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Thoughts on Summers' Resignation from Harbus Readers

“Summers, from allÿI could learn, was a breath of fresh air for the University.ÿ True, he rattled some sacrocant cages and may not have been the relatively-passive or quiescent leader in the mold of Rudenstein or Pusey, but on the other hand, he was willing to challenge centuries-old shibboleths about how the joint should be run, challenging the kings in their respective fiefdoms of the departments — all with good intentions and some fine results.ÿ The stuffy professors will now get some guy in a cardigan, who will passively “go with the flow.”ÿ I suspect Summers, although now a University Professor, won’t be long for Cambridge.ÿ I see him taking a big-time position, probably in the public sector, although maybe in academia (Where do you go after being Pres. of Harvard?).ÿ The Corporation consists of plenty of milquetoasts who probably don’t want any person or event to cause disquiet in their afternoon of sitting in their leather arm-chairs, with brass rivets and side-wings, before a nice fireplace, reading a summary of their latest financials concerning their dynasty trusts.”

-Anonymous

“While I am a bit upset that that FAS faculty have essentially usurped control of the university (few of the grad school deans weighed in at all), I feel that overall President Summers entered with a strong agenda of change that the university was not willing to accept and his inability to get key members on board – or even to get along with them – resulted in his demise. What will be most interesting to me is how the business school administration reacts to the change, as they have been courting President Summers strongly since Kim Clark left (e.g., by reinstituting grade disclosure to support his desire to limit grade inflation at Harvard) in order to have an internal candidate chosen as the new Dean of HBS.”

-Anonymous

“I think it’s a disgrace he’s been forced out by a bunch of liberals in the faculty. He enjoyed a lot of support by economics and sciences faculty but the humanity faculty was simply too loud. He’s been a great president [not necessarily a great leader] and I’m profoundly sorry to see him go.”

-Anonymous

“I think it’s a shame that an outspoken minority of Harvard’s Faculty, claiming to be offended by Larry Summers’ management style and views on certain topics, but ultimately opposed to necessary changes he was advocating for Harvard University, has succeeded in basically mobbing Mr. Summers out. His departure is not good for the Institution, and the way and reasons why certain faculty interest groups have achieved this does not set a good example for the future leaders Harvard wants to develop.”

-Igor Kuzniar (NB)

Larry Summers’ five-year term as the President has been a remarkable period for the University. Under Summers’ leadership, the University has established a stem-cell research center, begun a much-needed expansion into Boston, made it dramatically easier for students from low-income families to attend Harvard, and placed a greater emphasis on the hard sciences. Summers has been a terrific president not only because of accomplishments such as these but also because he proudly represented the best and brightest of what this University has to offer. A school like Harvard should have a world-renown, public intellectual at its helm. The purview of the President of Harvard University should not be limited to fundraising and cheerleading.
Summers was forced out of his post by the powerful Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Notably, none of the other faculties (the business school included), joined the FAS in expressing their dissatisfaction with Summers. According to the Harvard Crimson, the undergraduates were also on Summers’ side. The fact that a vocal minority within the faculty was able to dislodge the president of the school raises troubling questions for the Harvard Corporation and all future Harvard presidents. If the institution of the Harvard University presidency is as weak as it appears in the wake of recent events, we have to ask the question: who would want to take on this job next? We can only hope that we get someone with the talent, vision, and passion that Larry Summers has brought to the post.

-Nicole Davison (ND)

It’s unfortunate that the voice of a couple hundred faculty members out of the thousands that teach at this university, not to mention the tens of thousands of other stakeholders involved in Harvard University, was allowed to essentially strong arm the Harvard Corporation into forcing his resignation. He pushed the faculty out of their comfort zone and they didn’t like that. But he also pushed the university in new directions, and would not permit complacency; these initiatives will ensure Harvard continues to be the leading educational institution in the world. Harvard is better off for having him, and in the mean time will be worse off for losing him.

-Duggan Jensen (NJ)

With any luck, Larry Summers will join us as part of the HBS community next year, as a student in the RC, from which he has much to learn. First, LCA and BGIE would enlighten him about conflict of interest issues and corporate responsibility in international affairs (see the “How Harvard Lost Russia” in the December-January edition of International Investor). Both LEAD and LCA would teach him about the importance of honesty in being an effective leader. (Former Graduate School of Arts and Science Dean Peter Ellison has said he resigned after Summers made statements “that appear less than fully truthful,” and called his failings ones of “character.” And when a professor asked Summers at a faculty meeting whether he had an opinion on Harvard’s involvement in Russia in the 1990s, Summers, the mentor and close friend of Andrei Shleifer, replied “I am not knowledgeable of the facts and circumstances” of the situation, and he could not even express any opinion on it.) Most of our RC and EC classes, but especially LEAD, could show Summers that bullying and intimidation are not good ways to get one’s agenda through, here at Harvard or any other corporation. And finally, a review of the concepts in FIN1, FIN 2 and FRC – and surely it would be a review for him – is probably necessary since he leaves the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in the red, with projected annual deficits in the tens of millions of dollars (not to mention the $26.5 million in settlement costs to the government for the Russia scandal, plus associated legal fees accumulated during the protracted settlement negotiations, raising the total by several million more). Perhaps the Corporation members could attend a few LCA classes with Summers since they hired a CEO with so many defects and then left him to fend for himself for so long.

-Elizabeth Lewis (OD)

March 13, 2006
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