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Old 02-21-2006, 10:43 PM   #1
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PC Run Amok?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Lawrence H. Summers ended his tumultuous stint as Harvard University president Tuesday, choosing to resign June 30 rather than fight with a faculty angered by his management style and comments that innate ability may explain why few women reach top science posts.

“I have reluctantly concluded that the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard’s future,” Summers wrote in a letter posted on the school’s Web site.

“This is a day of mixed emotions for me,” he added in a conference call with reporters.

Effective at the end of the academic year, Summers’ move brings to a close the briefest tenure of any Harvard president since 1862, when Cornelius Felton died after two years in office. Summers has led America’s wealthiest university, with an endowment of more than $25 billion, since 2001.

He became embroiled in several controversies early in his tenure, among them the departure of prominent black studies professors such as Cornel West — who left after a falling out with the university president.

Last year’s comments to an academic conference on women in science grew into a broader debate of Summers’ management style, which some considered brusque and even bullying. He also was also criticized by some for his handling of plans to expand Harvard’s campus across the Charles River in Boston.

The discontent prompted a 218-185 no confidence vote from Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences last March — the only known instance of such an action in the 370-year history of the university. Faculty votes are symbolic because the seven-member Harvard Corporation has sole authority to fire the university’s president.

Another no confidence vote was scheduled for next Tuesday. It was called following the resignation of Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean William Kirby: Some faculty believe he was pushed out by Summers, though Kirby has said the decision was mutual.

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Old 02-22-2006, 08:24 AM   #2
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While Lawrence Summers is a brilliant scholar and set some important initiatives underway as president of Harvard, I find it hard to feel much pity for him, nor much regret over the A&S faculty's (and Harvard Corporation's) unwillingness to overlook his long list of flaws. Predictably, the media is way overemphasizing the role of the women-in-science flap in poisoning the wells. In reality, his cavalier and abrasive administrative style angered and alienated faculty and administrators in numerous divisions (not just A&S) from the beginning. Brusquely dismissing faculty members' comments at meetings with "That's just a stupid question," privately inviting certain faculty members to "help me f**k up" other faculty members on his hitlist, repeatedly making moves to further centralize budget planning without due consultation with affected departments--these are not things that competent administrators who want to foster a culture of teamwork do. Then there was his badgering the Harvard Corporation to support his pal Andrei Shleifer, a Harvard economist accused of defrauding the US government through a program to help Russia transition to a market economy--ultimately it set Harvard back $44 million to settle this case out of court, while meanwhile Shleifer not only was never censured, but was even awarded a newly created chaired professorship. While the Shleifer affair was little more than added insult for most of the faculty, it definitely marked a turning point in the Corporation's level of confidence in Summers.

All this was perfectly in keeping with his record as Secretary of the Treasury, of which a Washington Post reporter and friend admitted Summers had "the worst manners of any cabinet head ever" and a longterm aide complained, "If you're in a meeting, whatever you say, he will make you feel like an idiot." Admittedly, such a style is not unprecedented in Washington, but a university is not a political institution nor is it a business and it cannot be managed like either--faculty senates and boards of directors exist for a reason, and must be contended with in a spirit of partnership.

As far as the women-in-science affair goes--and again, the press are seriously distorting the decisiveness of that moment--what outraged so many faculty about that was not that Harvard's public face was making undesirably un-PC remarks, but rather that he was attributing the dearth of tenured female senior faculty in the sciences to innate lesser ability. As incredulous academics across the country pointed out, by this logic women are apparently less adept at just about everything, because there are precious few fields in which women are not proportionally underrepresented at the senior faculty ranks. Furthermore, the number of tenureships Harvard extended to women dropped from an annual average of 32 to 4 under Summers' leadership, so there was very much a concrete context in which this statement was received.

If there is anything discomfiting about the broader implications of Summers' bowing out, it is that it does point up just how incredibly difficult a balancing act being an effective and transformational university president is. It is true that faculty senates in many universities are notorious for getting too bogged down in infighting to achieve much in the way of reform, yet often put up fierce resistance when a president or chancellor tries to exert decisive leadership and demand that action be taken. It takes a very special sort of person to do this without falling afoul of too many people. (And no-confidence votes, extreme though they may sound to the uninitiated, are in fact quite common nationally, and don't necessarily mean a president is on his last legs.) Anyhow, Harvard's previous president, Derek Bok, was one such rare individual--a strong and effective leader who was also well-liked and respected by the faculty, despite some unpopular political stances--so it is doubtless a relief to the Harvard community that he will be stepping back in as interim president until a replacement for Summers can be found.

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Old 02-22-2006, 09:56 AM   #3
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Being a university president is a bh. He's probably relieved to be out of there.
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