Critical Mass.

Summers Turns 'Tubs' On Their Bottoms

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.)