Dear Harvard

Larry Summers has resigned as President of Harvard, ahead of a no-confidence vote among the academic staff of the institution. In his Letter to the Harvard Community he writes:

I have notified the Harvard Corporation that I will resign as President of the University as of June 30, 2006. Working closely with all parts of the Harvard community, and especially with our remarkable students, has been one of the great joys of my professional life. However, I have reluctantly concluded that the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard’s future. I believe, therefore, that it is best for the University to have new leadership.

Harvard’s greatness has always come from its ability to evolve as the world and its demands change – to educate and draw forth the energy of each successive generation in new and creative ways. Believing deeply that complacency is among the greatest risks facing Harvard, I have sought for the last five years to prod and challenge the University to reach for the most ambitious goals in creative ways. There surely have been times when I could have done this in wiser or more respectful ways. My sense of urgency has stemmed from my conviction that Harvard has a special ability to make a real difference in a world desperately in need of wisdom of all kinds.

The surprising thing is that he has lasted this long, given the complacency and political correctness of the Harvard humanities establishment. There’s a good analysis of his ‘mistakes’ in the NYT. Mistake No. 1 is “If the board says it wants you to ‘shake things up’ and ‘bring change,’ don’t believe them.” After taking sabbatical leave, Summers will return to Harvard as an ordinary prof. Well, as ordinary as he can manage anyway.

Alan Dershowitz, the celebrated law professor, is profoundly irritated by what’s happened. “A PLURALITY of one faculty has brought about an academic coup d’etat against not only Harvard University president Lawrence Summers but also against the majority of students, faculty, and alumni”, he wrote in the Boston Globe.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which forced Summers’s resignation by voting a lack of confidence in him last March and threatening to do so again on Feb. 28, is only one component of Harvard University and is hardly representative of widespread attitudes on the campus toward Summers. The graduate faculties, the students, and the alumni generally supported Summers for his many accomplishments. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences includes, in general, some of the most radical, hard-left elements within Harvard’s diverse constituencies. And let there be no mistake about the origin of Summers’s problem with that particular faculty: It started as a hard left-center conflict. Summers committed the cardinal sin against the academic hard left: He expressed politically incorrect views regarding gender, race, religion, sexual preference, and the military.

It’s worth noting that Summers was wildly popular with Harvard students, possibly because of his views that (i) the professorial community wasn’t terribly interested in providing Harvard’s student ‘customers’ (who pay upwards of $50,000 a year) with much in the way of ‘service’, and (ii) something should be done about that.