Overheard at Harvard, from the Bar
Written by Bwog Staff
Musings from Bwog staffer Alec Turnbull, serving up lux and veritas over a summer bartending in Boston:
A pair of fragile old women in matching floral print dresses arrive first, ten minutes early. Half an hour later the room is at its 325 person capacity, and the loud buzz of conversation drowns out Harvard president-to-be Drew Faust’s first attempts to speak. My fellow bartender and I ask people to quiet down for her speech, and her third try is drowned in a chorus of SHHHs. She begins again. “I’d like to welcome everyone-” Faust continues through the rustle of everyone rushing to the bar for the last drink they’ll get until she’s finished.
They whisper now. “White wine. Two.” “You don’t have any vodka? Whiskey? Just a diet coke.” “I’ll have the pinot.” “Water, please. Flat, with three ice cubes and a lemon. Thanks.”
“Do you have champagne?” A grandmotherly woman asks as she leans in to advise me, “You should find a bottle of it. You just can’t have a toast without champagne.”
The toast isn’t for Drew Faust’s new role, but for her work with the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, which she is leaving behind. Faust helped found the institute when Radcliffe, Harvard’s Barnard, merged with the larger university. Radcliffe’s campus has lost its undergraduates and now gives year-long fellowships to established intellectuals whose work focuses on women, gender, and society.
Everyone settles in to listen. Faust declares her pride the Institute and its success in bringing together people from disparate fields, promising to foster interdisciplinary scholarship and equal access to higher education. She says little more about her plans, preferring to reminisce about her time at the Institute and tell anecdotes about its successful fellows. Faust singles out theoretical physicist Lisa Randall for special praise, an unsubtle gibe at her predecessor, who claimed that women were naturally less talented in science.
As Faust finishes, Randall slips through the admiring crowd and arrives at the bar blushing, “A spritzer, please. For the toast.”