Computer Science Professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 questioned University President Drew G. Faust on whether the University should actively criticize University Professor Michael E. Porter for his financial ties with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
At yesterday’s Faculty meeting, Lewis chided Porter for a 2006 report to the Libyan government on the part of his private consulting firm, Monitor Consulting Group, which repeatedly dubbed the regime a “popular” and “direct” democracy. Lewis said that Porter’s actions represented Harvard in a poor light, negatively affecting its global image.
“Harvard rightfully expresses its pride when a member of our community does something noble,” Lewis said. “I wonder if the University should not also express its shame when a faculty member disgraces the University.”
The Faculty meeting was otherwise largely policy-oriented, developing next year’s Optional Winter Activities Week and endorsing scheduling morning classes on Fridays next semester.
Following concerns expressed by faculty members and students about a lack of transparency in the process, Faust also summarized the University’s decision to repeal a ban on Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Lewis addressed Faust after the University president had closed her presentation for the meeting.
“I don’t know that Professor Porter broke any laws or University rules, and I would not want any new regulatory apparatus,” Lewis said. “Yet taking money to support a tyranny by dubbing it a democracy is wrong.”
In February 2006, Porter presented a 200-page document to officials in Tripoli as a consultant to Monitor, a firm formed by several Harvard professors that was under several million-dollar contracts with the country.
In the report, Porter argued that Libya “has the only functioning example of direct democracy on a national level,” and that Libyans were able to directly contribute to the decision-making process, which drew heavy fire from Lewis in yesterday’s Faculty meeting.
“To put it simply, a tyrant wanted a crimson-tinged report that he was running a democracy,” Lewis said, bringing up the question of whether the University should acknowledge the “shame” when a faculty member disgraces the University in such a way.
“Shouldn’t Harvard acknowledge its embarrassment, and might you remind us that when we parlay our status as Harvard professors for personal profit, we can hurt both the University and all of its members?” Lewis said.
In response to Lewis’ criticism, Faust said that it was not the president’s responsibility to serve as “public scolder-in-chief.”
She said that Harvard recently conducted a review of the University’s policies on conflict of interest. But she said it should also be the University’s priority to support all faculty members to pursue academic inquiry.