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Final Straw for a Harvard Board Member

August 2, 2005

In the end, it was a raise for President Lawrence H. Summers that made Conrad K. Harper feel that he had no choice but to leave the Harvard Corporation.

Job performance by Summers not only was not raise-worthy, Harper wrote in a letter to Summers, it was cause for Summers to quit. Specifically, Harper cited the way Summers had treated Cornel West, comments Summers made in a talk about American Indian issues, and the notorious Summers talk about women and science.

The comments on women and science were "an insult heard world wide," Harper wrote. "I saw a pattern. Your statements demeaned those who are underrepresented at the top levels of major research universities."

Harvard announced the resignation of Harper, the only black person on the seven-member Harvard Corporation, on Thursday. But the university did not release his resignation letter until Monday. Harper told reporters after he quit that he had lost confidence in Summers, but he declined to elaborate.

In his resignation letter, he said that he had urged fellow Corporation members to seek Summers' resignation in March, following a "stunning" vote of no confidence in the president by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Harper wrote that he came to realize that he had to leave the board when it decided to give Summers a raise. "In my judgment, your 2004-05 conduct, implicating, as it does, profound issues of temperament and judgment, merits no increase whatsoever," Harper wrote to Summers.

While praising some recent Summers efforts to promote diversity in faculty hiring, Harper closed his letter by saying, "I believe that Harvard's best interests require your resignation."

James R. Houghton, the senior member of the Harvard Corporation, also released a statement Monday, in which he said that Harper's letter was being released with the support of both Harper and Summers. In his statement, Houghton said that while other members of the Harvard board "respected" Harper's opinion, they had "differing views."

Houghton said that the decision to give Summers a raise came after the board considered "both the difficulties of the past year and President Summers's broader efforts and contributions."

Summers on Monday released a reply to Harper expressing "regret" over his decision to leave the board. In his letter, Summers said he wanted to "underscore my commitment" to working on the issues raised in Harper's resignation letter. "Expanding opportunities for outstanding individuals from groups that are traditionally underrepresented is of fundamental importance to the university," Summers wrote.

 

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