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Commentary on Summers's Resignation:

From ACTA, the Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. All of them are quite critical of Harvard's faculty and trustees, and the Post's may be the toughest of the lot.

DHBerger (mail):
Virtually every "scandal" during Summers' tenure- the female mathematicians, Cornel West, etc.- was essentially bogus and just drummed up by liberal faculty members and other assorted cranks in the media. The WaPo editorial really nails it on the head. Ironically, these people should have praised Summers for making tuition free for students whose parents have incomes under $40,000.
2.22.2006 4:43pm
Christopher M (mail):
Anyone inclined to take the WaPo story or the rest of recent media coverage at face value should really read Matthew Yglesias's response. His take: "it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the author has become radically detatched from reality."
2.22.2006 4:58pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
For a contrary view, check out the following email to Powerline. I personally agree with the criticism of Harvard here, but this email indicates that it wasn't that simple. And, as Henry Kissinger said, academic disputes are so heated because the stakes are so small.
"Last night I wrote about the resignation of Harvard President Lawrence Summers in "Cool Hand Larry." A member of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences responds:
"I would like to voice a dissenting view on Scott's entry about the resignation of Harvard President Larry Summers yesterday. I would certainly agree that the President's comments a year ago concerning women and science did not help his case among many of the faculty and may have provided a rallying point for some--although as I understand his remarks, President Summers was posing a perfectly respectable question about data that deserved (and still deserves) a considered answer.

Still, the connection between that event and its aftermath and the President's resignation is slight in my opinion, as President Summers could easily have weathered that particular storm. The real problem was that he was perceived by many across the institution -- rightly or wrongly--as being dishonest, conniving and lacking any leadership abilities that didn't mirror the Danny Devito lines in the film "Matilda," when the Devito character says to Matilda something like "I'm big; you're little. I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm right; you're wrong."

Anecdotes about the President and this sort management style circulated widely during the last five years but were probably best exemplified by the experiences reported by Peter Ellison when he served as dean of the Graduate School (see, for example, the Boston Globe article of February 16 when he finally talks about why he stepped down). The resignation of William Kirby as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences--an event understood to have been manipulated from the President's office, largely through calculated leaks to the student press--together with "the Shleifer affair" (cf. "How Harvard Lost Russia," Institutional Investor, January 24, 2006) were the proximate and incendiary events that led to the extraordinary outpouring of views and emotions at the FAS meeting earlier this month (although it may be true that for some members of the faculty these events also blew air on the still hot coals of the "women and science" business).

In other words, I firmly believe that insofar as the case merits examination, it's probably more one for a business school course on leadership than a "warning legend" for the body politic about political correctness run amok."
The professor asks us to withhold his name and adds: "By the way, let me thank you all for Power Line -- it is an endless source of insight and clear-thinking, and has now, together with Bill Bennett's 'Morning in America' radio show, become a routine part of my mornings."
2.22.2006 5:02pm
Aaron Bergman (mail):
I'll add this article in Slate as yet another point against the desire of some to put Summers's resignation in some conservative/liberal cultural context. It was about academic politics, something surely more viscious than national variety.
2.22.2006 5:07pm
anonymous coward:
Piling on: Articles in Time and WSJ (news) basically contradict the WP's line that the Cornell West/Math Class Is So Tough controversies caused his resignation.
2.22.2006 5:07pm
Commenterlein (mail):
My personal impression was that Cornel West's departure was greeted with something between "good riddance to bad rubbish" and "who?" by the vast majority of Harvard faculty.

Summer's departure was definitely mostly about academic politics. What is true, though, is that his frequent cases of foot-in-mouth disease made it a lot harder for his friends and supporters to stand up for him.
2.22.2006 5:13pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Oh, and I would definitely like to know what FAS faculty member views Powerline as "an endless source of insight and clear-thinking". Yikes.
2.22.2006 5:16pm
Steve:
The professor asks us to withhold his name and adds: "By the way, let me thank you all for Power Line -- it is an endless source of insight and clear-thinking, and has now, together with Bill Bennett's 'Morning in America' radio show, become a routine part of my mornings."

Obviously not a "real" professor, Tom. Regular readers of the VC know that it is impossible for a conservative to find work in academia. Our friends at Powerline might as well claim to have received an email from a unicorn.
2.22.2006 5:16pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
I forgot to include the link to the Powerline story:

http://powerlineblog.com/archives/013220.php
2.22.2006 5:39pm
Tom Anger (mail) (www):
Larry Summers will go down in Harvard's history as the president who dared preside. The lesson: When an insitution allows the staff effectively to fire the president, it unlikely that anyone can preside. Harvard will now choose a pliable, politically correct person (probably a black woman) to succeed Summers, and thus continue its downward career toward irrelevance.
2.22.2006 6:21pm
Christopher M (mail):
Tom--

I hadn't been aware until I read your incisive comment that black women were known for being especially "pliable."
2.22.2006 6:31pm
Michael B (mail):
"Regular readers of the VC know that it is impossible for a conservative to find work in academia." Steve

Not always "impossible," but far more difficult than it should be in some departments in all too many institutions when compared to their counterparts on the Left. This topic typically devolves quickly, if general references are provided the reactionary/illiberal response is "specifics are lacking" and if specifics are forwarded the reactionaries sniff about "mere anecdotal evidence."

Still, again, The Shadow University: The Betrayal Of Liberty On America's Campuses by Kors and Silvergate and Irwin's For Lust of Knowing, the latter more specifically targeting Mid-East departments, furnish substantial, in depth and well documented cases.

Additionally, Powerline's earnest professor cannot be presumed to have the last word. At the end of the referenced Powerline post, three additional references worth a read are noted:

Dershowitz's Coup against Summers a Dubious Victory for the Politically Correct.

The New Editor, commenting on Dershowitz.

Harvard Sold Larry Summers Down the Charles River by Amity Shlaes.

Keeping in mind some of the prominent issues Summers took a stand on (e.g., an unwillingness to divest from Israel, a refusal to disallow military recruitment on campus) it's not at all obvious that simple, standard academic politics is the primary reason for his departure. The resignation may well have several roots; the notion that a politically correct, virtual monopoly of ideological content is not a crucial and primary aspect of the resignation needs further proofs.
2.22.2006 6:37pm
Steve:
Hey, it was just throwaway snark. You needn't get all serious about the merits!
2.22.2006 6:52pm
Aaron Bergman (mail):
The resignation may well have several roots; the notion that a politically correct, virtual monopoly of ideological content is not a crucial and primary aspect of the resignation needs further proofs.

Now, if you could just tell me how to prove a negative, we could get going on that.

In the meantime, we have plenty of evidence (much linked to above) that the political stuff was far from the predominant cause here.
2.22.2006 7:19pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Had I paid any attention to the Shliefer matter earlier, I'd have said that Summers was a goner. Having a close friend on the faculty be convicted of fraud on the government really is a disqualification to be president of a university. It creates the appearance of impropriety and brings discredit on the institution.
"In a Feb. 7 meeting this year, faculty members confronted Mr. Summers about Andrei Shleifer, the Harvard economist who is a close friend of Mr. Summers.

A federal judge ruled in 2004 that Mr. Shleifer had conspired to defraud the U.S. government by investing in Russian companies while also serving as manager of a program designed to help Russia make the transition to a market economy.

Mr. Summers was pressed on whether there should have been a sanction against Mr. Shleifer—these proceedings are kept secret—and he said he'd recused himself in the case.

When a faculty member pressed him for an opinion, according to a Boston Globe account, Mr. Summers said that he didn't have enough information, infuriating the faculty.

"There was shock and consternation," music professor Kay Shelemay told the Globe.

Most recently, there was the story of William Kirby. After the dean of the arts and sciences faculty announced his resignation, the faculty accused Mr. Summers of pushing him out.

That—a management issue, not a political one—appears to have sealed his fate."
2.22.2006 7:44pm
Chukuang:
Harvard will now choose a pliable, politically correct person (probably a black woman) to succeed Summers, and thus continue its downward career toward irrelevance.

It's interesting how quickly the real racism comes out on this topic. That's a pretty strong "thus" above.

More to the point, I'm impressed about how some commentators can continue to paint this whole thing as a PC issue when almost everyone who is actually in the know about this says that it's not, whether on the right or left, whether they support or condemn Summers. I was there when Cornell West got booted and basically no one cared. Most faculty did not consider a rap album as acceptable scholarship per se. By the time he made the comments about women in science he had already pissed off half the faculty with his administrative style (which has some noble goals, but was conducted horribly). Read Matt Yglesias's comments cited in an early comment. It describes the actual situation quite accurately.

And if you really think that Harvard is sliding towards irrelevance then your head is in the sand (or watching only Fox News).
2.22.2006 7:53pm
Wintermute (www):
Matt's drawout was convincing to me, who has seen the FAS defend its importance up close and personal. This was less about political correctness than about political skills.
2.22.2006 8:07pm
Michael B (mail):
Aaron,

I have no doubt different elements were involved, but the links provided, such as the Slate and Yglesias piece, are not at all conclusive in the manner being suggested, not even close, despite various repetitions of this same theme.

Once it's been determined by the PC-minded that a person needs to go (as a result of his position against divestment vis-a-vis Israel, military recruiting on campus, the speech which concerned men/women vis-a-vis technical fields, etc.), then the bureaucratic and inter-personal dynamics which unfold are not at all easy to unravel. Or are you suggesting people in such situations tend to be transparent, guileless, completely honest and above any petty and manipulative ploys?

And of course there is the inherent suggestion, in what you're forwarding, that I would need to prove a negative as well, that it wasn't the non-political stuff which was primary. Surely you would acknowledge that as well? In sum, we don't know what was and what wasn't primary vs. secondary vs. entirely irrelevant and it likely wouldn't be very easy to determine. But when Yglesias and Slate attempt to forward the idea that the political elements were virtually a non sequitur, they have a long way to go before reaching a more convincing conclusion.

But James Traub, at Slate, is working on a book about Kofi Annan and the UN. Perhaps Traub will distill ultimate truth and certitudes on that topic as well, though there is reason for doubt.

Finally, was also aware of the Shleifer affair, wherein Summers seems to have properly recused himself. But I'm not sure how someone is guilty of someone else's crimes - unless other motives and chicanery is involved. The Shleifer affair is very much the type of thing which could be leveraged for effect, against Summers, or could have been readily deflected if Summers had been a more PC-acceptable president vis-a-vis other, more political, positions.

Call me highly skeptical, contrary reassurances, repeated certitudes and aggrieved, guilt by association tactics notwithstanding. Hopefully, in a PC driven environment, one is still allowed to be highly skeptical, after all, I didn't know Shleifer, so that particular guilt by association charge can't be used against yours truly.
2.22.2006 8:43pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Michael,

The point is that you know nothing, and that all the people who have actual inside or close-up knowledge of the situation say that you are wrong.

The fact that you nevertheless insist on your assessment of the situation being correct simply shows how emotionally invested you are in your viewpoint.
2.22.2006 8:56pm
anonymous coward:
"Finally, was also aware of the Shleifer affair, wherein Summers seems to have properly recused himself."

Uh, the point is that he tried to rally support for Shleifer anyway. See links to Time and the WSJ in my previous post. (Personally I think Shleifer deserves to lose his job, however good he is.)

Maybe these articles are qualitatively inaccurate and Summers really was simply lynched by a leftist/PC mob, but the evidence tends to point away from that.
2.22.2006 8:58pm
anonymous coward:
Snip from WSJ since it's behind a paywall:
Mr. Summers also was drawn into a controversy over Andrei Shleifer, a star in Harvard's economics department. He and Harvard last year paid nearly $30 million to settle a civil suit brought by the U.S. government alleging that Mr. Shleifer violated conflict-of-interest rules by investing in Russia. The genesis of the case dates back a decade, when Mr. Shleifer headed up a prominent Harvard project, using government funding, to help Russia develop financial markets.

The unraveling of Mr. Shleifer's project was costly and embarrassing to Harvard. It hurt Mr. Summers, too, since the Harvard president is a close friend of Mr. Shleifer. The president officially recused himself from Harvard's internal deliberations over possible discipline for Mr. Shleifer but testified in a deposition that he urged a dean to protect the professor. Harvard didn't discipline Mr. Shleifer, angering some of its faculty.
2.22.2006 9:03pm
Aaron Bergman (mail):
I have no doubt different elements were involved, but the links provided, such as the Slate and Yglesias piece, are not at all conclusive in the manner being suggested, not even close, despite various repetitions of this same theme.

What exactly would be "conclusive" to you?

You might ask, why, after all these "non-PC" issues that Summers supported, it wasn't until the forcing out of Kirby that this all really came to a head. The answer is that, except for a rather vocal minority on both sides, "PC" is pretty much a non-issue on all the campuses I've been on. Funding and academic politics and ego-massaging are infinitely more important, especially for a university president.
2.22.2006 10:06pm
Michael B (mail):
"The fact that you nevertheless insist on your assessment of the situation being correct ..." Commenterlein

Your expression of contempt notwithstanding, my position was and is that I remain highly skeptical (i.e., without forming an absolute opinion one way or the other). I also expressed some of the reasons for that great skepticism in the second paragraph of my prior post. Too, I referenced Harvard Sold Larry Summers Down the Charles River by Amity Shlaes as well as Alan Dershowitz's Coup Against Summers a Dubious Victory for the Politically Correct. Dershowitz has been a professor at the Harvard for a lengthy period of time, so perhaps he knows some of that "actual inside or close-up knowledge" you confidently presume falls entirely within your set of opinions on the subject. Some excerpts from the Dershowitz piece:

"The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which forced Summers's resignation by voting a lack of confidence in him last March and threatening to do so again on Feb. 28, is only one component of Harvard University and is hardly representative of widespread attitudes on the campus toward Summers. The graduate faculties, the students, and the alumni generally supported Summers for his many accomplishments. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences includes, in general, some of the most radical, hard-left elements within Harvard's diverse constituencies. And let there be no mistake about the origin of Summers's problem with that particular faculty: It started as a hard left-center conflict. Summers committed the cardinal sin against the academic hard left: He expressed politically incorrect views regarding gender, race, religion, sexual preference, and the military.

"The original no-confidence motion contained an explanatory note that explicitly referenced "Mr. Summers' apparently ongoing convictions about the capacities and rights not only of women but also of African-Americans, third-world nations, gay people, and colonized peoples." The note also condemned Summers for his 2002 speech in which he said calls from professors and students for divestment from Israel were "anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."

"Although the explanatory note was eventually removed from the motion, it was the 400-pound gorilla in the room. Summers was being condemned for expressing views deemed offensive by some of the faculty."

Further, I continue to fail to see the rationale for the assignment of guilt by association vis-a-vis Shleifer. Notes about Summers attempting to rally some support for his friend, after he has recused himself, do not appear incriminating, especially so as the specifics of what "rallying" support actually means have not been detailed. And as previously noted (yet this went unaddressed by any of the commentators), if the Shleifer affair had occurred in relation to a president who had been entirely blessed by the PC police comprising the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and elsewhere, I very much doubt much at all would have been made of this Shleifer affair. (Again referencing that second graph in my prior post.)
2.23.2006 1:05am
Kieran Jadiker-Smith (mail):
Okay, here's my idea:

Larry Summers should run for President. Yes, that president. He ought to head directly to Iowa and New Hampshire, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

I mean, isn't Summers the dream candidate for the Democrats? He was Clinton's treasury secretary and his fights with the Harvard faculty have earned him legions of moderate and conservative fans. Isn't Summers the ideal crossover candidate for a party desperately in need of a crossover candidate?

The main criticism of him is that he's a bull in a China shop. But that could be a brilliant marketing angle; just compare him to other pugnacious presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

The only downside is that some people at Harvard might come to see the presidency of the United States as some sort of fallback job for people who wash out of the presidency of Harvard. But their shock and horror at seeing their bete noire running the country -- and it being all their fault -- would be more than worth it.
2.23.2006 8:00am
Roger Sweeny (mail):
Another president--who like all the presidents interviewed for this article wanted their names kept out of it
from the ACTA article cited.

Kind of a sad statement.
2.23.2006 1:56pm
Aaron:
K J-S:

Brilliant!

Tom Anger:

Someone as pliable as, say, Condi?
Clown.
2.23.2006 2:36pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
No one, but no one, would be surprised if a major defense contractor fired its CEO for "recusing himself" from an internal investigation of a fiasco involving one of his friends in the company whose misconduct had resulted in a $30 million judgment against the company for fraud on the federal government. Especially if the CEO had secretly intervened in the investigation by urging leniency for his friend.

At that point the wonder would be why it took so long for the board of directors to can the guy.
2.23.2006 3:40pm
Michael B (mail):
"... internal investigation of a fiasco involving one of his friends in the company whose misconduct had resulted in a $30 million judgment against the company for fraud on the federal government." Tom Holsinger

Aka, guilt by association.

Additionally, the whole process of Summers's review was secretive, that's one of the reasons why Dershowitz's inside information is helpful and adds to the skeptical pov. Summers received no more due process than a drunk picked up during a police investigation, in fact, less so. No drunk is going to be charged, much less found guilty and sentenced, on a guilt by association ploy.

Or is all the information in the Alan Dershowitz (40+ years at Harvard) and the Amity Shlaes reviews of the subject simply being dismissed, tout court?

Too, and again, If the Shleifer affair had occurred in relation to a president who had been entirely blessed by the PC police comprising the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and elsewhere, I very much doubt much at all would have been made of this Shleifer affair.

The information in the Dershowitz and Shlaes reviews, among other articles on the subject, very much underscore that doubt. By contrast, Yglesias and James Traub, at Slate, may be doing little or nothing more than polishing the apple they're giving to the professors at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the faculty most prominently highlighted in Dershowitz's piece.

Then again, we don't really know, do we? And that's due to the secretive nature of the review Summers was put through. Due process. Not.
2.23.2006 4:55pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Michael B.,

Guilt by association is absolutely proper concerning major executive positions and moral turpitude, especially coupled with a multi-million dollar loss and interference with disciplinary proceedings against the perpetrator.

Summers was not a mere professor, or an academic dean. He was president of Harvard university. Not all relationships are the same - fiduciaries have higher duties than others, such as employees.

Summers' personal relationship with Shliefer, coupled with the fraud on the government ruling against Shliefer and Harvard, that Summers' own dealings with Shliefer merited investigation, if only to clear Summers' name so he could stay on as Harvard's president.
2.23.2006 6:11pm
Michael B (mail):
Yes, as you indicate, the ruling was against Shleifer and Harvard - not against Summers.

You continue to refrain from addressing many substantial items raised in prior posts, including the most conspicuous issues raised (e.g., as in the boldened text in my prior post, the issues raised in the Dershowitz piece). And lacking incriminating specifics, I disagree with your guilt by association charge - due process and transparency, not secretiveness and unsupported or poorly supported reassurances on the basis of someone's supposed authority.

Additionally, as something of a summary question, in what sense, specifically, was President Summers - not his friend - found guilty of anything, either in a court of law or within the closed, cloistered halls of Harvard? Please provide links and be as specific as possible. I fail to see why I should abandon any of my statements in any of my posts in this thread.
2.23.2006 7:13pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Michael B.,

My first post on this thread stated: "I personally agree with the criticism of Harvard here ...".

But I also feel that Harvard was remiss in not firing Summers years ago. Academic freedom is for academics, not administrators, especially not an administrator who secretly intervened on behalf of a friend whose fraud (moral turpitude) cost the company $30 million AFTER purportedly recusing himself from the disciplinary investigation of the friend.

Guilt by association at least merits investigation when the CEO is involved. Business is business. CEO's are held to higher standards than secretaries or professors.

And it isn't guilt by association when the administrator has personally committed wrongful acts, i.e., Summers' secret plea for Shliefer. THAT alone merited Summers' immediate termination.
2.23.2006 7:52pm
Michael B (mail):
Not firing Summers years ago? On the basis of what, years ago?

This has become repetitive so this will likely be my final here. Yes, I've read every post in this thread. But I asked for links and specifics, you're not exactly being transparent or forthcoming, not even a link or details concerning this "secret plea".

I've quoted from the Dershowitz piece, following are a couple of quotes from the Amity Shlaes piece:

"Harvard's management is now telling itself that Summers attempted too much ....

"This is self-deception. One set of stakeholders to recognize this is Harvard's undergraduates. A poll last weekend by the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, showed that undergraduates supported Summers 3-to-1. At least this group knows which decade this is. One student told the Crimson he liked Summers because Summers ran things 'more like a business.'"

Also:

"But Summers soon met trouble. The first rough patch came when he declined to consider divesting Harvard's holdings in Israel. About the same time a few star academics, annoyed that he demanded more teaching, huffed off to other universities.

"Last year, Summers angered women's studies majors by noting a simple reality: once you get three standard deviations out there on math aptitude tests, you find more boys than girls. The president's point was that even if you didn't like that fact, you probably wanted to address it. But the professors swarmed him, ending the debate."

And confirming the first quote above, from Dershowitz again:

"The graduate faculties, the students, and the alumni generally supported Summers for his many accomplishments."

And Dershowitz on the Shleifer affair:

"When Summers recused himself from any investigation of his friend Andre Shleifer for investing in Russian companies while he was consulting about the Russian economy, he was condemned by some who would have condemned him even more vociferously had he not recused himself."

And a final note from Dershowitz:

"Summers could do no right in the eyes of his radical critics, who could never forgive him for his perceived original sins and who saw an opportunity to build wider coalitions every time Summers took actions that alienated other groups, as a president -- especially an activist and sometimes abrasive president -- will inevitably do. Some less ideological critics of Summers's leadership style then joined the radicals in a cacophony of strange bedfellows, but the core of the opposition always remained the hard left.

"It was arrogant in the extreme for a plurality of a single faculty [the Faculty of Arts and Sciences] to purport to speak for the entire university, especially when that plurality is out of synch with the mainstream of Harvard. It was dangerous for the corporation to listen primarily to that faculty, without widely consulting other professors, students, and alumni who supported Summers. Now that this plurality of one faculty has succeeded in ousting the president, the most radical elements of Harvard will be emboldened to seek to mold all of Harvard in its image."

Despite all this, my extreme skepticism concerning the views of Traub, Yglesias and the goodly (keep my name anonymous!) professor who emailed Powerline is somehow suppose to be dismissed, tout court.

I don't think so. We disagree.
2.23.2006 9:38pm