Mag Backs Off on Faust's Remarks

BusinessWeek has retracted language the magazine used to characterize comments University President Drew G. Faust made about the difficulty that public universities face in pursuing scientific research.

In the Dec. 10 issue of the magazine, reporter Anthony Bianco wrote that Faust believed “it would be wise” for what he termed “lesser universities” to leave larger science endeavors to wealthier private schools.

The story provoked a denunciation from the provosts of 11 large public universities who sent a letter to BusinessWeek criticizing Faust for purportedly alleging that “lesser-endowed universities should back off from ‘ambitious’ scientific research and focus instead on social science and the humanities.”

Faust responded in a letter to the editor published yesterday that these views were “inaccurately attributed” to her.

“I did not say and emphatically do not believe,” she wrote, “that our leading public universities, which have been so important for so long to the nation’s scientific enterprise, should somehow cede the field to well-endowed private institutions.”

Below Faust’s letter, the weekly magazine ran an editor’s note stating that BusinessWeek had reviewed the tape-recorded conversation and concluded that “we believe we reported her comments fairly.”

But BusinessWeek added that it had paraphrased Faust using words that did not accurately reflect her statements, wrongly suggesting that public universities short on funding should focus on the social sciences rather than more costly hard science research. In fact, Faust only noted that some schools have already chosen this course of action, according to BusinessWeek.

“President Faust did not, however, say such schools would be wise to use that strategy, a word we used (without quotation marks) to characterize her comments,” the editor’s note read.

Deborah Stead, an editor for BusinessWeek, declined to release the original tapes of the interview, citing a magazine policy against doing so.

University spokesman John D. Longbrake said last night that the University was happy to see the magazine revise the earlier article.

“We’re pleased that the magazine has acknowledged that the quotes from President Faust were taken grossly out of context,” he said, “and further that they recognize that the author’s choice of language mischaracterized the tone and meaning of her conversation.”

Bianco’s article, “The Dangerous Wealth of the Ivy League,” investigated the advantages that universities with large endowments wield in conducting scientific research. In the piece, he argues that Ivy League science investment may harm public universities by poaching star professors and research money.

—Staff writer Clifford M. Marks can be reached at cmarks@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Nathan C. Strauss can be reached at strauss@fas.harvard.edu.