Summers Faces a Faculty Storm

Harvard's president hears a barrage of criticism from angry professors.
February 16, 2005

Harvard University's faculty unleashed a barrage of criticism on President Lawrence H. Summers at a meeting Tuesday, and called an emergency session for next week at which professors predicted he would face an even tougher assault.

Although no faculty members openly called for the president to resign, one professor who was at the meeting predicted that pressure would build on him to step down by next week's meeting. But that professor is an acknowledged critics of Summers, who does have support in some quarters of the faculty, and Harvard's board has given no indication of any wavering of support for him.

Tuesday's meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was its first since Summers's controversial comments that women may be less represented among scientists because of "innate differences" between the genders. Although some of the criticism at Tuesday's meeting centered on those comments, faculty members aired much more general complaints about Summers's management style and his perceived lack of respect for the faculty, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, delivered what one faculty member interviewed Tuesday night described as a "really devastating" critique of Summers. She accused him of "wrapping" himself "in the cloak of academic freedom" by refusing to release a transcript of the comments he made about women and science at a private meeting last month, and she characterized the university as in a "crisis of management and leadership," the Crimson reported.

Her comments, like those of other critics, were followed by resounding applause, those at the meeting said.

Other professors at the meeting asked why the members of the Corporation, the board that oversees the university, had been silent in recent weeks. And some noted that Harvard had been embarrassed by developments like a rebuke of Summers by the presidents of MIT, Stanford and Princeton.

As he has on multiple occasions and in multiple settings in recent weeks, Summers again apologized for his comments about gender. "If I could turn back the clock, I would have said and done things very differently," the Crimson quoted Summers as saying.

The emergency meeting of the faculty is scheduled for next Tuesday.


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