Summers Says Kirby's Letter 'Speaks for Itself'

Historian Ulrich to lead 5-member committee that will advise search for new dean

Alison M. Tarwater

President Summers, caffeine-free Diet Coke in hand, chats with students at a Leverett House study break last night as Andrew K. McCollum ‘06-’07 looks on.

The highest governing body of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) asked historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to take a leading role in the search for the school’s next chief, even as questions linger about outgoing FAS Dean William C. Kirby’s sudden resignation.

Four people close to Harvard’s central administration have told The Crimson that University President Lawrence H. Summers forced Kirby to resign. But inside Leverett House Dining Hall last night, Summers declined to address reports that he fired the FAS dean.

Asked whether he forced Kirby to resign, Summers said, “Dean Kirby’s letter speaks for itself.”

Kirby wrote last Friday that he had “decided to return to the Faculty at the end of the current academic year,” but he did not say whether the decision was voluntary.

Just five days after announcing his resignation, Kirby was “greeted by a standing ovation” at the 18-member Faculty Council’s meeting yesterday, said Cabot Professor of Social Ethics Mahzarin Banaji.

The Faculty Council voted unanimously to name Ulrich as the leader of a five-professor group that will craft recommendations for the nascent dean search.

Ulrich, a scholar of early American history who holds one of Harvard’s 19 University professorships, is already a member of the Faculty Council.

“The role of the Faculty Council re[garding] the FAS Dean search is still being defined,” Ulrich wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson last night.

Another member of the council, Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn, said yesterday that the Faculty had entered “a period of tension—in some ways a period of crisis.”

The aim of the Ulrich-led subcommittee is “to make very explicit and public that the council was involved” in the dean search, Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn noted that the council will advise Summers on “qualifications we think should be there” in the next dean.

The council instructed the five-member subcommittee to work over the coming days toward forming suggestions that will be brought before the entire council early next week, Mendelsohn said.

The council yesterday also heard a presentation by members of the Harvard College Curricular Review’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC).That committee has recommended delaying concentration choice by one semester to the middle of sophomore year. It has also called on the Faculty to allow undergraduates to study a “secondary field” in addition to their primary concentration.

While that committee presented no new information, “discussion of the EPC recommendations was very productive,” said Cabot Associate Professor of Computer Science Salil P. Vadhan.

Council members did not vote on the EPC recommendations yesterday, and no vote is yet scheduled.

But council members did vote to return to the standard nine full faculty meetings in the coming academic year.

The number of meetings was expanded to 14 for this current academic year to accommodate debate on the curricular review.

Kirby announced his resignation just a week after he wrote in a letter to Faculty the some elements of the curricular review would be voted on by the full Faculty by this spring.

“We’re trying to come to closure on rather major issues...and at the same time dealing with the fact that we don’t have a dean in place yet,” Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn also expressed concern that “the appointment of the dean will be made by a president in whom the Faculty has expressed lack of confidence.”

In March, the Faculty voted 218-185, with 18 abstentions, to approve a resolution stating that it “lacks confidence in the leadership of Lawrence H. Summers.”

—Staff writer Nicholas M. Ciarelli can be reached at ciarelli@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Allison A. Frost can be reached at afrost@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Samuel P. Jacobs can be reached at jacobs@fas.harvard.edu.