Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

President and Polity

January-February 2006

President Lawrence H. Summers e-mailed a multi-thousand-word “letter to the community” on November 7, subsequently published as a 12-page insert to the official Gazette (available at www.president.harvard.edu). The cover note said the text conveyed “my sense of some important recent developments at the University and…progress and plans in several key areas.” But Summers also invited readers’ “engagement” on the items he highlighted: financial aid, faculty growth, improving the curriculum and student life (particularly in the College), science initiatives, support for the humanities and arts, international outreach, Allston plans (emphasizing swift development of science buildings), and fundraising.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) remain among the engaged constituencies. At the faculty meeting on October 25, Cabot professor of social ethics Mahzarin R. Banaji reported on the most recent meeting of an FAS delegation with Corporation members—this time, Nannerl Keohane and Robert Reischauer. The concerns raised, she said, included Conrad K. Harper’s resignation from the Corporation; the desire for more “transparency” in physical planning, especially as the costs of Allston development might affect teaching and research; and the recent decision to restrain rapid growth in faculty positions, despite strong endowment earnings.

On November 10, the Crimson blared, “Summers Planned to Fire Kirby, Sources Say.” Citing confidential contacts, the article reported tensions between the president and FAS dean William C. Kirby, his appointee. Amid speculation about the leaks, Summers’s spokesman issued a statement citing Kirby’s role in curriculum revision, physical planning, and faculty development, “in which he has the full and continuing support and confidence of the president.” Absent a more direct endorsement, a group of faculty members wrote confidentially to Summers (that message also leaked) to say they were “appalled” by the reported rumors, which, if true, represented “more than unprofessional” backbiting that “undercuts the work and morale” of FAS colleagues and “damages the institution as a whole.” Summers then responded that he shared the professors’ “dismay at the irresponsible and misguided speculation”; lamented its effect “as we work to achieve our common goals”; reiterated his “confidence and support” in Kirby’s leadership; and reported himself “very much encouraged” by progress being made. With that, the matter quieted down.