With His Job On Thin Ice, Summers Hits the Slopes

On Presidents' Day Weekend, the president leaves campus

It’s Presidents' Day Weekend, but the president is nowhere to be found on campus.

With resignation rumors swirling, University President Lawrence H. Summers cancelled two appearances that had been scheduled for Thursday, and he was in absentia when Harvard unveiled its most extensive Allston expansion plans to date.

On Friday, Harvard released one of its most significant announcements since Summers became president in 2001. University officials unveiled some key details of the planned Allston campus, and they also named German architect Stefan Behnisch as the lead designer for a 500,000-square-foot science complex in Allston that will house the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

But with Summers out of the state, the president did not join Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino at a Friday morning speech.

That wasn’t the first time this week Summers was missing in action.

Early Thursday afternoon, Summers skipped a scheduled session with Institute of Politics fellows who just recently had arrived at Harvard for a semester of study.

“We were told he had a meeting that ran long,” one Institute fellow wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson.

Summers had also been scheduled to meet with The Crimson’s editorial board Thursday evening, but his spokesman, John D. Longbrake, cancelled that session early last week.

Longbrake said that the president left campus Thursday afternoon for a ski vacation with his children, and that Summers’ staff has known about the ski-vacation plans since last month.

Summers has two teenage daughters and a son from his first marriage. In December, he married Elisa New, a professor of English at Harvard, who has three daughters.

If the ski trip had been planned since last month, why wasn’t Summers’ meeting with The Crimson’s editorial board cancelled until this past Monday? “I made the mistake,” Longbrake said.

NOTHING ‘EVIL’ HERE

In a conference call regarding the Allston plans Friday, Harvard’s second highest-ranking official, Provost Steven E. Hyman, also said that Summers’ family vacation was “long-planned.” Hyman added that “the timing of this announcement was dictated by the availability of the mayor.”

And in an interview Friday, Professor in Practice of Urban Design Alex Krieger, whose firm is involved in the campus expansion project, said of the Allston announcement: “This has been scheduled for this week for quite awhile.”

Several elements of the expansion plans had been known for months, but the University did not reveal them publicly until Friday. Still, Krieger cautioned against reading too much into the timing. “I don’t think there’s anything ‘evil’ here,” Krieger said.

Longbrake, the Summers spokesman, said the president is expected to be back at Harvard by Tuesday. And Longbrake confirmed that Summers still plans to speak to undergraduates at Dunster House at 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

But for now, Summers is in Utah, hitting the slopes—even as his presidency seems to be teetering on thin ice.

-Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at hemel@fas.harvard.edu.
-Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at jhernand@fas.harvard.edu.
-Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman can be reached at nsherman@fas.harvard.edu.
 

CLARIFICATION APPENDED

The initial online version of this story described the Allston plans released by the University as blueprints. Harvard has subsequently contacted The Crimson to clarify that the University, in fact, did not release photographic prints on blue backgrounds. The University did, however, release a detailed plan or program of action. See: blueprint.