Faculty Member Remarks at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Meeting, March 15, 2005

Faculty members forwarded remarks to Harvard Magazine

William C. Kirby, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

I'd like to say a few words about governance before we begin today's discussion.

            We meet for the third time in five weeks, and I must tell you, and not for the first time, that it is an honor to serve this great Faculty as its dean. In our time, this job is one that has the responsibility for leading, but not managing, this Faculty. Above all it means working with the Faculty to make the best possible appointments, to expand in the most intelligent ways, and to see how we, together, can improve the education we give our students.

            I think we all know that in leading such a talented and complex enterprise as this faculty of arts and sciences there is no precise science, but instead rather more art. Those of you who have been department chairs know this very well. Our job is to empower and to support the best ideas in scholarship and teaching, to make sure--as I tell every one of our prospective colleagues--that Harvard is a creative and malleable place, and ideally anything but a bureaucratic place.

            Where, after all, do the best ideas come from? Of course deans and presidents must make decisions, and ultimately set priorities. We must, we should, and we do. Academic leadership is not the same thing as followership. But in an academic institution such as this, the best ideas--those that deans and presidents will be compelled to support on their intellectual merits, will largely come from the bottom up, from the faculty at the top of their fields. This is as true in areas of Wissenschaft as it is in matters of curriculum. That is why in any realm of academic or curricular planning, the participation of this Faculty is so important. And that is why the recruitment, the retention, the promotion, and the support of our Faculty lies at the heart of what it means to be dean.

            As we think of all this, it may be useful to think back on our history. This Faculty is now 115 years old. When we were founded, we were 62 faculty members, meeting in the old chapel in University Hall, which was restored in 1896 as our Faculty Room. And beginning then--and it is easy to forget what a revolution this was--the president submitted to the Corporation only those appointments and promotions that had come from the Faculty and its departments, and had been forwarded by its dean.

            No program in this or any university endures--be it in music or film studies, computer science or genomics, sociology or economics--without faculty leadership that is at once individual--you are the leaders of your fields--and collective (our collective support of an area of inquiry).

            And that is why we need to have confidence, clarity, and to the degree possible, transparency in our processes and appointments. As you know, we changed in rather basic ways our appointments processes just two years ago. But I know from talking to many of you, and particularly to department chairs, that we have much more work to do.

            That is why, to take a different but important example (which I may have a chance to discuss further in Agenda Item Three), I will not want the faculty to decide in a formal way on the recommendations emerging from our curricular review committees, until we have had as much time as we need, in settings informal and formal, to discuss and debate them. For at the end of the day the Faculty must define and embrace the curriculum it teaches.

            Now let me end with a word of appreciation. These past few weeks have been challenging for all of us. Feelings have run high--as they should--on matters of such importance to the work we do, the community we live in, our goals as scholars and citizens of the university.

            I have been extremely pleased, and proud, to see that, as a Faculty, and with the president, we have moved from a place of high feeling to a place of high feeling combined with a staunch adherence to the best ideals of this university. In the past few weeks, we have seen in action the disciplined will of our colleagues, and the president, to engage in civil discourse, and to hear all views.

            In the past few weeks I have talked with the Faculty Council, with nearly all department chairs, and with the Resources Committee. I have hosted two open forums for faculty to meet with the president. From all the different views expressed in these meetings, there emerged a common sense of purpose. We are not just scholars, teachers, or administrators. We are shared stewards of the well-being of a faculty of arts and sciences, of humanities and social sciences, of English as well as engineering. We are held together less by formal contracts or by common disciplines than by a shared and enduring dedication to this institution.

            We have grown, and we have worked successfully, together, for more than a century, as a Faculty. Let us therefore not emerge now as a faculty divided against itself. If we can in this moment seek common ground, for the common good, we can emerge as a stronger institution, with a renewed sense of belonging and commitment.

            That concludes my business, Mr. President.

Angeliki E. Laiou, Dumbarton Oaks professor of Byzantine history

I rise with extreme reluctance. I oppose Professor Kuhn’s motion to table indefinitely Professor Matory’s motion. Dean Kirby said in response to Professor Mendelsohn’s first question that we may also, at this time, discuss the merits of the main motion, which I will now do.

            I have served this faculty for many years—indeed, I am morally certain that among the female members of the faculty I have the longest service. I have seen four presidents lead this University, some very competently, others less so.  I thought I had seen significant changes come about in the way in which the University treated its female undergraduate and graduate students and its female faculty. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks we have been brought back more than 40 years in this respect. Even in physical terms, terms of space—the set-up that physically reinforces authority, and which was the usual setting before the upheavals of the late ’60s, although admittedly the stage at Sanders Theatre was higher than it is here.

            I have debated today’s resolutions internally. It goes against the grain to vote yes on a proposition of no confidence in the president of the university. But my thoughts stay focused on our students, as they must: the female undergraduates majoring in the sciences and the graduate students—the most vulnerable group in our community. They have been told on the highest university authority that as a group they have a reduced intrinsic ability to excel—and excellence counts at Harvard. I think this is highly discouraging to a cohort of students who are already under great social and institutional pressure. I think it further gives rise to suspicion—I hope unfounded—that the administration will be less than proactive in working to alter the social and institutional environment.

            As a member of the Faculty, I do not simply regret the president’s statements and their effects. I deplore them and wish to disassociate myself from them. I further recall the equally obvious fact that this Faculty has been thrown into a turmoil not of its own doing, that damages its ability to carry on its normal duties. It may be objected that there has been turmoil in the past. True. But our present discussions do not arise from issues that society or morality forces upon the University and the University has to deal with; they arise from issues created internally.

            I cannot look the students in the eye, nor can I really look myself in the eye and say that I have confidence in the president’s ability to lead the faculty.

            We should hold a vote on the main motion.


Wei-ming Tu, Harvard-Yenching professor of Chinese history and philosophy and of Confucian studies

(Text based on an extemporaneous oral statement delivered at the meeting.)

I would like to offer my personal view on this matter. By personal, I do not mean private, but a view that comes from the heart intending to address issues that are open, transparent, and publicly accountable. What we are confronted with here is the kind of leadership that will guide Harvard well into the twenty-first century.

            We all agree that our University, the first cooperation (i.e., fiduciary community) in America, must accumulate economic capital, especially at the moment that the university plans to spend huge amounts of money to build the Allston campus. But what about social capital and human capital? Only through communication, negotiation, interaction, discussion, and debate can we acquire the non-quantifiable resources for our beloved institute to survive and flourish. I applaud Dean Kirby’s concerted effort to initiate a sustained dialogue between the administration and the faculty during the last few weeks.

            We know how crucial technical competence is for all of our students, but we must not undermine the importance of cultural competence, which can only be properly cultivated by a liberal arts education—literature, history, and philosophy, in particular. Harvard leadership must be knowledgeable about and sensitive to how humanities scholarship (teaching and research) is put into practice at leading universities throughout the world. We know how critical cognitive intelligence is for us all, but can a great educational institution maintain its creativity and vibrancy without emotional and ethical intelligence?

            In short, we need leadership that is not dictated by instrumental rationality alone. We deserve exemplary leaders who understand how communicative rationality functions.  Efficiency is necessary, but it should not marginalize group solidarity. Liberty, especially freedom of speech, is essential. At the same time, distributive justice must be defended by theory and practice. Economic globalization may lead to homogenization, but cultural globalization enhances and celebrates diversity.  In our complex global village, all primordial ties are to be respected: ethnicity, gender, language, place, age, class, and faith. As we work together to attain “harmony without sameness” and “unity in diversity,” we hope that our leadership is defined not only by rigorous standards of management that are necessary and desirable for running a modern cooperation, but also characterized as well by receptivity, sympathy, understanding, and the art of listening.

            I believe that the time is ripe now for a fundamental change not only in behavior and attitude, but also in the mentality and ethos of the Harvard leadership, for which we all hope and aspire.


Nancy L. Rosenblum, Clark professor of ethics in politics and government, and chair of the government department

I want to speak against the “Lack of Confidence” motion as misleading, misguided, and mischievous. I will vote to “postpone it indefinitely,” and if the motion survives, I will vote no. 

            The motion is “misleading” because a confidence vote gets its punch from a Parliamentary system where “no confidence” from the opposition defeats a government and provides a responsible mechanism for replacing it. That is patently inapt here. The motion has a pretense of potency.

            The motion is “misguided” because, as the change of terms from “no confidence” to “lack of confidence” suggests, the question is one of trust between members of the faculty and the President. It is precisely degrees of trust, on quite specific matters, and not some global generalization, that we have been discussing for two months now. This motion is a blunt instrument, a misguided effort to blur over all of our different degrees of confidence for a simple, vague, “lack.”  It is a step backward. Of course, trust is reciprocal, and this motion is also misguided for saying nothing about faculty responsibility as critics, initiators, decision-makers, self-governors. (The second motion does.)

            Here is why the motion is “mischievous.” Individual faculty members—as well as “the faculty” as an assembly—have had innumerable occasions both formal and informal to meet with the President and with one another. Everything has been said about the President’s decisions, by someone. Discontent, as well as defense of the President, has been ably, amply communicated. The focus of discussion has already turned constructively to changes in governance, to matters of faculty hiring and research, to  curriculum reform. Under the circumstances, this motion is not innocent. It diverts attention away from the work underway on substantive concerns. Whatever the outcome of the vote on this motion, it is what will be discussed, reported on, analyzed and its consequences will be the focus—at the expense of our many efforts to move ahead. It is political usurpation. We should resist by voting to “postpone indefinitely,” and failing that, we should vote “no.”


Stephan Thernstrom, Winthrop professor of history

Many of the criticisms of President Summers involve his personality and management style.  But I will focus exclusively on the issue raised by his remarks at the National Bureau of Economic Research in January.  That is the issue I address because it raises crucial questions about something I thought we all cherished—academic freedom.  Academic Freedom is on trial here, and a victory for President Summers' critics will be a deadly blow to academic freedom in American higher education. A previous speaker has claimed that the comments made by Professor Summers have set back the position of women at Harvard by 40 years. I emphatically disagree, and suggest that a vote to censure him for his speech will set the university back by 50 years, back to the days of McCarthyism.

            When I came to Harvard as a graduate student in 1956, most academics understood the vital importance of academic freedom; they had to when it was so obviously under attack. That period produced what is arguably still the best book on the subject: Richard Hofstadter and Walter Metzger, The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States, published in 1955. 

            How quickly we forget.  It is amazing to me that many of us here no longer seem to understand that the expression of controversial ideas and the freedom to debate them is at the heart of any greater institution of higher learning. The whole point of tenure, as I understand it, is to protect professors from the thought police. But now they are not just outside, on some congressional or state legislative committee. They are inside, too, in our midst.  

            If the carefully qualified, speculative, deliberately provocative remarks made by President Summers at the National Bureau of Economic Research are grounds for removing him from the presidency, I don't see how we can stop with that action. Shouldn't he be fired from his teaching post, or at least formally censured? If it is a grave offense for college presidents speaking from the perspective of their discipline at a closed academic meeting to advance certain controversial views, why should such a professor be allowed  to warp the minds of our students?  Won't female students, for example, find his classroom a "hostile environment"?  One previous speaker, astonishingly, repeatedly referred to women at Harvard--both students and faculty--as "vulnerable" creatures, as if they had to be sheltered from certain ideas that should never be advanced in the presence of a lady. Full equality for women evidently requires reverting to Victorian conceptions of the oh-so-delicate female constitution. If this perspective is that of a majority of this faculty, some day, another Hofstadter and Metzger will tell the story of academic freedom in the United States since the 1950s, and I fear that it will be a sorry chapter in our history.

            Recall how this whole brouhaha began. Nancy Hopkins, a professor at MIT, attended an academic meeting closed to the public and the press precisely in order to insure an uninhibited discussion of a hot-button issue. She was so offended by the suggestions made by President Summers' remarks that she felt she would vomit unless she rushed from the room.  So she did rush out, and proceeded to inform the Boston Globe that she was shocked, shocked that some unbearably provocative speech had been committed at an academic conference. If hearing ideas that she deeply disagrees with makes her physically ill, I suggest that Professor Hopkins' temperament is ill-suited for academic life, the lifeblood of which is free inquiry and unfettered debate. She evidently prefers to live safely behind some mental Maginot Line where she never encounters ideas that upset her tender stomach. Sadly, a previous speaker has claimed that most Harvard women feel the same way. I cannot believe it, and I pray it is not true.

            At our last meeting devoted to discussion of this issue, one speaker glossed the term "provocative," used several times by President Summers in his offending comments at the NBER. She contended that the term was in fact quite sinister because to provoke is to provoke conflict, sometimes even violent conflict, and we certainly don't want that in the university "community." I, to the contrary, think that a provocative speech in the academy is intended to provoke thought and reasoned argument.

            Equally questionable, in my view, are the repeated references that faculty members have made to the Harvard "community," which are intended to suggest that President Summers had given voice to outrageous ideas violating the norms of the community. Is Harvard University really a "community" that requires ideological conformity? The First Baptist Church of Peoria is a community in that sense, with a common conception of God and how best to worship Him.  Possibly Bob Jones University is a community. But no great university can long remain great if it attempts to enforce the equivalent of a religious creed on its members. What really holds the members of the Harvard "community" together is much more limited. It is simply a common commitment to pursue the truth through disciplined scholarship, and a faith that freedom of inquiry is the best means to arrive at the truth. I find the "provocative" remarks made by President Summers entirely consistent with that community norm.    

            I do have to admit that it is somewhat difficult to defend the academic freedom of a man who seems to have surrendered it again and again, in his ever more abject apologies for his NBER remarks. Nevertheless, President Summers is not the sole owner of the right of academic freedom, and he thus cannot surrender it for all of us.     

            In sum, I think that the central issue at stake today is academic freedom. If the critics of President Summers have their way, it will be a terrible blow to that freedom.  Given the visibility of this university, it will be a signal to higher education in general that research on certain sensitive subjects should only be undertaken by those who already know the answers and are prepared to suppress any discoveries that do not fit with the conventional wisdom.  Today, the sensitive subject is gender disparities in the science, but the list of forbidden topics will undoubtedly expand over time.


Benjamin M. Friedman, Maier proferssor of political economy 

Mr. Chairman, colleagues: I agree very much with what many of our colleagues have said; this is a historic occasion. It is historic both for what we are doing now and also for what our actions today will imply for the governance of our University and the way in which we conduct ourselves within it going forward. This is the aspect of the resolutions before us that I would like to address.

            We clearly come to this discussion with different points of view. Some of us have perhaps had harsh words with President Summers, many of us have not. I, for one, have not. Some of us have perhaps disagreed with President Summers on one or another substantive question that has come before, or that affects, this Faculty. In this respect, I must say I have. As our colleagues who have read my dissent from the Verba Committee report will know, I disagreed, rather sharply, with the idea that we should change our Faculty’s calendar, and I am on record for that view. 

            Many of us, in our individual capacities as professors, have had, from time to time, difficult conversations with our department chairs, or even with the deans. I have served as my department’s chairman, and I can easily imagine that some of my colleagues may have left my office or theirs thinking we had had a difficult conversation; and I was sorry for that. 

            I ask us to consider, though, whether we want to do something here today that I believe amounts to changing the terms of engagement by which we deal with one another in this community. Do we really want a setting in which every time somebody has a difficult conversation with his or her department chair, or the dean, or perhaps even the President of the University, the immediate thing to do is to call the New York Times? Do we want a setting in which every time somebody disagrees with a matter of policy, or thinks his or her views have been given short shrift, the response is to raise a motion of no confidence? Surely many of us have been in situations over the years—I know I have—in which we have come away thinking the person on the other side of a conversation, some person in a position of authority, has been unreasonable. But then, in the next conversation, which may be a week later but may not be until two years later, you find yourself and that person on the same side of some other issue. The person you thought thoroughly unreasonable turns out to be a human being after all. 

            We have not been carrying out our affairs in this Faculty, over the last 10, 20, even 30 years (30-plus years is my span as a member of the Faculty) in such a way that the standard remedy for having a difficult conversation is to run to the newspaper, or in such a way that the appropriate response to feeling one has been on the harsh side of a conversation or the losing side of a substantive disagreement is to introduce a no confidence measure in—again—one's department chair, or the dean, or the President.

            I therefore urge our colleagues to vote against both of these measures. Like Professor Engell, I think the right thing to do is indeed to vote on them. Sweeping them aside without resolution, rather than dealing with the issues that concern us, is the wrong strategy. I am glad we will be voting. 

            But I urge our colleagues to vote against, on both measures, because I believe changing the terms of engagement in how we deal with one another is not what we want to do. I also believe anyone who thinks that we will change the terms of engagement but only for today, and that the new modes of conduct we establish will not again recur, is mistaken. If we change our terms of engagement today, the new modes we establish will be here to haunt us, and harm us, I fear, long after I am no longer a member of this Faculty.


Ruth Wisse, Peretz professor of Yiddish literature and professor of comparative literature

Some of you may think that these motions are referenda on the leadership of President Summers. The last two faculty meetings may have served that purpose—at least President Summers took them in that spirit, and undertook to change his managerial style as a result. But as in fairy tales, the third repetition of any pattern changes its dynamic, and this meeting focuses not on Larry Summers but on us. This is a referendum not on the quality of the President, but a referendum on the quality of the faculty.

         Here is how the voice of liberty once resounded: “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” John Stuart Mill repeats the word “truth” because truth is what men once cared about. Members of this faculty seem to allow only such opinion as can bring them political advantage.

          Just think of the fun cartoonists will have with this faculty should we quash Mill’s principles of liberty.

         A cartoon of the Harvard crest with a gag stuffed down the throat of Veritas, reading, “I was offended by your opinion!”

         An image from Alice in Wonderland:
         “Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
         “I won’t!” said Alice.
         “Off with her head!—and with Larry’s!” 

         The funniest aspect of this process is the difference in the political fates of our two presidents. Elected officials are supposed to fear public opinion, yet here is the president of the United States speaking out on popular issues: “You may not agree with me, but at least you know where I stand.” What a pass we have come to when the president of the polity enjoys greater liberty of speech than the president of Harvard. It gives a whole new meaning to the description of the university as an island of repression in a sea of freedom.

         Should the faculty pass these motions, we would make ourselves the laughingstock of the country and of history.  I expect that President Summers will not be harmed by them, but I am certain that the faculty will.


Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family professor of psychology

I would like to speak against the part of the motion that refers to the faculty “regretting” President Summers’ statements in his talk to the NBER [National Bureau of Economic Research, January 14]. I fail to see a defensible principle behind such a motion.

            If President Summers had proposed a change in university policy, of course it would be appropriate to vote to embrace or disavow it. But the talk in question did not propose any policy. The mere discussion of the possibility of statistical differences between women and men has no direct implications for policy, including the advancement of women in science, because the question of fairness is different from the question of sameness.

            Perhaps one could argue that President Summers should be criticized for the content of his talk. But a university is supposed to be a place where ideas are evaluated by reasoned debate informed by the relevant literature, not by a show of hands of the faculty who happen to show up to a meeting on a Tuesday afternoon. I think it is ill-advised to press for “unityamong the faculty on a controversial empirical issue; I think it is inappropriate for the faculty to assume the “correctness” of a controversial empirical issue. And is it really appropriate for the Harvard faculty to vote on whether the statistical distributions of visuospatial abilities in men and women have the same variance? How many of those voting have done a literature search to examine the studies that President Summers was alluding to in making those claims? What’s next—a vote on whether an asteroid led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, or whether Jorge Luis Borges should be considered a postmodernist writer?

            Perhaps one could argue that the president of a university has a fiduciary responsibility not to discuss certain topics that could bear on the public’s impression of the university, in the same way that a CEO ought to refrain from making comments that could affect the stock price of her company. But there seems to me to be a significant difference between a corporation and a university. A university is a community that trades freely in ideas, not widgets or stock prices, and it is hard to imagine a principle that would systematically exclude the president from that community.

            If the president were excluded on some grounds of conflict of interest or fiduciary responsibility, what about deans? What about department chairs? What about the chairs of search and admissions committees? What about the members of search and admissions committees? If so, who’s left? And if the President is allowed to speak, should we have a policy that he or she may only issue platitudes, or discuss innocuous topics like baseball, or only discuss hypotheses that everyone agrees with?

            Another conceivable rationale is that we should regret President Summers’ remarks because he was not speaking in his area of expertise. But it is in the very nature of a university president’s job that he or she make informed judgments about matters not in his or her area of expertise. A president, for example, must be able to voice an opinion on whether stem cell research at his or her institution should be supported, or what retirement plan best deals with demographic changes in the professoriate, without necessarily being a cell biologist or a demographer.

            In the absence of a defensible principle behind this kind of collective faculty statement, a positive vote would lead the world to conclude the worst about the contemporary university, namely that certain ideas have the status of religious dogmas, which are affirmed by majority sentiment rather than an examination of evidence and arguments, and are not discussable on pain of public humiliation.

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