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University Avoids Debate on University Professor Michael E. Porter's Libya Report

By Gautam S. Kumar, Crimson Staff Writer

Despite media criticism and some faculty disquiet, the University has stayed mum on University Professor Michael E. Porter’s involvement in crafting a report commissioned by the Libyan government under Muammar Gaddafi.

In the 2006 report, Porter claimed that Libya was a democracy—a conclusion that former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 criticized during a Faculty meeting last week. Lewis said that Porter’s financial ties to Gaddafi colored his analysis of the Libyan regime.

The Globe, which has been covering the controversy over the past few days, published a staff editorial yesterday that encouraged University Drew G. Faust to publicly condemn Porter.

“Harvard needs to zealously protect the freedom of speech and expression of those in its community,” the staff editorial said. “But it shouldn’t be afraid to draw some sharp lines to prevent violations of human rights.”

The Globe highlighted Faust’s strong advocacy for gay rights, noting that she has taken principled stands in the past and should be willing to do the same with regard to Porter.

Several professors said that they largely understand Lewis’ statements, but they sympathize with Faust’s hesitation to use her position to publicly condemn Porter.

While University Professor Stanley Hoffmann said that, based on Lewis’ statements, he found Porter’s actions to be “revolting,” he nonetheless expressed concerns about censuring Porter.

“I am not sure I would want to whip him in public,” Hoffmann said, adding that he nonetheless believes there should be “limits” to professors’ actions that might reflect negatively on Harvard.

Professors also expressed concerns that rebuking Porter would establish a worrying precedent.

“I can understand Professor Lewis’s concerns,” said Professor Jeffrey A. Miron, director of undergraduate studies for economics.

“[But] if the president started taking a stand on faculty activities or positions, there would be an endless series of issues to address.”

In the Faculty meeting last week, Lewis said that Porter’s actions were “wrong,” arguing that the University professor allowed for financial ties with the government to influence the report’s published findings.

But Porter said in an emailed statement to The Crimson last week that his research and the report were completed between 2004 and 2006, a period during which the future of the nation looked more optimistic.

Porter said that Libya was at the time opening up to the Western world and making reparations for former behavior.

Faust has not followed up on comments she made regarding the controversy at last week’s Faculty meeting, in which she said that it was not high on the President’s list of responsibilities to serve as “scolder-in-chief.”

“What is high on the list,” Faust said at the meeting, “is to allow for people to say what they think.”

University spokesperson Kevin Galvin said yesterday that the University backs Faust’s statement.

In the Faculty meeting, Lewis encouraged the president to consider criticizing professors for outside behavior that paints Harvard in poor light.

Lewis condemned Porter in strong language, saying that Porter had been swayed by financial incentives and that  Porter had claimed the government was a democracy “for a price.”

The 2006 report was compiled by the Monitor Consulting Group, a firm established by several Harvard Business School professors, including Porter, in 1983.

The document repeatedly referred to the Libyan government, which had been led by Gaddafi since 1969, as a “democracy,” and lauded the government for its Westernization efforts.

Porter said that after 2007, when he came to believe that reform had halted, he cut associations with Libya.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

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