Summers Faces Crisis of Confidence

Faculty lambast president for poor leadership, intimidating professors

Laura C. Mckiernan

University President Lawrence H. Summers enters Mass. Hall yesterday evening, several hours after he attended a Faculty meeting in which professors questioned his leadership of Harvard.

University President Lawrence H. Summers will now face a battle to keep command of the Faculty—if not his presidency—after professors assailed him at yesterday’s Faculty meeting for intimidating colleagues, tarnishing the Harvard name, and abusing his power.

Over 250 faculty members crowded University Hall for the meeting, many of them forced to sit on the floor and stand under doorways as the debate quickly developed into a one-sided assault on Summers, who sat subdued throughout the ordeal.

Today’s 90-minute session concluded with a unanimous vote to hold an emergency meeting of the Faculty next Tuesday to further discuss what Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies Diana L. Eck called “the widenening crisis of confidence” in Summers’ fitness to lead the University.

Though the format of next Tuesday’s meeting is still unclear, many say it will include a vote measuring Faculty confidence in Summers—and they say such a vote would probably not go in Summers’ favor.

The criticism came at the first full meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) since Summers’ controversial Jan. 14 remarks suggesting that “innate differences” may help explain the scarcity of female scientists at top universities.

At the meeting, an unusually stoic Summers reiterated his apology, saying he “made a serious mistake” in his remarks on women in science last month.

“This has been a searing afternoon for me,” Summers told faculty members at the end of the meeting.

Faculty members spared no words in articulating their loss of faith in the president, who has never drawn such ire from professors during his three-and-a-half year tenure.

“[We must] show the public that we are not cowards, we are not spineless, and we are not with you,” said Arthur Kleinman, chair of the anthropology department, addressing Summers in the early minutes of the meeting.

Searing though it may have been, the real trial for Summers lies in the aftermath of yesterday’s meeting.

“Judging from the meeting today I think the likelihood of a no confidence vote is high,” Sociology Department Chair Mary C. Waters, who criticized Summers at the meeting, wrote in a later e-mail.

While most professors said it is unlikely that Summers will resign as University president before Tuesday’s meeting, they did not rule out the possibility of a resignation in the near future.

“The president has been challenged to either fundamentally turn around his style of leadership or to leave the institution,” said one senior faculty member who attended the meeting.


In anticipation of the brewing criticism, Summers began the meeting by once again expressing regret for his remarks last month.

“I deserve much of the criticism that has come my way,” Summers said. “If I could turn back the clock, I would have said and done things very differently.”