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Critical Mass.

Summers Turns 'Tubs' On Their Bottoms

By May Habib, Crimson Staff Writer

ETOB. Beginning with the presidency of John Thornton Kirkland (1810-1828), generations of Harvard administrators have scribbled it on memos, briefings, and budgets. “Every Tub on Its Own Bottom” has been the sacred governing philosophy of Harvard presidents for centuries.

Even now, University President Lawrence H. Summers, famous for his “CEO” approach to university governance, professes respect for the tradition of autonomy for Harvard’s nine faculties.

In an April 15 speech at the Harvard Club of Washington—one month after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted a lack of confidence in his leadership—Summers told his audience that Harvard’s “tub” system has a “tremendous logic” to it.

“It produces accountability. It builds loyalty. It has a lot to recommend it. And we’re going to keep it,” he said.

And Summers’ record shows that he is keeping ETOB. Except, that is, when he isn’t.

From centralized procurement and budgeting to Allston planning and fund-raising to the growth of inter-school initiatives and the expansion of Mass. Hall’s administrative reach, Summers is pushing to consolidate both administrative and academic functions at the University.

Though Summers has been making steady steps towards this goal since he assumed his post four years ago, the firestorm over his comments on women in science in January triggered a University-wide examination of Summers’ leadership and the decisions he had made for the University throughout his tenure.

While some critics have taken issue with Summers’ brusque personal style and offhand remarks, his substantial moves to consolidate power have left many at the University feeling disillusioned and disenfranchised.

“What’s clear to me is what [Summers’ comments on women in science] did was only light the fuse to a situation that already had a lot of explosives in it,” says Harvard Business School Kirstein Professor of Human Relation Jay W. Lorsch, who is an expert in leadership and organizational behavior. “It was just waiting for something to make it erupt, and that happened to be it.”

But others in the University are drawing a distinction between the centralization of administrative functions—which some say are necessary and need a top-down approach to be implemented—and the centralization of certain academic functions of the faculty, such as long-term academic planning and appointments. The difficulty, professors say, lies in preventing Summers from depriving them of their say in academic planning while permitting him to streamline University operations.


In his first four years on the job, Summers has made generous use of the bully pulpit to set Harvard’s agenda.

His website is littered with speeches at which he has laid out definitive visions for the future of the University, from an outline of the College’s curricular review in his 2003 Commencement address to remarks on the importance of life sciences and financial aid.

At the same time, he has appointed top administrators who share his vision—or at least won’t stand in the way.

Once Summers appoints new deans to vacancies at the head of the Harvard Business School (HBS) and the Graduate School of Education, he will have appointed seven of the nine deans of Harvard faculties and four of the six Corporation members besides himself. (Please see story, page 13.)

Members of FAS say during his first three years in office, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby has yet to stand up to Summers publicly.

And the restructuring of the College in 2003—resulting in the firing of then-Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and the promotion of Summers’ tennis partner Benedict H. Gross ’71 to the post—is an oft-cited example of the way that Summers has reorganized University Hall to his benefit.


Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn said last year that Summers has tried to exert much more influence over Kirby and Gross than his predecessors, noting that “they feel constraints from across the Old Yard”—where Mass. Hall sits.

“[Former University President Neil L.] Rudenstine gave University Hall [the Faculty and College administration building] a large degree of autonomy on how they handled most things,” Mendelsohn said. “I think Summers wants a lot more influence—I felt that on a number of occasions on the Faculty Council, when we would be told, directly or indirectly, that the president really did want something to happen.”

Mendelsohn, who has spoken frequently at faculty meetings about curtailing Summers’ involvement in FAS affairs, reaffirmed those opinions last week.

Summers’ hands-on style has involved him much more intimately in the affairs of the tubs, especially FAS.

His involvement in internal affairs often ruffles feathers. And in the instance of his now-infamous discussion with former Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74, when he attempted to redirect West’s energies from rap music to more traditional academic fare, it backfired completely. West subsequently left for Princeton, sparking the beginning of a decline for what used to be the world’s best department of African-American studies (Please see story, page B3).

And while Summers says he has denied tenure to fewer professors than Rudenstine, his involvement in ad hoc committees has aroused some of the fiercest reactions from faculty.

While faculty can name a number of cases that have irked them, freshest on the minds of many is that of Lawrence D. Bobo, the former Diker and Tishman professor of sociology and of African and African American studies, and his wife, Marcyliena Morgan, formerly an associate professor of African and African American studies. The pair left for Stanford at the end of last semester after Summers reportedly denied Morgan tenure, even though one professor told The Crimson that she was approved unanimously by her department.

Both Rudenstine and Summers rejected between 5 and 10 percent of tenure cases that came to them for review during “comparable periods,” according to FAS Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Vincent Tompkins through a University spokesman. Tompkins declined to elaborate through the spokesman as well.

Summers has taken his involvement in ad hocs as an opportunity to shape departments as disparate as microbiology and theology, electrical engineering and constitutional law, but professors say that some of Summers’ vetoes have been made without adequate understanding of the field under review and that the president should defer more to departments.

Summers’ involvement in the ongoing curricular review was seen as heavy-handed by some in comparison to what has been the traditional level of presidential involvement in curricular matters. His withdrawal from the planning process earlier this semester—after the March 15 lack of confidence vote—was a consequence of significant faculty pressure to scale back his involvement in FAS affairs, professors said, although Summers says he had always planned to step back at this point in the process.

“He came under the general criticism that he was trying to micromanage 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 at the time.

Summers’ critics—especially a group of department chairs at FAS that is fast emerging as a key University power player—say that this unilateral approach to university governance has left many at Harvard behind. (Please see related story, "In Their Own Hands.").


The construction of a new campus across the Charles River in Allston marks the largest physical expansion in the University’s 369-year history—and the most ambitious goal of Summers’ presidency.

Since his October 2003 letter that laid out “planning assumptions,” committees have rubber stamped all of his central ideas. The campus, as Summers had outlined, will be composed of undergraduate Houses, a major science complex, and the education and public health schools.

Faculty across the University—and especially those affected by the plans—say that despite some central administration attempts at outreach, their concerns are falling on deaf ears.

“The building of Allston is very much being undertaken as the central administration prerogative and responsibility and although there’s been some involvement from different schools on the planning groups, it’s largely centrally driven,” says Mendelsohn. “To undertake something like that you do need a sizable degree of centralization, but there also should be a much more substantial role for the faculties.”

At a tense meeting in the fall of 2003, Summers told FAS professors flatly that they would not vote on Allston plans.

“Dean Kirby and I will consult extensively with members of the Faculty, but for reasons deeply rooted in University governance and tradition... matters that are curricular are matters of the Faculty, but matters regarding the allocation of resources by Massachusetts Law are reserved for the Harvard Corporation,” Summers said then.

Even those who aren’t affected directly will have to pay for the campus—the central administration has begun to drain one-half percent of each school’s endowment annually over the next 30 years to pay for the planned expansion.


Summers has also presided over centralization of functions more subtle but equally important to the future of the University.

Most notably, the consolidation of some fund-raising capabilities in the University Development Office (UDO) has strengthened Mass. Hall’s ability to target fund-raising for key Summers initiatives.

“Everybody’s noticed the consolidation upwards of discretion in the way fund-raising is done and used,” said a professor who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s fine if you agree with Larry’s priorities and not fine if you don’t...But it makes them just his list of priorities, since he never gets consensus on what those are.”

The UDO is currently consolidating donor databases from across the University, which will allow the central administration more say in fund-raising across Harvard.

But Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development Donella Rapier says that the consolidation will allow better coordination across the University but will not encroach on school-specific fund-raising.

“We want to approach our alumni and donors in the most friendly and efficient way possible,” she said.

In the past couple of years, Summers has also pushed to expand the use of class credit, a powerful fund-raising tool that previously only the dean of the Faculty could use.

Class credit is the recognition alums are given within their reunion class for donating to Harvard. Traditionally, College alums must give to one of the FAS dean’s priorities to be credited. Since 2003, however, Summers has made class credit available for gifts to graduate financial aid and for donations to the smaller graduate schools, both of which have been priorities for Summers.

The development office’s new Affinity Card allows alums to earn class credit just by using their credit card.

The revenue from the card will be used for the Presidential Scholars fund, a $14-million Summers initiative to support increased financial aid and low-interest rate loans to graduate students. Summers has also used savings from central administration cutbacks to fund the initiative.

Summers “has made it much more likely that donors will be giving to him than to individual schools,” said a senior FAS professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But Rapier insists that has not been the case.

“In pretty much every case that I know of, when money has gone to support Radcliffe or [the School of Public Health (SPH)] from College graduates, it has not been at the expense of the College,” she says.


Vice President for Finance Ann E. Berman likes to tell a story about the beginnings of the University’s attempts to centralize purchasing. When Berman began looking at ways to cut procurement costs by utilizing the University’s aggregate purchasing power, she discovered that the various entities of the University were getting 25 different shades of crimson-colored stationary.

The University commissioned a McKinsey study in the spring of 2003 that found Harvard could save up to $15 to $30 million annually by combining its purchasing power

“When we looked at purchasing practices, we discovered lots of odd things,” Berman writes in an e-mail. Millions of dollars are saved every year on the centralized purchasing of computers alone, Berman writes.

The centralization of procurement and budgeting during Summers’ tenure has allowed Mass. Hall to more effectively oversee—and influence—the financial activities of Harvard schools outside of FAS. In contrast to centralization of academic functions, there seems to be more consensus regarding the centralization of administrative tasks.

Perhaps more significant financially—and symbolically—than the centralization of procurement is the changes that Mass. Hall has made to budgeting. The annual tub-by-tub budget reviews, which used to be less substantive, have become an intensive, back-and-forth process between the schools and Mass. Hall under Summers, Berman writes.

“Since we enlarged and refocused the Office of Budget, Financial Planning and Institutional Research, they have become more intensive, and we have been working more closely with the schools,” she writes. “The President, Provost and Corporation have higher expectations for the reviews, and we have tried to meet them.”

“Central administration under Summers has been more directly supportive financially and otherwise of programs and activities at the medical school than any other administration anyone here can recall, but with that direct support comes a desire to ask very hard questions,” says Eric Buehrens, executive dean for administration at Harvard Medical School. “With two former Secretaries of the Treasury and a former head of the Congressional Budget Office [among the University’s top leadership], it’s not surprising that they ask penetrating questions.”

Robert E. Rubin ’60, a Corporation member appointed one year into Summers’ presidency, preceded Summers at the Treasury. Robert D. Reischauer ’63, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, has been a Corporation member since 2003.


The number of administrative functions now centered at Mass. Hall has increased under Summers, prompting questions of whether increased bureaucratization is further dividing the administration from the faculty.

He has overseen the consolidation of the University’s administrative activities in areas ranging from the enforcement of research policies to media relations.

Summers was the first president in Harvard’s history to appoint a personal spokesperson, and under his tenure, the University has exercised much more vigilance over its public relations.

“The old patriarchal Harvard where all the faculty talked directly to the President, or in the 1980s when the faculty talked directly to the dean, has been replaced by more of a bureaucratic situation where there are many levels of deans and now soon to be provostial levels” between the faculty and the administration, Comparative Literature Department Chair William Mills Todd III says.

At the recommendation of the Task Force on Women Faculty, a senior vice-provost position has been created and will be filled next year. Two additional vice-provosts—in the areas of international affairs and research policy—have also been created on the recommendation of another McKinsey & Co. study that analyzed Mass. Hall’s activities.

The other positions also represent a consolidation of activities formerly done at the tub level. The internationalization of Harvard, in particular, has long been a Summers priority, shifting power from schools—especially from Jane Edwards, the director of the Office of International Programs at the College—to the central administration.


The question of whether centralization under Summers has been beneficial to the University depends on who you ask, according to university governance and management experts.

Richard P. Chait, professor of higher education at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and an expert on the politics of university structure and governance, says that it’s not clear that the “have-not” schools—which he defines as SPH, GSE, and the Divinity School—have been well-served by decentralization.

“What [decentralization] does is allow the rich to get richer. It’s just a trade off. What you’re hearing is from people who would draw the line at a different place,” Chait says.

“The presidency that Summers inherited is a somewhat limited position,” Lorsch says. “You can understand the frustration of being president when you don’t have very much control.”

But Lorsch also says that Summers’ style of centralization threatens to displace faculty’s role in decision-making, which is detrimental to the University as a whole.

“Certainly you can try to lead from the center, but it’s also how you do that,” Lorsch said. “President Summers really has been very abrasive to some people. Perhaps someone else could have done this in a different way, which is sad, because he has great ideas. But you can’t jam things down people’s throats.”

Consulting faculty at all the schools may mean it will take longer to undertake large University-wide projects, but Summers must do it to salvage his presidency, Lorsch says.

“It’s an academic tradition that goes way, way back and I think you change it at your peril,” he said.

But Chait argues that a university should be less concerned with its leadership structure than with its academic ideals.

“Is the goal of any university to keep power in any particular place or is it to advance the state of knowledge?” Chait asks. “What would one rather have? A decentralized institute that’s falling behind or a centralized institute that is at the cutting edge of knowledge? The structure should be secondary to achieving other objectives.”

ETOB or no ETOB, Summers seems to agree.

—Staff writer May Habib can be reached at

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