R.I.P. Harvard President Lawrence Summers

Posted: Feb 22, 2006 12:05 AM

Lawrence Summers, we hardly knew ye. This week, the embattled Harvard president fell on his sword rather than face a no-confidence vote from the faculty of arts and sciences or a possible Harvard Corporation firing squad. The behavior of the faculty is a disgrace to the university and a dramatic example of the totalitarian control that the campus left exerts over its administrators.
Summers has been in hot water since he took over the Harvard University presidency. When he arrived on campus in 2001, he quickly let the student body know that he would not tolerate anti-military policy, stating, "We need to be careful about adopting any policy on campus of non-support for those involved in defending the country. … Every Harvard student should be proud that we have in our midst students who make the commitment to ROTC." In October 2001, Summers said that patriotism was a word "used too infrequently" at universities. In June 2002, he spoke at the ROTC commissioning ceremony. Naturally, that led certain professors to question his leadership ability -- backing ROTC's presence on campus and uttering the forbidden word, "patriotism," was like waving a red cape before the bull that is the Harvard faculty.

In January 2002, Summers further endeared himself to the faculty by speaking out against Harvard's massive grade inflation (Harvard allots 50 percent of its grades to A's and A-minuses). "To some extent, (this is because) the quality of students has gotten better over time, but not completely," Summers pointed out.

Meanwhile, Summers placed himself even further in the professors' doghouse by questioning the commitment of Cornel West, a highly eccentric professor of Afro-American Studies. West was too busy making horrible rap CDs, leading perennial presidential candidate Al Sharpton's campaign and writing pop-culture books on radicalism and race to bother actually teaching his students. Summers called West to account on his cavalier performance. In response, West called in his allies, Jesse Jackson and Sharpton. Jackson portentously proclaimed, "The tension at Harvard is having an impact across the country." Sharpton simultaneously threatened to sue Harvard University. "The one thing that I do not tolerate is disrespect, being dishonored and being devalued," West huffed before taking off for Princeton.

Then, in September 2002, Summers made the speech that likely stamped his presidency DOA: He explained that those stumping for divestment from Israel on campus were "anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent." "Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists," Summers posited, "profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities." The anger at Summers continued to mushroom as professors like John Assad and J. Lorand Matory thundered against Summers' intolerance of idiocy.

The capper was, of course, Summers' remarks at a conference in January 2005 during which he theorized that the lack of women in hard sciences was possibly due to "issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and … those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination." He added, "I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong." Harvard professors didn't bother proving Summers wrong -- instead, they dragged out the guillotine. On Feb.15, 2005, the Harvard faculty of arts and sciences held a meeting at which professors got up and lambasted Summers, one after another. Many lobbied for a vote of no-confidence. Eventually, Summers retreated from his comments, and the university decided to allocate $50 million to attract women to the university's science programs.

That controversy never abated, however, and Summers faced the uniform wrath of the arts and sciences professors. Those professors were lobbying for the Harvard Corporation to fire Summers. And despite the fact that three out of four Harvard students supported Summers, despite the fact that deans at every graduate school supported him, despite the fact that Summers has restored Harvard's image as a moderate left, not radical left, institution, this is the end for El Presidente.

All of which goes to show that for Harvard professors, the university doesn't matter. The students don't matter. All that matters is that professors be allowed to pick up their fat paychecks, sit in their tenure-sized offices, spout what they want to spout and buy off students with easy A's. With Summers' resignation, Harvard's faculty adds yet another black spot to their increasingly egregious resume.