Solely for the cruel pleasure of prolonging one of the most intractable disputes in internet history, we present this news item from yesterday:
Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who announced his resignation Tuesday after a tumultuous five years in office, was known for his rough touch. He saw it as his job to prod a potentially complacent institution. But his tenure was marked by often bitter departures of some of the university’s highest-profile minds, from Cornel West in 2002 to the recent resignation of William Kirby, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The monthly meetings between Summers and Harvard faculty were never love-ins, but sources tell Time.com that the most recent meeting, on February 7th, turned into an unusually bitter showdown, not just over Kirby’s departure, but also over new allegations tying Summers to an old scandal.
If you want to know what I think, I could probably name five or six major schools where the faculty or the board are looking for an excuse to remove a president that they don’t like for whatever reason. In the end this seems like as good a rationale as any:
At issue is Summers’ handling of a Russian fraud scandal involving a close friend and colleague, Harvard Economist Andrei Shleifer. Shleifer and Harvard were found liable for combined penalties of nearly $30 million in 2004 after they were charged with defrauding a U.S. government program designed to help Harvard economists privatize the Russian economy in the 1990s. The scandal has long been considered one of Harvard’s darker hours, but a new 28-page exposé by investigative reporter David McClintick, published in the January 2006 issue of Institutional Investor magazine, brought new heat on Summers, whom the article describes as going out of his way to protect his old friend and protégé Schleifer, who is still a senior faculty member at the university. In part because of the report, the faculty meeting in balustraded University Hall found Summers under sustained attack, according to mechanical engineering professor Frederick Abernathy.
Today or tomorrow the career obituaries will start to appear. What do you think – was Summers cruelly mistreated by the PC police? An abrasive anachronism who shot from the hip on subjects outside of his field of expertise? Hash it out in the comments.
I think a lot of people only know Summers because of his “non-PC” comments about women, and thus they assume everything must be about that one issue. I tend to think there’s a lot more behind this, a lot of which is just campus politics, people not liking his managerial style, whatever. At the end of the day I’m a public school guy who really doesn’t care much about what big shot runs Harvard or Yale.
From what I’ve read it was just one damned tone-deaf thing after another. Summers remained abrasive and arrogant and the Powers That Be finally got fed up. Moral of story: don’t piss off the people that sign your paychecks.
I’m surprised at the dismissal by his defenders of Summer’s lack of diplomatic skills. I would think that this would be the first skill of a college president.
And Alan Dershowitz fulminating about this as over-politically correctness is just the icing on the cake. Ha.
Matt Yglesias wrote a bit about this over at tpmcafe, his thesis being that Summers continuously ruffled the feathers of the Arts&Sciences faculty and alumni, who are some of the most powerful groups at Harvard, and didn’t have the personal skills to make up for it. Basically, a boring academic power struggle
Is there any other kind? :-)
The fights are so fierce because the stakes are so low.
Anyone with any sense whatsoever would have remembered that academia is THE arena where the most Byzantine, nutty, quarrelsome, egotistical, out-of-touch, devious, sensitive, and intelligent personalities are going to congregate.
Anyone who wants to run a university needs the diplomatic skills of Metternich, the strategy of Hannibal, and the intelligence of Lorenzo di Medici.
Summers just managed to piss off too many people too many times. And he never learned the first rule of academic authority: you have it only in as much people agree to grant it to you.
The Other Steve
Pretty sure that’s Congress.
You obviously do not know much at all, and neither does Tim, if all he’s reading is Time.
Listen, nowhere, other than Time, has there been any mention of Shleifer being the reason that Summers was hounded out of Harvard. That story is being used to cover and protect the Arts & Sciences faculty who mobilized to oust Summers. It was a witch hunt, pure and simple. Summers had the support of the Graduate School faculty, the students, and the alums.
Summers had the temerity a year ago to make a comment that could be construed by oversensitive PC creeps as being sexist. An uproar ensued, and rather than stand up to the offensive against him, he apologized repeatedly and set up all kinds of programs and and financial set-asides to appease the mob. The thanks he got? A no-confidence vote, with a threat of another one next week.
This was all engineered by a professor by the name of Randy Matory, an Afro-American studies professor who had it out for Summers because he “preached patriotism”, whatever that means. Matory put for the false accusation that Summers believed Palestinians don’t have right, which was nowhere close to the truth. He was either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented, like he was with his statement about women scientists, but no matter — free speech rules, even if it’s bullshit that ruins a man’s career. And those behind it are protected by tenure, the ultimate shield for cowards like Matory and the rest of the undergraduate faculty.
Donna Summer, I still care about
Larry Summers? Pbfft
Brian, as I alluded to above, is obviously a reader of the conservative blogs who want people to believe this is all about one non-PC comment Summers made long ago. Frankly, while it makes for good copy, I think this type of storyline was played out enough in the 1980s. There have been many reports that members of the faculty simply didn’t like Summers’ managerial style, which may be an issue or it may not be, but Brian didn’t even address that point.
Woodrow Wilson was once asked if his experience of being president of Princeton prepared him for dealing with the US Congress. He maintained that Congress was a cakewalk by comparison to the stress of running a university.
Still, though, Summers was a damn fool. Not just with the un-PC comment, even though that was the topper. I mean, come on, the man is President of Harvard. If he’s too stupid to realize that every word out of his mouth is going to be scrutinized to within a millimeter of its life, then he got what he deserved.
Brian, why do you say “you obviously do not know much at all” about the situation?
What’s your proof? Because I don’t think it was a PC hysteria thing?
It is quite possible for decent and reasonable people to look at evidence and come to differing conclusions.
Please inform me of how you know precisely what materials I have referenced on the topic. Please write a list of all the newspapers, magazines and blogs that I have read on the subject, giving the exact article or reference that I have read.
If you wish to convince me that my conclusions are incorrect, starting off your argument by immediately accusing me of ignorance is not the way to get me to listen.
Indeed, I am more inclined to consider you a dolt.
I literally could not care less about what happens at Harvard. If you removed the brain from my skull, it would not affect my level of interest.
Comical. Brian, obviously ignorant of the actual situation, decides to lecture other people for being ignorant.
Harvard is a large organization, with a lot of different political factions with different interests. As anyone with half a brain should realize, the factions are not best described as “hippy liberal professors who can’t stand the truth” and “good patriotic Americans.” Rather, you have different faculties (arts and sciences, law, etc.) and different departments with different ideas about funding, the purpose of the institution, what importance should be attached to various goals, and so on.
Summers wanted to make some big changes. Good or bad, I couldn’t tell you. But to make big changes in a complicated poltical arena, you need a deft political touch. It is undeniable that he lacked that. Instead of building coalitions to support his goals, he pissed a lot of people off. The comments about women, the pretend ignorance about Schleiffer, the firing of Dean Kirby, snide remarks at faculty meetings — you can’t do this crap if you want to alter the power structure of a large institution.
And this is all inside baseball, not a grand battle about poltical correctness. Get a grip.
The Other Steve
See Tim. Like Brain, you should have been getting your news from David Horowitz.
Then you would not be ignorant!
The Other Steve
You think maybe it’s because Harvard is racist and they couldn’t stand a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant demanding great things of them?
That seems to be the new meme from the right. Everybody is racist.
I don’t know what Brian is talking about when he makes a distinction between Harvard’s Arts & Sciences faculty and that of its Graduate School — they are largely one and the same. FAS is the undergrad college, GSAS is the (major) graduate PhD college — note that both are “Arts & Sciences”. I was a postdoc at Harvard when Summers came in, and he rubbed almost all the faculty the wrong way from day one. It had little or nothing to do with PC-ness — my boss was an extremely un-PC fellow, prone to making comments much worse than Summers’s re women and science, and even he got sick of Summers’s management. It is almost certainly about intranecine academic conflict — and if PC came into it, it’s just because Summers was so obtuse that he didn’t care about pissing off the people whose support he needed.
BTW, the whole idea that Summers’s comments re women and science should have been protected by “academic freedom” is completely bogus. He is not a professor of anything, he’s the university president, and his remarks were not made in a scholarly setting. As president, he has to be held to a standard of public accountability higher than any faculty member — not that conservatives cared much about academic freedom when Summers gave the boot to Cornell West.
Alan Dershowitz defending Summers is all I need to know.
Dershowitz and A. Lowell are the official advocates of the 8th Malebolge.
Soon Summers will be telling us that his dismissal was “antisemitic in effect if not in intent.”
Bob In Pacifica
Well, if Summers is out does that mean that there’s hope for Ward Churchill?
Bob In Pacifica
I mean, for Ward Churchill to get Summers’ spot.
tzs, your comment is what I judged you on. If you had more knowledge of the situation, it is not clear in your post. Regardless, I was juding you on your post, which betrayed your ignorance.
Prof. Booty, the A&S faculty is where this was confined to, so I think it does matter. If the criticism was more generally distributed amonst the faculty, I would not have as much issue with the backlash against Summers. I never said that “academic freedom” should be at play here, but Summers should be considered like a CEO of a company, and therefore the one responsible for shaking things up and getting rid of people to create some change to suit his vision, which is after all what he was hired to realize. Professors, on the other hand, are protected by tenure, and are free to make any ridiculous statement or present political theater without any repurcussion. This is where Cornell West came in, and for good reason. He was more prone to theatrics than education, so I too would encourage him to go elsewhere. Summers rightfully demanded to know the value of his teaching and research; how did it benefit Harvard’s students? If Summers was held to public accountability, he’d still be there, since it was a minority of faculty members who ousted him. The majority of faculty, students, and alums supported him. So much for lacking public support.
Barbar, I agree with much of what you write, except your last sentence. It is a grand battle, because it is not an isolated incident. Academia is infected with this nonsense, and has just been emboldened with the Summers resignation. If people don’t like his managerial style, tough shit. That’s how CEOs are, and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. If the CEO is truly a bad apple, he can be forced to resign by those who brought him there in the first place, so there is a process. But that’s not good enough for the A&S faculty, who knew they had no case in that arena. Like with public policy, the left knows it’ll lose, so it takes the end-around process, whether it be going to court to bypass public opinion, or through “no-confidence votes” and their friends in the media to assassinate a man’s character.
You say what I’ve left out of this? How about the donation by Saudi Prince Alaweed of $20MM? The same “socially conscious” faculty seems to have no problem with this, nor how the money might be spent.
This Summers affair will not die down. This was a reprehensible action that will reverberate throughout academia, and I can only hope that both students and free-thinking professors take the reigns back from the “progressive” wimps practicing totalitarianism behind the full protection of tenure.
Sure, man. If that’s your idea of academic excellence, go for it. What a better example of how tenure protects the weak and arrogant.
“You think maybe it’s because Harvard is racist and they couldn’t stand a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant demanding great things of them?”
One problem, Larry Summers is about as much a WASP as Jackie Mason. Cornell West would had a better chance of getting into the Porcellian. Summers had all the sensibilties of a railroad brakeman.
Let’s agree to put this one in the time capsule, along with John Cole’s prediction that the Democratic leadership will be overplaying their hand on the Cheney shooting any day now, and check back in a year to see if the name of Lawrence Summers is still on every academic’s lips.
It’s amazing how a former member of Clinton’s Cabinet suddenly becomes a conservative deity, martyred as a “victim of totalitarianism,” just because he made one relatively insignificant comment about gender differences. A nonbinding no-confidence vote becomes rhetorically elevated to the equivalent of Caesar’s assassination. Conservatives must be hard up for heroes these days.
Professor Booty almost had me there with a somewhat rational argument in which he appeared to have “inside information” that I don’t have. Could Alan Dershowitz be shitting us all?? He *is* a lawyer…
Then, he blows it with this:
“BTW, the whole idea that Summers’s comments re women and science should have been protected by “academic freedom” is completely bogus. He is not a professor of anything, he’s the university president, and his remarks were not made in a scholarly setting. As president, he has to be held to a standard of public accountability higher than any faculty member—not that conservatives cared much about academic freedom when Summers gave the boot to Cornell West.”
First, a red herring about “academic freedom”, then an admission that he really has no idea of what he’s talking about (Larry Summers still maintains his post as a Professor of Economics, and did, even when he was President), a “look, over there” assertation about “higher standards” when the statement that Summers made was a simple question that was “offensive” only to those who think with their genitals instead of their brain, topped with the standard leftist cant about Cornell West not getting his ass kissed long and loudly enough to keep him from quitting.
Booty, if you actually did postdoc work, I have no doubt that it was in one of those “XXX Studies” fields, where bitching and moaning about real and perceived disadvantages have been raised to an art form, since you really did a good job of it in this post.
The Other Steve
They pretty much had their entire hopes for electoral success for the next 30 years pinned on the Iraq war and the Medicare drug program.
If I were them, I’d be searching for a new hero too.
That would be my extended family around the Thanksgiving Dinner table.
Brian — in a power struggle between the President of the University and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, why is it “tough shit” for the faculty if they don’t like the President? Summers was seeking more power than previous Harvard Presidents have had — why are you so surprised that he ran into some resistance? And when did you become so interested in the inner workings of Harvard University? Do you also have strong opinions about the Core curriculum and the moving of dorms from the Quad to Allston? What about Summers’ influence on tenure decisions — in your expert opinion, did he do a good job in that regard? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Oh right, Larry Summers said something about women not being that good at math, and since that is so fascinating to you it is only natural for you to think that the entire world revolves around that.
And I forgot that Brian pays taxes to Harvard, so it’s only natural that he takes such a keen interest in the internal workings of that fine institution.
Barbar, you’re not interested in a serious discussion of this, as evidenced by your post. The only comment of yours worth responding to is about it being tough shit for the faculty who had a problem with his. As an executive manager, yes, I believe that if Summers was brought in to shake things up, and he was carrying out those expectations, then tough shit for the faculty who had problems with that.
See, that’s your message, and the faculty’s: change that we don’t agree with will be met with fierce resistance, and your ultimate demise. WE rule this roost, and we won’t bother going through any approved channels like the university’s board to make a case against Summers, we’ll do him in ourselves, even if it means making up nonsense about him to create an environment that shows to unknowing or unthinking boobs (like Barbar) that Summers is some sort of hostile force.
If the faculty has a problem with Summers, it was based on real or imagined threats to the totalitarian groupthink of an overprotected elite, and that elite had to get rid of him no matter how it was accomplished. It worked with Summers, but there are kids and their parents paying increasingly higher costs for a Harvard education, and they will hopefully begin seeing the fraud being perpetuated on the students by this faculty group at the expense of a fine and valuable education. They want to get their money’s worth, and so expect more attention to be paid to these quivering academic failures in the A&S faculty, so much so that they will ultimately get run out of Dodge.
Yes, I repeat….tough shit for those faculty members who put themselves in this position, and are blatantly insubordinate. They, and I suspect, you, would never succeed in the outside world. It’s a protected class of cowards and radicals.
You’re completely insane.
First off, I’m curious why you’re so interested in a private institution’s inner workings, and why you’re upset why things turned out the way they did. As a recent Harvard alum who knows a number of students currently attending the university, I have my reasons for paying attention — why exactly are yours? Oh right, Summers made a comment about women not being good at math, so he’s your hero for life now. Or is it that you always get incredibly ticked off whenever a CEO of a company resigns? Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Second, no, people who have power do not have to say “sure” when others try to take power away from them. There is no law to that effect, and I don’t even think there is a related moral principle. Harvard has done things a certain way for a long time now; what makes you so sure that changes would be good? For someone so outraged about Summers getting stopped, do you even know what exactly he was trying to do? Then why the hell are you so upset? Your attempt to pretend that a Harvard education would become worthless without Summers coming in to save the day is laughable.
I missed this:
They, and I suspect, you, would never succeed in the outside world. It’s a protected class of cowards and radicals.
Yes, it’s really tough to find a job when Harvard is on your resume. Every one knows that you were taught by evil totalitarian professors, so you couldn’t possibly have any useful skills. *snicker*
How do braindead idiots like you get on in the outside world?
You argue very ineffectively, so I wonder what you “learned” at Harvard. There is little or no evidence that you acquired an education that would be of any value to the outside world. Me? I get along quite fine in life.
What you did seem to learn from Harvard, which does not surprise me, is that groupthink rules, and any questioning or inquiry from someone considered as an “outsider” shall be treated as suspect or none of that outsider’s business. You wonder who I am to question the goings-on within Harvard, just like a black blogger wonders who non-blacks are to question his stereotyping of a fellow black (Michael Steele), or blacks wondering how non-blacks would dare to even question the behavior of blacks at the King funeral. “None of your damn business”, because you’re “outside”.
I don’t buy into that social construct, but I am not surprised you do, given your education and political leanings. The best that education offered you is to respond to people with name-calling. Get your money’s worth?
It’s not that it’s none of your business. It’s that I don’t understand why it’s so upsetting to you.
CEOs of companies resign all the time. Does it always bother you? Whenever you read that someone stepped down, do you immediately yell “But he’s the boss, everyone has to listen to him, aaaarrrggghhh!”
And then you seem to be implying that the Harvard faculty took some way out-of-bounds approach in pushing Summers out the door? What was that exactly?
Let me spell it for you, again: I am asserting that you do not actually know why Summers was forced out, you do not understand what he was trying to accomplish, you do not understand Harvard’s power structure. All this is blindingly clear — all you are able to claim is that closeminded liberal professors were freaked out by him, so they exerted unreasonable power in forcing him out. This is false, and I am trying to draw your attention to this fact. I question why you care because it is incredibly obvious that you envision this as a power struggle over political correctness when it is actually a power struggle about how to run a university. And normally when power struggles occur within private institutions, between individuals whose goals we are both unfamiliar with and also unqualified to judge, we just don’t care.
But obviously this is a sneaky rhetorical trick to hide from the fact that I can’t have a reasonable argument with you.
If a guy is hired to “shake things up,” presumably a very basic qualification is that he needs to be able to withstand resistance from the folks he is shaking up. Even if we accept Brian’s narrative lock, stock, and barrel, nowhere on Planet Earth do people just sit there and let themselves get “shaken up” without fighting to preserve the status quo.
This idea that there was a “coup” or “totalitarian onslaught” is simply a rhetorical fantasy. What happened in the real world? A subgroup of the faculty cast a nonbinding vote of no confidence. It’s silly to say that this was an unacceptable way for the faculty to express their discontent.
Summers was free to pay no attention to this vote whatsoever. If he was really hired with the mission of “shaking things up,” presumably his bosses would have told the dissenters to shut up and take it, since Summers was simply doing his job of shaking them up. The fact that that’s not how it played out at all suggests that Brian’s narrative is simply a convenient storyline featuring political correctness as the villain, with a noticeable lack of facts to back it up.
As said, Brian, calling me an idiot right off the bat isn’t going to get me to want to listen to your arguments. But then, the tone you have taken in all the other postings you have made on this topic don’t seem to be very dispassionate or logical, either.
Flying off the handle is more like it. And we’re supposed to be convinced by verbal hectoring and bullying?
Sheesh, what DO they teach them in rhetoric nowadays?
Summers had a history of saying undiplomatic things and handling large, complicated bureaucracies poorly before he was chosen (badly) to be President of Harvard. He’s a really really smart guy (as in, brighter than I am (sigh)), but maybe he’s better suited for non-administrative roles.
Now that I’ve started to get involved with my University, I have come to find that smart is good, but it’s only part of the total package for strong administration. I’d rather have someone with a basic level of talent in intelligence, diplomacy, and financial acumen than someone who leans too hard toward one of the three. There are other roles for folks who are “merely” financial wizzes (CFOs and fundraisers), strong diplomats (mediators and spokespersons), or intellectual giants (Professors and other researchers).