A Report on the Meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) convened in University Hall on Tuesday, February 7, its first meeting of the spring term, with discussion of the undergraduate curriculum...

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) convened in University Hall on Tuesday, February 7, its first meeting of the spring term, with discussion of the undergraduate curriculum as the chief item on its agenda. Instead, discussion focused principally on the causes and consequences of the departure from the FAS deanship of William C. Kirby, announced on the evening of January 27 and effective as of June 30, after just four years in office. The following report of that part of the meeting is based on notes taken during the discussion, supplemented by speakers’ prepared remarks where they were made available by the speakers afterward. Electronic recording of faculty meetings, apart from the official record, is prohibited.

President Lawrence H. Summers, chair, turned to this part of the meeting by saying, “With the thanks of a grateful University…let us call on the dean for the Dean’s Business. Thank you, Bill Kirby.” Kirby was greeted with a sustained, standing ovation from the standing-room-only audience.

Kirby noted that he usually presented his annual letter to colleagues at this meeting, and joked, “[A]nd I know that’s why you’ve all come.” He promised to deliver the letter later in the term, “because I’ve written a different ending.” He then offered a retrospective of his service, first emphasizing faculty appointments (especially in sciences, international study, and the arts) and improvements in the conditions of junior-faculty service. “Nothing happens in the University by working alone,” he noted.

He then reviewed investments in facilities, again citing the faculty as intellectual architects (and assuring colleagues that he had not, in fact, driven in a single nail). He listed the Northwest laboratory, the Laboratory for Interface Science and Engineering, the Center for Government and International Studies, and student-centered building projects such as the new dance center and the New College Theatre—reflections of “our collaborative and our cooperative effort.”

Turning to the subject of graduate students, Kirby listed enhancements in financial support, student life, and professional development under graduate-school deans Peter Ellison and Theda Skocpol. In the College, he cited the undergraduate curriculum review, on which much remains to be done (no one asked to serve on a committee ever declined, he said), and various measures already implemented, such as expanded opportunities to study abroad and more freshman and junior seminars.

Looking toward the end of the year, Kirby said he had two major priorities. First, he hoped to establish (under Dean Brian Casey) rolling three-year plans for faculty searches. Second, he hoped for discussion, debate, and legislation on the undergraduate curriculum. The latter, he said, should not await a new dean, because “curriculum is the business of the faculty” and the FAS is “a faculty, not a principality.” He and successors were “dean of the faculty, not over the faculty.” The work had taken three years to date because no “instant and blinding vision to lead us from darkness into light” had appeared—nor should any have been expected, because visions depend on ideas, and the ideas in turn depend on the hard work of faculty and students. That had been carried on—a tribute to the fact that “we could work amid all kinds of distractions.”

Kirby concluded by reprising the final paragraph of his letter of resignation, telling the faculty how grateful he was to work with his fellow professors, the FAS staff, alumni, and above all, Harvard students.

He again received vigorous applause.

President Summers thanked Kirby “very much for that powerful and elegant statement” of accomplishments and of the faculty’s road map for the months ahead.

Summers then said of the search for a successor dean that it was of “paramount importance” that he and the faculty work together to identify someone who would provide “strong, independent, and thoughtful leadership” in ways “that serve the collective interests of this faculty and its students.” To that end, he sought “as consultative as possible a search,” and had been discussing the matter with the Faculty Council and its Docket Committee, which had established a subcommittee that would in turn help set up a search committee. He was grateful for these discussions, and would ask Laurel Ulrich to describe the “ideas we have been agreeing on.” He expected to work closely with the search committee on all phases of the search, and with the Faculty Council, department chairs, other faculty groups, the student body, staff members, and alumni.

Three-Hundredth Anniversary University Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, speaking as a member of the Faculty Council’s Docket Committee, said that President Summers had asked the committee a week ago to meet with him concerning faculty involvement in the search. At the February 1 council meeting, a subcommittee was formed to develop processes for that involvement. Members include the Docket Committee (Ulrich, physicist John Huth, and classicist Richard Thomas) and four Faculty Council members (psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, anthropologist Arthur Kleinman, historian of science Everett Mendelsohn, and Judith Ryan, of Germanic languages). It had met twice with Summers, and would take the following proposal to the full Faculty Council on February 9. First, the subcommittee would solicit from FAS a list of 24 senior professors, broadly recognized as representing the faculty. Second, Summers in consultation with the subcommittee would select six of these candidates to form a search committee. That committee would consult widely, consider decanal candidates, and vet the final list from which Summers would select the dean. [In these respects, the committee would differ from the larger, but advisory, bodies that have heretofore been assembled during searches by the president.]

The meeting then was opened for Question Period. The following narrative presents formal statements, with the president’s response, or summaries of speakers’ remarks, in the order in which they were delivered. If additional copies of exact remarks are received, they will be inserted into a revised text.

*****

 

James McCarthy, Chair of the Standing Committee for Degrees in Environmental Science and Public Policy, and Andrew Gordon, Chair of History

 

We rise to speak in our capacity as spring 2006 coordinators of the Caucus of Chairs [the group of departmental chairs who have been meeting together].

 

On short notice this past week more than 20 chairs gathered to discuss the news that reached us on the prior weekend from Dean Kirby and President Summers. From our discussion we offer the following:

 

We thank Bill Kirby for his years of service and dedication as Dean to his colleagues, students, and the University. Over the last few months we have discussed with Dean Kirby matters of concern regarding finance, governance and planning. Dean Kirby has responded generously to our concerns. It has been a constructive process. We and our colleagues will continue to work with Dean Kirby, and the administration of the University, in the months ahead. We trust that the new Dean will work effectively with the Chairs, and we look forward to participating in the advisory process that will lead to the appointment of the next Dean.

 

In the search to appoint the next Dean of the FAS, we hope and expect that the consultation and advisory process will be candid, forthright, and confidential.

 

As the faculty of the FAS we expect the following qualities in colleagues who will be considered for appointment as the next Dean:

 

•   a reputation for independence and strong leadership

•   a broad and pluralistic vision of the FAS disciplines

•   a demonstrated commitment to gender equity and to the study of gender, race, and ethnicity in the curriculum

 •   a serious and respected scholarly record in his or her field

 •   a commitment to the highest ethical standards

 •   substantial experience in working successfully with colleagues, including:

 

first, a deep respect for this faculty and a collaborative approach in the making of major decisions that face the FAS;

 

second, a demonstrated ability to define the goals and articulate the values of the FAS, as well as to engage colleagues broadly in meeting them; and

 

third, the earned confidence of a broad spectrum of FAS colleagues.

 

Finally, no organization, least of all a scholarly institution that values academic freedom and that therefore attaches personal responsibility to one’s own work and statements, can operate in the common interest when anonymous rumors, comments, and leaks characterize or affect its intellectual and administrative activities.

 

Mr. President, can you confirm that you and your staff and those near to you in Massachusetts Hall and the central administration honor, share, and will act upon this important conviction?

 

President Summers responded, “Yes.”

 

*****

 

James Engell, Chair of English and American Literature

 

Mr. President, this is a difficult question, yet it is one that must be asked. It is asked with no personal animosity. In fact, it is not a personal question as much as it is an institutional question.

Do not you and the Fellows of Harvard College, the Corporation, and also the elected members of the Board of Overseers realize that this faculty has for some time lacked and now continues to lack confidence in its presidential leadership; that any process of selecting a Dean in which you have final power of decision approved by the Corporation will not be trusted by many, if not most, members of this faculty; that it is hard to imagine anyone fitting the criteria announced by Professor McCarthy accepting now the post of Dean; and, finally, that this faculty—far from being shaken up, cleaned out, or led by Massachusetts Hall—is broadly divided, demoralized, and dispirited, and that hard as we work, and hard as the administration works, this University shows the signs of being paralyzed, and of entering a new period of yet deeper paralysis?

 

After scattered applause, President Summers said, “I could hardly be unaware of the strains and the concerns that you cite.” He assured the faculty that “the search for a new dean won’t be carried on alone,” but rather, together, in every phase, with a committee that represents the faculty itself. The outcome, he said, would command substantial support in the committee, and given the expected side consultations, “I believe it will be possible” to identify a decanal candidate who meets the criteria professors McCarthy and Gordon laid out. “That is my commitment.”

 

*****

 

Farish A. Jenkins Jr., Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

 

Mr. President,

 

Now almost a year after two resolutions of no-confidence in your leadership were voted by this Faculty, it is with no small sense of urgency that I declare that the College and University are in a state that is much dissembled and patently dire. The orderly processes that collaboratively engage the faculty and administration have been largely abandoned. Planning—whether short, medium or long term—is dictated with preemptory manner from Massachusetts Hall, and varies over the short term much like the direction of the wind. If the present restriction on academic appointments to a few favored subdisciplines continues, we shall devolve into a most ordinary institute—no longer a university. We continue to lose senior administrators from the offices central to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard College. The turnover at all levels has been so great that the academic year’s operational programs are lagging and some seem largely ineffective. The outcome of the tawdry Schleifer affair and the attending pecuniary loss to the University would have been unthinkable under the previous two presidencies, but are all too symptomatic of the present malaise. Morale across the campus can be described, quite fairly, as grim.

If my assessment of present circumstances is insufficient to arouse concern, or if I am judged to be unappreciative of the vigor of your leadership, then I believe that you should know that there are so many of us who can no longer place any trust, much less have confidence, in a president who has been repeatedly untruthful.

My question to you, and through you to the Fellows of the Corporation: Is it not time to reverse this tide of chaos and dysfunction, to appoint an acting president, and to allow a new presidential search to be initiated?

 

 

President Summers said he could not respond in full, but that he had spoken last spring of his commitment to collaborate with the faculty—a real commitment. Having “entirely recused myself” from “any involvement of any kind” with respect to HIID and Professor Shleifer, he had no role in the handling of that matter. [See “Russia Case (and Dust) Settle,” November-December 2005, for background on the federal lawsuit over Harvard’s advisory work on the privatization of the Russian economy, settled by payment of $31 million by the University and other defendants to resolve civil claims. Because President Summers and Professor Andrei Shleifer, a principal in the government’s claims, were friends and scholarly colleagues, Summers recused himself from the case.]

 

*****

 

Suzanne Preston Blier, History of Art and Architecture

 

Mr. President, and through you, members of the Corporation: My question concerns shared issues of fundraising, financing, and broader confidence in this administration. My question is raised in relationship to the percentage of Harvard alumni(ae) donating to this institution, which has recently shown a decline. This is in contrast to the percentage of Yale and Princeton alumni(ae) donating to their institutions, which has remained steady. While the dollar amount of donations is up some, the decline in the Harvard donor percentages has potentially serious ramifications for the financing of the University, for the hiring of new faculty, and for issues surrounding the timing and success of a new capital campaign. In addition, it has come to my attention that the sort of large donors needed for new building projects being proposed in Allston and elsewhere are not coming forward to the extent that had been hoped.

In what way is this donor problem—alumni(ae) and otherwise—akin to the faculty’s vote of no confidence in your administration last year, in this case expressed in a material way? And, how long do you believe that the drop off in Harvard donor percentages can be sustained and still provide for not only current expenses and needed growth, but also the advancement of major new initiatives?

 

 

President Summers said that he did not have all the figures in hand. The participation rate was down, but it fluctuates. It is a matter of concern. The overall sums being raised remain favorable, he said: cash receipts were strong in 2005, and receipts and commitments year-to-date in 2006 were also strong, “as we move toward a campaign.”

 

*****

 

Diana Sorensen, Romance Languages and Literatures

 

Mr. President, I take the floor as a faculty member involved in the curricular review since it began. As we all know, it has been a collective educational enterprise based on the open exchange of different views on what might be best for our students, who are our primary reason for being here. With them in mind, and led by Dean Kirby, we have had over three years of earnest efforts, often energized by the very disagreements that characterize open intellectual exchange. This kind of exchange relies on trust and respect. As someone who has enjoyed working with you (sometimes agreeing with you, sometimes disagreeing), I am very sorry to have to stand here today and say that I am concerned that the instability of your administration may paralyze our educational progress, and mire us in distrust and uncertainty about the future.

 

 

President Summers noted that as Dean Kirby had said, progress should continue. It was not the president’s role to take a position on “prescriptive aspects” of the curriculum-review recommendations, but he shared Kirby’s goal of leading the faculty to legislation this spring. Administrative changes spurred by the review had already brought about changes in advising and new courses. The president was confident that paralysis would be avoided; paralysis would be a very disturbing outcome for the students.

 

*****

 

Frederick Abernathy, Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences

 

President Summers and Dean Kirby,

 

I have been a member of this faculty for more than 45 years and I am no longer easily shocked. But on reading the Web story “How Harvard Lost Russia,” by David McClin­tick [A.B. 1962], the author of the lead story in the January 2006 issue of Institutional Investor, I was deeply shocked and disappointed by the actions of this University. The story is still available at

 http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/default.asp?
Page=1&PUB=62&ISS=21211&SID=606787
&SearchStr=Harvard%20Losing%20Russia
.

I will gladly send the URL to anyone interested in this story.

The story is said to be based on the trial records and depositions involved when the federal government took Harvard to court to recover the federal funds involved in the HIID project in Russia.

Harvard and several of the project’s associates paid the federal government over $31 million to settle the case.

The story, if true, portrays Harvard defending activities that at the very least are not consistent with Harvard’s Statements of Values, issued during the time of the litigation:

 

•   Respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others

•   Honesty and integrity in all dealings

•   Conscientious pursuit of excellence in one’s work

•   Accountability for actions and conduct in the workplace

 

I have sent a copy of the 37-page article to Dean Kirby and to James Houghton, Senior Fellow of the Corporation, several weeks ago but I have not yet had a response from Houghton. [Professor Abernathy reported privately later that he had since received a response from Mr. Houghton.]

My questions are:

 

1) What is the Harvard response to this article?

2) Does the article accurately reflect the events in the litigation?

3) Now that all of this is before the public, how do you feel about this episode?

 

It appears to me that during the litigation, Harvard was defending the indefensible.

 

 

President Summers said that, having recused himself from the case “since my first days at Harvard,” he had no role in the University’s litigation, nor had he familiarized himself with the facts, so he could not make any informed response. Questions could be put to the general counsel and the Corporation, since they handled the matter. He was sorry not to be able to give a more informative opinion.

Professor Abernathy then asked, Had the president no opinion on the case?

Summers replied that he did not know the facts and so could not be in a position to express an opinion, “as a consequence of my recusal.”

 

*****

 

Judith Ryan, Germanic Languages and Literatures

 

The thing that’s been on my mind for the past few days is something that has been mentioned already by some of the other speakers today. It’s now been almost a year since our faculty voted that they lacked confidence in your leadership. From talking to others and from listening to the questions that have been asked today, I have the impression that confidence has not been gained in the meantime. Can you give me a reason why the faculty should not revisit the issue of lack of confidence in your leadership at a subsequent FAS meeting?

 

 

President Summers responded that such action would be the faculty’s prerogative. He would hope that he could work closely with faculty members on the decanal search, and in so doing, “regain trust in quarters of the faculty where that trust may not exist today.”

 

*****

 

Christie McDonald, Romance Languages and Literatures

 

Mr. President: In the role delegated to you to choose a new Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, you are—with the ending of Bill Kirby’s deanship—choosing to renew what I would call a contract with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences: beginning with the process of choosing a person to lead our faculty. Since the events of just about a year ago, when the faculty voted lack of confidence in your leadership, it is not clear from the point of view of many faculty members where the legitimacy to make this choice will come from.  The question is one of trust.

 

[Paraphrasing from her notes, McDonald asked whether, in pursuing the process Ulrich outlined—selection of 24 faculty members, from whom a search committee of six members would be formed—the president would have discretion to add any names not put forward by the faculty members themselves.] And if so, does this not invalidate the process? If you cannot at this time be guided by the recommendations of the faculty through its elected officials, then, how can we trust that the outcome will be one with which we as a faculty can live and work?

 

 

President Summers said he would not add any name to the search committee without approval of the subcommittee of Faculty Council and Docket Committee members.

 

*****

 

Peter Bol, East Asian Languages and Civilizations

 

President Summers, my question concerns the appointment of the next dean under present circumstances. The Faculty has been going about its business: new courses have appeared, both Cores and freshman seminars; appointments continue to be made; we are making a very large investment in the sciences; and the financial foundation for all of these has been secured.

And yet there is a sense of instability, insecurity, and demoralization. The tensions that seemed to have come to a head last spring have this winter been renewed and heightened by the resignation of Dean Kirby and by the insistence to the Crimson, by your staff or confidants, that you fired the dean. Did you in fact fire the dean? And if so, what were your grounds for doing so?

I have heard two views here today about the next dean. One view holds that if the next dean has a different personality—if he is more confrontational, will not put up with bullying and interference—then all will be well. The other view holds that no matter who is appointed, the problems of the last few years will reemerge. Either view, the positive or negative, assumes that the greatest challenge to the success of the next dean will be his ability to cope with the president.

This will be the third dean of the Faculty since you assumed the presidency. Yet today it is not the work of Harvard, of teaching and research, that is central, but the person of the president. I can understand why this should have been the case in the first year or two of your presidency, but I am deeply troubled that this is still true five years later.

Would you support a proposal—going well beyond the Faculty Council proposal—that a committee of faculty be named to propose a successor to the Dean Kirby to the Corporation for appointment by the Corporation?

 

 

President Summers responded that after discussion with the Faculty Council group and with Corporation members, the shared feeling was that the proposal described by Professor Ulrich is for the best. “The Corporation takes very seriously their right of approval” with respect to any decanal appointment, he said, and he would not put forward any candidate who did not meet the criteria outlined by professors McCarthy and Gordon.

 

*****

 

 

Lisa Martin, Government, and senior adviser to the dean on faculty diversity

 

Martin spoke about “the embarrassment we all feel” over the way Kirby’s departure was handled—that news “leaks and manipulation” had caused a crisis of confidence and governance. Absent full faculty participation in the dean search, the faculty would disassociate themselves from the result. Moreover, there was a need to rethink governance more broadly, in light of administrative centralization for its own sake, not in pursuit of University priorities. “Can the search committee rethink and restructure governance in this University?” she asked.

 

 

President Summers said he was sure such questions would arise during the search discussions, but he could not prejudge the results. He shared Martin’s “distress” with respect to the “unfortunate, regrettable” news accounts—“mischaracterizations”—of Dean Kirby’s departure. He appreciated the way Kirby had handled matters in the face of that misrepresentation.

 

*****

 

 

Michael McElroy, Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences

 

Professor McElroy said that all appreciate the difficulties President Summers has faced leading this institution, over the last years and last year in particular—and that the skills involved in managing Harvard were not those involved in managing a large government agency or in setting economic policy. The current malaise, he said, reflects a sense that there is a revolving door in personnel, in the University and in the FAS; serious budget problems; and endless controversy, which impedes making progress and hampers fundraising. In the spirit of self-assessment, he asked, how would Summers assess his performance as CEO of this organization?

 

 

President Summers replied that it was not for him to do so spontaneously and in such a public forum. There were obviously things that “I very much regret,” but there have also been real, substantial accomplishments in this and other faculties, and in collaboration among faculties. His objective is to work as collaboratively as possible to advance University goals on teaching and research. And in fact, the institution is “substantially stronger in a number of respects” for which he did not take credit, recognizing that progress depended on the faculty and students.

 

*****

 

Irene Winter, History of Art and Architecture

 

Professor Winter recalled serving as an initial member of the faculty’s Resources Committee, which was created to promote greater transparency. She was gratified to hear Ulrich explain that the faculty committee being contemplated was a search committee, not an advisory committee. She wondered how President Summers made that distinction, how the search committee would be staffed, and how one could assure that its work would not ultimately be at the discretion of persons outside the faculty?

 

 

President Summers said he would be working closely with the committee in recruitment and selection of candidates for the deanship. He intended, but could not guarantee, unanimous agreement on an appointee—someone who would “command the enthusiasm of the members of the search committee.” He intends to choose a candidate who commands the committee members’ support.

 

*****

 

Rev. Peter Gomes, Memorial Church

 

Professor Gomes said he was “very gratified” by the tone and direction of the procedures being laid out for the decanal appointment. In an atmosphere of “unhappiness and malaise” in the faculty, it would be key for FAS members to have a determining role in the appointment—that is, a real search committee, not merely an advisory board talking with the president. That, in turn, would depend on mutual commitment to the process by the president and the faculty. A slate of 24 prospective committee members, twice the number of the apostles, might yield the six committee members who enjoy faculty and Governing Board confidence, “to sit at your right hand.”

It is not easy to be dean, Gomes noted, and Bill Kirby was perhaps to be congratulated for being well out of the position.

While the president surely could not assess himself on the spot in such a setting, Gomes hoped that he, the Governing Boards, and Massachusetts Hall will take into account that “effective dominance” means mutual trust and support. If the president dislikes the faculty, he said, “Surely there are other jobs to be had.” The situation called for continuing activity and transparency, “whereby you and we can come to a happier, more productive relationship.”

In that context, Gomes asked, “What can be done to reassure the faculty that you have not lost confidence in us, so we can resume having confidence in you?”

He thought it would be well if “six other people” [the members of the Corporation other than the president] were here with the president for the faculty meeting. Constitutionally, the president is the medium of communication between the faculty and the Corporation. He hoped the president would convey to the Corporation the sense that FAS is committed to making everything work, its recognition that the faculty cannot do everything by itself, and that it cannot proceed in opposition to the president, either. His hope was that the decanal search would be a sign of these understandings.

 

*****

 

 

Daniel Fisher, Physics and Applied Physics

 

As made clear by many of my colleagues, far more eloquent than I, the issue today, as it was a year ago, is the responsibility for the paralysis, poisonous atmosphere, and myriad other problems with which we are faced, and how to ensure a far more positive future for this great university.

Last year, it was clear that the Dean was not responsible for the problems, in spite of active efforts of the President to blame him.  The responsibility was the President’s.

This year, things are different. Even more clearly than before—and made so abundantly by the lengthy applause he received here today—the problems are not due to the Dean. Indeed, I would argue that the responsibility is no longer primarily that of the President. The responsibility lies with the Governing Boards, especially with the other six members of the Corporation.

So my question is for the Corporation: How, after all that you have learned over the past year, from public statements, from private discussions, and—I would hope—from your own initiatives, how could you collectively FAIL to conclude that the future of Harvard would be far better with a new president?

 

*****

 

Thereafter, there were no further questions, and so the faculty meeting, in the 15 minutes remaining until adjournment, began a discussion of concentration requirements for undergraduate students, and of its approach to spring-term legislation on curriculum change.

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