Who Runs Your University?

I think it’s certainly true that, across the board, at selective colleges and universities, faculty do have a lot of power. They may not have formal power, and the particular patterns of governance may shift from institution to institution, but a faculty that doesn’t want to go someplace is very hard to drag there.

Timothy Burke on Open Source

[Scheduled for Aired on Monday February 27, 2006]

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Cardulos supports Larry Summers

A vote of confidence from Harvard Square’s tea and chocolate importer [ocherdraco / Flickr]

Is the university a community of scholars? Is it a business? Is it expected to reflect the values of its faculty (see Harvard’s investment in the origins of life) or of its board (see God and Man at Yale) or someone’s idea of the national interest (see The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America)?

And where to place the curious case of now-former Harvard President Larry Summers? He left for a number of reasons, most prominent among them his unfortunate remark on woman’s capacity for reason, but also because of a management style that’s variously described as “blunt” or “abrasive” or “tinged with Asperger’s.”

In January, William Kirby, Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences, stepped down or was fired after a series of conflicts with Summers over a curriculum review and the Faculty’s budget. This week the professors of FAS were fixing to issue Summers a second vote of no confidence, but undergraduates, when polled, support him at three to one.

Harvard’s FAS is the institutional remnant of an idea that looks back to the founding of the University of Barcelona: a diverse community of world-class scholars at the center of a university. McGeorge Bundy was its dean in the 1950s, and a more important man around Harvard than even the president at the time, Nathan Pusey.

So whose university is it? And to whom does any university — a peculiar kind of investment — belong? How close is the modern American university to the Barcelona vision of cowls and robes answering only to God and curiosity?

Dorothy Zinberg

Lecturer in Public Policy and Senior Research Associate, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Author, The Changing University: How the Need for Scientists and Technology Is Transforming Universities Internationally

Former Acting Dean, Radcliffe College

Harry Lewis

Former Dean of the College, Harvard University

Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science

Author, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education

Timothy Burke

Professor of History, Swarthmore College

Blogger, Easily Distracted

Andrew Hacker

Professor of Political Science, Queens College

Contributor, New York Review of Books

Co-author of Higher Education?, forthcoming book with Claudia Dreifus

Related Content

  • I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and I guess its sponsor — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — controls it. However, I was amazed at how little the administration focused on curriculum. The Biology Department teaches about evolution, and many of its faculty members have incorporated it into their religious beliefs. There are several non-Mormon instructors there. Granted, “The Virgina Monologues” may not have showings at BYU, but for the most part the administration leaves the faculty alone.

    However, the Church operates the university in order to produce future local church leaders (both male and females) to help the Church stay strong. That explains why the tuition that students pay pales in comparison to the tithing money that is devoted to operate the university. The Church sees this funding as an investment, and it does have a right to expect results. This influence is more felt in behavioral standards (ie no drinking, extramarital sex, modesty in appearance, etc.). While this may seem draconian, students choose to attend the university; before they are officially accepted there they must sign a statement that indicates that they are willing to adhere to the standards prescribed by the university.

    Hopefully, I am presenting a realistic point-of-view and not a pro-Mormon spin doctor’s stance.

  • Excellent topic for a discussion, particularly foussing on the tensions, also, between government views of unviersities as engines of the economy and the longer term role as creators and protectors of knowledge and culture. The third dimension, that of the “civil role” is often neglected in practice despite being espoused in brochures, mission statements and the like.

    Robert Zemsky’s comment in the Chronicle in 2003 puts it in a really interesting way for me:

    “In the 1960s and to a lesser extent the 1950s, campuses were public arenas

    platforms for political theater, recruiting grounds for social activitists,

    often the places public officials turned to for judicious expertise when sorting

    out vexing issues. While certainly not every idea discussed in collegiate

    settings really mattered, rare was the social, political, or economic movement

    that did not consider the college campus as a critical venue for the airing

    viewpoints and perspectives.

    Today, however, colleges and universities are seen principally as providing

    tickets to financial security and economic status. Few people worry about

    higher-education institutions leading young people astray. If anything,

    lament is that they have, in their pursuit of market advantage, become

    dispensers of degrees and certificates rather than vibrant communities

    educators who originate, debate, and promulgate important ideas.�

  • The Biology Department teaches about evolution, and many of its faculty members have incorporated it into their religious beliefs. There are several non-Mormon instructors there.

    the mormon church has no doctrine on evolution, BYU students have actually become more creationist over the past 100 years as they assimilate into the mores of conservative protestantism (who they share social norms, if not theology, with). my understanding is that the LDS church tends to keep a watch on the theology dept. though.

    most prominent among them his unfortunate remark on woman’s capacity for reason

    i that that’s an unfair paraphrase. i think a a better one might be that one component of greater male representation in the sciences might be due to greater cognitive variance. that’s not too much longer and i suspect captures the essence more accurately.

    the genesis of the university and institutions of post rudimentary education have always been frought with these questions. my understanding is that the original north italian institutions that arose in the middle ages were far more student-centered than the universitiy of paris or oxford and cambridge, but the latter become the ‘gold standard.’ the ancient classical ‘academies’ were probably more like think tanks than teaching institutions. the key is $$$, modern higher education receives government monies, and what the government touches it turns into an image of itself, bureaucratized, top down and ruled by gross heuristics.

    i believe that the information revolution might break this monopoly with better teaching software. right now a harvard degree is in large part a symbol that you could get in and could pay. in some fields it is important (law, politics), but in others not really (engineering). those fields where research is less about massive cyclotrons and state of the art workstations might slowly diffuse out of the traditional academy.

  • Chris

    Jesus you want to talk about University politics come to the University of California. Clearly run as a business we have a “chancellor” here at UCSC. We are run by a board of regents who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and make big time deals with big time corporations to develop nuclear technology.

  • Potter

    I was particularly dismayed and disappointed that Summer’s mere raising of a question that was “politically incorrect” and that may have lead to further exploration and consideration or constructive discussion raised such a cry against him. What is so outrageous about the notion that men and women may think differently?

  • Pingback: Disparate » Blog Archive » Institutions of Higher Learning()

  • Actually, as the Summers issue was explained to me by someone deeply interested by gender in academia, the outrage wasn’t so much at Summers’ comments as about the context for those comments. Apparently, he made these comments during a conference which was trying to find solutions to the disparities between men and women in science enrollment. Given his position, he was expected to say something useful. Instead, he apparently rehashed ideas which had been made throughout the conference and failed to address the situation. Obviously, in the days following the event, media attention was mostly focused on the public perception of what Summers might have said. The script of his speech might be available now but public perception was made much before that. And the issue of gender in academia has been drowned in the media furry over Summers’ personality and prior mistakes.

    Whatever really happened, it’d be nice to get a positive model of what we actually want in academia. A public reflection of the role of academics wouldn’t do any harm. Especially if its horizons are large and people outside the U.S. are involved.

  • trh

    An excellent guest for this program would be Professor Stanley Fish. He has written and spoken extensively on the university as an institution, and has a broad, historical perspective on it.

  • trh

    p.s. Stanley Fish has also written about the ‘Summers controversies’ in the Chronicle.

  • avecfrites

    Alumni have always had influence, as donors. If we are to believe in the growing trend for retirees to settle near their former colleges and partake of campus life, does this represent an additional area of alumni impact and influence? Will colleges alter their curriculum, their official values, and their campus layout, e.g., to accommodate retiree alumni?

  • T:Porter

    This is a great topic. It would be a shame if the following was a premise of the discussion:

    “He left for a number of reasons, most prominent among them his unfortunate remark on woman’s capacity for reason, but also because of a management style that’s variously described as ‘blunt’ or ‘abrasive’ or ‘tinged with Asperger’s.'”

    It’s much more about institutional politics and the lack of diplomacy from a leader who was trying to change a relatively large group with significant resistance to change (like any bureaucracy).

    Matt Yglesias, a writer-blogger from The American Prospect and recent Harvard College alum, says it better IMHO at http://www.tpmcafe.com/node/27016

  • Robin

    Very interesting stuff guys. Interesting comparison to BYU anhhung. Thanks for the Matt Yglesias article, T:Porter. He makes some good points, and your point about the issues around institutional politics and what I’ve read some describing as “entrenched fiefdoms” will be an important part of the conversation. Also, trh, lines out to Stanley Fish amongst others, so thanks for the recommendations!

  • T:Porter

    One thing the “diplomacy” issue makes me think about (though I’m not sure if it’s really topical): There’s a cliched and perhaps not empirical observation, I think, that part of “greatness” is not caring what people think. Certainly, sensitivity to perception can limit one’s ambition and aggressiveness, so this sounds plausible in a pop-psych way.

    However, it seems to me that some kind of diplomacy is necessary if you’re going to attempt to change a group as large and powerful as the entire faculty. Unless you’re an omnipotent dictator type, which the president of a university certainly is not.

    Possible question: To what extent is organizational sensitivity required or beneficial in a leader?

    Pet peeve: That diplomacy is derided as “Political Correctness” or “Hypersensitivity,” as if there’s no such thing as non-zero, non-hyper-sensitivity.

  • jwgarp

    Isn’t there a big difference between who “owns” a public university as opposed to a private university? I think that major flagship public schools — Berkeley, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, etc. — are more obligated to incorporate rigorous public-minded goals, which a private entity like Harvard can opt to take or leave at its own peril. This may come in the form of more emphasis on practical applications of social sciences (as in Michigan’s Institute for Social Research) or in active partnering between the state and the institution. For public universities, the state and the people are the ultimate owners.

    I earned degrees at both a large flagship school and at Harvard. At Harvard, the faculty owns the school, period. This contributes to the school’s insularity, arrogance, and fogginess about what’s going on in the rest of the world. I don’t speak of this in the political correctness sense that many of the commentors here highlight — I think Harvard poorly understands the practical necessities that make the rest of the world function. It is not an outward-looking institution. Lawrence Summers understood this, but his abrasiveness and remarkably poor interpersonal skills doomed him.

    While focusing on the Summers controversy is worthwhile, I think it’s a mistake to lump all universities together in this way. Harvard is a Tiffany institution and it fosters a Tiffany environment. Props to the big public universities that do so much of the hard work behind teaching and learning, and are engaged in loud, sometimes ugly debates with their governments, citizens, and the rest of the world.

  • James Rockford

    My alma mater (Texas A&M) is run by the former head of the C.I.A. Huh? How did that happen? Well, he wanted a new career, talked to his old boss (Bush 41, who has his library there), and he was groomed for it.

    So is running one beauracracy the same as another? I hope not, but I’m afraid that narrative actually works today.

    On another tack, A&M is a very undergraduate-centric university, but it’s been interesting to see how my view of this changes as I reach 10 years from graduation. Of course, the money runs a lot of it. Big donors are especially important in athletics. And government on the state level sees the university as its playtoy or maybe, ant farm, from Governor to Governor-appointed boards.

  • I guess a good question to ask is: Who should ultimately steer an institution of higher learning? Alumni may not understand the intricacies of institutional leadership or planning. Faculty members may have polemic interests amongst themselves. Corporate sponsors (isn’t that laughable?) probably focus on narrow interests and “the bottom line,” and that typically shunts the original purpose of universities — to expand understanding, not act as a vocational school. Administrators may have grandiose ideas and have the tendency to make gaffes. Each type of institutional leader has pros and cons. Which one has the most pros after adjusting for the cons?

  • Potter

    Harvey Silverglate weighs in in an article for the Boston Phoenix. He’s disappointed in Summers for not fighting back as well. If you are doing a show on this it would be great to hear Silverglate.

    Say it Ain’t So

  • Potter

    Don’t laugh at me. I know I am a Silverglate groupie.

  • Clark Kerr, Chancellor of the University of California system in the 60s said, “A university always changes at the right time—when it must.â€?

    I’m not sure who gets credit for saying that “The greatest power a faculty has is the power to do nothing.�

    The problem today with managing universities is much the same as health care management. Modern management finds institutional processes so very slow. Nothing moves fast enough for those with an eye to the bottom line, and a modern university has too much financial value to be run by academics.

    From outside, the Harvard struggle over Summers seems much more push and shove over the limits of management, not a central struggle for higher values. I suppose ten years from now—if it is remembered at all—it will be interpreted as a sign of the general unhappiness over the bogus war in Iraq. But that’s as close as it will come to challenging an institutional or national value.

    No one is questioning the overall structure by which American higher education functions today. The rankings of universities are determined by (1) research dollars, (2) endowments, and (3) the quality of faculty working conditions and student living conditions.

    Although I could be a bit off on this, I suppose that is why the University of Barcelona was cited on your site, not the University of Paris, which was founded earlier. Paris was governed by its faculty. Barcelona had a father managing its household from the time it was born. But hardly a faculty member in America today would challenge his or her father on grounds that might threaten the family. Oh, they may banish an upstart to wander East of Eden, but none of them want to risk losing what they have.

  • Voos

    Summers’s rise and fall as President of Harvard is entirely consistent with one of the patterns of unsuccessful college/university presidents.

    Our institutions of higher education are run on a model called shared governance; shared between faculty (with primary responsibility for curriculum and issues of faculty life); administration (with primary responsibility for allocating resources); and the board (with overall and longterm responsibility for the fiscal and strategic strength of the institution).

    We also have a very different timeframe than most other enterprises. Colleges and Universities aren’t thinking about daily, monthly, or quarterly results. If you think of one of the services we all offer – the undergraduate education – it takes 4 years (at a minimum) to deliver. You don’t get to see the effectiveness (or effect) of curricular change for a long time.

    American Council on Education research suggests that it takes more than 6 years (and closer to 8) for a President to make meaningful changes at a University, if I remember correctly. The average tenure of a univ. pres. is something like 5 years.

    Back to my initial point: the pattern that Summers fits into. High-handed and arrogant presidents – behaving autocratically (or trying to), pushing head-on against the culture of the institution, failing to build effective coalitions on the inside, not building a case for change (and harnessing the forces for change which exist already in our schools), misunderstanding which battles are important – don’t succeed. They are waited out or are confronted and defeated.

    And I’m not sure they shouldn’t be. I’m not arguing against change or against change at Harvard. Quite the opposite. I’m arguing that deep, permanent change in institutions with lifespans of centuries happens through a different kind of leadership.

  • The Summers also sets

    The ousting of Larry Summers had more to do with the balance of power on campus than ideology

    HARVARD likes to think of itself as the best university in the world. People who didn’t go there may beg to differ, but this week Harvard proved that it is undoubtedly a world-beater in one discipline: academic back-stabbing.

    On February 21st Harvard’s president, Larry Summers, announced that he is stepping down after just five years in his job, making him the shortest-serving president since Cornelius Felton, who died after two years in office in 1862. Derek Bok, who ran the university in 1971-91, will serve as interim president until a replacement can be found. Mr Summers’s abrupt retirement not only raises questions about Harvard’s commitment to free speech, given the long-standing jihad against him; it also throws the university’s ambitious reform programme into disarray.

    Mr Summers’s departure was precipitated by another resignation—that of William Kirby, the dean of the powerful Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). Mr Summers edged Mr Kirby out because he thought that he had allowed the reform of the curriculum to get bogged down. But the departure was handled badly even by Mr Summers’s abrupt standards (the dean apparently learned about his resignation from the press). And the resulting furore gave Mr Summers’s critics a chance to table a vote of no confidence.

    The vote, set for February 28th, was particularly perilous for Mr Summers because the FAS had already passed a vote of no confidence in him in March 2005. This didn’t destroy him last year because the powerful Harvard Corporation—the university’s six-member board—chose to back him. But this time things were different. Opposition to Mr Summers had strengthened and the Corporation was losing confidence in its president’s ability to run the university. Mr Summers jumped before he was pushed.

    This was all rather unfair. None of the other faculties has ever joined FAS in expressing no confidence in Mr Summers. A poll in the Harvard Crimson revealed that undergraduates were opposed to Mr Summers’s ousting by a majority of three to one. Alan Dershowitz, a law professor, dubbed the situation as “an academic coup d’étatâ€? by the “hard leftâ€?.

    Mr Summers arrived in 2001 with a mandate for change. The Corporation recognised that Harvard could keep its edge over up-and-comers like Stanford only by remaining nimble. And they were impressed by Mr Summers’s clear vision of reform. He wanted to refocus undergraduate education, improve science teaching, build a whole new campus across the river and make Harvard a global university. The Corporation bet that the former treasury secretary had the right qualifications for the job: he had taught economics at Harvard before going into government, and his bulldozer-like personality would bully the reforms through.

    Ever since then the bulldozer has been hitting walls. He clashed with Cornel West, a well known black professor, over Mr West’s commitment to academic research. He challenged the banning of the army training corps from the Harvard campus. He suggested that a petition urging the university to sell stakes in companies doing business in Israel might be “anti-Semiticâ€?. He went out of his way to defend his friend Andrei Shleifer from accusations that the economist had violated conflict of interest rules by investing in Russia. (Harvard and Mr Shleifer paid almost $30m to settle a civil suit brought by the American government over the issue.) And, most famously of all, Mr Summers infuriated the feminist establishment (and many others) by wondering out loud whether prejudice alone could explain the shortage of women at the top of science.

    It is tempting to present Mr Summers as a neo-conservative fallen among liberals. In fact, ideologically he is something of an old-time liberal himself (he devoted a great deal of energy to boosting the number of poor students at Harvard). His problem has always been that his affection for any agenda is less than his love of a good debate. Political correctness depends on self-censorship, especially over group differences, and Mr Summers is constitutionally incapable of not examining people’s premises.

    In the end, though, character was less important than power. There was a set of much more basic tensions between Mr Summers and his critics. These tensions might be dressed up as ideological, but they were really about the privileges and perks of academic life.

    The most obvious was undergraduate teaching. Undergraduates get a raw deal for their $40,000 a year. The core curriculum is an antiquated mess. Star professors palm their pupils off on graduate students and then give them top grades to keep them happy (one survey found that 91% of Harvard graduates get honours compared with just 51% at Yale). Mr Summers tried to use the bully pulpit to force professors to teach more seriously; hence his attack on Mr West.

    The second was a tension between science and the humanities, or between hard and soft subjects. Mr Summers made no secret of his personal enthusiasm for the hard sciences; he was scathing about squishy “ologies�. Some Harvard types speculated bitterly that he wanted to turn Harvard into an Ivy-clad version of the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the university that accepted the young Larry when Harvard turned him down.

    Above all, there were the tensions that flowed from his desire to strengthen a famously weak presidency. He tried to ensure that more money was funnelled through the president’s office. (In 2002 the central administration controlled much less than the dean of the FAS.) He directed money to graduate schools he approved of, installed sympathetic deans and tried to shape the professoriat by choosing scholars whom he admired. The FAS fought back.

    Nice job, if you have no opinions

    This is not to say that Mr Summers didn’t create unnecessary difficulties. He didn’t suffer fools gladly (and fools with PhDs are particularly sensitive to charges of stupidity). He measured all academic life by the standards of economics and mathematics. He infuriated Harvard by bringing an entourage of Washington flunkies and by being ferried around in an official car. And he annoyed his allies by giving in: were his comments about women really so terrible that he had to pledge $50m to promote women in science?

    Yet there was more to the Summers wars than the main protagonist. His defeat prompts a bigger question: is the modern university governable? With 20,000 students and annual expenses of about $2.8 billion, Harvard is huge. Its senior employees have lifetime tenure and there are plenty of other tough constituencies, from pushy alumni to students who are paying through the nose to be there.

    The job of a university president is shrinking from being a public intellectual to being a mere fund-raiser, and a temporary one at that. During the 20th century the average tenure of Harvard presidents was 20 years. But Mr Summers’s predecessor, Neil Rudenstine, lasted only for a decade, and had a very public nervous breakdown in the middle of his reign. Mr Summers was gone in half that time.

    Harvard will probably have no shortage of applications for the job of running the world’s richest university (its endowment is now $26 billion). But it is hard to imagine a reformer wanting the job, particularly now that the FAS has tasted blood and the Corporation has given in.

    Harvard has tended to go through bouts of reform followed by periods of consolidation. The most important bout of reform came with James Conant (1933-53), who took a Brahmin university—regional, parochial, snobbish, resistant to Jews, women and new subjects—and turned it into a national, meritocratic university. Harvard now desperately needs to push through equally radical reforms: improving undergraduate education while also seizing the opportunities of science and globalisation; correcting many of the problems of the sixties, while also reaching out to poorer students. Even if he was the wrong messenger, Mr Summers definitely had the right message.


  • cheesechowmain

    One should not underestimate the effect of John Dewey on this topic. Furthermore, the echoes of legal wranglings at Darthmouth and Stanford from a previous time can be heard.

  • tlewis

    Its About an Economist not having the Intellectual Goods

    I’m a Harvard Research Associate, but teach at another Massachusetts liberal arts college. I heard lots of comments by faculty about Summers and while he was brilliant in his field (by reputation), he suffered from the very limited education of an economist. Economists are NOT well poised to be at the center of the intellectual culture of a modern university. Further, accustomed to being taken very seriously as economists as men of power in modern America, he combined au unfounded intellectual arrogance with being out of his depth in many areas of modern intellectual life. “Knowing oneself” was inverted in his case, and when he embarrassed the faculty with a series of unfounded/untoward comments, he was destined to be gone.

    Todd Lewis

  • kel

    Speaking of public intellectuals, please don’t forget the late Stephen Jay Gould, one of the finest public intellectuals of the past 30 years

  • Isn’t it a bit ironic that in a post that makes a statement about an “Economist not having the Intellectual Goods” there is not one single fact that counters a previous article, filled with facts, that claims that he did – and not only in the area of Economics?

    I beleive that the point in the Economist article about the “squishy oligies” applies here. For example, your are FACTUALLY incorrect when you says that Summers “embarassed the faculty” since a majority of the faculty voted twice, to support him. What you should have said was that “he embarrassed a portion of the faculty while maintianing the support of a mojority of the faculty and undergraduates”.

    And, it takes arrogance to say the undegraduates don’t have influence over what is taught. You say that you are a Harvard Research Associate – how long will that last if two thirds of the undergraduates who supported Summers and the vast majority of donors to the Endowment take thier money elsewhere?

    Maybe “the men (or idividuals) in power in America” are there because others are out of thier depths?

  • fiddlesticks

    I wish Chris would stop pushing his addiction to religiosity. You can hear it in his bringing up the Divinity school every few minutes.

    He sounds like a holly roller, manque!


    Future Shock

    by William J. Stuntz

    Only at TNR Online | Post date 02.27.06


    Fifty years ago, General Motors was on top of the world–and knew it. GM dominated the American automobile market, and the American market dominated the world. Every year, another line of Chevrolets and Buicks rolled out, pretty much the same as the last, save for the shape of the tailfins. Millions bought them. Wages rose and benefits increased. If costs were higher, customers seemed happy to pay. What could possibly go wrong?…


  • Utah Owl

    I should probably state my bona fides up front – got my Chemistry degree from Cornell U, my PhD from U. Pennsylvania & doing postdoctoral work at Yale (Molecular Biochem & Biophys). However, this early experience was many years ago. As a scientist since then, mostly practicing this craft in academia, I would like to point out several facts (since Winston likes them, as do scientists):

    – professors, even Harvard professors, are not paid nearly as well as baseball players or practically any marketing VP in a large corporation or any corporate lawyer. This makes us a wierd lot. Clearly, the urge to compare well-paid apples and business oranges should be considered sceptically.

    – the competition within rapidly-moving science fields is mindboggling, requiring a decade or more of 100-hr weeks, an IQ over 150, the hide of a rhino, and considerable organizational talent. Oh yes, and the ability to ping-pong between the shark pool of your colleagues in the field and the undergraduate courses you teach in the time left over from the research rat race. An NIH R01 grant requires at least as much effort as a decent Masters thesis, and young faculty will be writing 2-3 per YEAR when the NIH budget is flatlined, as it is now & for the remainder of the Bush presidency.

    – trust me, you don’t want most of my high-powered scientist colleagues teaching undergrad courses. For every Hans Bethe (who regularly took Intro Physics sections at Cornell), there are 20 who are communications-challenged and 50 who will bore kids right out of science.

    – please distinguish between “research Universities”(which are expected to be grant-scoring machines that (since the 1990s) are now also supposed to be economic engines spinning off patentable innovations & businesses) and other excellent Universities & 4-yr collleges (Carlton, Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, etc etc), whose major business is undergraduate education (and winning sports teams…)

    – Winston, you are naive if you think that undergraduates carry nearly as much weight at any of the Ivies, Stanford, Johns Hopkins or the other Research U’s as do the graduate faculty who bring in the grants, patents & corporate alliances. The graduate research apparatus is extremely expensive and has to be state-of-the-art to attract the cheap, brilliant grad student/post-doc worker bees who are so critical to American innovation. I do not say this approvingly. It’s the way things work. Ask any friends in the business world – corporations have been cutting back on R & D (research & development) for 25 years to improve their bottom line. They rely on the research U’s to do that work for them. The research U’s do it well and the fight for funding keeps the system very lean & mean.

    – economists DO have a limited education. I say this from years of discussion with friends on the fast-moving edge of arbitrage & hedge trading. If you want facts, Winston, compare the size, depth & quality of the published literature in economics with that ANY of the physical or biological sciences, or ANY of the belles lettres. I am continually astonished by the poor grounding displayed by many economists in logic and in decent mathematics (simple calculus will do, I’m not expecting them to do tensor calculus). They need undergraduate training a lot like electrical or mechanical engineering students, and they don’t get it.

    OK, end of facts as I see them. Kudos to Voos, Enkerli, Rockford & TLewis for facts & food for thought.

    Now for my rant:

    Winston & TPorter, you ignorant sluts, do you think you can get past “let’s pull the girls’ pigtails?” (“most famously of all, Mr Summers infuriated the feminist establishment”, “I was particularly dismayed … that Summer’s mere raising of a question that was “politically incorrectâ€? and that may have lead to further exploration and consideration or constructive discussion raised such a cry against him. What is so outrageous about the notion that men and women may think differently? “):

    Winston, you are in error in thinking that the Harvard female science professoriate are overwhelmingly “feminists” – this assumption says more about YOUR notions of what certain types of women “must be like”. In my experience, successful academic women scientists are either apolitical or lean conservative.

    Potter: What Summers did was very far from “mere raising of a question..that may have lead to further exploration.” He made this public statement THREE MONTHS after a meeting in which concerns about increasing gender disparity in granting tenure were raised, by a group of faculty who had “explored” the topic more seriously than Summers evidently did. It was a public slap, not a serious effort at discussion. And you can’t seriously believe that these power games have anything to do with “the notion that men & women think differently?” Of course they do…but not when they’re doing mathematics proofs or dreaming up new synthetic pathways, Y.I.S.!

  • As the article in the Economist pointed out, this entire fiasco (for Harvard) wasn’t about offending a few female researcers, it was about reforming Harvard and as both articles pointed out, its “reform or die”.

    And I am not naive in thinking that undegraduates have as much power as grduates students, but combined with the Harvard Corporation (who collects the payments for the endowments) they are very powerfull.

    Example: Look at hte disaster that are the “elite” universities in England – Cambridge and Oxford. Both argueably as good at research as any in US but there funding models are broken. Research money doesn’t pay the bills Endowments do and you get those from people who support the University not the faculty – that is why the Harvard Corp Board selects the President and why, when a few members of the faculty (the FAS) send him away it simply shows that the place is incapable of reform.

    As the Economists article points out, Larry Summer’s vision of an expanded Harvard able to out compete other universities in a Glaobal Market is dead for at least the tenure of one more President ~ 10-20 years. By then, like many of the other “bussinesses” in the NE that have proven to be incapable of competing in the real world, it will be too late.

    I always find it amusing re: comments for people who spend money about people who make it. Maybe that;s why each is in the role’s that they are – the next time we need a new high tech chemical assay we can call on a research chemist but when it comes to Economy and Finance, I think I much rather have people like Sumer’s give advice.

  • Potter

    Thank you for Andrew Hacker. I connected very much with what he was saying. I graduated the City University of New York, Hunter College, many years ago. It was a first rate education and it cost me practically nothing. Nothing. Some of my professors were scholars, the top in their field at the height of their careers and they loved teaching and we felt they loved teaching us and we really loved learning. We were not there for the label. There was no question of that.

    I have always felt grateful for this gift.

  • Potter

    BTW- There was another speaker that I enjoyed last night- perhaps it was Timothy Burke.

  • What? -“most prominent among them his unfortunate remark on woman’s capacity for reason”

    Prominent – He tried to reform undergrad ed at Harvard, and he expected faculty to show for work and teach undergrads. The inmates threw him out.

    Unfortunate – What is unfortunate, and in extremely bad taste, is to suggest that Larry Summer said anything false or derogatory about woman’s (women’s?) capacity to reason. He said something about the dispersion of intelligence and how it differed between the genders. First, true. Second, useful in coming to good judgments about the market outcomes and occupational choices we observe are something that need to fixed.

  • tbrucia

    It strikes me that WHO RUNS an institution is less important than HOW they run it (management style). Also, ownership is different from management. Some owners are dictatorial and — next level down — the managers they hire insist on obedience and orthodoxy. Those at supervisory (teaching) level are governed by fear and play it safe…. Other institutions have a more relaxed style where collegiality counts for everything…. Many years ago I attended a Roman Catholic college, run by Benedictine monks. The English Department members were mostly (all?) atheists, party animals, and somewhat nihilistic. And everyone got along. It was a weird schizophrenic place, but I was exposed to an incredible variety of views, philosophies, and thought. We read Sartre, Camus, Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Benedict, and so on. (Given that it was the 1960s, we never read Qutb, Madudhi, the hadith, nor the Talmud and kabbalah. Oh, well…) It was an intellectual hotbed — not at all what one would conceive of when the words ‘Catholic college’ come to mind!

  • UtahOwl

    Point on ownership vs. management is well taken, tbrucia. To John B Chilton: First: It is necessary to consider context in understanding the full meaning of what is said, particularly by powerful players making public speeches. Summer’s statement about women should be placed in its context. As I noted previously,it was by no means a general, innocent statement about “the dispersion of intelligence and how it differed between genders.”

    Second: There is not really general agreement on how intelligence varies between genders. There have been excellent studies on heritability of intelligence (defined as IQ), but gender influence is altogether more difficult to assess, because it is so difficult to separate nature & culture/nurture. In any event, population studies may not be terribly relevant to Harvard faculty, a group which are selected precisely for being at least 4 standard deviations above the mean in some [limited] area of expertise. This, of course, does not preclude them from being considerably below the mean in other areas…

    Winston, if I understand you correctly, you place scientists & engineers among those who “spend” money and economists such as Summers among those who “make” money? An odd position. The Economist appears to think quite highly of those engineers & scientists whose discoveries & patents are fueling the High Tech & BioTech sectors. For myself, I think it is probably unsustainable to expect universities to compensate for the incredibly inadequate investment by corporations in R & D. This, with the inadequate cultural support for educational excellence in the U.S., are penny-wise and pound-foolish policies that will cost us dear in the global competition.

  • Potter

    UtahOwl: According to Harvey Silverglate ( see link to his article “Say it Ain’t So” I posted above)

    quote At issue were comments Summers made, at a January 14 conference, merely stating the obvious: that genetic differences between the sexes might in part account for women’s underrepresentation in math, science, and engineering, and that research must be conducted to answer the hard questions and devise remedies…………

    An here’s the irony: Summers’s “feminist” critics set back the struggle for gender equality far more effectively than even the most sexist anti-intellectual troglodyte ever could.

    FOR THOSE who missed the brouhaha of the past two weeks, here is what happened.

    The outspoken Summers was invited to speak at a Harvard academic conference run by the National Bureau of Economic Research, where he was urged to raise some of the thornier questions about the frustrating scarcity of women in academic math, engineering, and science positions. Summers suggested three areas of research seeking possible answers. First he noted the possibility that women raising children are often unwilling to put in the 80-hour weeks required to compete for elite posts. Secondly, he urged examination of the discrimination women encounter in the hard sciences.

    But then Summers touched the third rail of academic politics. He observed that as early as high school, boys often seem to perform better than girls in science and math, raising the possibility that the disparity might be due in some measure to innate differences in gender. All three of these issues, he suggested, should be studied to figure out how to deal with them.

    Midway through Summers’s talk, Nancy Hopkins, an MIT biologist, walked out of the room, later explaining to Boston Globe reporter Marcella Bombardieri that if she hadn’t left she would have “either blacked out or thrown up.” The next day, Hopkins told the New York Times that “when [Summers] began talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn’t breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill.” Five other female conference attendees reached by Bombardieri likewise reported being offended.

    Summers and Harvard professor Richard Freeman, who had invited the president to address the conference, at first frankly expressed their bewilderment over the emerging firestorm. Freeman explained that Summers was trying to “provoke” thought and research. “Men are taller than women, that comes from the biology,” Freeman explained to New York Times reporter Sam Dillon. “Larry’s view was that perhaps the dispersion in test scores could also come from the biology.” Summers further explained: “I was trying to provoke discussion, and I certainly believe that there’s been some move in the research away from believing all these things are shaped only by socialization.”

    Nonetheless, news of the incident reverberated across the nation. Before long, National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy intoned: “Summers must go, and Harvard must start with a clean slate.” In short order, signatures were collected for a faculty letter admonishing Summers, who soon began to backtrack, issuing a statement expressing “deep regret” over the “impact of my comments” and an “apology” for “not having weighed them more carefully.”

    In a January 19 letter to “Members of the Harvard Community,” Summers suddenly announced that he was sorry for having raised the issue — that research might be undertaken to determine what role, if any, genetics plays in accounting for the gender gap in math and science — in a way that “has resulted in an unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and women.” Summers’s statement assured Harvard, the nation, and the world that in fact gender and biology do not indicate “that girls are intellectually less able than boys, or that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science.” Never mind that Summers never suggested such a belief, and that his talk was sympathetic to the need to tear down existing gender barriers. “The human potential to excel in science” is not, he suddenly realized, at all gender-related — a stunning turnaround, given that the research he called for on January 14 obviously had not been completed by January 19. Rather, the question was resolved by the loudest voices who could raise the most clamor, collect the most signatures, and attract the most sensationalistic media coverage.

    Read the rest.

    I would like to voice my appeciation ( always) for Camille Paglia. She’s a real pleasure.

  • Potter

    UtahOwl: Silverglate, Harvard alumnus, is well known in this area but in case you do not know of him here is a link:


  • Potter

    In today’s New York Times:

    Academic, Heal Thyself by Camille Paglia

    Here is the last part of the piece:

    Mr. Summers’s strategic blunders unfortunately took the spotlight off entrenched political correctness and changed the debate to academic power: who has it, and how should it be exercised? Nationwide, campus administrations faced with factionalized or obdurate faculties have in some cases taken matters into their own hands by creating programs or reducing and even eliminating departments. The trend is disturbingly away from faculty power.

    Hence more is at stake in the Harvard affair than merely one overpriced campus with an exaggerated reputation. Support for Larry Summers was strong among Harvard undergraduates and outside the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which constitutes only one of Harvard’s many colleges and professional schools. The Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz protested that Mr. Summers had been removed by “a coup d’état.” But by his failure to provide a systematic rationale for his words and actions, Mr. Summers gave the impression of governing by whim and impulse. The leader of so huge and complex an institution cannot be a whirling dervish.

    IT now remains to be seen whether Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences is capable of self-critique. Will its members acknowledge their own insularity and excesses, or will they continue down the path of smug self-congratulation and vanity? Harvard’s reputation for disinterested scholarship has been severely gored by the shadowy manipulations of the self-serving cabal who forced Mr. Summers’s premature resignation. That so few of the ostensibly aggrieved faculty members deigned to speak on the record to The Crimson, the student newspaper, illustrates the cagey hypocrisy that permeates fashionable campus leftism, which worships diversity in all things except diversity of thought.

    If Harvard cannot correct itself in this crisis, it will signal that academe cannot be trusted to reform itself from within. There is a rising tide of off-campus discontent with the monolithic orthodoxies of humanities departments. David Horowitz, a 1960’s radical turned conservative, has researched the lopsided party registration of humanities professors (who tend to be Democrats like me) and proposed an “academic bill of rights” to guarantee fairness and political balance in the classroom. The conservative radio host Sean Hannity regularly broadcasts students’ justifiable complaints about biased teachers and urges students to take recording devices to class to gather evidence.

    These efforts to hold professors accountable are welcome and bracing, but the danger is that such tactics can be abused. Tenure owes its very existence to past intrusions by state legislatures in the curricular business of state universities. If politicians start to meddle in campus governance, academic freedom will be the victim. And when students become snitches, we are heading toward dictatorship by Mao’s Red Guards or Hitler Youth.

    Over the last three decades of trendy poststructuralism and postmodernism, American humanities professors fell under the sway of a ruthless guild mentality. Corruption and cronyism became systemic, spread by the ostentatious conference circuit and the new humanities centers of the 1980’s. Harvard did not begin that blight but became an extreme example of it. Amid the ruins of the Summers presidency, there is a tremendous opportunity for recovery and renewal of the humanities. Which way will Harvard go?

    Camille Paglia is the university professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

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