics. 

Julie Heng is a senior studying Integrative Biology and Philosophy. She started the Salon for the Sciences and Humanities, which has brought together faculty and students across Boston to imaginatively assess the relationship and future of these fields for over 100 Salon conversations and counting. At any given time, she is probably wondering about community, emergence, or what it means to do and be good.

Eric Li is a senior at Harvard studying Computer Science. On campus, he’s spent his time creating communities in social impact tech, mental health, and startups by starting various student groups. His time outside of school has focused on understanding how tech can be used to drive impact, with experiences across government, climate startups, and big tech.

Ned Hall is the Norman E. Vuilleumier Professor of Philosophy and Co-President of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard. He works on a range of topics in metaphysics and epistemology that overlap with philosophy of science, such as whether there are “fundamental” laws of nature.

Jeff Flier is the Caroline Shields Walker Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Co-President of the Council on Academic Freedom. He is an endocrinologist and an authority on the molecular causes of obesity and diabetes, and he served as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard from 2007 to 2016. 

Julie Reuben is the Charles Warren Professor of the History of American Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is a historian interested in the intersection between American thought and culture and educational institutions and practice, and she is currently researching changing forms of political education in mid-twentieth century American universities.