Another good take:
By RUTH R. WISSE
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.