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