Summers... Resignation Divides The Harvard Campus
By Patrick D. Healy
and Alan Finder
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Officials at Harvard University faced a divided campus yesterday along with fear that a search for a new president could put in limbo ambitious plans for an expansive new campus in Boston, an overhaul of undergraduate studies and a fund-raising campaign for $5 billion or more.
One day after Lawrence H. Summers announced he was resigning as president in a standoff with the prestigious Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the campus seemed torn anew. Professors who had hoped for his ouster expressed relief. Yet supporters, including students, saw only lost opportunities, and some were moving to hold campus rallies or publish opinion articles in support of Dr. Summers.
Sinking in, too, was that a new, unpleasant chapter had been added to the 370-year history of Harvard, a university that takes its history very seriously.
Dr. Summers had been widely seen as a president who would serve 10, maybe 20, years and usher in landmark changes. Instead he lasted five years, and some of his grandest ambitions — like the new science, arts and professional school campus in Boston — are far from realized or have been scaled back.
The idea that Harvard had arrived at some indeterminate crossroads was reinforced by the fact that the university’s governing corporation had turned to a soothing elder — former Harvard President Derek C. Bok, who served from 1971 to 1991 — to take over on July 1 on an interim basis.
“It’s very hard to say where Harvard goes from here — it’s an unprecedented situation,” said Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology and a supporter of Dr. Summers. “I think all the major projects are in limbo right now, which can’t be good. At the same time, Derek has given a great deal of thought to what works and what doesn’t in education. That’s exactly the kind of expertise we need for the ongoing curriculum reform, which a lot of us feel is a massive failure.”
In a brief interview yesterday, Dr. Bok said the corporation had asked him “only a few days ago” to become interim president.
He said he expected to serve for a year and acknowledged that he had a lot of catch-up work to do. Dr. Bok is a prolific author on education issues and works on the Harvard faculty, but he has not been actively involved in university affairs for 15 years.
“This whole thing came up very late and very unexpectedly, and I don’t want to say too much because the stage belongs to Larry and the corporation,” Dr. Bok said by phone from his home in Florida. “I have not been involved in Harvard business for some time and will do an immense amount of reading over the next few weeks on the curriculum change, the new campus plans and other issues.”
Several faculty members and administrators described Dr. Bok as a popular figure who will help soothe the anger toward Dr. Summers and help close some major fund-raising deals. It is unclear whether he will be able to do much more than that from a temporary perch, those observers said.
Harvard announced plans last week for a 500,000-square-foot science complex and a temporary museum space in Boston, across the Charles River from the Cambridge, Mass., campus.
Alan J. Stone, a university spokesman, said yesterday that the Boston campus has significant momentum and that he does not believe it will be slowed. “It allows for university growth, it will help the regional economy, it has the support thus far of business and political leaders, and it has excited donors,” Mr. Stone said.
But bigger decisions on housing, science buildings, a permanent arts complex and campuses for the Graduate School of Education and School of Public Health have yet to be made.
Dr. Summers had also been expected to lead a $5 billion fund-raising campaign that is in the planning stages.
And Harvard’s largest school, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — which led the rebellion against Dr. Summers — may be without a permanent dean this summer, officials said, because Dr. Summers is not expected to pick a successor to the current dean, William C. Kirby. Dean Kirby announced his resignation last month under pressure from Dr. Summers, setting off a chain of events that led to the president’s resignation.
The revision of the undergraduate curriculum, initiated three years ago by Dr. Summers, was delayed last year by the uproar over his remarks that intrinsic aptitude could help explain why fewer women than men reached the highest ranks of science and math in universities. Dr. Summers, an economist, had sought a major revision that he hoped would set a standard in American education. But many professors have dismissed the proposal as it has evolved as modest, at best.
In place of the core curriculum now required, Harvard would require undergraduates to take three courses in each of three broad areas: arts and humanities, the study of societies, and science and technology. The plan would also push back by a semester — to the middle of sophomore year — the date by which students must declare a major.
Dr. Kirby, who will remain as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences through June 30, still intends to seek approval of the curriculum this semester, said a spokesman, Robert Mitchell. The faculty council decided yesterday that it, too, would like to proceed, Mr. Mitchell said.
But some professors question whether, with a lame-duck president and a lame-duck dean, the faculty will approve the plan. “With the dean leaving, who is going to force agreements?” said Peter K. Bol, a professor of East Asian languages and civilizations.
If uncertainty defined the mood among some on campus, others argued about why Dr. Summers had resigned. Some of his critics insisted that the school’s governing corporation, concerned by his eroding support among faculty, pushed him out, despite his assertion that the decision was his own. Other professors said a small faculty cabal had undermined him.
Critics and supporters of Dr. Summers said the polarization on campus would probably recede. “I think the repair will be virtually instantaneous,” said Peter T. Ellison, a professor of anthropology and former dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, who has been sharply critical of Dr. Summers. “I think the problem has been essentially President Summers himself.”