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Harvard President Plans to Resign:
Reuters has the story. UPDATE: It's official, Summers has resigned.
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Anyone know what's behind the discontent with him (assuming it's something apart from his oft-abrasive personal style)?
2.21.2006 1:45pm
Commenterlein (mail):
He officially resigned today.

I some ways I feel about him like I felt about Clinton - a really smart guy with a lot of ideas I like and support, but whose personal shortcomings prevented him from fulfilling his potential.

His term can be pretty much summarized as "if you try to change a lot of things in a large institution, you better start by making friends and building coalitions. If instead you alienate too many different people too quickly, they will gang up on you and take you down."
2.21.2006 1:46pm
Humble Law Student:
Score one for liberal institutional intolerance. Btw, yes I know there were other issues, but I really doubt they would have come to a head but for his "remarks" made in that speech.
2.21.2006 1:53pm
HLSbertarian:
His letter was emailed to everyone here this morning.

"...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."

It's now online here: HERE
2.21.2006 1:54pm
Guest2 (mail):
From comments by Summers posted at Harvard's website: "Believing deeply that complacency is among the greatest risks facing Harvard, I have sought for the last five years to prod and challenge the University to reach for the most ambitious goals in creative ways."

He's going to take some time off and then come back as a professor.
2.21.2006 1:56pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Tyrone,
I know the situation better than I want to. In the end it was really the cumulative effect of many different incidents, statements, and decisions that turned different people against him.

If I had to point to one particular issue, it would be his favoratism towards certain disciplines, and his pretty open contempt for scholars from other disciplines. Once his contempt for large parts of the humanities and the methodologically weaker social sciences became widely known, whatever actions he took were interpreted as motivated by his views of the relative merits of different departments and made people ever more angry.

Funny thing is, I do share many of his views and wished he had succeeded. But if you want to shift resources from say sociology to the life sciences, then you should do so quietly and without setting of any alarms. Do not start out by telling people that you think sociologists are not very clever, and especially don't do so to the face of a social anthropologist. Funny how really smart people can be so dumb.
2.21.2006 2:00pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Score one for liberal institutional intolerance. Btw, yes I know there were other issues, but I really doubt they would have come to a head but for his "remarks" made in that speech.

When your own tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
2.21.2006 2:34pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
C'mon. Who really cares who runs Harvard except the Harvard folk? Harvard is what it is, a goofy liberal joint with much more dollars than sense.
2.21.2006 2:39pm
HLSbertarian:
Tyrone: I agree with you that we shouldn't oversimplify, but Humble Law Student admitted as much. Even so, you can't tell me this would have gone down the same way if some of Summers' major points of friction weren't linked with the sacred cows of liberal academia (race and gender).
2.21.2006 2:42pm
frankcross (mail):
Summers is a liberal.

The gender comments were simply an additional excuse to take action that much of the faculty wanted.
2.21.2006 2:45pm
Mr Diablo:
Put away the politics kids and the screeching attacks on allegedly intolerant liberalism.

There were plenty of leadership style issues that only served to exacerbate the problem of his ill-advised comments. Another college president probably could have worked his way out of a hole like that, but Larry Summers, even with an offered apology, never thought (or thinks) he was wrong.

His biggest error was his dismissive attitude toward social sciences faculty and social sciences as a discipline. Don't get me wrong, the University should probably spend more and develop more of its hard sciences programs, but as is typical Larry, the attitude was all wrong.

In the end, he goverened a little too much a different Larry -- Larry David.
2.21.2006 2:48pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
[Y]ou can't tell me this would have gone down the same way if some of Summers' major points of friction weren't linked with the sacred cows of liberal academia (race and gender).

As I recently suggested elsewhere, I find it hard to believe that the major impediment to his continued service as president is his personal style, although I have seen the man speak on a panel and was impressed by his willingness to rip into one of his fellow panelists, entertaining as it may have been for those of us in the audience. I find it especially hard to believe that these "sacred cows" were dispositive -- for all the play that these topics get, subjects like incipient threats to departmental budgets are what really inspire faculties like Harvard's to rush to the barricades. That said, I have a call into someone who should know much more, and if I learn anything probative I will post it.
2.21.2006 2:59pm
KMAJ (mail):
It is amusing that some seem to dismiss liberal academia influences in this resignation. Summers, who is not a conservative, had feminists and affirmative action advocates up in arms. Had he been espousing far left doctrine, his resignation would never have occurred or been asked for. Anyone in positions of authority who challenge the accepted norms of the academic left are often subject to villification. The salient points were that he was more like a bull in a china shop when challenging their views, instead of doing so in a subtle, non-confrontational manner. He put the bulls-eye on his own chest and protagonists of the left hit the target.
2.21.2006 3:01pm
Commenterlein (mail):
I find it amusing how many commenters here are convinced that Larry Summer's resignation must have been caused by him annoying some feminists, simply because.... oh well, that somehow fits better with the commenters' preconceived notions about Harvard and academia.
2.21.2006 3:09pm
Houston Lawyer:
Since I and most other commenters don't typically follow what is going on at Harvard, the only time we hear about Summers is when he is getting mau-maued by outraged feminists for suggesting that there may be biological differences between men and women. I recall this incident with much humor. Unfortunately, he later bent over backwards to appease this rabble.

There may be many good reasons for which he resigned, but this is the impression he left with the public.
2.21.2006 3:28pm
JLR (mail):
Question: Will Summers's resignation affect the Law School in any way? Thanks.
2.21.2006 3:30pm
HLSbertarian:
Tyrone: I, too, don't believe his perceived politics were dispositive in this. My only point was that his brushes with the campus orthodoxy on race and gender helped cast his maverick/bullish management style in a negative light with most of the faculty, and helped galvanize the Arts and Sciences Faculty against Summers the man as opposed to the suggested reforms.

Commenterlein: He didn't "annoy[] some feminists," he set off an avalanche of no-confidence votes, referenda, and candlelight vigils. The major cause was Summers' stepping outside campus liberal orthodoxy, and a major effect was contribution to his departure.
2.21.2006 3:34pm
HLSbertarian:
JLR: To the best of my knowledge, it shouldn't affect the law school that much, at least not in the near future. HLS has a good degree of autonomy and a very strong dean (Elena Kagan). I'm not well-versed in the administrative inner workings, but it shouldn't change much.
2.21.2006 3:41pm
Edward Lee (www):
Commenterlein, what is your Harvard affiliation? (Not calling you out, just curious, as you claim a lot of familiarity with the situation.)

It seems like there were a lot of little things, and some medium-sized ones, that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences didn't like.

As an example of the little things, here's an open letter from a couple of math profs. After the first vote of no-confidence, Summers proposed the creation of a task force to mediate conflicts between FAS and the administration. The writers were miffed that Summers made the proposal at the next faculty meeting without announcing it beforehand, or somesuch. These minor incidents that supposedly contributed to the "climate of fear" that some faculty described are admittedly somewhat nebulous, although we might hear more concrete complaints in the months ahead.

As examples of the medium-sized things, there was his criticism of Cornel West in a private meeting. West raised a huge stink about it and eventually left for Princeton. If what West says about the meeting is true, Summers definitely could have handled it a lot better. Summers, to his credit, has refused to discuss the details of the conversation.

Later on, he denied tenure to hip-hop scholar Marcyliena Morgan, thus prompting Morgan and her husband, tenured professor Lawrence Bobo, to leave for Stanford. Morgan was unanimously approved by the Af-Am department, and overruling a decision like that is never going to go over well with the faculty.

So regardless of what one thinks of the merits of Summers's decision, it's clear that he stepped on a lot of toes (sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally) during his presidency. He never mastered the art of picking his battles, which is really too bad, because he really cared about the University and made some real progress towards his goals (advancing science research, making faculty more accessible to students -- he taught a freshman seminar and popped up at lots of campus events). Harvard is definitely poorer for his loss.

- a PhD '04 graduate
2.21.2006 3:42pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Ed,

Harvard MA and PhD, a stint as junior faculty a few years later, now happily settled at a certain competing institution further down the river. Working with several current faculty members on papers, pretty much all of whom know and support Summers.

I think you pretty much nailed it - he never mastered the art of picking his battles. A real loss for Harvard.
2.21.2006 3:55pm
Ned Pike:
And the feces-flinging howler monkeys successfully defend their territory from change, never seeing the semi truck speeding straight for them.
2.21.2006 4:01pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
the semi truck speeding straight for them

Yale? UMass? The University of Phoenix? Do tell.
2.21.2006 4:03pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
frankcross,

Summers is NOT a liberal by any stretch of imagination. The problem is the currently prevalent stereotypes that many self-professed conservatives hold of "liberals". Basically, it amounts to, "He's not one of us!" However, when Summers had a choice to take a progressive or a more conservative position on issues, he has consistently taken the conservative one. His "reforms" at Harvard have been aligned to promote business interests, not academic ones. Yes, he's had a problem with picking his battles. But, again, all of his battles have been against the leftist ideologies.

There is a vast difference between people being intelligent and smart. Summers is not smart. He's intelligent and well educated, but he is an ass. In many ways, he resembles the current crop of neocons, in the sense that he believes himself to be smart enough to refuse to compromise on any of his own positions. He has always believed himself to be outside the Cave. He has served in both Democrat and Republican administrations, which only reinforced his know-it-all attitude.

In short, for Harvard, it's good riddance. Summers will have no problem doing the policy circuit (unless he manages to upset the current White House, which, with his foot-in-mouth proclivity, is not out of the question).

I received the following short message a little while ago. Note that the ed school has been affected by Summers's "reform" more than any other school at Harvard.


Dear Members of the HGSE Community,

As you may know, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers announced his resignation today. Derek Bok, former Harvard president (1971-1991) and a University Professor who has taught at HGSE, will serve as interim president beginning on July 1. As the University enters this period of transition, I want to assure you that we will remain focused on our goals for the school. If there is one thing this year has proven, it is that the Harvard Graduate School of Education can thrive in a period of uncertainty. Over the next several months, we will continue in our efforts to recruit a stellar faculty, enroll talented students, and hire outstanding staff. I know that each of you is committed to this effort. I also want to assure you that I will keep you updated as I learn more about the University's searches for a new president as well as a permanent dean here at HGSE.

Best,

Kathy McCartney
2.21.2006 4:17pm
Albarello (mail):
I'm surprised no one's mentioned Andrei Schleifer yet.
2.21.2006 4:49pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
I'm surprised no one's mentioned Andrei Schleifer yet.

About which more here.
2.21.2006 5:00pm
frankcross (mail):
Summers is a neolib. And I think most of what he was doing was good for Harvard. He didn't always take the conservative position, his was the initiative providing free tuition for students from poor families. I have known him personally. He can come across as a jerk, but if you are self confident and stand up to him, it's not that bad. But he was in a position of authority where people felt uncomfortable doing that.
2.21.2006 5:11pm
Mr L:
Edward Lee wrote:Later on, he denied tenure to hip-hop scholar Marcyliena Morgan, thus prompting Morgan and her husband, tenured professor Lawrence Bobo, to leave for Stanford.

I'm more than a little surprised that you (or anyone else) would count this as a strike against Summers. The dubious merit of a 'hip-hop scholar' should be obvious, and we usually call using your influence to get a job for your spouse 'nepotism'. Normally, fighting that kind of institutional corruption is considered a good thing, but I guess that's not the case in the rigorous field of African-American studies.

I suppose that's one way to get rid of tenured incompetents, though. To give some idea of the importance of their contributions, even wikipedia has no mention of those two.
2.21.2006 5:38pm
Commenterlein (mail):
"I'm more than a little surprised that you (or anyone else) would count this as a strike against Summers."

Which is why nobody here did. The point was that it added to the long list of people who felt mistreated by Larry Summers.
2.21.2006 6:49pm
snowball (mail):
Frank Cross:

The free-tuition deal isn't a particularly revealing initiative. It was a matter of competitive necessity, since Harvard's peer schools had undertaken similar schemes (I think Princeton was the first). And conservatives use the hypothetical "upper crust child of black doctors versus poor white child of Appalachian dirt farmers" scenario to attack race-based affirmative action. To that end, they don't oppose the free-tuition schemes.
2.21.2006 6:51pm
JR10575:
This line in his resignation letter was quite telling:

At a time when the median age of our tenured professoriate is approaching 60, the renewal of the faculty has to be a central concern.
2.21.2006 7:11pm
snowball (mail):
Umm, Mr. L., I think it's pretty common for tenure decisions to take into account faculty couples. It's not nepotism in its classic sense--that is, a person in power hiring his relative. Unlike claissic nepotism, the decisionmaker in this situation (the faculty) is not related to the person to be hired and is making a hard-headed judgment about retaining talent. These kinds of joint offers are typically the result of the need to keep a highly valued professor from boalting by offering tenure to a (somewhat less highly valued) spouse or partner. It's an understood compromise. Sometimes it's in the same department, sometimes across different departments.

By the way, according to the Boston papers, Morgan received a unanimous tenure vote from the Af-Am Studies faculty, which solicited (very favorable) input on her scholarship from outside the university as well.

So Summers's denial of tenure apparently had more to do with his apparent disdain for her field (and perhaps the value of her department) than any particular weakness in Morgan as a scholar. That's one way to run a faculty, but not a very successful one.

To bring this back to the law, Summers is a lot like Justice Scalia--very smart but unnecessarily abrasive. He should have learned the lessons of Scalia's failures as a Justice: People tend not to react well when you tell them that they're worthless idiots.
2.21.2006 7:11pm
nk (mail) (www):
Harvard's president. An issue for preppies. Who else could care less?
2.21.2006 9:45pm
frankcross (mail):
Free tuition was significant. Princeton did do it first, but that didn't compel Summers to follow. After all, I don't think Yale has done it.

What about the $25 million he set aside to hire minority (and maybe women) faculty to improve faculty diversity? Another conservative program.
2.21.2006 9:54pm
DJB:
Another college president probably could have worked his way out of a hole like that, but Larry Summers, even with an offered apology, never thought (or thinks) he was wrong.

Probably because he wasn't.
2.21.2006 10:30pm
snowball (mail):
What about the $25 million he set aside to hire minority (and maybe women) faculty to improve faculty diversity? Another conservative program.

Snark! I love it, prof, I love it. Wait, wait, let me try: I thought the money was meant to replace all the minority faculty he's drummed out of the university (rimshot!).

Anyway, Summers didn't create the so-called "Outreach Fund." It was around since the mid-1990s. So drop that one from your data set. And the expansion of the fund (to $50 million) last year by Summers is meaningless. I don't consider actions taken under duress to indicate much.

If you look behind the window dressing, Larry Summers is the same kind of "liberal" as John Silber--one with deeply illiberal instincts.
2.21.2006 11:06pm
Lars (www):
This is an unfortunate incident, and a great loss for Harvard. The main contention of Larry Summers, namely that there is a possible biological substrate contributing to the notable overrepresentation of men among science and math faculty in top-notch universities, is well-supported in the literature. There is robust evidence for greater male variability with respect to IQ, and the best population-representative data also reveal slightly higher IQs in men compared to women, on average. These factors dwarf other factors when it comes to explaining why the science and math faculty of top-ranked institutions mostly comprise of men.
2.21.2006 11:33pm
Smithy (mail) (www):
Let's hope that can get someone in there who won't kow-tow to the loony left the way Summers did.
2.22.2006 12:06am
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
The accusations of illiberalism towards Larry Summers are laughable. The man is a liberal and not just in the 'Neo' sense. He's a Democrat and has supported New Deal, Social Insurance, Welfare and redistributive policies his whole life. His only flaw is that he thinks fields like Economics and the life sciences have more merit and are worth more than "Hip-Hop scholarship." Just like the recent codification of the definition of a liberal as one who doesen't blindly support George W. Bush, the definition of 'illiberal' is someone who, whetever their political beliefs, questions the merit of certain sacred cows at a handful of elite institutions. You don't become 'illiberal' just by pointing out that most sociologists and sociology departments are found wanting.
2.22.2006 2:39am
Buck Turgidson (mail):

If you look behind the window dressing, Larry Summers is the same kind of "liberal" as John Silber--one with deeply illiberal instincts.

Snowball, you nailed it! Silber is a self-proclaimed "life-long Democrat". Yet his friends and political allies are all Republicans. When he ran for governor, he was outflanked on the Left by a Republican opponent (Bill Weld). He is surrounded by two kinds of people--sycophants and those who are as inflexible and intolerant as he is. Summers never managed to create the sycophant base, so he got the boot.

The dubious merit of a 'hip-hop scholar' should be obvious...

Mr.L, would you say that an expert in Victorian literature portrayal of bureaucrats has a dubious merit claim to being a "scholar"? Forget the bureaucrats--how about just an expert in Victorian literature? It is one thing to express an opinion of taste on merits of "hip-hop" being "music". It is quite another to claim that "hip-hop" scholarship is laughable. Study of contemporary culture and society requires as much expertise and research skill as study of past cultures and societies. Just because you disapprove of the particular focus of the expertise does not mean that scholarship is meritless. In any case, I won't stoop to the point of calling you racist or elitist--a single statement does not make evidence for such a claim. But you should certainly look deeply into the reasons for your resentment and consider the possibility that your reasons are morally repugnant.

Summers clearly had bug up his ass concerning the AfAm department and set out to purge it. Unfortunately, he treated a number of academic fields in the same manner. His "reform" managed to purge the "minor" schools (ed, div, public health) of quite a number of serious faculty because their fields of expertise had been declared unimportant or, worse yet, of "dubious merit", as you put it. This is a very troubling development for what pretends to be a leading academic institution.

He didn't always take the conservative position, his was the initiative providing free tuition for students from poor families.

As someone has already pointed out, this is not a liberal position, nor does Summers deserve credit for it.

I have known him personally. He can come across as a jerk, but if you are self confident and stand up to him, it's not that bad. But he was in a position of authority where people felt uncomfortable doing that.

There is a difference between coming across as a jerk (which a serious problem for many academics, some of whom, unbeknown to them, suffer from varieties of autism) and being dictatorial. That's where the parallel between Silber and Summers is really apt. Both have a very Platonic view of the world. They consider themselves to be intellectual superiors of everyone around them and therefore completely disdain opposing opinions, no matter how little expertise they may have in any given subject area. Arrogance combined with power is very dangerous. We don't generally approve of these sorts of things.
2.22.2006 1:06pm
hey (mail):
HGSE shouldn't exist, so going after them is a plus. The truly sad thing is that H. Corp didn't have the guts to back him up, or to back up the managers of the endowment.

I'll be laughing as Hahvahd descends further into leftist navel gazing. There truly are only 3 useful schools at H, and even that's questionable (have to get a lawyer crack in somewhere).
2.22.2006 9:49pm