Professors Renew Attacks on Summers

At rancorous meeting, critics of president say Faculty 'continues to lack confidence'

In a scene that mirrored the contentious Faculty meetings of a year ago, professors yesterday launched a relentless, hour-long attack on University President Lawrence H. Summers’ leadership.

Thirteen professors assailed Summers at yesterday’s full meeting of the Faculty, including two who suggested it was time for Summers to resign.

And in contrast to the sessions of last spring, no professors rose to speak in Summers’ defense at yesterday’s meeting.

The spark that ignited yesterday’s uproar was the resignation of Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby 12 days ago amid reports in The Crimson that Summers forced him out.

Kirby, who has received lukewarm reviews from some professors in the past, was greeted by a standing ovation from the approximately 200 Faculty members who packed the University Hall meeting room.

Capturing the sentiment of most professors who spoke at the meeting, English Department Chair James Engell appealed to Summers and Harvard’s governing bodies to recognize that the president has left the Faculty “divided, demoralized, and dispirited.”

“Do not you and the fellows of Harvard College, the Corporation, and also the elected members of the Board of Overseers realize that this Faculty has for some time now lacked and continues to lack confidence in the leadership of the University?” Engell said before the standing-room-only crowd.

That lack of confidence manifested itself in the demands by many Faculty members that they be guaranteed a significant role in the appointment of Kirby’s successor. (See story, left.) The president normally appoints the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), with professors only serving in a limited advisory role.

One year ago, at the first Faculty meeting of last spring semester, professors assailed Summers for his suggestion the previous month that “issues of intrinsic aptitude” might be responsible for the dearth of women scientists. That explosive meeting set off a chain of events culminating in a March 15 vote of no confidence in Summers’ leadership—a vote that undermined the president’s ability to lead FAS, if not the University.

Yesterday’s meeting indicated that discontent with Summers’ leadership has not died down—and, if anything, has increased.

“I think this was a more negative meeting than the ones last spring,” Professor of Anthropology Theodore C. Bestor said as he exited University Hall yesterday.

Several professors said at the meeting that last March’s two votes condemning Summers’ leadership—one declaring a “lack of confidence,” and a second expressing “regrets” about Summers’ “managerial approach”—have not forced the president to change in any meaningful way.

“Now, almost a year after two resolutions of no confidence in your leadership were voted by this Faculty, it is with no small sense of urgency that I stand here to declare that the College and the University are in a state that is much dissembled and patently dire,” said Agassiz Professor of Zoology Farish A. Jenkins Jr.

“Is it not time to reverse this tide of chaos and disruption? Time to appoint an acting president? Time to initiate a search for a new president?” he added.

While nobody at the meeting spoke in support of Summers, many of his most vocal supporters did not attend yesterday.

Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth R. Wisse, who denounced last February’s first Faculty meeting as a “show trial,” left Cambridge to deliver a pair of speeches at Emory University.

Meanwhile, Lee Professor of Economics Claudia Goldin, Allison Professor of Economics Lawrence F. Katz, and Winthrop Professor of History Stephan Thernstrom are all on leave this semester.

“I might have gone if I had known this would come up,” Thernstrom said in a phone interview this evening.

He said that Summers “has certainly made some blunders, but I think that goes with the territory.”

“I do not lack confidence,” Thernstrom said.

Another vocal Summers supporter, Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, was in Cambridge yesterday but said he forgot about the meeting.

After the meeting, Summers struck a conciliatory tone. “I have heard the concerns of the Faculty and continue to be committed to working constructively with them,” he said through a spokesman.

It is immediately unclear what will happen next—the full Faculty will not meet again until Feb. 28, and no interim meetings have been planned. But Summers may be on the brink of a battle at least as difficult as the one he endured last spring.

“I think we’ve begun something that will question once again our confidence in President Summers,” Judith Ryan, the Weary professor of German and comparative literature, said after the meeting.


Kirby began the meeting by highlighting what his priorities have been as dean and restating his decision to resign. Summers and historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the 300th Anniversary University professor, then briefly described the process by which Kirby’s successor will be chosen. Ulrich is the head of a seven-professor group that will advise the president on how the search should proceed.

The meeting moved to “question period,” which at most Faculty meetings is a brief formality but yesterday turned into an hour-long grilling of Summers.

It was characterized by professors’ stinging criticisms of Summers, the president’s terse responses, and many awkward pauses.

Several professors said that Kirby’s departure indicated a continuing problem of unsteady leadership during Summers’ tenure, which has seen the departure of many top deans.

“The insecurity and instability that came to a head last spring has been heightened and renewed this winter,” said Peter K. Bol, the Carswell professor of East Asian languages and civilizations and a former chair of that department.

Under Kirby, who became dean in July 2002, the Faculty has struggled with a slow-moving curricular review and the specter of budget deficits in the tens of millions of dollars.

But professors yesterday refrained from criticizing their dean, and instead blamed Summers for problems with the review and the budget.

Diana Sorensen, the Rothenberg professor of Romance languages and literatures, warned that the continuing administrative turnover under Summers may derail the curricular review.

“The instability of your administration may paralyze the progress of the curricular review and might mire us in mistrust and, again, paralysis,” said Sorensen, who served on the Committee on General Education, which has played a central role in the review.

Several professors also brought up the Faculty’s budget deficit, projected to hit $40 to $80 million this fiscal year. Suzanne P. Blier, the Clowes professor of fine arts, noted that the percentage of Harvard alumni donating to the University has declined in recent years.

“In what way is this donor problem akin to the Faculty’s vote of no confidence last year?” Blier asked.

Several professors said the results of that vote—which passed, unexpectedly, 218 to 185 last March—still represents the Faculty’s feelings toward the president.

Ryan suggested at the meeting that professors might again vote on a similar resolution in the near future.

“Do you have any reason to believe that it would not be appropriate for us to revisit the question of confidence in your leadership at a subsequent meeting?” Ryan asked Summers.

The president replied that such a move “is, of course, the Faculty’s prerogative.” But he insisted that he was “very much aware of the importance of working as cooperatively and closely with professors of the Faculty as I can.”

Two professors asked Summers about his role in the $26.5 million settlement Harvard was forced to pay this summer to settle a lawsuit involving Jones Professor of Economics Andrei Shleifer ’82, who is close friend of the president.

In response to both queries, Summers stressed that he recused himself from the affair since his “first days at Harvard.”

When Frederick H. Abernathy, the McKay professor of mechanical engineering, asked for Summers’ opinion on the matter, the president’s response elicited some murmurs of disapproval from professors.

“I have taken no role in Harvard’s activities in the courts, nor familiarized myself with the facts of the situation,” Summers said. “I am not able to make any informed response to your question.”


In the final minutes of yesterday’s Faculty meeting, after no more professors requested to speak, a brief attempt was made to discuss the only item on the docket, which was the schedule of discussion of the curricular review and the recommendations of the Educational Policy Committee (EPC).

“I think it is important to continue our discussion” of the review, Kirby said as some professors began to shuffle out of the Faculty room.

“I would be very personally unhappy if we allowed our work to grind altogether to a halt,” he added, before introducing Dudley Professor of Stuctural and Economic Geology John Shaw.

“I’ve never made as difficult a transition as I am about to do now,” Shaw, a member of the EPC committee, said before briefly defending his committee’s recommendation to allow students to study a secondary field.

McKay Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis followed Shaw by arguing that no votes should occur on portions of the review until the full Faculty had discussed all the recommendations in a “holistic sense.”

Kirby, in response, said, “I don’t think it’s terribly difficult to understand what the recommendations of these committees are,” and said that he hoped to put EPC legislation before the Faculty at its next meeting, on Feb. 28.

—Lois E. Beckett and Nicholas M. Ciarelli contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at

—Staff writer Anton S. Troianovski can be reached at