Thursday, February 23, 2006

squeezed out: Summers falls

For those who understand:
this story
Harvard University's embattled president, Lawrence H. Summers, resigned this afternoon and will be replaced, on an interim basis, by Derek C. Bok, who was president of Harvard from 1971 to 1991. Mr. Bok was chosen to "clean up the mess and make conditions right for the next president," said a senior professor with knowledge of the tumultuous events of today in Cambridge, Mass.

Mr. Summers, who had been buffeted by controversy for more than a year, was expected to resign on Monday, the professor said, and this morning's Wall Street Journal said his resignation was imminent.

Google news is a good source but one can get lost easily in the midst of news items. However, I've managed to find an interesting piece on Summers, written by a PolSci prof, who is trying to refute the claim that Summers has fallen victim to the left-wing professoriat:
Economics and business at Harvard flourished under this former Treasury Secretary and World Bank vice president. One conscientious Harvard economist, Richard Parker, couldn’t get the administration to remove the name of former Sotheby’s auction emporium chief Alfred Taubman from Taubman Hall after his federal conviction, imprisonment and cynical self-celebration in Christopher Mason’s The Art of the Steal. Even more galling was Summers’s support of economist Andrei Schleifer after his conviction in the Russian bond mess. And there was his somewhat more amusing indifference to the 2005 arrest of economics professor Martin Weitzman, caught neglecting the standard market practice of paying for goods by swiping the latest of several truckloads of horse manure from a neighboring farm.

Meanwhile, a 20 year veteran Harvard maintenance man was demoted and had his pay cut by a third for shouting at a supervisor. And student protestors had had to occupy University Hall for weeks (shortly before Summers became president) to win a minimum $10 wage for tearfully grateful Harvard employees.

It was priorities like that, not the petulance of the politically correct, that turned even faculty moderates against Summers. His interim replacement, former president Derek Bok, is everything a defender of liberal education should be, but Summers’s departure doesn’t answer these big questions:

Will American universities keep governing themselves as communities of scholars, independent of political and market riptides, or will professors be employees in a cockpit of global-capitalist management? And will great undergraduate colleges keep nourishing American civic-republican leaders virtuous enough to save capitalism from itself, as they’ve sometimes had to do? Or will colleges be morphed into crucibles of a global ruling class accountable to no polity or moral code?

I just love the first selection - Jim Sleeper's idea of compassion is pretty pathetic actually.
In regard to the second: oh, please, give me a break. Just like in that invaluable Soviet joke, I have already quoted on another occasion - anyone can go the Red Square and shout 'down with Nixon'. It's easy to keep screaming 'down with Bush' while you at academia but try to shout 'down with Chomsky/Faucault/Derrida' see what happens to you.


At 12:14 AM, Blogger A. Shah said...

I found this to be the most revealing quote in the article:

“Larry was chosen to change the paradigm of university presidents,” my faculty friend reminded me, “and were he more charming, the transformation in the nature of leadership in the university would have been effected fairly seamlessly.”

Being the head of any academic department or institution is a highly political job. I think the bottom line is he made too many enemies and lost of the confidence of too many with his cavalier style. If he was some radical leftist using his role as president of the university to say that capitalism and the US government policy might be evil, he would have been under at least as much pressure as he was for his 'politically incorrect' views. Any political position, and being the head of a university has always been one, requires winning the confidence and support of a variety of interest groups- that's just the nature of the beast. I think his resignation has a lot more to do with his style than his substance.
He could have made his controversial points in a less inflammatory way. He could have pushed forward the same agenda in a more balanced way and wouldn't have evoked such a backlash. He has to win the trust of the academic and administrative institutions of the university, as well private sector donors and collaboraters; he seemed to show disdain for the academic est. especially and as a result he failed in his job. To me the guy seems to have very poor political instincts and consequently doesn't make a good university president.

At 4:21 AM, Blogger Oleksa said...

I think his resignation has a lot more to do with his style than his substance.

Well, it's hard to disagree with this on principle. It certainly didn't help him to win any allies that his style was so boorish.
But those were determined the most to bring him down were the ones who couldn't forgive him his political lapses. The article I found is very indicative of that.


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