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Provost Plays Role of Loyal Lieutenant

From Allston to Botswana, Hyman keeps Harvard marching forward

By May Habib, Crimson Staff Writer

On Feb. 22, Provost Steven E. Hyman guarded University President Lawrence H. Summers’ flank on the long walk from Mass. Hall to Lowell Lecture Hall, the site of the second Faculty meeting in a week to discuss Summers’ leadership of the University.

Just past the hordes of reporters across from the Science Center, a flustered Summers made a wrong turn near the entrance to Lowell Lecture Hall.

“Over here, Larry,” Hyman called out, guiding Summers into the building.

That day, Harvard’s second-in-command sat near his boss after a second consecutive meeting in which faculty members lined up to criticize Summers’ leadership. Hyman did not say a word.

But in the lobby after the meeting, Hyman did make one comment that sheds light on the role he has played this past semester—and can perhaps explain Hyman’s public silence on the conduct of the president.

“Bill, we want to walk out as a group,” Hyman said to Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, although ironically, the three men did not end up leaving together.

Behind the scenes, Hyman has served as an effective deputy, keeping quietly above the fray while holding together the central administration and pushing key initiatives while Summers and Mass. Hall staff shifted into damage control.

“Hyman is out there trying to run the University as Summers has withdrawn to repair the damage and recreate himself,” says Anthropology Department Chair Arthur Kleinman.

From meeting with faculty to science planning to Allston development, Hyman kept the ball rolling, helping prevent the University—and Summers’ presidency—from screeching to a halt.

“I think it would have been a lot easier for [Hyman] to let things fall apart in the University and somebody would have replaced Summers,” says Dr. Greg P. Gasic, assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and a long-time friend of Hyman’s.

“I think he worked very hard to make sure that didn’t happen because I don’t think he wanted that to happen on his watch. That speaks a lot to his loyalty to the University and to the vision of what needs to be done,” Gasic says.


Hyman has not made any public comments about the University-wide concern over Summers’ leadership and has not spoken at the Faculty meetings, even when they were at their most contentious. But professors say Hyman walked a thin line between the faculty and Summers.

“My support for Larry’s vision for the University has never wavered,” Hyman says.

But although he has been publicly silent on the substance of Summers’ now-infamous remarks, faculty say that it is not too hard to surmise what it may be.

“I’m sure that Steve is extremely sophisticated about the issues of women in science,” Kleinman says. “His perspective is probably much different than the ones that Larry originally articulated.”

But Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan—a member of the Faculty Council, the Faculty’s 18-member governing board—says that although it is “obvious” that Hyman’s loyalties are “with the president, not with the Faculty,” Hyman speaks “convincingly” about Mass. Hall’s perspective on the issue at hand when meeting with faculty.

Ryan adds that Hyman met with the Faculty Council twice this semester and with a group of department chairs once.

“I don’t think he has specifically made any rallying cries,” she says. “But he does try to explain how things work and why they work that way.”

Kleinman says that while Hyman is highly respected by professors, he has not attempted to play a mediating role between the Faculty and Summers.

“He’s done exactly what he should do—stick to the work of the University,” Kleinman says. “It’s the president and the Faculty who have to come to terms.”

“Steve has really kept himself out of the “troubles” and has really ground out the work of the University during this time,” Kleinman adds. “I think that’s greatly appreciated by the faculty.”


Hyman led many of Mass. Hall’s major activities this semester, including the release of the Allston Science and Technology Task Force’s academic blueprint and the expansion of the central administration to include three more senior posts overseeing faculty recruitment, Harvard’s international activities, and University-wide research policy.

The Allston task force report, released in April, recommended the construction of two 500,000 square-foot science buildings and laid out the departments and projects—many of them new and interdisciplinary—that should be based there. Collaborative, ground-breaking scientific research is a Summers priority that Hyman says he has spent the last few months promoting.

Despite the importance of science planning for Mass. Hall, the Allston report, which was supposed to be released in January, was delayed during Summers’ crisis.

Hyman writes in an e-mail that preventing the slowdown of scientific planning was one of his biggest priorities this past semester. A significant delay could have had serious repercussions for Harvard’s leadership, he writes.

“Perhaps the greatest stress during the past year has been the need to keep certain important projects moving forward during a period of inwardly-focused reflection at the University,” Hyman writes.


In May, Hyman flew to Botswana and South Africa to visit some of the AIDS treatment clinics set up by School of Public Health (SPH) researchers. Summers had withheld millions of dollars in government funding while altering the program’s administrative structure. A Nigerian doctor told The Crimson last month that up to 400 people waiting for treatment died while the purchase of drugs was delayed.

The visit affirmed Harvard’s commitment to the program at a crucial time and potentially stemmed further bad publicity for Summers.

“He met with all of our major researchers who were running programs and met with all of the field project directors of these activities,” says Max Essex, chair of the department of immunology and infectious diseases at SPH and chair of the Harvard AIDS Institute, who met with Hyman during his stay in Botswana.

Hyman “dealt with the media on [the AIDS project] whether or not he made any decision of withholding funding,” says Classics Department Chair Richard F. Thomas.

“It’s been a difficult year for him,” he says.

—Staff writer May Habib can be reached at

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