In an open letter to be delivered to University President Lawrence H. Summers today, the Harvard Republican Club (HRC) expressed support for Summers’ position in his recent conflict with Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74.
Although the letter praises West’s skill as a professor, it maintains that Summers has a right to monitor the quality of all and any university professors.
“We basically decided that it needed to be said that not everything [Summers] did was wrong” said Joshua M. Mendelsohn ’05, HRC secretary.
The letter refers to the controversy as a “personal disagreement” that was magnified by heavy publicity.
“We thought this became a racial issue and polarized the campus in ways it shouldn’t have,” said HRC President Brian C. Grech ’03.
The HRC board thought the criticism of Summers was “unfair” and wanted to clarify their staunch support of Summers to the Harvard community, Grech said.
Although the letter refers to Summers’ style as “impulsive” and “brusque,” it lauds his “abiding concern for standards at Harvard.”
“It is still, we would hope, a Harvard president’s right and duty to ensure that all members of the faculty continue to produce at that level of excellence which alone places Harvard at the fore of world scholarship,” the letter from the HRC reads.
The letter also commends Summers for choosing his principles over his image, saying “you put the well-being of Harvard above your own.”
But it also emphasizes that the club’s support for Summers does not exclude its respect for West.
“Professor West’s spirit, energy, and ability to get students interested in questions of justice will surely be missed,” the letter reads.
West, as a University professor, is more accountable to the president than departmental professors, according to the letter.
HRC members said they wanted to emphasize the preservation of Harvard’s academic tradition in the letter.
“Most people would have to agree with us that Harvard’s tradition is very valuable,” said Veronica M. Wissel ’03, one of the members who initiated the letter.
“The real issue here, as Professor West himself made clear to The Crimson, is that ‘the precious Harvard tradition is bigger than Summers, myself or any of us,’” the letter reads.
The HRC statement comes after the initial heat of controversy, but members said they felt it was important to express their message.
“During pre-frosh weekend, the pre-frosh were talking about it, so the issue isn’t going away,” Grech said.
President of the Black Students Association (BSA) Brandon A. Gayle ’03 said that the issue was not political and that the BSA was now focused on the movement to diversify the University.
“This isn’t a partisan issue, there’s no ill will,” Gayle said. “We want to support President Summers in his effort to diversify the faculty and student body.”
President of the Harvard College Democrats Sonia H. Kastner ’03 said she did not understand why the HRC made a statement on the issue.
“Their letter is not about politics, and I don’t see how it’s relevant to the organization,” Kastner said. “If [members of the HRC] have opinions as students they should express it as students; the signature of the Republican Club does not give the letter any more weight.”
The College Democrats have not taken an official stand on the issue other than signing the petition that asked West to stay, Kastner said.
Harvard spokesperson Joe Wrinn said he had no response to the letter.