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In the first significant transfer of power from the Harvard presidency to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) since the March 15 FAS vote of no confidence in University President Lawrence H. Summers, the embattled president will no longer contribute in any way to the College’s ongoing curricular review.
Until this spring, Summers has been a highly influential member of the review, serving as an ex officio member of the General Education committee this year and acting as the driving force behind many of the review’s more ambitious recommendations.
But Summers said Monday that he has not attended any meetings of the Gen Ed committee this semester, and confirmed that he has ceased contribution to the review through all other means, both formal and informal.
“The review is at a stage where it is natural for the Faculty to take full responsibility for the review,” Summers said yesterday, adding that he does not envision taking an active role at any point in the future.
But several professors said yesterday that Summers’ withdrawal is the consequence of significant faculty pressure exerted on Summers this semester to scale back his involvement in FAS affairs.
“He came under the general criticism that he was trying to micro-manage some of the Faculty’s affairs, so I think he decided that it would be best if he withdrew” from the review, said Baird Professor of Science Gary J. Feldman, who is a member of the Faculty Council, the 18-member governing board of FAS.
A firestorm of faculty criticism directed at Summers began this February in response to his controversial January remarks on women in science, but quickly broadened into more general concerns with what professors saw as Summers’ blunt and aggressive leadership style.
In particular, Summers has been accused of heavy-handed guidance of the curricular review.
“Many people felt he was using too much air time and pushing some of his views too hard,” said one member of the Faculty Council, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
James Houghton and Hannah Gray of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, first told members of the Faculty Council in a April 25 meeting that Summers would no longer contribute to the curricular review.
The meeting with the Corporation, which was called by members of the Faculty Council concerned about the state of FAS in the wake of the no confidence vote, was attended by Anthropology Department Chair Arthur Kleinman, Professor of History and Science Everett I. Mendelsohn, Professor of Physics Lisa Randall, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African-American Studies Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Classics Department Chair Richard F. Thomas, and Phillips Professor of Early American History Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
According to a council member who attended the meeting, Summers and the Corporation had agreed prior to the meeting that the president would step back from his involvement in the review, and that “it was now fully in the hands of the appropriate faculty committees” charged with conducting the review.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the council member said that the Corporation members did not say whether they had asked Summers to step down or whether he had volunteered to do so.
Summers said yesterday that he had stepped down of his own accord.
Ulrich reported the results of the meeting with the Corporation to the full Faculty at its monthly meeting last Tuesday, but she did not explicitly say that they had learned that Summers would cease his involvement with the review.
Ulrich said simply that the Corporation had agreed that “the curricular review is the responsibility of the Faculty.”
Ulrich did not respond to requests for comment yesterday and Monday.
Although Ulrich did not address the issue directly at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, Summers’ withdrawal from the review may be part of a larger effort to cede more governance powers to the Faculty.
The Corporation had indicated a “desire...to listen to Faculty concerns,” and had said in particular that there must be more faculty involvement and increased transparency in the development of a new campus in Allston, in addition to more participation in the review, Ulrich told the Faculty.
But it is still unclear what impact Summers’ withdrawal will have on the review’s final product, or the extent to which other FAS administrators will assume greater control.
Feldman said he was unsure if the review’s final recommendations, slated to be submitted next fall, would change at all because of the president’s departure from the process.
But one council member who attended the meeting with the Corporation speculated that at least some of the ideas Summers has strongly supported, such as giving the proposed Harvard College Courses a prominent role in the new curriculum, may be reconsidered.
—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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