Anthropology professor J. Lorand Matory ’82, a leading scholar on the African diaspora who is known for his strong criticisms of Israel and his opposition to former University President Lawrence H. Summers, will leave Harvard next fall to chair Duke’s African and African-American studies department.
Matory said that Harvard did not respond to Duke’s offer with a comparable position or salary.
“The letter of reply was polite but acknowledged only what is favorable about my leaving,” Matory said of the counter-offer from Dean of the Faculty Michael D. Smith.
Matory’s colleagues within the anthropology and African and African-American studies departments say that they are sorry to see him go. This fall he will give the University of Rochester’s Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture series, which he called “the most important lectures in anthropology.”
“We will find it very difficult indeed to replace him,” said Michael Herzfeld, head of the social anthropology wing of the anthropology department. “I don’t think he can be replaced, frankly.”
The chair of the African and African-American studies department, Evelyn B. Higginbotham, expressed similar sentiments.
“Obviously, Professor Matory will be a huge loss to our department,” she wrote in an e-mailed statement. “His research and teaching cover Africa and the Americas. This level of breadth will be hard to duplicate, if not impossible.”
At least one professor welcomed the news of Matory’s departure. The anthropologist’s longtime antagonist, law professor Alan M. Dershowitz, a fierce defender of Israel, said that he was “thrilled” that Matory was leaving.
“I think it’s the best thing that’s happened to Harvard in a long time,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. “Privately, there’s a real sense of exhilaration and relief that this man is no longer a blot on our community.”
Matory has made his mark on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as one of Harvard’s most vocal critics of Israel and for his role in campaigning for Summers’ ouster.
“Is it anti-Semitic to ask why the Palestinians should pay the price for the ghastly crime of the Germans?” Matory wrote in a Crimson opinion piece last September. “Why were the property rights of the German perpetrators sacrosanct and those of the guiltless Palestinians adjudged an acceptable casualty?”
Last November, he submitted a motion at a Faculty meeting, asking his colleagues to commit themselves “to fostering civil dialogue.” He connected what he said were the University’s policies towards Israel with a greater denial of free speech at Harvard.
The Faculty ultimately rejected his motion.
Before that, Matory had become one of the most vocal faculty critics in the bid to topple Summers, and had strongly criticized the president for his comments on the scientific aptitude of women.
“I will not let Larry Summers determine that this will become a place where social Darwinism is the leading ideology or leading practice,” Matory told The Crimson in 2005.
In that case too, Matory spoke out against what he perceived as pro-Israel bias, condemning Summers for saying that professors calling for a divestiture of Israel were “anti-Semitic in effect, if not in intent.”
DANGER FOR DIVERSITY?
Although the move represents a professional and financial raise, Matory said that he did not want to leave Harvard.
“Harvard has the ability—the financial ability—to do right in a way and to a degree that no other university can,” he said. “But it doesn’t.”
In light of diversity dean Lisa L. Martin’s departure from Harvard, he said he thought that Smith was not committed to hiring a diverse Faculty.
“Maybe there is a pattern,” he said. “Maybe Dean Smith doesn’t seem to have found a way to commit himself to this principle as of yet.”
Smith declined to comment on the nature of the Faculty’s offer or Matory’s decision to leave.
Black professors are “terribly underrepresented” in the Faculty, Matory said.
Matory is one of a few prominent black faculty members to leave Harvard unhappily in the last six years, including religion professor Cornel West and economist Caroline Hoxby,.
But that is not the only gap in diversity that Matory said he is worried about.
“The structure of hiring and promotion at Harvard militates against the hiring and promotion of people who care about being married,” he said, adding that Harvard failed to secure a job for his wife who holds a master’s degree from the University.
Matory said that his perspective in anthropological work changed when he got married, and changed again when he had children, and that a range of perspectives is essential to maintaining a great university.
Although he is a tenured Harvard professor, Matory said he is facing financial difficulties.
“We don’t take vacations,” he said of his family. “We don’t have the money to take vacations.”
Matory could have left at the end of last spring, his colleague Herzfeld said, but decided to stay because he is teaching the graduate proseminar which is required of all social anthropology graduate students.
“He is a man of great principle,” Herzfeld said.
—Staff writer Bonnie J. Kavoussi can be reached at email@example.com.