Former GSAS Dean Calls for Summers To Resign

Ellison: Summers’ tactics might have worked in D.C., but won’t fly at Harvard

The former dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) told The Crimson yesterday that Lawrence H. Summers should resign from his post as University president—becoming the highest-profile Harvard affiliate to call for Summers to step down since Corporation member Conrad K. Harper issued the same demand last summer.

The former dean, Peter T. Ellison, said the reason he left his administrative position last spring was because he could not work alongside Summers. And he said the character of the president’s leadership may better suit Washington, where Summers served as Treasury secretary.

“Maybe this is the way secretaries of the Treasury treat people to whom they have delegated authority, but it’s not the way a University like this has or should operate,” Ellison said yesterday.

The former GSAS chief wrote in a statement that Summers’ “undermining the authority of a dean in front of others, hollow statements of support, and denials that appear less than fully truthful” caused Ellison to leave his post at the end of last spring semester.

Ellison said he believes a similar pattern of behavior led to Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby’s Jan. 27 resignation.

Ellison’s remarks, first reported in The Boston Globe yesterday, came seven months and one day after Harper, a member of the University’s highest governing board, told Summers in a “Dear Larry” letter that “Harvard’s best interests require your resignation.”

The president’s spokesman, John Longbrake, declined to comment on Ellison’s remarks.


Ellison, a biological anthropologist, also took aim at what he called Summers’ “presidential favoritism” of certain academic disciplines.

In a phone interview, Ellison recalled that Summers had asked him and his colleagues to prepare a proposal for ways in which the University could concentrate more on biological anthropology and less on social anthropology.

“Twice, Summers said to me, words to the effect of, ‘I like what you guys do. I don’t particularly like what [the social anthropologists] do,’” said Ellison.

Ellison said the incident illustrated Summers’ “intellectual arrogance” in judging the relative merits of fields of scholarship—and revealed how he polarized the Faculty as well.

“It’s an invitation to colleagues to form little cabals against each other in currying presidential favor,” Ellison said. “I do not believe in this approach to interacting with University faculty.”

And at a 2001 lunch, Summers proposed that the University divert funds from a sociology program to the Kennedy School of Government, Ellison told the Globe.

“President Summers asked me, didn’t I agree that, in general, economists are smarter than political scientists, and political scientists are smarter than sociologists?” Ellison told the Globe.


In a statement provided to The Globe and The Crimson, Ellison said his decision to step down was prompted by what he said were Summers’ broken promises and half-truths—all reflected in conflict over Summers’ proposal to transfer authority of a new life sciences Ph.D. degree program to the provost, he said. The dean of GSAS has traditionally been responsible for such programs.

At a 2004 meeting, Summers justified his proposal by saying “that I was compromised by my appointment in the FAS,” according to Ellison, who then and now held the Cowles professorship in the FAS Anthropology Department.

When he heard that another attendee at the meeting told others that the shift “might well happen,” Ellison offered to resign, according to his account.

After Summers heard about the offer, he contacted Ellison and, in a “heated” phone conversation, agreed to write a letter stating that the proposal would not be carried out, Ellison said.

“On that understanding I agreed to withdraw my resignation,” Ellison wrote in the statement. “This was on a Friday, and he said the letter would be sent on Monday.”

“It was never sent,” Ellison wrote.

He later resigned in February.

At a Faculty meeting last May, Classics Department Chair Richard F. Thomas asked Summers whether he had “been contemplating or conducting even preliminary discussions” about allowing other faculties to grant Ph.D. degrees.

Summers said “no,” he had not.

Ellison, who is on leave this year, said he has no plans to attend the upcoming Faculty meeting on Feb. 28 where Summers will face a new no-confidence motion.


Ellison recommends that colleagues steer clear of serving as a dean under Summers.

“Bill Kirby is an extraordinary administrator,” Ellison said yesterday. “For him not to flourish in the role of dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences indicates that something is seriously wrong.”

The Crimson reported that Summers forced Kirby to resign, citing four people close to the central administration.

Ellison said he was willing to forgive “early mistakes” in Summers’ tenure and initially hoped they would not be repeated.

“I no longer cling to that hope,” Ellison said yesterday.

—Staff writer Nicholas M. Ciarelli can be reached at