top two ranked universities, many people are obviously interested in the developments surrounding the world's most famous university president, namely Lawrence Summers.
On Tuesday, professors Grosz, Hammonds, Skocpol, and maybe others have asked Lawrence Summers to publish the full text of his remarks at the conference in January to "clean the air". Although it initially looked as a bad idea to many of us, president Summers has now released
You can also see that the "scary" comment about "genetic features of the Jews" was actually just an observation that the Jews are underrepresented in farming and agriculture.
Some observers have claimed that Tuesday's FAS faculty meeting was the most emotional meeting since the Vietnam war. Eight out of ten speakers were critical of president Summers; approximately two speakers endorsed Summers and criticized the critics. All topics that have been viewed as politically controversial by a segment of the Harvard community since Lawrence Summers became the boss of Harvard in 2001 - including Cornel West, the co-operation with Israeli scholars, the insufficient use of the third world's capacity to absorb pollution - have been freely raised. The media have covered this meeting in detail - well, they copied the information from The Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper - the only media allowed to report on the meeting.
The meeting will continue next Tuesday. Some colleagues of ours want (or wanted) to push for the no-confidence vote. As far as I know, more than 80 percent of the faculty attending the meeting would have to agree with a new item before it's added to the program of the meeting. However, no one can stop anyone from adding this "referendum" to the meeting in March. Such a vote is expected in March even if it already takes place on Tuesday: a regulation requires to repeat such votes so that everyone has time to prepare for a repeated vote.
FAS - the Faculty of Arts and Sciences - is by far the largest of 10 schools at Harvard and includes hard sciences, social sciences, as well as most humanities. Others are Law, Medicine, Government, and so forth. The FAS vote about the confidence would have no direct implications, but it could potentially create a pressure upon the Harvard Corporation - a rather mysterious body of 7 V.I.P.'s - the only group that has the power to change the presidents of Harvard.
My understanding of the reports is that most of Harvard Corporation endorses Summers. Also, the physicists usually believe that this story is overblown (using the words of Cumrun Vafa) and it is a strange decision to discriminate against president Summers who has said what he said, but who is clearly no chauvinist (using the words of Nima Arkani-Hamed).
Also, many people feel that the gender topic is being abused by several colleagues of ours who have other reasons to dislike president Summers (using the words of the first female tenured Harvard's physics professor, Melissa Franklin). Let me try to summarize these voices that - I believe - represent the majority's opinion of Harvard's "hard science" faculty:
- This controversy is a topic that has the ability to divide the Harvard community, and it would not be a helpful development
- So far there exists no serious tension between the individual professors at Harvard, and this situation should continue
- There is no universal agreement whether Summers' statements were legitimate, true, or not; most of us want to preserve the diversity of our opinions about these issues
- There is a widespread consensus that Summers is a nice man - certainly not a chauvinist or something like that - and my liberal colleagues still consider him a liberal, by the way; politically, he represents the mainstream and it is hard to imagine that this mainstream approach would become untollerable at Harvard just because a certain segment of Harvard thinks that the freedom to propose hypotheses should be restricted
- President Summers is an exceptionally strong president. His strength may sometimes be unwelcome according to various people who are positioned lower in the hierarchy, but the same strength is also very beneficial for Harvard in many contexts
- President Summers is doing a lot of useful work for Harvard and for its expansion, and his centralized approach simplifies many things, while it also seems to agree with the opinions of the academic community
- At this moment, it seems that no one - neither the Harvard Corporation nor the professors - have a realistic plan how to replace Summers with someone else, and destabilizing Summers's position could bring very negative consequences to the school
If a colleague of ours is reading this text and he or she is uncertain what the mainstream opinion is gonna be on Tuesday, let me answer: the bulk of the FAS faculty wants Summers to continue.