Council Calls for Halt in FAS Dean Search

Thomas: If Summers remains in office, search would be 'difficult in the extreme'

Unnamed photo
David I Paltiel

Meet the Faculty Council members.

The highest governing body of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) called for a halt in the dean search process until professors can be confident “that it would result in a dean who could enjoy the support of both the President and the FAS.”

The Faculty Council’s 123-word statement yesterday suggests that the president and professors are at a standstill over the direction of the dean search. If this impasse is not resolved in the next four-and-a-half months, the largest arm of the University could enter the summer without a leader.

And the council offers no means for resolving this impasse—short of University President Lawrence H. Summers’ resignation.

Though the statement—which was e-mailed to professors last night and released to The Crimson—never uses the word “resign,” several council members have indicated that they want Summers to leave office.

Council member Richard F. Thomas, the chair of the Classics Department, said that conducting a search while Summers remained president would be “difficult in the extreme.”

And council member Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a historian who is the 300th Anniversary University professor, said that “there are undoubtedly people on the Faculty Council who feel” that Summers should step down.

The statement comes one week after the council, the 19-member elected governing body of FAS, asked professors to consider a range of options for the nascent dean search—including the possibility of selecting a FAS chief independently of the central administration.

Faculty Dean William C. Kirby announced his resignation late last month, after four individuals close to the central administration told The Crimson that Summers was forcing Kirby out of office.

Since Kirby’s resignation, the council has sought to give the Faculty a stronger voice in Harvard’s governance.

“We tried to err on the side of representing the Faculty as broadly as possible,” council member John Huth, the chair of the Physics Department, said of yesterday’s statement. “We didn’t want to prejudice things.”


Ulrich, who chaired yesterday’s council meeting in place of Kirby, said that the Faculty is intent on pausing the dean search process for the moment.

“We’re just taking the position, ‘not now,’” she said.

Council members, including Weary Professor of German and of Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan, said that conducting a dean search in the current contentious climate of the University “would be awkward and counterproductive.”

Ryan added that there will be “some greater clarity after Feb. 28”—the day that the full Faculty is set to vote on a motion of no-confidence in Summers’ leadership.

At the Feb. 28 meeting, the Faculty will also consider a motion urging the Harvard Corporation, the only body with the power to fire Summers, to intervene in the dispute between the president and professors.

“I would speak for myself that one of the audiences for this besides the Faculty is the Corporation,” said council member Arthur Kleinman, chair of the Anthropology Department.

“The Corporation hopefully is much more aware right now of what the issues are than they have been in the past and are thinking through what a suitable resolution would involve,” Kleinman said.

Council members stressed that they want a signficant voice in Harvard’s governance—regardless of the outcome of the Feb. 28 votes, and regardless of whether Summers remains in office.

“Implied [in yesterday’s statement] is that if an interim dean is chosen or a new president or an interim president, we ought to be involved,” said

council member Everett I. Mendelsohn, a professor of the history of science.

Summers’ spokesman, John D. Longbrake, declined to comment on the Faculty Council’s statement.


Council members expressed concern that University turmoil has negatively affected their academic responsibilities. Huth said he canceled a scheduled trip to India this week because “it seems like a critical moment.”

Ulrich said the controversy has been a distraction. The history professor said she has found herself thinking, “Where am I? What century am I in?”

But the Council has been able to focus on the immediate future of the administration.

At the Feb. 7 meeting of the full Faculty, Ulrich presented a proposal under which the Faculty would work closely with the president in appointing a new dean.

That proposal called for the council to present Summers with a list of possible dean search committee members. Summers would choose members from that list, and the committee would then vet the finalists for the deanship.

In response to Faculty discontent with Summers at the Feb. 7 meeting, the council later presented two more radical dean search plans, including one option designed to exclude the President from the process altogether.

“Frankly we were surprised and... [the meeting] gave us pause,” Huth said.

But after seeking input from individual professors, departments, and the Caucus of Chairs—an independent and informal group of department heads—the council embraced the original plan.

“Having considered the options, we believe that a plan resembling the one put forth at the February 7 Meeting...would be the most appropriate,” they said in yesterday’s statement.

But questions remain about when such a plan can be put into place—and under whose leadership.

Ulrich stressed that although the Faculty’s everyday work has been interrupted, it has not come to a full halt.

“Things are disrupted but not at a standstill,” Ulrich said. “We are not going to abandon ship.”

—Staff writer Allison A. Frost can be reached at

—Staff writer Samuel P. Jacobs can be reached at