washingtonpost.com  > Education > Higher Education

Faculty Group Rebukes Harvard President With Vote

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page A01

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 15 -- Harvard University's faculty of arts and sciences delivered a strong and unprecedented blow to the school's president, Lawrence H. Summers, on Tuesday, endorsing a motion proclaiming a "lack of confidence" in his leadership and another critical of both his management style and his recent controversial remarks about women in the sciences and engineering.

In a secret ballot, professors voted 218 to 185 in favor of a motion that read simply, "The faculty lacks confidence in the leadership of Lawrence H. Summers."


A campus police officer escorts Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers after a faculty meeting ended in a no-confidence vote. (Steven Senne -- AP)

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A second motion stated that the faculty "regrets" aspects of Summers's "managerial approach," and his statement to an academic conference in January that intrinsic aptitude partly explained why so few women advanced in certain disciplines. It carried 253 to 137. There were 18 abstentions in both votes.

The vote was an unexpected rebuke to Summers from Harvard's largest faculty body. While carrying no formal weight, it could put pressure on the university's corporate board to rethink its staunch support for Summers, who was one of the youngest tenured professors in the university's history and who served as Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Summers's earlier comments had touched off a period of intense reflection and debate, both within the influential institution that is often chided for the small number of women who reach its tenured ranks, and across the country, as pundits and researchers argued the merits and appropriateness of his remarks.

Attempting to address reporters after the meeting, Summers was shouted down by a few dozen students waving a large sign that proclaimed "End Sexism" and chanting "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Larry Summers has got to go!"

"As I said to the faculty, I have done my best these last two months to hear all that has been said, to think hard, to learn and to adjust," he said. "I will continue to do that. I am committed to doing all I can to restore the sense of trust that is critical to our work together, and to reengage our collective attention with the vital academic issues before us."

He was then hustled to a waiting vehicle by university police officers.

J. Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology and African and African American studies who submitted the lack of confidence motion, said he was surprised that it prevailed and that the result indicated Summers should step down.

"This was a resounding statement that the faculty lacks confidence in President Summers, and he should resign," Matory said. He added that Harvard's governing body might reconsider its support of Summers.

A call to the board's office Tuesday night was not returned.

Tuesday's votes were held in a regular monthly faculty meeting that was moved to a local theater to accommodate the large number of professors expected to attend. No previous president since the university was founded in 1636 has faced or lost a faculty vote over confidence in his leadership, according to the university's public relations office, which released a statement outlining the history of "Harvard Presidents Under Fire."

The votes came on the heels of two emotionally charged faculty meetings in February, during which Summers was lambasted by critics who broadened the debate beyond his remarks about women to include what some describe as a closed-minded and imperious approach to university politics.

Other professors came to his defense, though even some supporters said that his January statements had been unfortunate. Only Harvard-affiliated news organizations are permitted to attend faculty meetings.

For weeks, Summers repeated apologies for his remarks, which he said were ill-informed and regrettable. He formed a pair of task forces designed to study barriers to women's advancement in academia, and reached out to professors and student groups to try to make amends.

Summers's defenders said after Tuesday's meeting that the result of the votes would be to stifle academic freedom. Others pointed out that the faculty of arts and sciences is just one body in a university that also contains several somewhat autonomous professional schools.

"The votes seem to me to be a negative comment not on the leadership of President Summers, but on the faculty of arts and sciences," Ruth Wisse, a literature professor, said. "This is a university that is in the business of looking for the truth. If you look for the truth, you often find yourself in a situation where you offend some people."

The dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, William C. Kirby, who has remained publicly silent as the rift has formed between Summers and the body, issued a conciliatory statement following the meeting.

"I value the views of the faculty, and of President Summers," he said. "And I believe we all are committed to moving forward in a constructive fashion."

But several professors said repairing the rift would be a difficult process. "I don't think [the votes] took the heat out of any of this," said Alice Jardine, a professor of Romance languages and women's studies. "I think it's the beginning of a long conversation."


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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