T Nation

Summers Forced Out at Harvard


Take-home message from liberal academia: dissenting views shall not be tolerated...

Here's Alan Dershowitz on the subject:



In the minds of at least some vocal members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, expressing such politically incorrect views is the academic equivalent of provoking Islamic extremists by depicting Prophet Mohammed in a political cartoon. Radical academics do not, of course, burn down buildings, at least not since the 1970s. Instead they introduce motions of no confidence and demand resignations of those who offend their sensibilities (while insisting on complete freedom of speech for those with whom they agree -- free speech for me but not for thee!).

And another good column -- basically Clintonia economics wasn't communist enough for the loud plurality of faculty Dershowitz described:



[i] 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.

Next came the issue of Harvard's portfolio manager, Jack Meyer, who was paid millions for making billions for Harvard's endowment. Academics found that pay-to-endowment ratio too irritating to bear, and Meyer departed. Many months passed before Harvard replaced Meyer with Mohamed El-Erian, Pimco's bond star. [/i]


The politically correct left has always taken that viewpoint. This is not surprising.

Free speech is only good when it agrees with their opinions!


It's a shame, what he said was completely innocuous. Apparently the students like him too. Sad to see extremist feminism and identity politics still dominate American higher education.


The Washington Post had a good editorial as well:


[i]Perhaps most explosively, Mr. Summers raised the possibility that the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering faculties might reflect innate gender differences in ability. His claim was not that women were less intelligent on average, but rather that fewer women than men might be outstandingly bad or outstandingly good at math, with the result that the pool of math geniuses from which universities recruit is disproportionately male. "I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true," he noted. But he was immediately branded a sexist.

Mr. Summers can be undiplomatic, as he acknowledged in his resignation letter. But university professors, of all people, should not require mollycoddling; they should be willing to embrace leaders who ask hard questions about how well they are doing their jobs. The tragedy is that the majority at Harvard seems to have known that. But, in university politics as elsewhere, loud and unreasonable minorities can trump good sense.[/i]

You know you're pretty far to the left of center when a former high-level Clinton official is far too right-wing for you, and the Washington Post is basically saying you're radical.


Okay, let's look at this the same way we look at other things.

The guy is a leader with a knack for sticking his feet in his mouth. What he said hardly matters other than it caused a shitstorm and pissed off the people he is supposed to work with.

We don't know the whole story at all, but are simply being told the only reason is because of some possibly suspect statements. Perhaps the guy was a total dick in other respects and nobody wants to work with him.

Sometimes that happens. Universities are somewhat like old boy's networks, hell, they are damned near the definition of it. Having worked at a university more than once I can tell you they do get some whackjobs from time to time.

Anyway, who knows, but I'd want a lot more insight than this if I were to make a judgment on it.


They would have drawn and quartered him if he would have said what Bryant Gumbel said.


Actually, no, what he said had all kinds of impact - including a $50 million price tag and a no-confidence vote. None of these qualify as 'hardly matters'.

Again, it wasn't merely suspect statements - Summers raised questions that challenged the professoriate orthodoxy. After that, his days were numbered.

Summers may have been a jerk, but specific events have set this in motion - the refusal to divest Harvard's money from Israel, the suggestion that maybe there is a biological bent to the reason men and women differ in representation in math and science, etc. Entrenched academics - who now stand on two legs, instead of four - don't much care for people challenging their status quo of power. The irony, of course, is the academy's professed devotion to diversity of ideas.

I think you are right - except this old boy's club is made up of radicals and the political correctness Gestapo.

I don't think this is quite the behind-the-scene situation you claim it is - ever since Summers made those comments, it has been a downward spiral for his career at Harvard. It has been quite public.

What Harvard wants is a cipher of the ivy covered tower, rubber stamping the academic orthodoxy.


Thunder, it almost seems as if you miss the intent of statements on purpose...

Anyway, if I bought the party line, as reported, I'd be saying the same stuff you are saying. I'm just not buying it at this point.


Isn't it a fact that in the overall intelligence curve, the tails are disproportionately male? The smartest and the dumbest people tend to be men, and women are more clustered in the middle. This does not mean that there is a difference in mean or median intelligence, but that men have a greater range of scores. I think that it has something to do with the xx versus xy genotypes...but I don't remember where I heard this, so take it with a grain of salt. I agree that politcal correctness was taken too far as regards Summers' comments.


Actually, no, I just keep up with the news and don't consider every abstraction a plausibility.

This makes my point - there is no party line. Allen Derschowitz is one of the biggest critics of this move - go read the article that Boston posted. The first no-confidence was about Summers' not going by the orthodoxy:

"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 importance of the following quote from Dershowitz's article should not be underrated.

"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 seems that Summers lost the confidence of more than just the radical leftist faculty. Summers needs to be held at least partially responsible for the failure of his presidency.

I am not sure the freedom of speech argument necessarily applies. It is one thing when a controversial professor makes controversial statements. It is another thing to consider when the controversial statements are made by the man who is supposed to represent the overall feeling of an entire institution. I think the fact that Summers has received the offer for a university professorship (NYT article) supports this assertion.

That being said, this is certainly a sad situation and highlights a sad state of affairs at Harvard.



Another good take:

Coup d'?cole
February 23, 2006; Page A17

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The resignation of Lawrence Summers as president of Harvard turns the spotlight on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), which has consecrated more time and energy to his ouster than to any other project of the past five years. Until now, all blame has been leveled at the president: "Fear and manipulation have been used to govern maliciously," charged one professor, who has since been awarded with a deanship. But now that these cowering professors have successfully unseated their president, scrutiny will quite rightly be leveled at them. What do they gain from their victory, and what does the rest of the university stand to lose?

The movement to unseat Mr. Summers remains a mystery to most people outside Harvard. In the early days of his presidency, he challenged several tenured professors to account for the direction of their research and teaching. After some faculty had signed a petition urging divestment from Israel, he warned against the recurrence of anti-Semitism in a new guise. At an academic conference on the under-representation of women in science, he speculated on the implications of the differences between male and female test scores. At convocation ceremonies he congratulated Harvard students who served in the ROTC, which had been banned from the campus since the days of the Vietnam War.

Each of these actions offended one faculty interest group or another, and jointly they signaled a bold style of leadership in a direction broadly perceived as "conservative" -- though it was in the service of once-liberal ideals.

Since most Americans think it appropriate for a president to thus demonstrate his stewardship and leadership, they could not understand why such actions should have triggered faculty revolt. Even members of the media had trouble understanding what the fuss was about: incredulous, for example, that academics would protest against any expressed opinion. The governing body that appointed Mr. Summers and gave him a mandate for change, the Harvard Corporation, seemed for its part to welcome the energy he brought to the job. Several neglected campus units, such as the Law School and the School of Education, flourished as a result of his interventions. Mr. Summers strongly supported new investments in science and technology, areas where Harvard had been falling behind.

Harvard students frankly blossomed under the special attention he paid them. No university president in my experience had ever taken such a warm personal interest in undergraduate education. Not surprisingly, the students return his affection, polling three to one in favor of his staying on. The day he announced his resignation, they were out in force in Harvard Yard, chanting "Five More Years!"

The student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, has been outspoken in its criticism of the faculty that demanded the president's ouster. "No Confidence in 'No Confidence'" ran the headline of an editorial demonstrating the spuriousness of the charges being brought against the president, and reminding faculty to stay focused on the educational process that ought to be its main concern.

Hence, supporters of the president are right to be dismayed by the corporation's decision to seek or to accept Mr. Summers's resignation. My colleague Alan Dershowitz calls it an "academic coup d'?tat by . . . the die-hard left of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences." A second colleague, Steven Pinker, thinks that the president may have lost the fight himself a year ago when he apologized to antagonists for his political incorrectness instead of holding his intellectual ground. For the moment, the attackers have won the day, asserting their right to dictate to the rest of the university the accommodations they favor.

But student response to the ouster suggests another long-term outcome. Although the activists of yesteryear may have found a temporary stronghold in the universities, a new generation of students has had its fill of radicalism. Sobered by the heavy financial burdens most of their families have to bear for their schooling, they want an education solid enough to warrant the investment. Chastened by the fall-out of the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family, they are wary of human experiments that destabilize society even further. Alert to the war that is being waged against America, they feel responsible for its defense even when they may not agree with the policies of the current administration. If the students I have come to know at Harvard are at all representative, a new moral seriousness prevails on campus, one that has yet to affect the faculty members because it does not yet know how to marshal its powers.

As long as FAS went about its business as usual, no one may have noticed its skewed priorities, but its political victory sets its actions and inaction in bolder relief. The same professors who fought so hard to oust their president did not once since the events of 9/11 consider whether they owed any responsibilities to a country at war.

FAS continued to ban ROTC from campus on the excuse that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy discriminates against homosexuals. Many students realize that this is tantamount to letting others do the fighting while advertising their moral superiority. Several years ago, the Undergraduate Council voted to give ROTC its approval. Although the faculty ignored this vote and simply waited for that cohort to graduate, other students will sooner or later stand up for their contemporaries who want to serve their country.

"Harvard's greatness has always come from its ability to evolve as the world and its demands change -- to educate and draw forth the energy of each successive generation in new and creative ways." These words by Mr. Summers as he announced his resignation may yet prove true, although he would not be the one to put them into effect. It is inconceivable that the currently entrenched culture of grievance should be allowed to continue to sour the university. Perhaps the corporation ought to have put FAS into receivership before giving up on its president. Since it has given in for the moment, we will have to wait a little longer for this new student generation to teach us courage.

Ms. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard.


Did you know that you literally have to arm your kids against liberal profs? Otherwise, they come home telling you how evil you are, America is Nazi Germany re-born, and other such crap. I have had numerous parents tell me horror stories over the years.

Our universities have been captured by the Left (and I mean the faaarrrrrr Left). Look at what some people post even on this site.

When some prof convinces your kid that the American Constitution is really a document of repression, then you'll know what I mean here.


Sure, buddy.



Brad, you look much older than I thought you were.