Francis A. Boyle: “Solzhenitsyn at Harvard (JRL #105 item 31)”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn file photo

Subject: Solzhenitsyn at Harvard (JRL #105 item 31)
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2018
From: Boyle, Francis A <fboyle@illinois.edu>

Forty years ago, I went there just to hear him speak. Originally I was not going to bother to attend Harvard’s Commencement in June of 1978 just to pick up my Master’s Degree in Political Science from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Government. I already had obtained my Harvard Law Degree in June of 1976 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan spoke. (LOL on that!) By then I was working as a tax lawyer for a downtown Boston corporate law firm making a lot of money. I was also getting ready to move out here in order to start my chosen career as a tenure-track assistant professor of law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign: No point missing a day’s worth of pay for another Harvard Commencement. (Later, in 1983 I would tell Harvard to put my PHD in the mail, skipped that Commencement, and never bought their over-priced Harvard PHD regalia that makes you look like a Roman Catholic Cardinal.)

Then Harvard announced that Solzhenitsyn had been lured out of his exile and compound in Cavendish Vermont in order to give their Commencement Address. Kudos to Harvard! A unique intellectual event of monumental significance! So of course I immediately claimed my commencement ticket and decided to chuck a day’s worth of pay that I could have readily used to smooth my transition and relocation to academic life here.

My Russian teacher did the translation. My teacher, mentor and friend Ned Keenan (RIP) sat on the podium right near Solzhenitsyn. It was not Solzhenitsyn’s intention to “school” Harvard or the United States of America. Rather, he spoke with a good deal of sadness and anguish in his voice. As correctly pointed out, he offered his comments as a “friend”-not as a schoolmaster. That is precisely how at the time I personally received and understood what he had to say. I respectfully submit that is the appropriate way to read and re-read Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address today.

Francis A. Boyle
Professor of Law
University of Illinois College of Law

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