Summers: 'I've Made My Share of Mistakes'

At Dunster, He Begins Long Goodbye

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University President Lawrence H. Summers told a packed Dunster House audience: “I am the only Harvard president who has seen Harvard beat Yale in every year.”

Only one day after announcing his resignation, University President Lawrence H. Summers was already joking about his stormy tenure before a captivated Dunster House audience during a fireside chat.

“I have had a shorter term than many other Harvard presidents, but as a consequence of that, I can take pride in the fact that I am the only Harvard president who has seen Harvard beat Yale in every year,” Summers said.

Clutching the microphone stand, he responded to an hour’s worth of questions from the packed dining hall, in what he called a “slightly less inhibited spirit” than he might have had last week.

Summers acknowledged his rocky relationship with some members of the Faculty and expressed remorse that he “had not been able to repair the rifts” that had emerged.

Still, he said, “I received the most important vote of confidence from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that a man could receive this fall, when Professor Elisa New agreed to marry me.”

‘VERY OPTIMISTIC’

Some supporters of Summers in attendance last night expressed concern about where Summers’ resignation would leave his agenda for the University.

Summers said he is “very optimistic” that the University will work toward his top goals—including expanding financial aid and planning construction across the river in Allston—without him.

“I feel very good about the continuity of some of the major things that have gotten started,” he said.

Summers said the job of University president is “not an easy one.”

“I’ve learned in returning to Harvard from Washington, that when one leaves Washington, one does not leave political life in coming to a university,” Summers said.

One audience member questioned whether Summers—whose January 2005 comments on women in science incited harsh criticism from Harvard faculty and the national media—thought his successors would feel able to speak freely on controversial topics.

“I’ve made my share of mistakes,” Summers said in response, but he emphasized that no question should be “off-limits” at a university.

Dunster House tutor Jason P. Brinton ’02 sought Summers’ advice for students entering business or academia.

“I think one piece of advice I would offer is, when you make a mistake, recognize that you’ve made a mistake, and try to turn heat into light,” Summers said. “Try to learn from the mistake and to do better in the future than you have in the past...That’s at least the approach that I’ve tried to live by.”

With Summers planning to spend next year on sabbatical, Dunster pre-law tutor Martin S. Bell ’03 offered the president a spot on his new fantasy baseball league.

“You’ve got some time on your hands coming up, and your interests in economics and baseball could intersect there,” said Bell, who is also a Crimson editor. “There’s a spot if you want it.”

“Now if you had a tennis team, that would be something different,” Summers responded. “Yours is one of the more novel suggestions that I’ve received, but I’m open to every possibility.”

Though Summers’ tennis skills still don’t rise above the amateur level, last night bore a closer resemblance to a Grand Slam event. Harvard University Police Department provided security, checking Harvard identification at the door—and a group of five Crimson editors and former Crimson executives seated in the third row greeted Summers with the letters L-A-R-R-Y painted on their chests in red paint.

When asked by one of those students, former Crimson business manager Gregory B. Michnikov ’06, whether someone with Summers’ “bold vision” would want Harvard’s presidency now, the president paused.

“It’s such a pleasure to be with you guys,” Summers responded, drawing laughter and applause.

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