Paul Greenberg

Harvard is scarcely alone in substituting what is relevant, that is, transient, for what is permanent. Reading a comic romp of a novel a friend gave me the other day, "The Family Markowitz," I was proceeding blithely along from one amusing chapter to the next when I came upon a description of "mass-produced undergraduates processed through seedy lecture halls where, under flickering lights, they slump with their knees up and take in lectures as they might see movies. Where the familiar passes into the wide pupils of their eyes and the rest dribbles down the aisles to collect with the dirt and candy wrappers at the professor's feet. And the graduate students. Hasn't he seen them at Princeton clustering around the office doors? Young Calibans eager for praise. They tear open the Italian Renaissance before lunch, strangle a Donne sonnet and crush its wings, battering away with blunt instruments. As for the older scholars - like students at a cooking school, they cook up Shakespeare, serve him up like roast goose, stuffed with their political-sexual agendas, carve and quarter him with long knives. These are the scholars in the journals now. They are at war with the beautiful; they are against God and metaphor."

Hey, this was supposed to be a comic novel, not a diagnosis of the higher education at our better - or, rather, more prestigious - universities. The least this author, Allegra Goodman, could have done was put up a road sign before taking us around this curve: Caution. Slow. Truth Ahead. Falling Rocks.

At last report, that faculty committee at Harvard was backing away from the idea of making a separate course in religion part of the school's core curriculum.

That's understandable. Such an innovation could prove dangerous. A professor might slip up and make faith interesting, even imperative. And some student somewhere out there in the dimness of a lecture hall might get religion.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.