Scientists might look askance at the arrival of Lawrence H. Summers--an economist--as Harvard's 27th president. But University officials and those who have known Summers in government say that he understands the importance of investing in research--and has a long record of making such investment a top priority.
Because he is an economist, Summers knows that science makes money. He knows that science gets press coverage. For that matter, any university president knows that science and the technology it produces are formidable economic engines that have the potential to make money. But big science requires big money and huge organizations--two things that Harvard has in abundance.
And although academics might categorize him as a social scientist, Summers is in the best position since chemist James B. Conant `14 to understand and push the cause of scientific research at Harvard.
A Scientist's Priorities?
A Harvard president has to be a scholar.
Neil L. Rudenstine is the textbook definition of a scholar--someone whose great interests lie in the intellectual achievements of the past, someone who has read everything, or knows why he has not. In contrast, friends say Summers has an omnivorous mind--but he may not have Rudenstine's deep human understanding or endless personal library. What he does have: an extensive background in the quantitative aspect of economics. That makes Summers the most scientifically-minded man to occupy Massachusetts Hall since Conant.
Summers has been hesitant to lay out any priorities in his first few weeks as president-elect. Those who are talking, however, agree that promoting scientific research will be one of the most important and most challenging tasks facing the new president.
In October, Robert G. Stone Jr. '45, the chair of the secretive Harvard Corporation--and the head of the search committee that would eventually choose Summers--said one of the top qualifications for the president-to-be would be a familiarity with science.
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