University Releases Harper's Letter

Angered by University President Lawrence H. Summers’ comments on women and minorities, Conrad K. Harper ultimately resigned from the Harvard Corporation last month after a dispute over Summers’ salary, according to a letter from Harper to Summers released Monday.

The letter, which the University had previously said would not be made public, reveals that Harper called on Summers to step down two days after the no-confidence vote by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in March. “I believe that Harvard’s best interests require your resignation,” Harper concluded in his letter to Summers on July 14.

Harper, the only African-American ever to serve on the Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—wrote that he was compelled to resign following a disagreement with James R. Houghton ’56, senior fellow of the Corporation, over a three-percent increase in Summers’ salary. Harper objected to the raise and said Houghton had not allowed for adequate discussion among the Corporation’s members.

“In my judgment, your 2004-05 conduct, implicating, as it does, profound issues of temperament and judgment, merits no increase whatsoever,” Harper wrote to Summers.


The letter’s release came as two of Harvard’s most prominent black professors—African and African American Studies Department Chair Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. and Climenko Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree—and a collection of their colleagues were preparing to issue a statement Monday calling on Summers to release the letter, several faculty members said.

Harper, in an interview, said he had no objection to the letter being made public but said it was up to Harvard to release it. Spokesmen for the University had said as recently as Monday morning that the letter would not be released.


Harper wrote that he “saw a pattern” in Summers’ public remarks on women and minorities, citing his 2002 feud with former Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74, his comments at a Native American conference in September 2004, and his now infamous remarks on women in science in January 2005.

“Your statements demeaned those who are underrepresented at the top levels of major research universities,” Harper wrote.

Harper described the issue of Summers’ salary as the breaking point in his relationship with the seven-member Corporation. Houghton, according to Harper, did not want to discuss further the matter at the Corporation’s retreat last month.

“I believe that plenary meetings are uniquely important for the wise administration of our affairs,” Harper wrote. “I cannot in good conscience remain a member of the Corporation when the procedures that should guide our deliberations are not followed.”

Houghton, in a statement released Monday, said the Corporation had decided to raise Summers’ salary by three percent “after weighing both the difficulties of the past year and President Summers’s broader efforts and contributions.”

Summers received an 8-percent raise last fiscal year, a University spokesman said. His salary was upped 11 percent and 4.5 percent in his first two years as president, according to documents filed by Harvard with the Internal Revenue Service.

Monday’s release of Harper’s letter mirrored Summers’ about-face in February, when he released a transcript of his remarks on women in science amid mounting faculty pressure to do so. This time around, however, Summers preempted much public outcry and a potentially explosive public-relations battle by making the letter public before Gates, Ogletree, and other professors formally called for it.

“Those of us concerned with Conrad Harper’s honor and the integrity of the University are really pleased that the University has reached this decision,” Gates said in an interview Monday. “We feel that we have won without firing a shot.”

In a letter replying to Harper delivered Monday, Summers wrote that he remained committed to “expanding opportunities for outstanding individuals from groups that are traditionally underrepresented.”

“I also hope that, in time and with attention to the concerns raised this past semester, we will succeed in achieving an improved relationship between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the central administration,” Summers wrote.