Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Summers End

Larry Summers has resigned as President of Harvard after another no-confidence vote by faculty. Not surprisingly, Alan Dershowitz claims that this is political correctness run amok. I'm guessing that will be the meme on the cable news networks as well. I've said before that the faculty outcry over his comments about women and science was goofy and disturbing and gave the impression that these were people who had no experience with open intellectual debate. But, there's something deeply dishonest about the "PC Stalinists run amok" line too.

For one thing, there's this: "Andrei Shleifer, a prominent Harvard economist and personal friend of Mr. Summers, was a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that he and a former staff member had defrauded the U.S. government through a program intended to help Russia make the transition to a market economy. Harvard defended Mr. Shleifer throughout the litigation and last August agreed to settle the case by paying a $26.5-million penalty. Mr. Shleifer has never been disciplined by Harvard, and in fact was awarded a new chair during the litigation, said the professor who spoke to The Chronicle. As a result, Mr. Shleifer's relationship with Mr. Summers has drawn increasing criticism. The professor said the combination of the penalty and legal fees had cost Harvard $44-million."

So, Summers's crony cost the university its largest-ever legal payout and severely damaged the school's relationship with the federal government, and he gave the guy a promotion!

More Cronyism: "his defense of the bonuses paid to the money managers of Harvard's endowment, bonuses which have reached $30 million for each of two managers for one year, and which are based on performance benchmarks which some other professionals regard as ridiculously easy to beat."

An actual Harvard grad student complains: "What upset me the most was the wholesale demolition of Hilles Library, a beautiful library built for Radcliffe students during the 60s (when they were not permitted to use the Harvard libraries). Any small liberal arts college would be lucky to have such a library, which had a terrific collection of serials and wonderfully dedicated librarians. And of course the main book collections took more than a century to build. Larry's administration decided it was "wasted space" and has donated the collections to a university in China."

Then, there was the Arts & Sciences Dean William Kirby who got so sick of Summers's nonsense that he resigned. Read that article and imagine if you might resign your boss pulled the sort of crap that Summers did.

On his similarly arrogant decision to put the great Cornell West in his place, Margaret Soltan writes: "West is an actual intellectual, or was for enough years that I've learned a lot reading some of his essays in philosophy, etc. I think Summers misplayed that one. West has done some trivial things lately, but he has a solid history of scholarship."

So, yeah, PC run amok. Sure.

7 comments:

Luke said...

Granting the significance of these other failings, the timing of Summers dismissal, coming on the eve of the second faculty vote of no confidence in a year, the first having unquestionably been at the instigation of the pc posse, guarantees that the cultural issue will overshadow any personal or administrative mistakes he may have made. Blame it on the board of governors if you like, but this is the way it is bound to be interpreted, and that is most unfortunate, not just for Harvard, but for American society.

The Pagan Temple said...

Yeah, I read something about the 24 million dollaar lawsuit on Truthout, right before I was ready to spout off, so I'm glad I saw it before I did, and made an idiot of myself yet again.

On the other hand, he did a lot of good things as well. I guess you could say, er, he was good in the beginning?

Rufus said...

luke: No doubt that how he's going to play it as well. I'm expecting him to write a book on his "ordeal" within the next few years. But, by all accounts, he was just lousy in the job. The so-called "Schleifer affair" is just mind-boggling. A promotion for the employee whose fraud cost the university $44 million! What it suggests to me is something beyond an administrative mistake; more like an act of incredibly blithe arrogance.

bob said...

I like your take. The situation has been seized on by both sides in the so-called Culture Wars so rabidly that more fundamental issues are ignored

Rufus said...

Merci! A lot of my thoughts on the matter have to do with dealing with a University President who has his tone-deaf moments, but nothing on the order of Summers. Also, I'm very aware that university faculty generally don't have nearly as much sway as they're being made out to here. I'm thinking that Summers took an easy out while criticism mounts over his other failings.

another Bob said...

Earlier this week"The Chronicle of Higher Education" gave a good account of several of the reasons for Summers's resignation -

The key fact pushing the pace of events this week, according to the senior professor, is that today is the last day the agenda can be changed for next Tuesday's meeting of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. At that meeting, faculty members had planned to vote on a motion of no confidence in Mr. Summers's leadership. The faculty, which includes Harvard's undergraduate and graduate divisions and is the largest academic unit on the campus, passed a similar no-confidence measure last March.

Next Tuesday's meeting could have proved exceptionally embarrassing to Harvard and to the Harvard Corporation, its seven-member governing board, the professor said, because of other items on the agenda.

Chief among them was to be a motion to censure Mr. Summers for his role in what has become known as the "Shleifer affair," the professor said. Andrei Shleifer, a prominent Harvard economist and personal friend of Mr. Summers, was a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that he and a former staff member had defrauded the U.S. government through a program intended to help Russia make the transition to a market economy.

Harvard defended Mr. Shleifer throughout the litigation and last August agreed to settle the case by paying a $26.5-million penalty. Mr. Shleifer has never been disciplined by Harvard, and in fact was awarded a new chair during the litigation, said the professor who spoke to The Chronicle. As a result, Mr. Shleifer's relationship with Mr. Summers has drawn increasing criticism. The professor said the combination of the penalty and legal fees had cost Harvard $44-million.

Another motion to have been offered at the faculty meeting would have assailed the governing board for inadequate governance, the professor said, and would have singled out members of the Harvard Corporation by name for criticism.

Rufus said...

Thank you for that. I'm thinking that Summers dodged a bullet here.