Michael Steinberger in The Wall Street Journal:
Another academic year is drawing to a close, another year in which Harvard has generated vastly more headlines than any other American university. Most of these, of late, have concerned Lawrence Summers, Harvard’s president, who famously suggested that there may be a biological explanation for the paucity of female scholars in the hard sciences. (He hasn’t stopped apologizing since.) But a single controversy doesn’t account for all the interest. Two recent books are decidedly unflattering to the school: Richard Bradley’s “Harvard Rules” is, among other things, an assault on the entire three years of Mr. Summers’s tenure, charging him with arrogance and bad manners, among much else. And in “Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class,” Ross Douthat, class of 2002, describes his own Harvard education as a combination of vacuous classroom assignments, cruel social climbing and feverish networking.
Of course, a fervid interest in Harvard is nothing out of the ordinary: It is the country’s most famous university, with a long claim on distinguished scholarship, political influence and high SAT scores. Most important, the media have long fawned over Harvard, treating its “brand” as pure gold. But while the school may have merited obsessive coverage in the past, it no longer does: Harvard is diminishing in importance as a factory for ideas and a breeding ground for future leaders. In all sorts of ways it is not nearly as pivotal to the life of the nation as it once was. You just wouldn’t know that by reading the papers or browsing the bookstands.