“How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?”

That heartwarming lyrical question, posed in The Sound of Music, brings to mind the title of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay by Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire: “How Colleges Should Deal With Their Kellyannes.”  President McGuire observes that “famous graduates can pose real dilemmas for colleges when fame becomes notoriety.” (White House counselor Kellyanne Conway graduated from Trinity Washington.)

Wayward alumni and alumnae are no strangers to higher education.  Take Genghis Khan (1162-1227), founder of the Mongol Empire and legendary Bad Boy who led military campaigns that slaughtered countless civilian populations.  He was an acute embarrassment to his alma mater, Karakorum Community College, where he obtained an Associate’s Degree in Public Administration.  Upon Khan’s death, the college spiked his head on top of a spear at the entrance to the campus, and attached a small plaque that read, “He Disappointed Us.”

Such an approach would not work in the current era, at least not in most regions of the United States.  At University Life we were curious to see how schools handle the “Kellyanne Problem,” so we started with Harvard University, where Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former Chief Strategist and all-around wingnut, obtained his MBA degree.  Here’s the transcript of our phone conversation with a representative of their business school:

University Life:  “Does Harvard feel that it should distance itself from some of the more outrageous statements uttered by Mr. Bannon?”

Harvard:  “I’m sorry, to whom are you referring?”

UL:  “Stephen K. Bannon, one of your graduates.”

Harvard:  “Dannon?  Yes, we serve their yogurt in our cafeteria.  There’s never been a problem, as far as I know.  You might want to check with the folks over at Food Services.  They could tell you more than I can.”

UL:  “Not Dannon.  Bannon.  He worked for the White House for a number of months early in the Trump administration.”

Harvard:  “Oh, him.  He didn’t go here.”

UL:  “Actually, he did.  MBA, Class of 1985.”

Harvard:  “You must have him confused with Steve Cannon, who also graduated in 1985.  Great guy.  Started an orphanage in Bangladesh that provides tech support for Starbucks and Boeing.  He’s one of our best.”

UL:  “There’s no confusion.  We’re talking about Steve Bannon.  I’m looking at his Harvard graduation photo right now.”

Harvard:  “Sorry, Mr. Bannon is not one of ours.  Are you sure he didn’t go to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania?  I think that is where he met Trump.”

UL:  “Why are you lying to me?  We have DNA samples from a desk at your business school that are a perfect match for Bannon.”

Harvard:  “No, you don’t.”

UL:  “Yes, we do.”

Harvard:  “Oh, no you don’t.”

UL:  “Really, we do.”

Harvard:  “Listen, pal, did you ever see Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum?  We know where your family vacations every summer.  Keep in mind who you’re dealing with here.  This is Harvard, not UMass-Boston.  Things can happen.  Bad things.  Just let it go.”

To Our Readers:  Looks like we made a mistake.  Will get back to you after we check with Wharton.  Sorry.