Motion Filed To Censure Summers

Vote on docket for March 15 faculty meeting

A professor yesterday officially submitted a motion calling for a vote of censure of University President Lawrence H. Summers, meaning the embattled president will have to survive at least one more bout with the discontented members of his Faculty.

The motion, which was submitted by Professor of Anthropology and of African and African American Studies J. Lorand Matory ’82, calls for professors to dissociate themselves from Summers’ past controversial pronouncements, and for Summers to separate his views from his governance of the University.

The motion, which will be on the docket for the March 15 meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), asks Faculty to vote “to register dissent from a series of pronouncements by Mr. Summers that minimize the social causes of social inequality and, at times, appear to censor dissenting views on campus; demand a halt to any expansion of presidential prerogatives that will facilitate the application of these pronouncements to the governance of the University.”

The motion was a subject of discussion at yesterday’s meeting of the Faculty Council, the FAS 18-member governing body. Six members of the Faculty Council will meet with at least two members of the Harvard Corporation—the university’s seven-member governing board, of which Summers is a member—on Monday to discuss faculty concerns over Summers’ leadership.

With Matory’s motion on the Faculty meeting agenda, discussion of Summers’ leadership will likely once again dominate the floor.

“Unless somehow it’s taken off the agenda, people will discuss it,” said one member of the Faculty Council, adding that “the only way it can be taken off [the docket] before the meeting is if Matory himself withdraws” the motion.

Though discussion is likely, Matory’s vote will not necessarily reach the floor. There are several procedural moves by which faculty could prevent a vote from happening, including an objection to considering Matory’s motion at all—which would require a two-thirds majority to pass. Furthermore, if discussion goes on long enough, professors may run out of time in which to hold a vote. Faculty meetings are officially two hours long, though faculty may vote to extend them.

The motion does not use the words “no confidence,” though it is essentially tantamount to a motion of “no confidence”, said Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan, who is also a member of the Faculty Council.

Summers, who is in Mexico meeting with alumni, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Matory’s accompanying 375-word “explanatory note” expands on the official motion. The note acknowledges Summers’ apologies concerning remarks in January about women in science, but then criticizes him for “a pattern of aggressive communication and inattention to faculty opinions” and for expanding the power of the Presidency.

The note alludes to several of Summers’ controversies, including a 1991 memo he signed while Chief Economist for the World Bank suggesting that third-world nations are under-polluted, his support for the military’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program—which is barred from campus and has been criticized for its ban on openly-gay members, and his statements calling the signers of a petition for Harvard’s divestment from Israel anti-Semitic “in their effect, if not their intent”.

Because the Corporation is the only body that can ask the University President to step down, a Faculty vote of censure would be only a symbolic gesture. But in the unlikely event that the motion passes, it could be detrimental to Summers’ ability to lead the University.

A Crimson poll conducted from Feb. 18 to Feb. 21 showed that, of the 273 professors who responded, 38 percent would, at the time, vote “no confidence” in Summers. Fifty percent said they would vote confidence in Summers, while 12 percent said they did not know.

Ten days and one Faculty meeting later, however, many professors appear prepared to take a more conciliatory approach to Summers, hoping to see him improve communication with the Faculty rather than have him step down as president over what the public will see as only a few impolitic remarks.

Further, professors have criticized Matory’s motion as too specific in its grievances to garner any significant support among the Faculty.

“There’s quite a lot of difference of opinion among people on the Faculty over what issues they feel are important. Any particular motion would get a smaller vote than the generic motion [the Crimson poll] raised,” Baird Professor of Science Gary J. Feldman said of Matory’s motion.