University President Lawrence H. Summers will face the full Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) today for the first time since his controversial remarks on women in science last month, and many professors predict it will be the toughest meeting of his three-and-a-half year tenure.
“There’s no question that this will be the most important Faculty meeting of his presidency to date,” said one senior professor, who asked to remain anonymous.
History Department Chair Andrew D. Gordon was one of many professors who yesterday predicted unusually high attendance and a lively debate at this afternoon’s meeting, the first chance many faculty will have to confront Summers about his Jan. 14 statement suggesting that “innate differences” may help explain the scarcity of female scientists at top universities.
“The buzz is that this is going to be an unusually interesting meeting because of the follow-up to President Summers’ remarks,” he said.
Summers yesterday declined to speculate on the content of the meeting, saying he would rather “respond to issues as they come up at the meeting.”
At today’s meeting, professors anticipate that Summers will officially present two task forces focused on the hiring and the integration of female professors into the Faculty-—both formed in the midst of the media frenzy surrounding Summers’ comments.
But faculty members say that these task forces will not be enough to satisfy his critics.
While the monthly Faculty meetings are usually dedicated to hashing out FAS policy—Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby’s Annual Letter to the Faculty and a report on the progress of the Curricular Review are the two items officially on the agenda—professors predict that today’s meeting will likely shift towards a discussion of Summers’ controversial tenure.
Professors across the departments say they plan to voice their criticisms of Summers’ leadership, particularly in light of his recent remarks.
Professors also say that Summers’ comments last month have highlighted longer-standing concerns among the Faculty over the declining proportion of tenure offers made to women since Summers arrived in Cambridge.
Conflict with professors has characterized much of Summers’ tenure.
In late 2001, only months after Summers took office, a dispute with former Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 made national headlines and ended with West’s departure for Princeton University.
The president’s remarks last month reignited some of the animosity generated during the West dispute that caused difficulties with other members of the African-American Studies department.
Summers’ comments last month also aggravated critics who have clashed with his general leadership style.
“Summers squelches debate at faculty meetings and ensures that major issues are not brought up: issues such as the massive transfers of funds from FAS to the Central Administration for Allston and its consequences for other activities,” Professor of Physics and of Applied Sciences Daniel S. Fisher wrote in an e-mail.
Fisher, who also led the planning for the interdisciplinary Center for Brain Science, additionally wrote that Summers “has systematically suppressed open discussion on issues vital to the future of Harvard.”
One senior professor said yesterday that some faculty may even ask for a vote to force Summers from his post as chair of Faculty meetings.
The senior faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous, said such a vote is not likely at today’s meeting, but could be scheduled for a future Faculty meeting.
But it is unlikely that such a motion would go through the Faculty unpposed.
“If you don’t agree with somebody, the first resort is not to kick him out,” said Chair of the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department Philip A. Kuhn. “Everybody makes mistakes. If you look at what [Summers has] actually done, he hasn’t done too badly. This kind of institutional violence is not particularly called for,” he said.
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