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Kim: A Haiti Vignette for Every Situation

Jim Kim is still trying to dig himself out of the hole that he dug in his interview with the Washington Post. I guess that Alumni Relations’ polls are telling him that the electorate is concerned about his bona fides as a supporter of the liberal arts. You will recall the statements that got him into difficulty:

“You are not going to make it in this world if you study philosophy…you have to get a skill… I find myself giving that advice to my students today… When you go to Haiti, when you go to Africa, they don’t ask you ‘how much do you feel for my people’ or ‘how much have you studied my people.’ They say: ‘Have you brought anything?’

In addition to the above, it seems that the impoverished people of Haiti have conveniently taught our President other, different lessons about the arts — as he recounted to a group of alums at the Faculty Chalk Talk before the Yale game:

Kim said his own appreciation for the arts came through his experiences as an anthropologist and physician improving health programs in countries around the world.

“My most vivid experience is the first time I visited Haiti in 1988,” he said. “We visited the poorest village in a rural community, and as we walked in, the children of the community walked towards us and sang us a beautiful song, and gave us some of the art they had been working on.”

Geez. What is the content of this little story? It has all the impact of a politician kissing a baby. I would have hoped that a man who had studied at the University of Iowa, Brown University and Harvard Medical School would have developed an appreciation for both the arts and the liberal arts well before he was serenaded by some kids in the Caribbean. But perhaps Kim is just using the little children of Haiti in the same way that politicians wrap themselves in the flag: evoke images of poverty or patriotism and all critical thought goes out the window. Ugh. Enough already.

All that said, The D is capable of subtlety in its journalism from time to time. Let’s have a round of applause for a quotation pointedly chosen, undoubtedly from among many possible ones, by reporter Marina Villeneuve ‘13:

At the end of his speech, Kim received a standing ovation, and many attendees praised his words.

“It was my first time to hear Jim Kim, and as a graduate of a liberal arts college, I was delighted to hear his discussion of how important it is to maintain such institutions,” Arlene Johnson, wife of Bob Johnson ‘59, said. [Emphasis added]

As I have noted before (here and here), President Kim makes a great first impression. But for consistent listeners like the faculty, attentive D reporters and students, the first time was usually the best time. After that, it becomes clear that oft-recycled anecdotes are less interesting than fresh intellectual observations would be.

Note: President Kim’s disquisition on the importance of the arts had to do more with himself and his own appreciation of the liberal arts than with anything substantive. As he might also have done — but didn’t — in his Convocation address in which he commented on the importance of writing, his Chalk Talk speech could have contained serious proposals about improving the College’s teaching of the liberal arts. There was nothing of the sort. We were left with the usual heartfelt personal declarations of appreciation. However, these do not take the place of real decisions for improving the College that we expect from a leader.


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