Tense Past Jeopardizes Summers’ Future

For Faculty, President’s Remarks Are Catalyst, Not Sole Cause, Of Clash

Jessica E. Schumer

University President Lawrence H. Summers’ long history of tension with Faculty members took a new turn Tuesday, when professors brought together formerly disparate concerns about his administration in 90 minutes of searing criticism.

Before this week, professors questioned Summers only in isolated contexts. But at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting—the first since Summers’ controversial remarks on women in science a month ago—what had been cacophonous complaints merged into a single cry against what some speakers called Summers’ reckless leadership.

“The crisis of governance and leadership here goes much deeper,” Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology Theda Skocpol said at the meeting. “We cannot easily have a new social contract, when there are many indications that we never had a genuine social contract in the first place.”

While gender issues might have been what drew professors to the meeting initially, History Department Chair Andrew D. Gordon, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, said the most recent Summers controversy simply took the lid off Faculty frustrations that had long been simmering.

“It’s not simply a matter of that one comment or this particular issue,” Gordon said yesterday, in reference to Summers’ Jan. 14 speech. “There’s widespread discontent at multiple levels...catalyzed by this one event.”

During his first three and a half years at the helm of the University, Summers has fielded—and, critics argue, bungled—complaints of various personnel problems and long-term planning concerns.

Faculty members who have been ill at ease on issues ranging from Summers’ management of the University’s expansion into Allston to the president’s role in the noisy departure of former Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 are now rallying around a common issue and voicing their complaints collectively.


Summers’ remarks last month thrust gender concerns into the national spotlight and have earned Summers the ire of many Faculty members, who see his remarks as a setback in their struggle for equality.

Professors’ anger over Summers’ remarks—voiced throughout the month via critical internal letters and op-ed pieces in national newspapers—erupted Tuesday, as Faculty hoped to redress long-standing grievances by honing in on the current situation.

Professor of Anthropology and of African and African-American Studies J. Lorand Matory accused Summers of espousing discredited arguments of “biological determinism.”

Others called for Summers to release a transcript of his remarks so that his arguments could be openly debated.

While the initial remarks at the meeting reflected concerns over his January speech, professors eventually raised older individual grievances, stressing a pattern of reckless leadership.

With tension in the room mounting, professors took the floor one by one in what seemed to be a coalition united in opposition to Summers.

Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 said Summers’ critics have seized on the president’s January speech, delivered at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) conference, to further their own political goals, rather than out of genuine indignation at Summers’ comments.

“They have been lying in wait for him for some time,” Mansfield said. “I am pretty sure the incident at the NBER meeting was planned or at least seized on by people who had it in for the president.”