Another one bites the dust

Posted: Feb 23, 2006 12:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- I have it on the best of authority that Harvard State University's President Lawrence H. Summers resigned only after credible threats of violence were received at his office. My sources, working from several listening posts on the campus disguised as homeless people, report that Summers offered to resign upon receiving credible threats from sectarian elements within the influential Faculty of Arts and Sciences to blow up the university's football stadium, where its semi-pro football team plays in the fall and the university's renowned transsexual field hockey team competes in springtime. From the African and African-American Studies Department there were also threats of roadside bombs to be detonated against professors caught smoking pipes on their way to class -- a habit recently picked up by some younger women faculty members -- or against students ostentatiously carrying books to class. These threats were not deemed credible by Summers' staff, but that they were circulating on the HSU campus adumbrates the eerie atmosphere that now pervades this 370-year-old institution of higher learning.

 Earlier President Summers, an economist and one of the few Clinton administration cabinet members never investigated by an Independent Counsel (the administration attracted seven!), created controversy when he advised black studies professor Dr. Cornel West to give up composing rap songs and try his hand at scholarship. West's rap lyrics actually never achieved the violence or licentiousness to attract a wide audience, anyway. Summers also suggested that West ease up on counseling the prospective 2004 presidential campaign of the Rev. Al Sharpton. Indignant, West left HSU for Princeton, where he doubtless feels vindicated and might even write a song about his rival's demise, perhaps one that can be recorded by Jay-Z. West opted for Princeton despite the university's experience with the paramilitary group, Concerned Alumni of Princeton, revealed by Sen. Edward Kennedy at the Alito hearings. This is a serious guy.

 As to whether the end of Summers' five-year-old presidency was truly voluntary or forced upon him, there is controversy. The New York Times reports that he "privately concluded" a week before resigning that he should depart "after members of Harvard's governing corporation and friends -- particularly from the Clinton administration -- made it clear that his presidency was lost." Perhaps his colleagues from the Clinton years would have stuck by him if the cause of his troubles was sex with an undergraduate, but the embattled president's problems were deemed too serious. Aside from offending West, he had caused a terrible hullabaloo by opposing grade inflation and complacency on the faculty. He will be replaced by the interim presidency of HSU's president from 1971 to 1991, Derek C. Bok, 75, once Bok is located.

 Summers also caused controversy when he disagreed with faculty members who wanted the university to divest itself of corporate investments in Israel. At the time he bluntly spoke out against anti-Semitism among elites. He had also attempted to bring ROTC to campus. His gravest misstep occurred when at an academic conference he suggested research into whether the paucity of women among the top ranks in science and math was the consequence of innate gender differences. That provoked a 218-185 no-confidence vote from the faculty. The anger toward him never abated even after Summers' frequent abject apologies.

 "A strong leader is not just someone who can name a goal or force a change, but someone who can bring out the best in people," commented one of the offending president's most vociferous critics, Prof. Mary C. Waters, an HSU sociologist. What she considers "the best" in people remains unclear. She is among the university's most rancorous and self-pitying faculty members. Even for a sociologist she is barbaric.

 My sources report that Summers did himself no good with the faculty by becoming a hero to the student body. The weekend before his resignation the student newspaper, The Crimson, published a poll showing that some 70 percent of the university's undergraduates wanted him to stay. Knowledgeable observers around the Harvard Yard recognize that many faculty members are very jealous of the undergraduates, viewing them as handsomer, prettier and in some cases much better skateboarders. Also the undergraduates are seen as a threat to the professoriate's self-esteem, as many do not watch much television or play video games. They agree with Summers that Harvard State University should be a citadel of learning, even if that means reading books rather than conducting witch hunts.