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Dershowitz on Summers:

Alan Dershowitz weighs in on the Summers resignation in the Boston Globe and it is safe to say he isn't too happy with his colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (opening and closing paragraphs excerpted):

Coup against Summers a dubious victory for the politically correct

A PLURALITY of one faculty has brought about an academic coup d'etat against not only Harvard University president Lawrence Summers but also against the majority of students, faculty, and alumni. 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.

***

It was arrogant in the extreme for a plurality of a single faculty 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. If they succeed, Harvard will become a less diverse and less interesting institution of learning governed by political-correctness cops of the hard left. This is what happened in many European universities after the violent student protests of the late 1960s. It should not be allowed to happen at Harvard in the wake of the coup d'etat engineered by some in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Update:

And this from Harvard literature professor Ruth R. Wisse:

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.

***

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.

The NJ Annuitant (mail):
Professor Dershowitz has hit the nail on the head.
2.24.2006 11:16am
JLR (mail):
A question: How will Summers's resignation in and of itself affect the Law School (if at all)? Also, is Dean Elena Kagan likely to be promoted to President? How might that destabilize the Law School specifically? Thank you.
2.24.2006 11:19am
Hans Bader (mail):
What a double standard. Summers' remarks about women in the sciences (i.e., that it is possible, as scholars claim, that there are fewer women at the bottom and the top of the bell curve, and that this might play a secondary role in the limited number of female science faculty at Harvard) were so much less biased than those of many of the left-wing members of Harvard's board who reputedly forced him out.

Take Harvard board member Nannerl Keohane. Keohane was president of Wellesley and then Duke. At Wellesley, she let leftist demonstrators intimidate white students who disagreed with them. A friend of my brother's had her car vandalized by members of Ethos, a group of angry young black women, because she had published sexist and racist statements made by members of Ethos. When she complained, Keohane expressed her apologies to Ethos that Ethos had been characterized "hatefully." But it was Ethos' intimidating behavior that was hateful.

And as the Dartmouth Review reported (March 13, 2000):

"Even disturbingly personal death threats won't be enough justification for a University president to help you if you're a conservative activist. Berin Szoka and Jay Strader, two Duke University students who are now editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively, of the Duke Review, got a yawn out of the administration when Strader told Duke University president Nan Keohane of the threats made against them this past April. 'It's probably just a very scary way of blowing off steam,' she said dismissively."

Keohane's deliberate indifference towards a climate of racial intimidation directed at whites should be recognized as an example of gross discrimination in violation of federal law. (See Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education (2d Cir. 1999) (Section 1981 holds school officials liable for deliberate indifference to racial harassment of students)).

Failure to protect someone against harassment because of their race is itself a form of harassment clearly forbidden by federal law, even if the victim is white.

This is especially true when it involves vandalism and threats that put the person in fear of her physical safety. Bowen v. Missouri Department of Social Services, 311 F.3d 878 (8th Cir. 2002) (white woman had racial harassment claim based on black woman's stomping on her cake and earlier telling her "you kiss my a__, white b_tch," and calling her "menopausal white b_tch" and saying let's "settle this once and for all" outside) (overturning summary judgment for defendant).

The fact that such harassment is justified in politically correct terms is no defense. See Huckabay v. Moore, 142 F.3d 233, 238-39 (5th Cir. 1998) (harassment because "blacks had suffered for two hundred years and now it was whites' turn"; court held that this harassment claim was viable); Underwood v. Northwest Health Services, 57 F.Supp.2d 1289, 1303 (M.D. Ala. 1989) ("baseless accusations of racism" supported white employee's harassment claim).

Moreover, failing to protect whites just to appease angry blacks is itself discriminatory. Weberg v. Franks, 229 F.3d 514, 524 (6th Cir. 2000) (suspension of white by official who admitted he did so based on blacks' "perceptions," independent of whether they had merit, to maintain workplace peace).

Keohane should be kicked out of Harvard, not Summers. She is the one with an egregious history of discriminatory acts.
2.24.2006 11:27am
Chukuang:
Let's not forget that FAS is hardly made up primarily of the radical left. It also includes all the sciences, econ., etc. and is the single largest portion of the university both in terms of faculty and students. Moreover, the sciences have far more faculty than even the largest humanities departments such as History and English. And as Matthew Yglesias has pointed out, Summers came in and basically told the humanities they were worthless and would get their funding reduced. I personally know faculty chairs who were called into meetings not long after Summers arrival and told on the spot to state specifically what concrete benefits they had to offer society and the university. And I'm not talking about Folklore and Mythology here, but English and History. Summers wanted every department to justify itself as an econ department. Now if Harvard only wants to support subjects that can convey an easily quantifiable social good, that's their business. But obviously faculty in English, History, Anthropology, etc. are going to have strongly divergent views on the merits of this approach. Moreover, it constitutes a substantial shift in how the university views itself.

See also Dan Drezner's take.

To put it mildly, Dershowitz his is own agenda here has has been a big supporter of Summers partly because of their similar views on Isreal (which is not to say that these views are wrong).

And as so many have pointed out before, it was his firing of Kirby (and the idiotic way in which it was handled), a fine man and a fine administrator who himself was trying to make big and important changes in the cirriculum, than ultimately did Summers in.

Personally, I though Summers had a lot more good to offer the university than bad and I'm sad that things turned out the way the did.
2.24.2006 11:42am
John (mail):
There is something almost disingenuous about Dershowitz's remarks. If Summers had such broad support, where were the votes of confidence from the other faculties? Where was that resolution from the law faculty, for example, expressing its admiration for Summers?

What did the Harvard Corporation have to go on here?
2.24.2006 11:42am
Commenterlein (mail):
Todd,

I know you really really want to believe that Summers was forced out by a left-wing conspiracy because he had non-pc viewpoints. And Dershowitz kindly provides you with the one piece of ammunition to support this view.

But could you kindly acknowledge that everyone else with inside knowledge (and a lot more inside knowledge than Dershowitz), including friends and supporters of Summers, say that his departure had entirely different causes?

I had dinner with some of Larry Summer's closest supporters on the faculty last night, and the sad tales of Larry's outrageous and arrogant behavior towards other faculty members they told are truly mind-boggling. Larry Summers has the emotional and social intelligence of a dead turtle, always believes himself to be the smartest guy in the room, and loves to lecture other people on their own fields of specialization, whether he actually knows anything about the field or not. He has managed to literally insult probably more than a hundred Harvard faculty members in person over the last five years. With his level of social competence, it is surprising that he survived that long on the job.
2.24.2006 11:49am
Steve:
It makes no logical sense that a nonbinding vote of no confidence by a single radical faction is all it takes to oust the president of the university. You'd sure be inclined to think there might be a little more to the story.
2.24.2006 11:59am
H Alum:
As I said in the other thread, correlating the resignation to the infleunce of a left-wing ideology is simplistic and inaccurate. Summers was plainly a poor leader. Creating dissension among the faculty and student body is not the sign of a quality president, no matter the value of his reformation strategy.

I actually think Summers was taking the university in a great direction, particularly with respect to the core review, financial aid expansion, Allston revitalization, etc. But the point is that his style of governance was divisive and detrimental, and that the substance of his goals was lost in the face of the way he treated his colleagues.
2.24.2006 12:03pm
Colin:
I agree with the Commenterlein. In my mind, the most striking thing about Dershowitz's comments are how at odds they are with the views of my friends and associates in the GSAS, B school, and law school. Even my friend in the GSAS--a female scientist, who was mighty pissed at Summers' comments--thought it was laughable that he was being persecuted as part of some PC crusade. He angered the faculty with his management style and became associated with too many scandals. I suspect that his handling of the Schleifer affair is what finally did him in.
2.24.2006 12:05pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
The Yglesias piece is required reading. As is the James Traub piece. As is Commenterlein's post above.

Traub: "The professors under his charge, alas, were not made of such stern stuff as he, and it ought not have been beyond Summers' ken to figure this out."

Summers' lack of diplomacy, not his Democratic Party affiliation and views, are what cost him.
2.24.2006 12:12pm
KMAJ (mail):
Regardless of the facts, which I make no claim having full knowledge of, perception is what is going to be driving the residual effect. That perception will lend fuel to the fire of the charges against leftist academia. That perception will be that it was a coup d'etat by the radical hard left of the FAS professors and staff. The public is not going to delve much deeper, there will be no public court of fact finding. Much like the adage 'Image is everything', in cases like this, perception is everything.
2.24.2006 12:19pm
H Alum:
Let me also add that to the extent this is a reaction to his "un-PC" women in science comments, I don't think that is necessarily unreasonable, either. Regardless of the merits of the nuanced point he was making, a prudent university president should have the prescience to realize that the public would surely react in a non-nuanced manner. Causing such controversy for the sake of an academic point might be acceptable for a professor or scholar, but it is certainly not for the head of a university. Again, the problem is with manner and approach, not necessarily substance.
2.24.2006 12:28pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
KMAJ-- that will be true if we let misstatements go unchecked. Maybe you are of the view that this would be a Noble Lie, or a Noble Failure to Correct a Lie. I agree with pretty much everything that Summers was trying to do, but I'm can't agree that dishonesty in the service of academic liberty is no vice.
2.24.2006 12:28pm
CJColucci (mail):
Actual information about why Summers resigned would be interesting and valuable. What Alan Dershowitz thinks about why Summers resigned is neither.
2.24.2006 12:37pm
Houston Lawyer:
I carry no brief for Summers. He appears to lack street smarts and common sense and was unable to reform the University in his intended manner. I also don't understand who actually governs the University. It looks like the faculty currently has the upper hand. The "feces slinging howler monkeys successfully defending their turf" comment made on a previous string seems very appropriate here.

I don't know how Harvard should be reformed but if I were a Harvard Alum, I'd be concerned about whether the place can be governed at all.
2.24.2006 12:56pm
JosephSlater (mail):
KMAJ: So your point is that uninformed perceptions by ideologues looking to find conspiracty theories wherever they may can and/or should trump facts that have been consistently repeated by people who actually know what they're talking about?
2.24.2006 1:00pm
Haverford Harry:
Why is the ability of a minority constituency to reject it's leadership assumed to be bad? Just because some institutions work well via majority or oligarchy doesn't mean that other instututions shouldn't approximate consensus.
2.24.2006 1:13pm
KMAJ (mail):
Bob Bobstein,

The point I was making is that Harvard handled this in a very sloppy and ineffectual PR manner. Who is going to check the misstatements and how ? Harvard is in the position of having to play catch up, and Dershowitz's opinion piece is not going to help. That was my point in saying perception is everything, and with the high name recognition of Dershowitz, it is going to be hard for Harvard to counter the perception.

Joseph Slater,

No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is that if a very visible public institution, like Harvard, is going have something like this happen, they better exhibit a little foresight and have their PR machine in motion, which includes getting their 'presentation of the facts' out into the public domain. I do not dispute what commenterlein reveals, but the public does not read VC, and are not going to be aware. Dershowitz has far more name recognition, and no one can claim he is a right wing 'ideologue' or uninformed, so when he puts forth his opinion, it is going to carry the day unless Harvard already had its PR in motion. Harvard has placed itself in the unenviable position of having to react after the horse is already out of the barn. Once that occurs, it is extreemely hard to get the horse back in.
2.24.2006 1:22pm
djd (mail):
I don't understand the mechanics of this ouster, if that's what it was. Can somebody explain the procedure - is there a provision in the governing documents of the University for a "no-confidence' vote?
2.24.2006 1:35pm
Michael B (mail):
"So your point is that uninformed perceptions by ideologues looking to find conspiracty theories wherever they may can and/or should trump facts ..." JosephSlater

So facts such as those which Dershowitz (40+ years at Harvard) provides are decreed to be the mere "uninformed perceptions" of "ideologues" and are not deemed to be real or substantial facts, and are even relegated to the status of mere "conspiracy" mongering when compared to Traub's or Yglesias's accounts. Interesting. Contrary facts should not be allowed in the discussion, lest they serve to inform any type of thorough-going doubt or skepticism.

In other words, any admission that we don't know or cannot unravel all the determinitive facts, once Yglesias's and Traub's chapter and verse are decreed as the Holy Writ du jour, is deemed to be heretical or at least the stuff of "conspiracy" theorists.

"I don't understand the mechanics of this ouster ..." djd

That's a statement which gets to the heart of a great deal, no one does know, at least no one who'd telling, which is yet another reason to refrain from accepting the party line and maintaining a highly skeptical view. Summers wasn't given any type of transparent vetting or due process. We simply don't know what was determinitive, that's why Dershowitz's additional inside information is helpful.
2.24.2006 2:01pm
Angus:
djd,

The faculty at all universities I have been at have governing bodies at both the division and university levels. These can call for votes of the faculty on any given proposition or resolution. In this case, a vote of confidence on Summers.

The faculty is not in charge, nor was Summers. The appeals were to the Board of Governors who make all major decisions for the University. Summers resigned rather than face possible intervention from his bosses.

As for how the public sees this situation, does anyone think that the public gives a crap about who is President of Harvard? Outside of Massachusetts, that is...
2.24.2006 2:04pm
Public_Defender:
There has to be something more going on. If Summers was doing such a bang-up job, he would have had enough support from other quarters that a plurality of one college's faculty couldn't have pushed him out.

It also seems that some conservatives support Summers only because he ruffled the feathers of some liberals. Like most people, I sometimes enjoy the schadenfreude of watching people I dislike feel discomfort. But there's more to leadership than ruffling feathers. Maybe, ruffling feathers was all that Summers was good at.

As to Al Dershowitz, he's an over-praised egomaniac blow hard. He found another way to get his name in the media. He must be pleased with the situation.
2.24.2006 2:09pm
Angus:
What "ouster" is there to understand the mechanics of?

President gets criticized by faculty.
President resigns under criticism. Pretty simple.

He was not fired, and no one from his bosses at the governing board spoke against him as far as I have heard.

As for Dershowitz, unless he was party to the Arts and Sciences faculty discussions and debates about this resolution, he's just guessing as to the motives behind it.
2.24.2006 2:10pm
JLR (mail):
If it is okay I'd like to repost the question I posted above [at this link], as the q appears to have gotten lost in the sauce.

Question: How will Summers's resignation in and of itself affect the Law School (if at all)? Also, is Dean Elena Kagan likely to be promoted to President? How might that destabilize the Law School specifically? Thank you.
2.24.2006 2:13pm
Chukuang:
"As for how the public sees this situation, does anyone think that the public gives a crap about who is President of Harvard? Outside of Massachusetts, that is..."

Well, given that it's been on the front page of the NYT, is the topic of articles and columns in a number of national papers, and had been a high-comment topic of about 3 or 4 posts here in the last week, I guess a number of people do care.
2.24.2006 2:44pm
Guest2 (mail):
JLR -- In answer to your questions, first, I don't think Summers's resignation will have any effect on the Law School. The Law School is very successful on all fronts, and nobody wants to mess with success. Second, I have not heard any hints that Dean Kagan might be considered for Summers's job. I doubt she would take it even if it were offered, since she's been the Law School dean for only a few years.
2.24.2006 3:00pm
Colin:
JLR,

As to your first question, it should have almost no effect on the students. I suppose it might have long-term implications for faculty and staff as the university makes broad policy changes under a new president, but I doubt they'd be significant. The graduate schools are all somewhat independent, to varying degrees, and Summers didn't take a hands-on approach to HLS.

In my time there, the only issue that he ever involved himself in (to my knowledge, at least) was the decision not to fight the Solomon Amendment. And on that issue, the general perception was that his interest was not in making decisions for the law school, but rather making sure the law school's decisions didn't adversely impact the rest of the university. (I don't actually know what role he had in that process; whether he made the ultimate decision or merely influenced the dean's decision. I only know that he was a visible part of the process, and generally a nonentity to the law school otherwise.)

That's not to say that Summers wasn't important to the entire university, merely that his role was at a high enough level that the turnover won't have a significant impact on the school or the students. I suppose the exception would be if his replacement decides to take a more active role in management of the graduate and professional schools, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on that; I don't know to what extent the new guy could intrude on the higher faculties. I suspect that one reason Summers was relatively inoffensive to the graduate and professional schools was not just that he chose not to interfere with their management, but that he had limited powers with which to do so. That's purely speculation, though - I know almost nothing about the mechanics of the office.

As to the possibility of Kagan being promoted, I have no idea, so I won't comment.

Well, just one comment: part of me suspects that she wouldn't see that transition as much of a promotion. I think she's pretty happy where she is. But, again, that's pure speculation.
2.24.2006 3:02pm
Federal Dog:
I see no reason to think that the faculty was lying when it expressly stated the three reasons for its vote of no confidence: (1) Summers's remarks about women; (2) Summers's having told Cornel West to get back to teaching and scholarship; and (3) Summer's's opposition to the divestment from Israel petition (in that order).


The faculty now realizes the harm its antics have done to its public image and is looking to change its story to limit PR damage. Again, until someone can present evidence that the faculty's express statements at the no confidence vote were all lies, I do not believe any of these after-the-fact attempts to alter the account now. This is just PR damage control.
2.24.2006 3:05pm
Guest2 (mail):
My two cents, as an HLS alum without any inside info:

I'm inclined to agree with whoever said above that Dersh is doing Summers a favor here. From Summers's standpoint, the best version of events would be that the hard-left faculty bloc forced him out for his truthful but non-PC remarks. If I were he, I'd much rather have people believing that story than that I had to resign because I'm a d*ck to work with. Dersh is helping to give the martyr story credibility.

As far as I can tell, what (I think) Dersh is doing is fair play, since I'll bet the FAS members who fought for Summers's removal used the non-PC-remarks issue with equal cynicism. I.e., it's a lot easier to get sympathy for your whining if you tell people your boss is a sexist than if you tell people your boss is too bossy.
2.24.2006 3:10pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Michael B.:

Re-read the post by KMAJ to which I was responding if you actually want to try to understand what I meant.

KMAJ:

I guess the issue is how many people really care about this issue enough to pay any attention at all ... even granting it's big news in some circles. My guess is that for some folks, this will reinforce existing notions that American Higher Education is all run by PC maniacs; others will hear the "he was an egomaniac/crappy manager" stuff, and in a few months, nobody outside the parties involved will care very much.
2.24.2006 3:12pm
Chukuang:
I see no reason to think that the faculty was lying when it expressly stated the three reasons for its vote of no confidence: (1) Summers's remarks about women; (2) Summers's having told Cornel West to get back to teaching and scholarship; and (3) Summer's's opposition to the divestment from Israel petition (in that order).

Here are three reasons, not that the faculty was lying, but that you are entirely mispresenting what they actually said:

1. This "explanatory note" was removed from the motion before it was voted on.
2. The note never mentioned West in the first place, and there was NO outcry when the original incident took place.
3. The objection in the note (that again, was removed before voting) was not to Summers's opposition to divestment from Isreal but from his public claim that the petition was "anti-Semetic in effect if not intent."
2.24.2006 3:19pm
Michael B (mail):
"There has to be something more going on. If Summers was doing such a bang-up job, he would have had enough support from other quarters that a plurality of one college's faculty couldn't have pushed him out." Public Defender

Another Boston Globe article, excerpt:

"Steven Pinker, who has been one of Summers's most outspoken defenders, said some professors are afraid to stand up for the president because they could be punished by colleagues who sit on committees that control the fate of a student or a research project.

"'I think, if anything, the intimidation goes the other way,' Pinker said. 'There are so many vocal faculty who oppose him. I've heard through e-mails and many confidential conversations that many people are extremely pleased with Larry but afraid to say so.'"

Inconvenient facts.

And from the Amity Shlaes article:

"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.'"
2.24.2006 3:24pm
Jon L:
As one of his former students, I can testify that Alan Dershowitz has the insight and accuity of a box of cat hair. I agree with Commenterlein. Really really wanting to believe something doesn't make it true.
2.24.2006 3:28pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Bob Bobstein,

>Summers' lack of diplomacy, not his Democratic Party affiliation and views, are what cost him.<

I disagree completely. It was most certainly both. Would the vote of no confidence have occurred if not for his politically incorrect views?

Personally, I think the liberals who want to discount the role of Summers' comments are in denial. They're denying what actually happened because they're uncomfortable with the idea, which they should be. Sure, there are a million different reasons why some faculty didn't like Summers. The no-confidence vote, however, was a specific response to his comments on women in science. It was retribution. They decided to conflate his political incorrectness with his managerial style to get the best of him.

There's nothing better in my mind about using a controversial political opinion to force out somebody you don't like than it is to force him out specifically because of the opinion. I'm with Derschowitz; I think this speaks very poorly of Harvard.
2.24.2006 3:31pm
Federal Dog:
1. This "explanatory note" was removed from the motion before it was voted on.


Nonetheless, I know from my own department that that was the logic underpinning the motion and what motivated the faculty who voted for it. Some faculty may well have understood how damaging the vote would be to PR, and therefore did some last-minute editing, but the motivation and logic of the vote remained the same.


2. The note never mentioned West in the first place, and there was NO outcry when the original incident took place.


I don't know where you were, but there was in Harvard Yard. As for expressly mentioning West's name, everyone knew exactly what was being referred to, precisely because of the outcry. Who else do you think was in question, if not West?


3. The objection in the note (that again, was removed before voting) was not to Summers's opposition to divestment from Isreal but from his public claim that the petition was "anti-Semetic in effect if not intent."


I made no representation about why exactly they criticized Summers for his opposition to that petition.
2.24.2006 3:32pm
Michael B (mail):
JosephSlater,

Your patronizing attitude and dismissiveness notwithstanding, I understood precisely what you meant. Since I have to spell it out for you: I used your quote to form a tangential and equally relevant line of argument within the overall discussion.
2.24.2006 3:36pm
KMAJ (mail):
Reading the opinions at The Harvard Crimson paints a different picture from what the defenders of the resignation profess. The students supported him by a 3 to 1 margin. This resignation was clearly driven by the FAS faculty, not any other school within Harvard. Summers' statement clearly implicates a segment of the FAS faculty as the reason for his resignation:

"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," Summers wrote in a letter posted on the school's Web site.


It appears the defenders may be trying to engage in spin control. I always thought higher education was for the students, not the faculty.
2.24.2006 3:36pm
Guest2 (mail):
Marcus1 wrote: "It was retribution. They decided to conflate his political incorrectness with his managerial style to get the best of him."

Exactly -- they were mad because he dissed their fields, cut their budgets, and interfered with their autonomy. So they seized the non-PC issue as a lever. It's just like when you try to take down a hated rival by whispering to others about his plagiarism, extramarital affairs, or drinking.
2.24.2006 3:51pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Regardless of how the general public perceives the reasons for Summers' departure, the overriding picture of his tenure is that of PC thought control, self-abasement, and supposedly strong women pulling down $50 mill by feigning an attack of the vapors. Secondarily, that he stood up for ROTC.
I'm sure there are other reasons, but it would be foolish to insist that these were not part of the mix.
2.24.2006 3:51pm
Anon7:

"Well, given that it's been on the front page of the NYT, is the topic of articles and columns in a number of national papers, and had been a high-comment topic of about 3 or 4 posts here in the last week, I guess a number of people do care."


Well, Natalee Holloway was front page news for almost a month. But in the final analysis, did the general public really care once the next story hit?
2.24.2006 3:57pm
Colin:
Michael B, characterizing Pinker's comments: "Inconvenient facts."

I think you've confused "facts" with "uncorroborated allegations that support my preconceptions about the facts." It's a common mistake.


KMAJ, my understanding is that Summers was always primarily involved with the FAS and had little or nothing to do with the separate graduate and professional schools' internal affairs. I don't know how true that is, but it's been my impression for several years now. I certainly haven't seen any significant outrage among the graduate or professional faculty, other than from people--like Dersh--with their own axes to grind.

I don't mean that as a blanket defense of the situation. It's entirely possible that the various faculties should have taken much more interest in the process. But insofar as they didn't, it seems to have been mutual disinterest. Summers was primarily involved in the operations of the FAS (and, secondarily, the GSAS) and relatively detached otherwise. That is all simply my perception, though. I would like to hear more facts, but I suspect all we'll get is anecdotes for some time.
2.24.2006 4:06pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
Wow. Ruth Wisse wins the prize for most furious effort at spin. I'm glad to see that Harvard has conservatives on the faculty... but I'm also glad to see that Prof. Wisse does literature, and not poli sci or soc.


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.


Yeah, I guess that's what Occam's Razor would compel we conclude from this whole affair.
2.24.2006 4:06pm
Shangui (mail):
2. The note never mentioned West in the first place, and there was NO outcry when the original incident took place.

I don't know where you were, but there was in Harvard Yard. As for expressly mentioning West's name, everyone knew exactly what was being referred to, precisely because of the outcry. Who else do you think was in question, if not West?


Well, I was at Harvard teaching. I had a number of discussions with faculty members and all of them agreed with Summers's general assessment of West. What do you mean by "there was in Harvard Yard"? Did FACULTY protest in Harvard Yard? That would be a first. Students? I thought they were supposed to be the brave souls who are standing up for Summers. And the fact that the note was removed before anyone voted on the motion is pretty damn important because it means THEY DIDN'T VOTE ON SOMETHING CONTAINING THAT NOTE.

I made no representation about why exactly they criticized Summers for his opposition to that petition.


You said, "Summer's's opposition to the divestment from Israel petition"

That's incorrect. The note complained to the content of that opposition, not the fact of it. I assume you see a difference between objecting to the Iraq War and saying "this is unwise foreign policy" and objecting to it by saying "the Bush administration hates Arabs." As they specifically cited Summers's remark, it was not the fact of the opposition. And as you well know, if these were the only issues, the board of governors would never have taken it seriously. Did Harvard fully divest from S. Africa back in the day? No. Did the faculty call for Bok to resign as a result? No.
2.24.2006 4:16pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin,

Since I provided Pinker's quote - which itself constituted the fact being referred to - you need to re-read and add some comprehension skills to your reading skills. Additionally, do you have any contravening information which denies either the quote itself of the assertion which Pinker makes in the quote? That would actually be relevant, your dismissiveness and miscomprehension is rather less relevant.

Also,

Another link, in part commenting upon the Dershowitz piece, an excerpt, highlighting some of Summers's accomplishments:

"When not busy rebuffing left-wing idiocy, Summers grew Harvard's endowment to $25 billion and ended grade inflation. Harvard received a record number of applications this year, at a time when many schools are having recruitment problems because of the lower number of college-aged people in the US."

I.e., more of those inconvenient facts.

And JosephSlater,

Since you added a patronizing attitude to your general dismissiveness, I'll elaborate. When I indicated I understood what you intended, with this response of yours to this original post, that is in fact what I meant.

Your reply about "ideologues" and "uninformed perceptions" and "conspiracy theories" was entirely inappropriate given the measured and respectful tones of the post you were replying to. That too is why I formed a tangential line of argumentation. Your use of highly exaggerative, specious rhetoric coupled with your dismissiveness tone, in your response, made it all too clear that a more informed and thoughtful reply from you would likely not be forthcoming.

Have a great weekend.
2.24.2006 4:17pm
Michael B (mail):
Oh, the link provided is not a commentary on the already referenced Dershowitz piece, but on a different Dershowitz set of comments.
2.24.2006 4:21pm
Roger Sweeny (mail):
Chukuang,

And as so many have pointed out before, it was his firing of Kirby (and the idiotic way in which it was handled), a fine man and a fine administrator who himself was trying to make big and important changes in the cirriculum, than ultimately did Summers in.

I have heard this and wonder if you have any information how true it is: Kirby was the head of a committee charged to review Harvard's common core curriculum. Rather than dealing with many student's complaints, the review came back with what many perceived as a "faculty wish list." This angered Summers and a lot of students. It is one reason Summers "polls well" among students. Many perceive him as being "on their side," as against a faculty which would rather spend time in research and outside activity instead of teaching and interacting with them.
2.24.2006 4:35pm
Colin:
MB: "...I provided Pinker's quote - which itself constituted the fact being referred to..."

Perhaps you shouldn't criticize other posters' "highly exaggerative, specious rhetoric coupled with your dismissiveness tone" so lightly. This is a bit pedantic, I admit, but I don't see how you can claim you were posting Pinker's quote itself as "inconvenient facts." If nothing else, you have decent grammar, and a single quote is not "facts." Even that Pinker made the statement is not a relevant (or inconvenient) fact; what is relevant is that he made specific allegations, but those are unsupported and, as far as I've seen, uncorroborated. They do, however, sound like they support your characterization of Summers as the victim of a PC crusade, so hoist that banner all you like.

As for rebuttal, no, I don't have much to offer to rebut his accusations of a shadowy conspiracy of faculty zealots mercilessly hunting each others' students down through a maze of bureaucracy and campus politics. I suppose all I'd offer in consideration is the overwhelming chorus of alumni and faculty--including very many people on this very board--who have said over and over again that this is simply a case of an unpopular administrator who alienated most of his faculty, rather than the bloody triumph of a cabal of Stalinist PC agitators. It seems to be anecdote against anecdote, which is why I'm not trying to persuade you of anything; I'm merely pointing out that your "inconvenient facts" are neither, and merely contribute to the misinformation and confusion that KMAJ discussed upthread.

On the subject of inappropriately characterizing things as "inconvenient facts," why would Summers' ability to raise application rates or boost the endowment be particularly relevant? I've never heard his detractors say he was ineffective at either endeavor, and they aren't the be-all and end-all tasks to which he was set. They're important for any university administration, but Harvard isn't hurting for either endowment funds or qualified applicants. Summers was doing part of his job well--that can be said for lots of people who get fired for performance-related reasons. Those facts (and they are facts, if you're keeping score) don't seem inconvenient at all. They're just not all that relevant.

Sweeny and/or Chukuang, I'd definitely appreciate some background on Kirby, if either of you have the scoop; it's not something I know much about. Surely, even if Summers was unhappy with Kirby's handling of the curriculum survey, he wouldn't fire him for that reason alone? If so, it would seem to say fairly unpleasant things about his management style. What were the ostensible reasons? Were there other ulterior motives?
2.24.2006 5:10pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Michael B.:

At risk of you accusing me again of patronizing, you need to chill out a bit. To recap:

KMAJ said: Regardless of the facts, which I make no claim having full knowledge of, perception is what is going to be driving the residual effect. That perception will lend fuel to the fire of the charges against leftist academia. That perception will be that it was a coup d'etat by the radical hard left of the FAS professors and staff.

My response to KMAJ was an attempt to get at the issue of whether he was saying that perception trumped reality. KMAJ understood that, and made a polite and reasonable response. You didn't attempt to engage that issue. Me noting that is not "patronizing." And I'm not sure it lies in mouth of one who wrote the following to complain that he's being "patronized":

--
Contrary facts should not be allowed in the discussion, lest they serve to inform any type of thorough-going doubt or skepticism.
--

Yeah, that was exactly my point. How could I have ever accused you of missing it? But since this blog and thread are not about you and me, I'm going to let it go at that.
2.24.2006 5:22pm
Colin:
Myself: It seems to be anecdote against anecdote, which is why I'm not trying to persuade you of anything; I'm merely pointing out that your "inconvenient facts" are neither, and merely contribute to the misinformation and confusion that KMAJ discussed upthread.

In retrospect, that's both unclear and unfair to MB. I didn't mean, but appear to have said, that MB was at fault for reporting what the professor said. I apologize. What I should have said was simply that arguing that a professor's extraordinary accusations of faculty retribution isn't a fact, it's simply that -- an accusation. It shouldn't be read or characterized as anything more unless it's substantially corroborated. It would be better to point out that there aren't many facts available, and until there are, we simply have a snake's nest of conflicting anecdotes from parties on several sides of the issue, each with many, many ulterior motives.

Having said that, it strikes me that I haven't seen anyone at all on the inside crowing that "We got that sumbitch who said women can't do science!" Has anyone seen comments from Summers' detractors on the women in science issue saying that their criticisms were the deciding factor? Wouldn't we expect people--especially people with big faculty egos--to claim that they won the day on their pet issue, if there was any meat to that claim?
2.24.2006 5:30pm
Shangui (mail):
Many perceive him as being "on their side," as against a faculty which would rather spend time in research and outside activity instead of teaching and interacting with them.

This may be the single most absurd thing I've seen said in this whole debate. Do you know how much teaching figures into the tenure decisions at Harvard? 0%. Yes 0%. Summers has personally rejected a number of candidates beloved by students for excellent teaching and fully endorsed by their departments and ad hoc committees (which include scholars from outside of the university) based solely on his own opinion that their research was not original enough (in areas he knows nothing about). To say that he encouraged profs to focus on undergrads is simply ludicrous. Students like Summers because he signs their US currency, shows up at dances, and because undergrads know basically nothing about how the administration and school really work.

Let me be clear, I don't think it's good that Harvard neglects its undergrads, but it's not at all something Summers fought to change.
2.24.2006 5:41pm
Michael B (mail):
JosephSlater, chill out and step down from that high horse yourself. You used categorically dismissive language, as already noted, like "ideologues" and "uninformed perceptions" and "conspiracy theories" so, no, we disagree about your more recent characterization. Additionally, I already indicated I took a tangential line. But this has gotten to be too tedious, so I won't elaborate more fully.

"This is a bit pedantic, I admit, but I don't see how you can claim you were posting Pinker's quote itself as 'inconvenient facts.' If nothing else, you have decent grammar, and a single quote is not 'facts.'" Colin

Professor Steven Pinker is a professor at Harvard, that's what makes his quote relevant, as a fact in and of itself. Too, since I explicitly and unambiguously provided the Pinker quote (in this post), why do you insist, pedantically, on suggesting that's not what was being forwarded? Good grief. Too, if we're going to disallow relevant quotes and accusations by Harvard professors, let's additionally throw out the quotes and accusations of all Harvard professors, which would include those comprising the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

"As for rebuttal, no, I don't have much to offer to rebut his accusations of a shadowy conspiracy of faculty zealots mercilessly hunting each others students down through a maze of bureaucracy and campus politics." Colin

Which affords you yet another exercise in sweeping, categorical dismissiveness - and contempt.

"On the subject of inappropriately characterizing things as 'inconvenient facts,' why would Summers' ability to raise application rates or boost the endowment be particularly relevant?" Colin

Firstly, this was not addressed to you specifically. Secondly, given the ad hominem sniffs directed at both Summers and Dershowitz now, in this thread and elsewhere, in addition to various displays of contempt and sweeping dismissiveness, there is no reason why people should not forward relevant information which supports Summers's bona fides during his tenure at Harvard. That this needs explaining is strikingly odd.

Goodbye.
2.24.2006 5:58pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Shangui,

That's not entirely correct - Summers made a very public effort to force professors, including very senior ones, to teach undergraduate classes and to teach in the so called Core Curriculum, which are basically the first year classes. He was strongly opposed to the well-established tendency to have these classes taught by young assistant professors and post-docs, and wanted to guarantee undergraduate access to the best minds on the Harvard faculty. I have no idea where your misinformation comes from.

At the same time, it is clear that tenure decisions are (almost) entirely based on research quality. Anything else would be a catastrophy for a research university.
2.24.2006 6:00pm
Roger Sweeny (mail):
Shangui and Commenterlein,

Thanks for your responses. Shangui, I didn't understand your statement, "Students like Summers because he signs their US currency, ..." "Signs their US currency"?
2.24.2006 6:18pm
Aaron Bergman (mail):
I'd like to add regarding Pinker that I've heard at least one report that various faculty at the first no-confidence vote were planning on voting against it until Pinker and a few others got up to defend him. Basically, nobody actually expected that vote to pass, so a lot of people voted against Summers because his defenders were so annoying figuring it wouldn't make much of a difference.

The Harvard Crimson poll was, I think, an e-mail poll. In other words, the responses were self-selected making the poll essentially worthless. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if the students supported Summers a lot more than the faculty. They weren't interacting with him in the same way.

And, I have to ask the people who believe this was all about cultural politics, why wasn't Summers let go back then? Why did it take a year?
2.24.2006 6:21pm
Shangui (mail):
Commenterlein,

Thanks for the partial correction (though I don't believe post-docs or non-tenure/tenure track profs are allowed to teach Core classes). The effort to have tenured profs teach more Core courses came after I left and is a good thing. As I've said, I applaud many of the things that Summers wanted to do. My info about his unilateral tenure decisions comes from my department and others. But I think you're right that my presentation of his attitude towards teaching may have been misleading. But I should also note that some of the greatest "minds" at Harvard are pretty awful teachers of undergrads in my experience. Amazingly smart, but not as skilled at conveying that to undergrads


Roger,

As Sec. of the Treasury, Summers has his signature on a lot of currency still in circulation. Students would bring him dollar bills to have him sign them with his "live" signature. It was actually a nice move in my opinion. But I still think student opinion was based much more on perception than on facts about how the university really operated.
2.24.2006 6:33pm
djd (mail):
From the incomplete facts in the public at this time, I can't work up much sympathy for Summers. He made some bold and controversial statements and then abjectly started paying the Danegeld when the entirely predictable howling started. It looks like he resigned to avoid the unpleasantness of having to defend himself. That's gutlessness.
2.24.2006 6:41pm
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
As someone who thinks Summers' departure is Harvard's loss and that Dershowitz is right, that statement by Ruth R. Wisse: was gag inducing. Shes not so much acting as stenographer for the modern Harvard student as projecting her own fantasies upon them.
2.24.2006 7:01pm
Public_Defender:
As an outsider looking at the allegations and cross allegations, it seems like the following three things are correct:
1) The faculty members who voted no confidence in Summers were overly sensitive whiners.

2) The no-convidence vote has hurt Harvard's reputation and has done even more damage to the faculty members who voted no-confidence.

3) Summers had a knack for annoying people, so when he came under attack (even an unfair attack), he didn't have enough friends to do his job effectively.
2.25.2006 9:42am
poorman (mail):
The following evidence is not dispositive, but is informative: am roughly edited transcript of a conversation between me and my kid, Harvard class of 08, who is, I should think, a typical Harvard undergrad., though he is apolitical.
J. Poorman: You had a class from Prez. Summers. Did you like him and the class?
S: It was great. I liked him a lot, but I'm an econ major. Others didn't like him as much. A lot more liked him than disliked him.
J: What is the general view among students regarding Summer's resignation?
S: An overwhelming majority of the people I hang out with, hate it. And they resent the faculty who pushed it through. Summers seemed to care about students, but he pushed through some grading changes that are brutal.
J: Are your friends all econ majors?
S: No. Philosophy, math, but not many humanities types.
J: Have you spoken with students who are glad to see him go.
S: I haven't spoken to them but I've listened to them. They're vocal.
J: What is the reason they give to support the resignation?
S: They thought his remarks about women and science, last summer were neanderthal.
J: Is it fair to say the reasons you heard, were political/ideological or managerial style?
S: Obviously, political/ideological. Students aren't "managed."
J: You know what I mean: was it his governing style they found objectionable?
S: Of course not. We didn't interact with him like that. The students I know resent the FAS. It seems like the only question important to them is whether they agreed with Summer's ideology. The FAS, a small number of that group, really ran this through. It was disgusting. I've heard some small number of anti-Summers people saying that their big beef with him is that
the decision-making process under him was undemocratic (because he didn't give the FAS enough weight), but again the FAS is trying to circumvent the rest of
the University, so . . . . . . . The FAS is hardly democratic. It's a value useful to get rid of Summers.
J: You think it wasn't a genuine reason? What do most students believe was the FAS reason for getting rid of Summers?
S: You've already asked me that. He had supposedly unacceptable views on women and science. But he never said he held the views, only that some views should be considered. The FAS weren't even willing to debate whether Summers' views on women and science are defensible. They wouldn't begin to allow any rational debate of the issue. But Summers quit defending himself very energetically. He got kind of weak and weird. But I'm amazed that at Harvard the debate wasn't even considered a possibility.
J: Are you or have you ever sought face time on T.V. or do you aspire to become a public voice?
S: What's that supposed to mean? Some people think that Alan Dersowitz's views on the resignation are constructed in order to get him T.V. time.
S: That's stupid. It's a fallacy of reasoning.
J: Do you mind if I put your views on a blog?
S: Why?
J: Just because someone may be interested in a student's view, even if its sophomoric. JUST A JOKE. . . . . .
S: If you send me five hundred bucks for Spring Break.
J: Give me a break. Where're you going?
S: Mexico.
J: No way. I'll give you 250 if you stay in Boston.
S: 300 and New York City.
J: Done.
2.25.2006 2:35pm