Harvard faculty: No-confidence in president
Wednesday, March 16, 2005 Posted: 9:54 AM EST (1454 GMT)
"I have tried these last couple months to listen to all that has been said,
to learn from it, and to move forward, and that's what I am going to do,"
Summers said after the vote.
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) -- Harvard President Lawrence Summers was
hoping for a sign that the worst was behind him, that critics were prepared
to accept his apologies and move on.
Instead, Summers got a reminder Tuesday of just how angry some Harvard
faculty members are over his management style and recent controversial
comments about women in science.
In a surprising -- if only symbolic -- 218-185 vote, Harvard's Faculty of
Arts and Sciences approved a motion expressing a "lack of confidence" in
In Harvard's nearly 400-year history, which includes bitter disputes between
presidents and faculty over everything from religion to investment in
apartheid-era South Africa, such a vote was unprecedented.
"This was a resounding statement the faculty lacks confidence in President
Lawrence Summers and he should resign," said J. Lorand Matory, a professor
of anthropology and African and African-American Studies who submitted the
"There is no noble alternative to resignation."
Summers has given no indication he would consider stepping down. He
officially answers only to the Harvard Corporation, the university's
governing body, which has expressed support for him. Furthermore, the arts
and sciences faculty is just one of 10 that comprise Harvard.
Still, the vote Tuesday came as a surprise -- even Matory said he expected
no more than 30 percent support -- and complicates Summers' efforts to
regain momentum for an agenda of remaking the university.
That agenda appears to have been largely sidetracked as Summers has spent
much of the last two months dealing with fallout from the controversy, which
ignited with comments he made at an academic conference on women in science.
"That's a 50-50 question," said emeritus professor Ihor Sevcenko, when asked
if Summers could continue to lead Harvard effectively. "Much depends on the
way he behaves."
At the January conference, Summers argued that intrinsic differences in
ability are a key reason why fewer women are in the applicant pool for jobs
at the highest levels of science. He has apologized repeatedly, though a
number of supporters have argued he was raising a legitimate academic
Many faculty had expected that only a milder resolution expressing "regret"
over both Summers' comments and "aspects of the President's managerial
approach" but noting his commitment to addressing the issues -- would pass.
But both measures were approved, the latter by a 253-137 vote.
"I thought the conservative forces would be much stronger than they turned
out to be," said Sevcenko.
Summers spoke briefly to reporters afterward, struggling to make himself
heard over the voices of protesters.
"As I said to the faculty, I have tried these last couple months to listen
to all that has been said, to learn from it, and to move forward, and that's
what I am going to do," Summers said.
Ruth Wisse, a literature professor and Summers supporter, emphasized the
"lack of confidence" measure was different from a "no-confidence" vote,
which in the British parliamentary system causes the fall of a government.
The criticism over Summers' comments quickly expanded into a broader attacks
on the president's management style and his vision for the university,
including major projects to expand Harvard's campus across the Charles River
Tuesday's meeting was Summers' third with the arts and sciences faculty
since the controversy erupted. He has also formed two task forces to address
issues of women faculty at Harvard and women scientists more generally.
President of Harvard canít quell Ďfirestormí
Published Sunday, February 20, 2005
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) - Harvard University President Lawrence Summers has
apologized, pronounced himself a changed man and released a transcript of
his much-debated remarks on womenís aptitude in science.
But with each step, heís failed to quell a heated controversy leading up to
what might be a turbulent faculty meeting and questions about whether he has
the right temperament and vision to lead the nationís most prominent
"I do not think it is possible that he can run Harvard effectively after all
this," said Daniel Fisher, a physics professor.
The latest development came Thursday when Summers acceded to a faculty
request to release the transcript of his Jan. 14 remarks on why fewer women
than men reach top-level science jobs. He suggested biological differences
might play a role, with men having a greater range of test scores in math
and science than women.
"This is like a firestorm thatís sweeping across the university and burning
and burning, and more oil keeps being thrown on it," said James Watson, a
professor of Chinese society and anthropology. He said the transcript
distressed him, but he has not yet decided how he will vote on a
"The more it continues, the worse it will be for the long-term direction of
the university," Watson said.
Summers faces a faculty meeting Tuesday at which some academics have
suggested they could push for a no-confidence vote - an unprecedented step
in the universityís modern history.
Still, Summersí position is far from hopeless. Faculty no-confidence votes
are largely symbolic; the Harvard Corporation, the board that governs the
university and oversees Summers, issued a strong statement of support for
him Thursday. And Tuesdayís meeting involves only Harvardís arts and
sciences faculty, who represent one of just 12 branches of the sprawling and
loosely governed Harvard empire.
"I think the faculty vote is largely irrelevant because itís not the full
faculty," said law Professor Alan Dershowitz. "I think the idea of firing a
president because of his exercise of academic freedom, free speech, would
send the worst possible message. Itís sounding more and more like the trial
Some other faculty members said Friday that they thought the release of the
transcript boosted Summersí position. Two economics professors circulated a
letter - signed by at least 80 faculty members - expressing support for
John Bethell, who edited Harvard Magazine from 1966 to 1994, said past
confrontations between Harvard presidents and faculty have always been
smoothed over before reaching the point of formal no-confidence
votes.Summersí blunt style surfaced in his previous job as treasury
secretary during the Clinton administration, and he had been in scraps with
some Harvard faculty members before the latest controversy - though others
welcomed his direct approach.
Bethell said he expects Summers to survive but said his management methods
have left him little good will to tap. Much of the discussion at a
contentious faculty meeting last week focused not on Summersí remarks but on
broader questions of leadership style.
"Harvard faculty people are not used to a leader who is as aggressive,"
Fisher, the physics professor, said many faculty members "think the whole
issue about this transcript, what he did or didnít say, is a tiny part of
the major problem."
Summers has apologized repeatedly for his remarks, most recently in a letter
posted with the transcript Thursday. His spokeswoman, Lucie McNeil, said in
an e-mail Friday that Summers is "talking to many members of the faculty"
and that governing board members "have expressed their judgment." The
dispute over Summersí remarks at a National Bureau of Economic Research
Conference has spread far beyond Cambridge and brought renewed attention to
the debate over why fewer women than men reach top-level science jobs.
The presidents of Princeton, Stanford and MIT have published an op-ed piece
critical of Summersí comments. And this week, graduate students at Yale
protested that President Richard Levin had not spoken out on the
matter.Sopen Shah, a pre-med student who has read the transcript, said she
disagreed with much of what Summers said. But after reading his words, she
was now more inclined to believe "Summers didnít mean to be offensive. Maybe
he just misunderstood."
David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, said that it is
not uncommon for a president to continue in office despite faculty
no-confidence votes and that often, threatened votes never materialize and
grievances are worked out in faculty meetings.
"Speculation about a no-confidence vote is part of the politics preceding
the meeting," Ward said. "The vote is much tougher to come by. ... Sometimes
the political or institutional fallout of such votes begins to weigh on