Re: “Summers Resigns; Bok Will Be Interim Chief,” news, Feb. 22.
For three of my four years at Harvard, I covered the office of the president for The Crimson. The assignment gave me a glimpse into the issues facing the head of the world’s richest and most prestigious university and provided an exhilarating distraction from what was in many ways a disappointing curriculum at the College.
Watching Lawrence Summers, who took over the year after I graduated, helped drain a good deal of my cynicism toward Harvard. The late 1990s was a period of great wealth-making in America, and it was clear to me as both a reporter and a student that the president’s chief duty was to net as much money for the University as possible, rather than tend to the deficiencies in Harvard’s classrooms. Summers, in contrast, was an “ideas” president, who took Harvard’s mission as a place of discovery and teaching seriously: he sought bold changes to the core (literally) of the Harvard education and he refused to mouth the fashionable nostrums that Harvard’s lazier minds insist on. Yes, he said, the University has an obligation to serve and love the country. Yes, science may lead us to discoveries that, at least in some areas, complicate our ideas of equality.
To me, Harvard’s greatness was reaffirmed in its decision to appoint Lawrence Summers, a brilliant, provocative, and intellectually honest man who could show American universities what a liberal education was all about. The triumph of his Lilliputian adversaries, however, confirms what I had always feared about Harvard, that it is a bubble of self-congratulation and small-mindedness. The ramifications of his ouster will be broad and destructive, as free-thinkers and censors at schools across the country recalculate their positions relative to one another. This is a shameful day for the University.
JAMES Y. STERN ’01 Boston, Mass. February 22, 2006