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Veritas or Fake News: The Harvard Club

Word that Club Trends was planning to feature the Yale Club in this issue must have reached the Harvard crowd. How else to explain why New York City’s Harvard Club scooped the Yalies by getting their own case study published in The New York Times?  All the news that’s fit to print, indeed!

A clue to the fact this was not an ordinary news item was signaled by the headline: Harvard Club Considers a Change and Some Think It’s the ‘Worst Thing Ever.’ 

As a matter of practice, we know that clubs do not embark on a significant course of change without deliberation, discussion and debate, which can sometimes devolve into an outright argument. More than one town hall meeting to discuss a proposed change to a venerated club facility has become impassioned.

So it has happened at the Harvard Club in NYC, and the squabble has now leaked into the free press.

The modest proposal presented by club president Michael Holland discussed converting Harvard Hall, with its distinctive and historic Beaux-Art architecture, into a dining facility. Or, to quote the Times gossipy dish: “Depending on whom one talks to, the proposed change to Harvard Hall is either a vast conspiracy to turn the esteemed club into a catering-venue-for-hire or an attempt by the leadership to stem losses in its food and beverage business.” Sound familiar?

The story was filled with inflammatory quotes from surreptitious recordings and flaming emails.

“I have been called a fascist dictator,” said club president Holland.

“It is quite distinct in New York,” offered Professor Barry Bergdoll, an expert on modern architecture and faculty member at nearby Ivy sister school, Columbia University.

Architect Ivan Shumkov stated bluntly, “I think it will be the worst thing ever.”

Holland countered, “It’s just moving the furniture.”

Although the disagreement is a private club matter, it seems that club membership is in no way a precondition for having a strong opinion on the matter. This article quickly generated more than 100 reader comments before that section was closed by editors.

Some objected to the Times’ decision to cover the matter at all. “First world problems,” sniffed some. Others took exception to its placement on the front page of the Arts section. A reader from Brooklyn thought the Business section would be a better home for this piece.

A member of the Yale Club sniped “at least the Yale Club’s Main Lounge doesn’t resemble a tired waiting room in a train station.” Another Ivy grad weighed in with the well-reasoned opinion that the Cornell Club always has the best food and service due to that school’s renowned School of Hotel Administration.

Many readers offered helpful management tips: increase dues, improve food, relax the dress code and so on. Aesthetic judgments were freely rendered: “Harvard Hall looks like the dining hall at Hogwarts!”

But there was one decorative element that seemed to stick in the craw of several commenters. A piece of taxidermy, a mounted elephant head, was a long-ago gift that continues to hold court in the hall. Many readers did not approve. Said one, “Well it’s clear what the elephant in the room is. Perhaps it’s time for it to go.”


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Club Trends Fall 2018