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Wednesday, March 16, 2024
Harvard’s College of Arts and Sciences Slaps Summers Hard
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:58 am

Via WaPo: Faculty Group Rebukes Harvard President With Vote

Harvard University’s faculty of arts and sciences delivered a strong and unprecedented blow to the school’s president, Lawrence H. Summers, on Tuesday, endorsing a motion proclaiming a “lack of confidence” in his leadership and another critical of both his management style and his recent controversial remarks about women in the sciences and engineering.

In a secret ballot, professors voted 218 to 185 in favor of a motion that read simply, “The faculty lacks confidence in the leadership of Lawrence H. Summers.”

A second motion stated that the faculty “regrets” aspects of Summers’s “managerial approach,” and his statement to an academic conference in January that intrinsic aptitude partly explained why so few women advanced in certain disciplines. It carried 253 to 137. There were 18 abstentions in both votes.

While the whole thing is non-binding, it will put pressure on Summers and make his job less pleasant. Indeed, I suspect that the drumbeat against him since his remarks about gender has been a constant source of stress.

Clearly the gender-remarks provided an excuse for open criticism of Summers, who has not been all that popular with some in the faculty.

Some of my students will find it amusing and interesting that, as James Joyner noted yesterday, Theda Skocpol is at the center of much of this process.

Here is a lengthy, and well-linked entry on the subject by Lubos Motl, an Assistant Professor of Physics at Harvard, who attended the meeting.

From his description, the meeting was driven by the gender question:

As another speaker has pointed out, this symbolic vote was not really about Lawrence Summers who is an extremely bright and kind of successful guy anyway - and who will not get lost: it was about the professors of FAS themselves and they have failed miserably. No doubt, most of the votes supporting the shameful declarations came from humanities and social sciences - especially the people who think that they can determine the scientific truth by a vote (and a couple of politically powerful friends). Those who believe that the objective truth (and objective science) cannot exist and all opinions reflect the political power - and the people who are living their lives trying to prove this point.

Via the Boston Herald we get this run-down: Harvard passes no confidence vote in Summers

Summers has now met three times with the FAS since the beginning of an uproar over his remarks arguing that intrinsic differences in ability partly explain why there are fewer women in the pool of applicants for top science jobs. He has also reportedly met extensively with smaller groups of faculty, and established two faculty task forces to recommend steps for addressing issues concerning women faculty at Harvard and women in science generally.

The dispute began with Summers’ remarks - off-the-record, he believed - arguing that intrinsic differences may play a role in explaining why fewer women are in the pool of applicants for top-level science jobs. The comments prompted angry criticism from many faculty, students and alumni, though others defended Summers, saying he was simply engaging in a legitimate academic debate.

But the criticism over his comments quickly expanded into a broader attacks on his allegedly blunt management style and his vision for the university, including major projects to expand Harvard’s campus across the Charles River in Boston and his ideas about what direction scientific research should take.

While it is clear that the gender issue is the sole motivator for many, and the main motivator for others, I wonder as to the degree to which is it an excuse to attack Summers–as he clearly rankled many of the faculty over the way he ran the university. Further, there is a natural antagonism between faculty and administration that is certainly part of this tale.

Filed under: Academia | |Send TrackBack


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    1. I am sure Skocpol is being her modest self. I wonder if she would make me go first just because my last name is Antonio?

      Comment by Lisa — Wednesday, March 16, 2024 @ 7:29 am

    2. Odds are good.

      Comment by Steven Taylor — Wednesday, March 16, 2024 @ 8:07 am

    3. I think that you’re right, Steven, about the “natural antagonism between faculty & administration.” I think that the way he handled the Allston expansion issue was pretty poor. And one can see why FAS is pissed, since the university is pouring money into that initiative which is mostly going to benefit the professional schools.

      There are also issues with the Harvard Corporation and the fact that it basically works in secrecy with regard to the financial disbursements and the managment of Harvard’s huge endowment–which at $19 BILLION is more than twice the size of the GDP of Iceland.

      This is typical of most Universities where the traditions of faculty governance are strong.

      Comment by Kappiy — Wednesday, March 16, 2024 @ 9:08 am

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