University President Lawrence H. Summers will face a new no-confidence motion at the next full Faculty meeting, as Harvard plunges deeper into its second crisis of governance in less than a year.
Judith Ryan, the Weary professor of German and comparative literature, wrote in an e-mail last night that she is placing the motion on the agenda for the Feb. 28 session with the hope that it will force Summers to resign.
Summers lost a similar no-confidence vote last March by a 218–185 margin, but retained the support of the Harvard Corporation and has remained in office. The Corporation, the seven-member governing board of the University, is the only group that can fire Summers.
“I do believe that President Summers is a very tough person, a person who doesn’t let much get under his skin,” Ryan said last night. “It may be that he needs to be confronted by the general faculty’s view of the situation.”
Ryan’s 18-word resolution reads: “That the Faculty of Arts and Sciences continues to lack confidence in the leadership of Lawrence H. Summers.”
It is almost exactly the same wording as last year’s resolution—submitted by Professor of Anthropology and of African and African American Studies J. Lorand Matory ’82—with the addition of the word “continues.”
All Faculty members may put a motion on the docket for any Faculty meeting. According to the rules of faculty procedure, professors have until 9:30 a.m. Monday to place a motion on the docket for the Feb. 28 meeting, and until noon on the following Monday to amend the motion.
Ryan said last night that one professor has discussed with her the possibility of placing a motion on the docket that explicitly ask the Faculty to call for Summers’ resignation. She said she does not know if the person will put forward the motion, and declined to identify the individual.
“It’s a distinguished person, and a person who would be very suited to make this motion,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s move did not surprise many, coming two days after more than a dozen professors assailed the president for what they called his heavy-handed leadership style and his poor handling of Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby’s Jan. 27 resignation.
Ryan first threatened to call a no-confidence motion at that contentious Faculty meeting on Tuesday. “Do you have any reason to believe that it would not be appropriate for us to revisit the question of confidence in your leadership at a subsequent meeting?” she asked Summers.
Summers responded: “That is of course the Faculty’s prerogative.”
Tuesday’s blow-up has been directly attributed to the events surrounding Kirby’s resignation, which was originally planned for early February. He moved his announcement up to Jan. 27 when informed that The Crimson was planning to break the news of his plans that night.
Citing four individuals close to the central administration, The Crimson reported that Summers forced Kirby’s resignation. Neither Summers nor Kirby have denied the validity of the reports.
Professors were angered by the leaks, which some felt were placed by the central administration to make Kirby look bad.
“I think that what set this off was the fact that the president’s staff or confidantes—knowing that Dean Kirby was about to announce his resignation—decided to leak it ahead of time... and thus embarrass the dean” said Peter K. Bol, the Carswell professor of East Asian languages and civilizations. “I think that it was incomprehensible to deny a person the dignity of announcing his own resignation.”
Ryan said last night that she expects her motion to pass “by a greater margin” than last March’s motion.
“There are people who strongly support the president, but so far, it seems that these people are not at all in the majority,” she said.
Many professors only learned of the motion when contacted by The Crimson yesterday and said it was too early to comment on the motion.
If the Feb. 28 motion does pass with more support than last year’s motion, Summers would find himself in the extremely difficult position of not just lacking the confidence of the Faculty, but actually losing even more of their confidence after a year dedicated to regaining their trust. If he wins the vote, however, his critics may find it very difficult to continue their verbal attacks.
Summers’ spokesman, John D. Longbrake, declined to comment on Ryan’s motion tonight.
OF DEANS AND DELAYS
The steadily increasing pressure and attention directed at Summers has complicated the search for a new dean and the curricular review.
Some Faculty leaders are looking to leverage Summer’s increasingly conciliatory tone to gain more power in the search for Kirby’s replacement.
At Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, Summers said to Ryan: “I would hope that I would have the opportunity to work closely with members of the Faculty on this search, and in doing so, to regain trust in quarters of the Faculty where that trust may not exist today.”
But on Wednesday, members of the Faculty’s governing body backed away from an earlier plan—supported by Summers—that would have given them a greater than usual advisory role in the search. They asked the Faculty to consider a number of new plans, including one that would look to completely exclude Summers from the dean search process.
Historically, the president has sole power to nominate a dean of the Faculty for the Corporation’s approval.
And the curricular review, which was supposed to be discussed at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, was barely discussed by the Faculty Tuesday and the Faculty Council at its meeting on Wednesday. And though Kirby said he hopes to present review legislation for a vote at the Feb. 28 meeting, the only vote likely to occur will be Ryan’s motion.
Bol said last night that the result of the no-confidence vote will hinge on whether or not the Faculty feels that a new dean of the Faculty could work with Summers.
“There are two views in the faculty,” Bol said. “One is that the right kind of dean will be able to work with the president; the other is that it does not matter who the dean is, no one will be able to work with the president. If a majority of the faculty believe that having the right kind of person will work, then the rest should step back and let the President choose whom he will. If a majority of the faculty no longer believe that anyone could work successfully with the president, then that is a lack of confidence.”
—Anton S. Troianovski contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.