Losing Money on Larry

An elegy for Harvard’s outgoing 27th President

It is fitting that the Wall Street Journal broke news of his resignation. Larry is the son of two economists, the nephew of two Nobel laureates in Economics, the former Chief Economist of the World Bank, and has a PhD in Economics himself. With such expertise, he would probably have advised students against their play for profit at tradesports.com, where some bet on his continued presence at Mass. Hall beyond June. He would have been right; it failed. Yet, the context of his resignation makes me uncaring about the fate of some of my friends’ lost dollars.

It is true that once upon a time, Larry commented on women in science. Yet it is wrong to point to this as the genesis of his troubles. Despite the storm that ensued, the anger from faculty members predated his catalytic remarks. Whether it was from depths of the African and African American Studies department or due to his heretical lack of manners that professors consistently complained about, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) members had set their sight on Larry far before last February. Yet they used that pretext to launch the first no-confidence vote. Because you were unfairly pre-judged, you should not go, Larry.

A few days ago, the threat came right back to center stage, again without strong foundations. FAS members eagerly seeking more power in the quest for a new Dean used clichéd arguments like the supposed shielding of Jones Professor of Economics Andrei Shleifer. What is most unfair is that such claims have been legally disqualified for months. Till this day, the attacks from the Faculty remain vague and unsubstantiated. Because Harvard history shows that the most impressive presidents were the strongest ones, you should have kept fighting, Larry.

And there is a world beyond FAS. The fact that other schools did not echo “no-confidence” means that they were not dissatisfied with Summers. Even the words from the former Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean come from within the bowels of FAS. With the exception of the empty chair at the Business School, silence from the Government, Law, Medical, and other schools is indicative. Besides, Corporation members like James R. Houghton ’58 were also supportive of Summers’ strong leadership all along. Because Harvard extends beyond FAS, you should have stayed, Larry.

Unlike the Faculty’s foggy qualms, Summers’ achievements keep materializing on campus and in students’ lives. The Harvard Financial Aid Initiative has deepened our commitment to social mobility in a country with increasingly calcified social structures. The Office of International Programs now thoroughly encourages international experiences. With the recent appointment of a German architectural firm, we now have concrete steps toward a new campus in Allston. The Curricular Review, the Women’s Center (whatever that will be), popularized Freshmen Seminars, and others, populate the list of achievements of Harvard’s prime Diet Coke addict. Because of your long-term vision and works, the presidency was yours to keep, Larry.

Any economist would judge a bet supporting Summers on tradesports.com to be a poor one. Probably. But the overall performance of Summers’ stock in Harvard’s history is overwhelmingly positive. That is a certainty.

Larry, you will be missed.


Pierpaolo Barbieri ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Thayer Hall.