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Secretive Corporation Holds Final Key to President’s Fate

By Zachary M. Seward, Crimson Staff Writer

While Tuesday’s outpouring of faculty discontent threatened to destabilize University President Lawrence H. Summers’ administration, those conferred with the only official power to remove Summers from office remained tight-lipped and far from campus yesterday.

The notoriously secretive Harvard Corporation, a seven-member board at the University’s nexus of power, is the only governing body which could ultimately unseat Summers, who is himself a member of the Corporation.

But phone calls and e-mails to the five men and one woman who hold the key to Summers’ fate at Harvard went unreturned yesterday as the Corporation maintained its silence in the face of growing faculty unrest.

A handful of members on Harvard’s Board of Overseers—a board with far less authority than the Corporation—spoke glowingly of Summers in interviews yesterday, but were also quick to acknowledge the limits of their power.

“The Corporation makes the big decisions in the University,” Bruce M. Alberts ’60, one of 30 Overseers, said in an interview yesterday. “The Overseers are a great group, but we don’t have any power in official terms.”

As the body which appointed Summers to his post almost four years ago, the Corporation is unlikely to have suddenly withdrawn its support for him.

Since Summers took over in July 2001, the body has appeared to grow only more friendly to the president, even as he has attracted increased criticism for his controversial decisions and confrontational leadership style.

Three of Summers’ six colleagues on the Corporation were appointed during his tenure, and their connections run far deeper than their Harvard degrees.

Robert E. Rubin ’60, Summers’ former boss and predecessor at the U.S. Treasury, was an instrumental supporter of his bid for the Harvard presidency. And Robert D. Reischauer ’63, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, was also a colleague of Summers and Rubin’s in Washington.

When Nannerl O. Keohane joins the Corporation on July 1, only two members of the Corporation—Conrad K. Harper ’62 and James R. Houghton ’58—will remain as holdovers from before Summers’ term, capping off a period of unusually rapid turnover on the governing board.

The Corporation’s steadfast secrecy—no public agenda or minutes of their meetings are released—has long cast an air of mystery over their proceedings.

In a brief interview on Tuesday night, University Treasurer James F. Rothenberg ’68, the newest member of the Corporation, would not discuss even general outlines of the board’s recent discussions.

“What the Corporation talks about is the Corporation’s business,” he said. “I don’t mean to be evasive, but we’re not going to tell you what we’re talking about.”

The Corporation’s next meeting on campus is scheduled for March 7. Reached at his home last night, Marc Goodheart, the Corporation’s secretary since 1998, declined to comment before he could be asked a question.

“I’m not in a position to answer anything you might be asking about,” Goodheart said.

As for the Board of Overseers, 27 of the board’s 30 members either declined to comment or did not respond to calls and e-mails yesterday. Among those who did grant interviews, all three expressed deep skepticism of recent faculty criticism of Summers.

“My guess is what you’re hearing is largely sour grapes,” said Thomas F. Stephenson ’64, “Larry isn’t afraid to shake things up to get things done.”

California State Sen. Sheila J. Kuehl said that while Overseers were concerned by Summers’ remarks last month on women in science, they had been assuaged by his later apologies.

Of the faculty criticisms launched at Summers, Kuehl said, “The Overseers aren’t hearing this at all as a lack of confidence in his leadership.”

—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at seward@fas.harvard.edu.

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