Copyright The Financial Times
May 12 2006
At 4pm on a February afternoon this year, 200 professors from the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard University filed into the 190-year-old University Hall in the middle of Harvard Yard and settled down on the plastic folding chairs beneath the oil paintings and chandeliers. It was supposed to be a regular meeting of the teaching faculty. But some of the academics were about to launch what one of them would later describe as a Ã¬surprise attackÃ® on Larry Summers, Harvard president.
Twelve months earlier, Summers, leader since October 2001 of AmericaÃs oldest university, had survived a tumultuous no-confidence vote by the professors after suggesting in an off-the-record speech that Ã¬intrinsicÃ® physiological differences might be a big reason why there were more men than women in top jobs in science and engineering. The unrest had died down but today, suddenly, as the afternoon turned to dusk, he faced new criticisms about his abrasive management style and his personal links to an economics professor at the centre of a fraud scandal.
About half an hour into the meeting, after the president and senior deans had dealt with routine matters on the agenda and the meeting had moved on to questions, a round-faced man in his fifties who was not known for speaking at the faculty meetings, stood up and strode to the microphone. James Engell, the stern-voiced chair of the English department, looked across at the president who was sitting at a table at the front of the room, and went straight to the point: The faculty, he said, was Ã¬divided, demoralised and dispirited, and that hard as we work, and hard as the administration works, this university shows the signs of being paralysed, and of entering a new period of yet deeper paralysisÃ®.
Summers looked taken aback, according to people at the meeting, as one by one the professors rose in sombre succession to denounce him. Farish Jenkins, a 65-year-old professor of evolutionary biology, followed Engell to the microphone. Jenkins rarely attended the faculty meetings and had never spoken out publicly against Summers before. But now, clutching his notes in his right hand and looking around at the crowded room, he put into words what many of his distinguished colleagues were thinking – that Summers should go.
Ã¬Is it not time to reverse this tide of chaos and dysfunction,Ã® he said, in a low measured tone, Ã¬to appoint an acting president and to allow a new presidential search to be initiated?Ã®
As the professorsÃ stinging criticisms mounted, it became clear that this meeting on February 7 was a turning point in what had become a long-running struggle between the president and the Harvard academics. Just 14 days later the battle would reach its dramatic conclusion.
For SummersÃ critics, the fight was about ousting a barbarian president, a philistine and bully foisted on them from outside. He had hijacked their precious university, was using it as a pulpit for his odious views and was pushing Harvard without consultation in a disastrously wrong direction.
But Summers had set out to tackle what he believed was a dangerous complacency, in the new era of globalisation, among HarvardÃs brilliant but self-satisfied professors. He would later compare central parts of the university to a Yugoslav workersÃ co-operative – they had no incentives to adapt or modernise, until it was too late. In addition, some had allowed themselves to be dragged down by leftwing political correctness. For him there was so much at stake: the quality of undergraduate teaching; studentsÃ knowledge of the world outside America; whether Harvard could compete with US rivals such as Stanford or match the engineers and scientists that would soon be emerging from the vast campuses growing in China or India. If he failed now, HarvardÃs position was at stake. If Harvard lost its way, then the future governance of America, or even the world, was at risk, because HarvardÃs job was to train future leaders of the worldÃs only superpower.
At a time of pressing new questions in fields such as biology, technology and public health, universities in the US and Europe, including Oxford and Cambridge, face increasing rivalry, not only from each other but also from the private sector. Market pressures that were once felt only in blue-collar sectors of the economy are now being felt in the knowledge economy, causing similar stresses and strains. This is the story of what happened when these pressures reached into the rarefied heart of AmericaÃs oldest university.
To understand SummersÃ struggle, it is important to understand what had happened since he was appointed to raise HarvardÃs competitive metabolism four and a half years earlier. Then, in many ways, Harvard didnÃt seem to need changing. All Americans want their kids to go there. It is shorthand for establishment and excellence and success. The students who clamour to get through its doors (more than 22,000 applications this year for 1,650 places) go on to positions of leadership and power, channelling their wealth back into their alma materÃs $26bn endowment fund, the richest in the world. Its prestige and wealth attract the worldÃs most ambitious teachers and researchers – 45 Nobel prize winners have crouched over the desks in the offices and laboratories clustered around the halls, libraries and churches of 300-year-old Harvard Yard.
All seemed well in the autumn of 2001, but Summers thought differently. HarvardÃs 27th president believed that HarvardÃs mission had become blurred. His particular ire fell on the faculty of arts and sciences. FAS is only one of 10 independent parts that make up HarvardÃs whole – the others are the graduate schools of law, medicine, education, government, public health, business, divinity, design and advanced study – but it is the heart of the university, its oldest part, and the faculty responsible for teaching undergraduates and awarding PhDs. Here, Summers felt, there were reasons to worry. A survey of students at AmericaÃs top universities showed HarvardÃs undergraduates were among the least satisfied with their education. This survey showed, Summers thought, that Harvard was failing in one of its key missions: to teach its undergraduates well. Another troubling trend was grade inflation: about half the grades the professors awarded their students were As or A-minuses.
Within the faculty, Summers singled out for special vilification a small section of teachers in the humanities and some areas of what he called the Ã¬softerÃ® social sciences. He felt that these academics held inordinate sway and had hogged resources over the past decade when FAS had been the fastest growing part of the university. He attacked what he called their entrenched sense of entitlement and prerogative. Despite FASÃs overall growth, science was not expanding nearly fast enough, he felt. AmericaÃs brightest science graduates, he found, avoided HarvardÃs moribund labs and chose fizzier departments on AmericaÃs west coast for research. Yet the big changes in society, breakthroughs that would affect humanity for centuries, were happening in science, which he also knew was attracting the biggest pools of money from government, research agencies and alumni.
Summers repeatedly said that one problem was that HarvardÃs big-name professors spent too much time focusing on their research or outside consulting and not enough on teaching. On average, he said, Harvard professors spent only 50 hours a year in class. They could take one in every four years off for personal research. When undergraduates did see their professors it was in packed lecture halls, while smaller seminars were delegated to less qualified teaching assistants. The president warned the faculty that although Harvard might be the best, it couldnÃt count on always being the best. Ã¬When we looked at what the agenda of the new president should be, it was about, how do we continue to reinvent ourselves?Ã® a member of the search committee to appoint Summers told me.
Summers, 46 when he became president, also insisted that the university hire younger professors. The median age was nearly 60. He wanted younger less-established scholars who still had their best work ahead of them.
At his installation ceremony, Summers said the 21st century was Ã¬the century of biology and life sciencesÃ®. He wanted Harvard to address the burning issues of the present-day and avoid a preoccupation with the past. He asked why students rarely admitted never having read a Shakespeare play but found it Ã¬acceptable not to know a gene from a chromosome or the meaning of exponential growthÃ®. As his programme got up and running, new funding included $40m in a stem-cell institute.
Ã¬Summers recognised that the scientific method, theories and data are the organising principles of our society,Ã® said a Harvard economics professor who was a supporter of Summers. Ã¬This is the way of economics and the natural sciences, it is not the way of the humanities, and it is truly threatening to a lot of schools.Ã®
Summers felt that it was up to the president to lead the university in its transformation. Past presidents had taken a back seat to the professors, focusing on non-controversial areas such as fundraising. He used the analogy of a basketball game: the professors thought they were Michael Jordan and the presidentÃs role was to cheer from the sidelines. But from now on, Summers would say privately, he was Michael Jordan.
HarvardÃs grandees, when they hired Summers, knew they were getting someone who wanted to be much more than a passive administrator. He had an impressive pedigree. Two of his uncles, Kenneth Arrow and Paul Samuelson, had won Nobel prizes in economics. Summers, who grew up in suburban Pennsylvania where both his mother and father were economics professors, was something of an academic wunderkind. He went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not Harvard, as an undergraduate. But later, at 28, he became HarvardÃs then youngest tenured professor and went on to win the biannual John Bates Clark medal for the most outstanding American economist under 40. In 1991 he went to Washington to become chief economist at the World Bank. In 1999, at 44, he succeeded Robert Rubin as the Clinton administrationÃs Treasury Secretary, a job that ended with the coming of the Bush White House.
At Harvard, the first sign of resistance to SummersÃ new regime came almost immediately when he questioned the work of Cornel West, a black superstar professor in HarvardÃs department of African and African American studies. Summers told West in a private conversation, which West quickly made public in the press, that the latter was spending too much time on Democratic party politics outside the university, accused him of grade inflation, and raised doubts about the scholarly value of his popular books and his contributions to a rap CD. Summers refused to comment publicly on this. The alleged remarks, however, caused uproar among WestÃs supporters, who regarded him as an innovator who was reaching younger audiences. But Summers felt that for too long the African American department – and other departments – had been allowed to expand and prosper for reasons other than academic excellence, such as under-representation of blacks in top jobs. Summers was no longer going to tolerate this. West left for Princeton, one of HarvardÃs main rivals.
Other conflicts centred on attempts to redirect resources to pay for SummersÃ new priorities. FAS objected fiercely when Summers tried to encourage alumni to give money more widely to other parts of the university – to the poorer schools of education, public health and government, or for special science projects – rather than solely to the relatively wealthy FAS. On top of this, SummersÃ day-to-day activist role was provoking resentment. In the crucial committee meetings where decisions were taken about whom to admit as new professors, Summers spoke up more loudly than previous presidents, asking the assembled professors and outside guest experts whether they were sure about candidatesÃ contributions to their fields and to explain their reasoning more carefully. Many of the distinguished professors, world authorities in their subjects, felt the president, as outstanding an economist as he might well be, was overstepping the mark by passing judgment on issues he knew little about.
Ã¬He himself is not widely educated,Ã® said Judith Ryan, a professor of German literature. I met Ryan, a 63-year-old Australian who speaks with a mid-Atlantic drawl, in her office near Harvard Square. On her walls were pictures of Rilke and Kafka, watching as Ryan ate a late, rushed lunch of yoghurt and Starbucks coffee. She attended the faculty meeting in University Hall on February 7 and was one of the academics who stepped up to the microphone to criticise Summers.
Ã¬He is a brilliant economist but not really very curious about how other disciplines function and what is at stake today in those disciplines,Ã® she said. Ryan regularly sat in on tenure meetings with Summers. Ã¬He really tends to translate things into economic models and he would start to talk about his impressions of the field. Our visitors were astonished. He would ask the meaning of words that I thought were part of most peopleÃs vocabulary.Ã® Ã¬SyntaxÃ® was one example, she said.
In RyanÃs critique of Summers, there is something of a whiff of snobbery, or at least unease, that Harvard was being led by an economics nerd who disdained literature for cheap thrillers (or, at a push, The Economist), who was often badly dressed, who looked jowly, and around whom swirled countless stories about how he ate with his mouth open or fell asleep at dinners. Ã¬The students liked his slight geekiness,Ã® she said. Ã¬One could see that at the freshman barbecue when they flocked around him. They may have seen something of themselves in him whereas we expected someone of mature judgment and wisdom.Ã®
But Ryan, who when I talked to her had just returned from teaching a course on Ã¬Lives Ruined By LiteratureÃ® to a class of 90 undergraduates, also defended her faculty against SummersÃ claims of poor teaching. Ã¬Of course there is always a need to update your courses but we were doing that,Ã® she said. The real problem was not that professors chose to spend less time with students but that class sizes are simply too large – FAS in fact has too few resources. Ã¬Does grade inflation really matter if everyone understands this is what is happening?Ã®
Ryan also expressed misgivings shared by some of the other professors I spoke to about the pro-science direction Summers was taking the university. Ã¬He had a very present-day notion of the aims of education,Ã® she said with a shrug. Ã¬He didnÃt see the point of studying ancient Greece.Ã®
Despite the objections to what many saw as his meddling, Summers could perhaps have won over critics such as Ryan and got away with his agenda if he had been more diplomatic. But it was not part of his character to be emollient, which is something you realise straight away when you meet the president of Harvard and dare to shake his hand. Summers is fantastically direct. He jumps on people, engaging their ideas, provocatively ripping apart their arguments. He has strong views and gives them.
Ã¬His family was one of constant debate,Ã® said one economist who collaborated with Summers early in his career. Ã¬Getting airtime in the Summers household was tough. Bob Summers – his father – was known as Ã«But BobÃ and it was hard for Larry to get a word in edgeways. In some ways Larry is unfortunately a victim of his background.Ã®
His defenders – mainly economists and people who worked with him in Washington – say SummersÃ style is simply the rough and tumble of the economics department. If he engages you, you should be pleased because he respects you. Ã¬He is actually incredibly open to different views and he relishes being challenged,Ã® Tim Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, who worked with Summers at the US Treasury, told me. Ã¬He uses that process of pushing back to think through issues more deeply.Ã®
Other people who worked closely with Summers in HarvardÃs administration say he was simply blind to the effects of his blunt opinions. Ã¬He has a gene missing,Ã® said one former senior administrator. Ã¬We would be in meetings together and afterwards I would say, Ã«For GodÃs sake, do you know what you did to that man?Ã He would pause and run the tape back through his mind – he has a formidable memory – and say, Ã«Really?Ã I would say Ã«You had better call him or drop him a note.ÃÃ®
But others saw a darker side. For many who had run up against his harsher judgments and manoeuvrings, he viewed life in brutish survival-of-the-fittest terms and was ready to humiliate rivals to get his own way. Ã¬He got into pissing matches with other academics about who was the best, and thatÃs not what the president should be doing,Ã® said one former Harvard academic.
In some of his public pronouncements, Summers was beginning to stray into AmericaÃs broader ideological battles that had polarised the nation since the election of George W. Bush, the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and the Afghan and Iraq wars. HarvardÃs faculty, especially those on the left, saw no role for their president in this and were appalled when he began to enunciate what they saw as rightwing opinions. In a series of early speeches, he frowned on a pervasive distrust of the military and said that Harvard people had a duty to be more patriotic after September 11.
In autumn 2002, during an address at HarvardÃs Memorial Church, he warned about a worldwide rise in anti-Semitism. He criticised a campaign by some professors to force Harvard to stop its investments in Israel, mentioning it in the same speech as synagogue burnings in Europe. Ã¬Serious and thoughtful people,Ã® he said, Ã¬are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not in their intent.Ã®
Marne Levine, his then chief-of-staff, spoke to him before he made the comments: Ã¬He thought long and hard, and knew there was potential for a mixed reaction and some backlash that could create complications. But he said, Ã«This is something that needs to be said.ÃÃ®
Summers was to cause the biggest furore at Harvard on January 14 2005, a date that some professors still refer to ominously as Ã¬1/14Ã®. After sandwiches during a private conference held at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Ã¬Diversifying the Science and Engineering WorkforceÃ®, Summers waded into the heart of feminist politics when he tried to explain why more of the top jobs in science and engineering were held by men than women. He told the invited
audience of about 40 people that he discounted traditional explanations, according to the transcript of the talk that SummersÃ office finally released, reluctantly, four weeks later. It wasnÃt primarily because society channelled girls towards softer subjects such as nursing, nor was it chiefly discrimination – that the people who appointed candidates were white males and preferred people just like themselves. He said girlsÃ tastes had something to do with it – Ã¬I guess my experience with my two-and-a-half-year-old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, Ã«Look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck,Ã tells me something.Ã®
But apart from this, there were two main reasons why more women werenÃt in senior jobs. He said he would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, but he thought that one reason was that women preferred not to work the long and punishing hours required by high-powered jobs. The second reason – the one that would cause most of the fuss – centred on what he called the greater Ã¬intrinsic aptitudeÃ® of men over women. As demonstrated by variability of test scores in statistical distributions, a simple observable fact was that the brightest young scientists tended to be male, not female.
Ã¬So my best guess, to provoke you, of whatÃs behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between peopleÃs legitimate family desires and employersÃ current desire for high power and high intensity,Ã® Summers said. Ã¬That in the special case of science and engineering there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialisation and continuing discrimination.Ã®
The speech was supposed to be off the record but when one academic, an MIT biologist, ran from the hall saying she felt physically sick, the shockwave soon ran around the world. One person to feel the blast was Samantha Power, a young Harvard academic who had become close to Summers. Ã¬I was in East Timor in a malaria-infested internet cafe and the crackling TV said Ã«Harvard says women inferior to men in science,ÃÃ® said Power when I tracked her down by phone in Washington. Ã¬I e-mailed him, Ã«You didnÃt?Ã He wrote back immediately, Ã«Alas, I did.Ã Some percentage of him was upset that he couldnÃt ask these questions in the spirit of free inquiry. But the vast majority of his being was mortified at his own lack of political radar and at his intellectual imprecision. I was surprised by the speech, but I was unsurprised by the unmediated candour. Larry had told me I was full of shit on several occasions, but I never had the impression it was because I was a woman; usually it was because I was making a sloppy argument, and his challenges made me get my game up.Ã®
SummersÃ record is not anti-female in any way. He has a history of helping women advance their careers. In Washington especially, he gathered around him a group of clever and adoring young female advisers. He told them that he got good value for money by hiring them because they were undervalued by society. His first wife, Victoria, was a high-achieving tax expert at the IMF. At the World Bank he had famously argued that the best way for rich nations to spend their aid was to invest in womenÃs education in the developing world. Yet Summers was adamant that no area of inquiry should be off limits just because it caused offence. He believed there were observable differences between the aptitude of men and women in tests of science and mathematics ability that could not be ignored. His critics said he had misread the literature – or not read it at all. Summers thought they were using the speech as an opportunity to further their own careers.
In the ensuing firestorm Summers reluctantly backed down, at least in public. He set up two task forces to study the representation of women in the university and gave an extra $50m to put their recommendations into effect. Ã¬My January hypothesis substantially understated the impact of socialisation and discrimination, including implicit attitudes – patterns of thought to which all of us are unconsciously subject,Ã® he said in a statement. Ã¬The issue of gender difference is far more complex than comes through in my comments, and my remarks about variability went beyond what the research has established.Ã®
The apology, however, didnÃt quell the revolt. Instead, the speech had unlocked the broader frustrations about SummersÃ policies and managerial style. FAS academics now freely aired their complaints on the campus and at the regular faculty meetings.
Ã¬I thought to myself: Cornel West, that could have been me,Ã® J. Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology in the African and African American studies department, told me. Matory was upset by SummersÃ treatment of West and became one of the presidentÃs most vociferous critics. He interpreted SummersÃ behaviour in brutal social anthropological terms of the strong preying on the weak, and felt he needed to speak out. Ã¬The Palestinians, that could have been me,Ã® he said. Ã¬Women, that could have been me. They came for my neighbour yesterday. I was still at risk. I stepped forward.Ã®
Matory acted. He proposed that a no-confidence motion be put on the agenda of the next faculty meeting, and on March 15 2005, eight weeks after the comments about women, FAS academics packed into the Loeb Drama Centre, a modernist concrete-wooden theatre in Cambridge and, according to the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, they Ã¬sat in the aisles or stood against the wall once all 556 seats were takenÃ®.
The motion was without precedent in modern-day Harvard and the first hour of the meeting was consumed by a debate about whether the vote should take place at all. As Summers sat on the stage, his supporters read aloud from the pages of John Stuart MillÃs On Liberty and warned about a new McCarthyism. The vote was symbolic since only the Harvard Corporation, the universityÃs governing council, has the power to sack a president, but the academics wanted to send a message to Summers. In a secret ballot the motion was passed by 218 to 185 votes, with 18 abstentions. As the result was announced, Summers Ã¬put his hand to his mouth and his expression changed to one of surprise and deep disappointmentÃ®, according to the Crimson. Despite the vote of no-confidence, the corporation backed Summers. He survived into the next academic year. But the terms of trade had changed and fresh problems began to emerge concerning SummersÃ treatment of William Kirby, dean of FAS.
Kirby, an admired China scholar, was well liked in the university, professors say, but was not generally considered to be a successful administrator. Progress on a review of the undergraduate curriculum, entrusted to him, had been slow and Summers didnÃt think he was tough enough. On January 27 this year, while Summers was in Davos and Kirby was en route from New York, the Crimson published a leak that the dean was planning to step down after less than four years in office. The story, citing unnamed sources close to the central administration, said Kirby was leaving because Summers had told him to go.
Kirby had intended to make his announcement in February. But as a result of the story the dean brought forward his resignation. To some, the leak looked planned and there was speculation that it had come from SummersÃ office. SummersÃ office denies this strenuously and some professors agree that the leak may have come from elsewhere. Nevertheless it was read as a show of strength by the president and another instance of heavy-handed presidential manipulation. It was especially surprising, many in FAS say, since Kirby was widely viewed as being loyal to Summers and, in the words of one professor, Ã¬often did SummersÃ dirty work for himÃ®. Summers had betrayed his kindly lieutenant. That perception set the backdrop for the attack on the president amid University HallÃs oil paintings and chandeliers on February 7.
It was meant to be a routine FAS meeting to discuss the curriculum review. But the academics had turned out in double the usual number, and they gave Kirby a standing ovation. The first two speakers at the microphone – preceding Engell and Jenkins – listed the qualities they wanted to see in the person Summers chose as KirbyÃs successor. But then Engell and Jenkins delivered their harsher criticisms aimed more directly at the president and after them the pointed blows fell thick and fast.
Suzanne Preston Blier, a 56-year-old professor of art and architecture who came to the meeting even though she was on leave, said the turbulence caused by Summers was hurting fundraising. The proportion of alumni who were donating money to Harvard had fallen, she told the meeting. In addition, named sponsors were not coming forward for some of the big new projects. This was a sensitive area for Summers. Jack Meyer, the fund manager who had built up HarvardÃs endowment over the past 15 years, had abruptly left a year earlier amid criticism of the million-dollar salaries paid to some of his team. His loss was considered by some in AmericaÃs university system as a black mark on the presidentÃs record.
Fundraising and Kirby were subjects that Summers probably expected. But then, near the end of the meeting, Frederick Abernathy, an elderly, soft-spoken professor of engineering who had not talked publicly at a faculty meeting since Summers took office, stood up and asked what the president knew about the Andrei Shleifer affair.
Shleifer and his wife, Nancy Zimmerman, a former Goldman Sachs bond options trader, had invested in Russia in the 1990s, taking advantage of ShleiferÃs position as director of a Harvard project that oversaw the US governmentÃs aid programme in Russia helping with post-communist privatisation and establishing functioning capital markets. The whole story was told in the latest edition of Institutional Investor, a leading investment magazine, and many of the professors in the room had read it. (Many had received photocopies of the story in unmarked envelopes in their faculty mailboxes.) In 2004, a judge in a federal district court in Boston found that Shleifer was liable for conspiring to defraud the US government by violating federal conflict-of- interest rules, and in August 2005 Harvard agreed to pay $26.5m after a long legal battle. (In the settlement, Shleifer himself paid a further $2m, although neither he nor Harvard admitted wrongdoing.) Despite the ruling, Shleifer was still a Harvard professor. Shleifer was a close friend of Summers. The implication was that Summers was protecting his friend.
Ã¬I really think that Harvard was defending the indefensible,Ã® Abernathy told me later by e-mail. Ã¬It offended my sense of values and what I hope are the values of the institution.Ã® In fact, Harvard had not been able to start its own investigation until the governmentÃs case was settled, and since August a Harvard ethics committee had been looking into ShleiferÃs conduct but Summers was bound by faculty rules not to disclose this. In answer to Abernathy, Summers told the academics gathered in University Hall that because of his personal links he had disqualified himself from any of HarvardÃs dealings with Shleifer.
Ã¬We all saw that as a Washington lawyerÃs non-answer,Ã® a professor told me afterwards.
When pressed by Abernathy about whether he had any personal opinion about the case, Summers said he didnÃt know the facts.
Ã¬A gasp went around,Ã® said one person who was there. Ã¬The provost rolled his eyes. Afterwards, people were saying, Ã«Does he think we are children that he would lie to us?Ã It was the moment the presidency disappeared.Ã®
After Abernathy, Judith Ryan stepped up and publicly asked Summers why FAS shouldnÃt hold another presidential vote of no-confidence, and finally Daniel Fisher, a physics professor, ended the questioning when, according to Harvard Magazine, he asked why the corporation could Ã¬collectively fail to conclude that the future of Harvard would be far better with a new president.Ã® In all, 15 people spoke against Summers during the course of the meeting. None defended him.
Within the university, the students had probably been his most vocal supporters. They had appreciated his global outlook and his focus on undergraduate teaching, flocking to his lectures and mobbing him on the campus, asking him to sign dollar bills. But among the professors, Summers had built few real alliances beyond the economics department. Now even his closest allies, including those in the professional schools, hesitated to defend a character they saw as flawed.
The corporation was also beginning to waver. It was not made up of the same people who had appointed Summers five years earlier. Conrad Harper, the only African-American member, had resigned in protest following the women in science comments and after Summers was given a $17,000 pay rise, and said Summers should resign too. There had been other changes. Some of the new members were sympathetic to the facultyÃs complaints. In their private meetings, SummersÃ defenders on the corporation still referred to FASÃs most implacable presidential critics as Hizbollah and their campaign as a jihad. But as the rebellion mounted, the corporation concluded that Harvard was becoming ungovernable as long as Summers remained president.
Late in the afternoon of Thursday February 9, Judith Ryan left her desk and walked to the university offices, where she handed in a motion for a second vote of no confidence. Ã¬The administrative assistants said they were relieved that finally something was happening,Ã® Ryan told me. Daniel Fisher put in a separate motion, calling on the corporation to reassert effective governance and leadership of Harvard.
A faculty meeting was scheduled for February 28 but the vote never took place. On Wednesday February 15, Summers decided to quit. He told the corporation and left on Thursday afternoon for a long-planned skiing trip with his children in Utah.
Ã¬He was going to lose the second no-confidence vote,Ã® said David Laibson, a Harvard economics professor and Summers supporter. Ã¬The professional schools were not in the fray, but if they went on to hold their own meetings I would have forecast that the business school would be for him, the Kennedy School of Government for him, the law school weakly in support. The medical school was hard to predict, but the others would have been tied or against him.Ã®
Back in Harvard the following Tuesday, at around quarter past one, Summers sent an e-mail to the entire Harvard community saying that Ã¬after considerable reflectionÃ® he would step down at the end of June. Ã¬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 HarvardÃs future,Ã® he wrote. It was the shortest term served by a Harvard president for 144 years. Later, after a brief conference call with reporters, he walked outside Massachusetts Hall, his redbrick office in Harvard Yard, where a large group of students had gathered. Some chanted Ã¬Five more yearsÃ® and Ã¬Larry, Larry, Larry,Ã® and held placards reading Ã¬Stay, Summers, Stay.Ã®
Ã¬I just would ask all of you to remember as I do,Ã® Summers told them, Ã¬that HarvardÃs greatest days are in the future, and that we all, working together, can build that future.Ã®
After taking a yearÃs sabbatical, Summers plans to return to Harvard in 2007 as a University Professor, HarvardÃs highest-ranking scholarly post, to teach and do research in economic policy. It is perhaps surprising he wants to remain at the scene of such rancour and division. There have been hints of a lucrative job at Citigroup, where his former mentor Robert Rubin is a director, or other consulting. But in December Summers, who is now divorced from his first wife, married Elisa New, a professor of English at Harvard, who is as bright and airy a figure, it seems, as Summers is robust and looming.
Harvard, meanwhile, is searching for SummersÃ successor. The corporation, for its part, is trying to rebuild its reputation and authority, which were battered by the events of the past 12 months. Several people intimately involved in the universityÃs fundraising say that some important donors who supported SummersÃ agenda have withdrawn promises of millions of dollars since SummersÃ fall and are waiting to see which direction Harvard will now take. The search committee could select a woman, a first for Harvard. It could pick a president with a humanities background who would be more acceptable to parts of FAS. It is most likely to try to select a leader who will embrace SummersÃ policies for change, or at least some of them, but will have the smoother persuasive skills and tact needed to put them into effect. Summers believes there is a danger of a second option – a president who will abandon his attempts at modernisation to make peace with his enemies in FAS. That, he believes, would be a tragedy.
Additional reporting by Rebecca Knight.
Graham Bowley – The Financial Times
Copyright The Financial Times