Summers Holds Court

President's first office hours prove popular

The Waiting Game
Eric C. Averion

Students wait in Mass. Hall yesterday afternoon for their turns to meet with President Lawrence H. Summers during the first office hours of his term.

Jordan Heyano ’03-’04 was looking for a creative birthday gift for a friend who seemed to have everything.

Rather than shopping at the Coop, or Wordsworth Gifts, he turned to a more unconventional source—President Lawrence H. Summers.

Heyano was one of more than 20 students who went to Mass. Hall yesterday for Summers’ first open office hours. Summers met with more than 15—some for up to a quarter of an hour.

Some students sought to voice their opinions, others were seeking advice and some just came for a friendly introduction. And Heyano? He asked Summers to autograph a baseball.

“I was sure my friend didn’t have one,” Heyano said.

Summers eagerly complied with Heyano’s request—and suggested that he send an autographed dollar bill along with the gift.

“I’m really glad I had some cash,” Heyano said, proudly displaying a bill bearing two signatures of the former Secretary of the Treasury.

Crystal Farh ’05 and Kate Ward ’05 brought a gift for Summers—homemade chocolate chip cookies baked in the Matthews Hall basement.

The two roommates successfully used a similar strategy to meet people during freshman week, Ward said.

“People love it when you give them food,” Farh said.

Other students came to Summers’ office hours with more serious concerns.

Three members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement emphasized the importance of the ethical obligations of the University in their conversation with Harvard’s 27th president.

“Last year, President Rudenstine stressed that students take advantage of the office hours provided,” David J. Plunkett ’04 said.

“I don’t know how receptive [Summers will] be to implementing a living wage,” Plunkett said. “But I think he was happy to talk with us and was honest with his feelings.”

Though most of the students who attended were undergraduates, graduate students representing the Harvard Health Caucus at Harvard Medical School (HMS) learned of the opportunity to meet with Summers from the my.harvard.edu website.

“He was very receptive, and offered several suggestions for the program, which focuses on globalization and health,” said Erica Seguer, a medical student.

By 3:55 p.m., the Mass. Hall waiting room was packed with curious students, many of whom had arrived 15 minutes earlier.

Students who arrived after 4 p.m. were given a list of Summers’ upcoming monthly office hour opportunities and advised to return at a later date.

Though most students said they understood the demands on Summers’ time, others complained that his office hours were too short and infrequent to truly connect with students.

“We were never told that you had to sign up between 3 and 4 p.m.” said Shaline D. Rao ’03, who had planned to voice her concerns about undergraduate advising.

Toussaint G. Losier ’04 criticized the limited amount of contact between students and administrators.

“I think it says something about the transparency of the administration that it’s so awe-inspiring to actually see the president,” he said.

He suggested that Summers continue to visit with students informally at meetings and in the dining halls—something the president has been doing since his arrival.

“It’s in the administration’s benefit to have some form of regular dialogue,” Losier said.

The president was unavailable for comment, but stayed until well after 5 p.m. to meet with students.

—Staff writer Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at shoichet@fas.harvard.edu.