Harvard Sticks with its Prejudices--Dispenses with Reform
The Washington Post newspaper published an editorial today dealing with the latest in the Lawrence Summers affair--Summers' resignation from Harvard. A lot will be written about the rise and fall of Lawrence Summers as Harvard President, but this editorial does a fair job of summarizing the issue.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006; Page A14
UNIVERSITIES EXIST to pose tough questions, promote critical thinking, and generally challenge complacency and prejudice. When he became president of Harvard five years ago, Lawrence H. Summers determined that the university was not living up to this mission: It was infected by its own complacencies and prejudices, and he did not shrink from saying so. This outspokenness won Mr. Summers support across the university: A new online poll conducted by the Harvard Crimson found that 57 percent of undergraduates supported him -- only 19 percent thought he should resign -- and the deans of several faculties praised his leadership. But Mr. Summers alienated a vocal portion of the Arts and Sciences faculty, which pressed last year for a vote of no confidence in him and recently forced a second such vote on to the schedule for next week. Yesterday Mr. Summers preempted that second vote by announcing that he would step down in the summer. Because of the prestige of Harvard, his defeat may demoralize reformers at other universities.
Mr. Summers fought several well-publicized battles with Harvard's establishment. He refused to rubber-stamp appointees chosen by the faculties, blocking candidates who seemed insufficiently distinguished and pressing for diversity in political outlook. This prompted complaints that he was acting like a corporate chief executive -- as though there were something wrong with that. Next, Mr. Summers had the temerity to suggest that Cornel West, a professor of Afro-American studies, produce less performance art and more scholarship. This plea for academics to do academic work was construed as racist. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Summers criticized Harvard's hostility to the U.S. armed forces and called attention to the cultural gap between elite coastal campuses and mainstream American values. The fact that these commonsensical positions alienated people at Harvard speaks volumes about the cultural gap that troubled Mr. Summers.
Perhaps most explosively, Mr. Summers raised the possibility that the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering faculties might reflect innate gender differences in ability. His claim was not that women were less intelligent on average, but rather that fewer women than men might be outstandingly bad or outstandingly good at math, with the result that the pool of math geniuses from which universities recruit is disproportionately male. "I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true," he noted. But he was immediately branded a sexist.
Mr. Summers can be undiplomatic, as he acknowledged in his resignation letter. But university professors, of all people, should not require mollycoddling; they should be willing to embrace leaders who ask hard questions about how well they are doing their jobs. The tragedy is that the majority at Harvard seems to have known that. But, in university politics as elsewhere, loud and unreasonable minorities can trump good sense.
Alan Dershowitz published an editorial in boston.com today entitled "Coup against Summers Dubious Victory for the Politically Correct." The entire article is well written, but I will quote just the last paragraph. Dershowitz points out that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard is merely one faculty out of several, and overloaded with the senile devotees of political correctness.
It was arrogant in the extreme for a plurality of a single faculty to purport to speak for the entire university, especially when that plurality is out of synch with the mainstream of Harvard. It was dangerous for the corporation to listen primarily to that faculty, without widely consulting other professors, students, and alumni who supported Summers. Now that this plurality of one faculty has succeeded in ousting the president, the most radical elements of Harvard will be emboldened to seek to mold all of Harvard in its image. If they succeed, Harvard will become a less diverse and less interesting institution of learning governed by political-correctness cops of the hard left. This is what happened in many European universities after the violent student protests of the late 1960s. It should not be allowed to happen at Harvard in the wake of the coup d'etat engineered by some in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
There is a new president at Harvard now--the same as the old president before Summers. His name is Political Correctness, and he is a cold and killing dogma. You may not be surprised to know that he is president of many universities across North America, perhaps your own school?