Archive for February, 2006

South of the Border

Posted on February 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Tomorrow I leave for my first vacation in—well, not in that long—but certainly since winter began. (I was never a huge fan of Cambridge winters.) I’m headed to warmer climes to do a little diving.

But I will have e-mail access, and I will try to post as need be.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you who read this blog and participate in the discussion about the Summers presidency and the future of Harvard. It’s an important conversation, and I’m grateful to be able to play whatever small part in it I can. But every so often, I need to get underwater to get some balance back into my life. It’s quite a humbling experience, and in that sense very healthy.

See you soon, if not before.

Bridging the Faculty-Student Gap

Posted on February 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

One of the unfortunate lessons of the Summers experience at Harvard is the revelation of just how great is the gap between students and faculty. Both groups disagree about Larry Summers, and both groups are finding it hard to understand the other’s perspective. This is not healthy. I think you see some evidence of that in the postings on this blog; there’s some mutual acrimony that is unfortunate.

That’s why I was pleased to see this editorial by Harvard lecturer Timothy McCarthy in today’s Crimson. McCarthy—whose Harvard story constituted one chapter of Harvard Rules—is no fan of Summers. But he’s also a dedicated teacher who, partly because of his relative youth and partly because of his philosophy, is unusually close to his students. So his editorial tries to both explain the nature of the faculty’s opposition to Summers while suggesting ways to bridge the divide between professors and students.

His conclusion: Summers’ [departure] thus poses an important challenge. As faculty members, we must articulate clearly and persuasively the reasons for our own discontent with the president. Moreover, we must take student grievances seriously by engaging undergraduates in conversation—publicly and privately—in an effort to restore their confidence in us as educators who are fully committed to Harvard’s long-term health. We must demonstrate our desire to work closely with students to reform the undergraduate curriculum, and we must devote ourselves more assiduously than ever to good teaching and advising. Together, we must work to make Harvard the institution it can and should be—a place of higher learning where critical debate coincides with mutual respect, where moral values triumph over market values, and where transparency replaces secrecy. We have a better chance of accomplishing all of this now that Larry Summers is gone.

I think that’s a reasonable viewpoint, and a constructive one. The aftermath of the Summers presidency poses real risks, but also presents great opportunities, and all parties have to be careful to avoid bickering and recriminations. (At the same time, the truth about what has really happened over the past years does need to come out.)

I’ve often asked readers of this blog whether Harvard is better off now than it was five years ago. I find it incontestable that it is not. But at the moment, the more important question is whether it could be—and I believe the answer is yes, and in a relatively short period of time. The challenge lies in asking, Where do we go from here to making this university a better, more harmonious, more cohesive institution? Tim McCarthy’s editorial is a step in the right direction.

A Crimson Vet and Summers Supporter Speaks

Posted on February 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 22 Comments »

Several items below, I posted a photograph of five former Crimson—ians who painted L-A-R-R-Y on their chests to show their support for Larry Summers at a Dunster House study break.

I’ve criticized the paper for the action, on the grounds that whether these people covered Summers or no, whether they are currently on the Crimson or not, it’s inappropriate for someone affiliated with the newspaper to engage in such a public display of affection. It has hurt the Crimson’s appearance of objectivity, I argued.

I still believe that. But one of the people in the photo has written a long rebuttal to this argument that is serious and worthy of being read. It’s in a comment below, but I’m going to post it here so it’s more visible. You all can make up your own mind.

[Meanwhile, Crimson folks, could you please correct those things about me in the Sam Teller interview? What’s good for the goose, eh?]

[Also, while I realize that not everyone took my joke about the chest-painting as “totally gay” in the sardonic spirit in which it was intended, I still think there’s something a little American Idol-ish about the act. But there you are.]

Richard –

Being as you continue to trash on us, calling us an “embarrassment to the paper,” I feel like I need to respond to your comments.

First of all, it should be noted that we were all acting within the confines of our own dormitory, at a study break which had been planned out months ago. This was far from a public forum. But this is truly an aside from the points you are making; I simply wanted to point this out.

Second of all, none of us have to do with Summers coverage on the Crimson. I will break down our roles for you:

There are two photographers, one of which last contributed to the Crimson in 2003, and the other of which is a former executive editor. There is a sports beat reporter, mainly with a focus on soccer and lacrosse. He has not written any news stories. There is the business manager. The former business manager was certainly a member of the executive guard, but someone with no control over content. Finally, there is a former news executive editor. This is as close as you get with hitting home on your point. However, the news executive is not one who has covered Summers, or one who oversaw Summers coverage – an archive search turns up no references to Summers in the headline or lede of any articles. The total Summers coverage from these five individuals is in the form of two photographs: one mugshot, and one appearance at a study break dancing with freshmen, both in early 2005.

I should note that only executive guard members have any say over content that appears, and none of these executive influenced Summers coverage, nor have we given the appearance that we have.

None of us have, or have had any impact on Summers coverage throughout this ordeal, and as former editors, our actions do not reflect upon current coverage.

Those who must remain impartial on The Crimson are those who cover Summers, and those who control the content that he appears in. The Crimson, just like any other newspaper is clear about this; for example, The Crimson has written staff editorials supporting Summers. By definition, some members of the staff have taken a stance on the issue. We have made no effort not to weigh in on the topic as a staff – much like any major newspaper advocates for political candidates and political policies – but those who report on Summers do not participate.

Claiming that all Crimson staffers should remain mum on the issue is like stating no member of a magazine (former or current) should ever staff a political campaign, or join an organization on which the publication has reported. On the contrary, this restriction becomes quite silly unless is deals with only those reporters and editors who cover the topic. Do you think no one from the New York Times, George Magazine, or The New Republic, has ever advocated a cause or candidate discussed within its pages?

The Crimson currently covers all the varsity sports that take place on campus. Some Crimson editors are athletes. Does this bias the Crimson’s coverage of sports? Should the organization force these editors to choose either their team or The Crimson? No – so long as they do not cover their own sport.

The Crimson reports on Harvard football. Does this preclude all editors from cheering in the stands, or, gasp, painting their chests in support?

I think this is truly the point that is of concern. The Crimson, or any other publication, would be paralyzed if every one of its editors had to refrain from taking stances on any issue covered in the paper, or expressing any sorts of opinions relating to any aspect of the publication’s coverage.

You also mention that perhaps we had a “booster-ish” attitude while we were contributing to the Crimson. Perhaps some of us did (I can only speak for myself), but any reporter might have any opinion on a given issue. Those who cover politics likely vote, and thus have an opinion strong enough to pull them to the polls; the important thing is that if they cover an issue, they cover it objectively and not publicly take a stance. Though we have publicly taken a stance, we did so after our tenure ended, and stayed away from Summers coverage during our time at the paper. The fact that we may have had an opinion, whether or not we covered Summers, is again irrelevant. We all have opinions about President Bush, but some still report on him.

The conflict of interest argument also cannot be applied retroactively – just because someone has an opinion now doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have covered an issue in the past. However, again, this is irrelevant, as none of us did cover Summers.

I think it’s important that I address these issues if they concern you, and if this represents the organization’s biggest flaw during all this coverage, I think it serves as a testament to the great reporting current editors have done so far.

I also think it is important that we try to maintain discourse while examining the issue – if you have a problem with coverage in the future, please say so, because I think it fosters productive discussion, but I personally think printing headlines such as “The Crimson Shows Its True Colors” and “Bad Journalism,” while labeling us as an “embarrassment” and “totally gay,” is at best inflammatory, and doesn’t serve to further these goals.


Google and Libraries: An Update

Posted on February 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments » does a nice wrap-up of a panel discussion on the Google project to digitize libraries at Harvard and Stanford, the universities of Oxford and Michigan, and the New York Public Library.

This isn’t a simple right-and-wrong debate, but it certainly raises questions of copyright that should concern every author or potential author.

Imagine if you could go online and download every song ever written for free. You can try to do that, but it’s pretty hard these days. Google would do with books exactly what the RIAA has been fighting with music….

The Real Threat to Free Speech

Posted on February 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In Salon, cartoonist Doug Marlette, creator of the cartoon below, stands up for the First Amendment. Sample sentence: “Once these [Danish cartoons] became a major news story… I can see little reason — other than bodily fear, bottom-line self-preservation, and just poor judgment — that the U.S. media and the public officials entrusted with defending our freedoms wimped out so thoroughly when challenged to live up to their historic obligation under the First Amendment to keep the American public informed.”

He’s right, of course….and by the way, after the cartoon below was published, Marlette received thousands of death threats. What a surprise.

More Backlash

Posted on February 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Meanwhile, over at the Weekly Standard, Peter Berkowitz (who was once denied tenure at Harvard, and sued) writes that Summers’ end is part of an attack on free speech, and that Summers should never have apologized for his remarks on women-in-science.

Berkowitz sounds like a reasonable man, and he makes about as strong a case for this argument—it’s something of an old saw by now—that can be made. But his argument suffers from the lack of a broader awareness of Summers and the question of free speech. Because as I’ve written before, the greatest threat to free speech at Harvard was, ironically enough, Larry Summers himself.

It was Summers who tried to control and manipulate the press, rewarding favored journalists (James Traub, Daniel Golden) while cutting off others (yours truly, the Financial Times reporter he threw out of his office, etc.). It was Summers who created a climate of fear on campus which made professors and staffers afraid to talk to journalists, and sometimes even their peers. Summers who squelched debate about Israel when he pronounced that all those who favored divestment from Israel were anti-Semitic. Summers who criticized Cornel West for his political support of Al Sharpton and Ralph Nader. Summers who refused to support the law school’s suit against the Defense Department, which charged that the Solomon Amendment was, in effect, a prohibition on free speech. Summers who refused to speak against the Patriot Act, not even the section of it which allows the government to track what books students checked out of Widener Library. Summers who made his own deans nervous about talking to the press, and Summers who insisted that press releases from around the university be vetted through Mass Hall. Summers who forbade anyone who worked for him to say anything on behalf of embattled Commencement speaker Zayed Yasin.

I could go on…but you get the point.

What free speech under Summers seemed to mean was that, while the speech of others was limited, Summers could say anything he wanted, no matter how offensive or just plain inaccurate—and then, if criticized for it, he and his defenders would retreat to the “I’m being attacked by the politically correct” line.

Of course, even without knowing the big picture, you could still argue that the reaction to Summers’ women-in-science remarks was an attack on free speech. But in my opinion, even that is a weak argument. If you vehemently disagree with something—and you think it’s just the latest in a series of leadership gaffes—you’re going to express yourself passionately, and you might even come to the conlusion that you lack confidence in the speaker.

No one was saying that Summers didn’t have the right to make those remarks…but the expression of strong opinions has consequences.

P.S. I was disappointed to see these remarks from Andrew Sullivan:

Peter Berkowitz blames the Harvard president’s refusal to stand up resolutely enough for free speech, including his own. He was cashiered because he was too apologetic. Appeasement never works. They get you in the end.

Andrew’s defense of free speech in other contexts is laudable. But here, it’s just misguided, glib and wrong.

Anti-Semitism and Harvard

Posted on February 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

In the Globe, Alex Beam raises the delicate question of whether opposition to or support for Israel is the “fault line” dividing professors’ feelings towards Summers.

Beam looks at statements made by Alan Dershowitz, New Republic owner Martin Peretz, and professor Ruth Wisse; all three Summers defenders use language such as “coup” and “putsch” to describe the process of Summers’ ouster.

And he describes an argument between Dershowitz and Randy Matory over Matory’s statement that, as Dershowitz described it, “people who insisted that Palestinians have rights should be quiet.” Matory remembers the exchange differently.

This is an explosive issue, and you can feel Beam treading carefully as he raises it. (He’s careful not to take sides.)

I am surprised that he did not mention Edward Glaeser’s comparison of David McClintick’s II article to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion…that seems relevant.

In the conclusion of his column, Beam asks Ruth Wisse if she thinks that anti-Semitism was behind Summers’ resignation. She strongly hints that she thinks the answer is yes.

To wit:

When I broached the notion of a ”fault line” with Wisse, who happens to be Harvard’s Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish literature, she answered my question with a question: ”That’s not the question that I’m being asked. The question that I’m being asked is, ‘Was anti-Semitism the driving engine of this coup?’ “

Well, what is the answer?, I asked her more than once. ”It’s the point of view of many people who watch these things closely,” she replied. ”It’s something the Globe should investigate.”

Is it really? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

The Times and the Shleifer Scandal

Posted on February 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

On the third page of today’s New York Times business section, Sara Ivry weighs in with a piece about the influence of David McClintick’s Institutional Investory story on the Shleifer scandal.

Ivry summarizes the article and quotes various people (myself included) on the extent of its influence. Surprisingly, I thought that it was quite influential, and Alan Dershowitz did not.

(That last line is to be read with a veneer of sarcasm.)

To my mind, McClintick’s reporting both distilled the essence of the Shleifer scandal and provided a bevy of appalling specifics. Dershowitz, however, claims that “there weren’t more than 20 or 30 people who read it” and that it was “full of leaps of logic.”

Mr. Dershowitz has a remarkable facility for throwing out unsupported numbers that happen to support his personal opinions—the majority of professors and students at graduate schools are solidly behind Summers, only 20 or 30 people read the McClintick story. It is almost as if he had done research.

I would like to invite Mr. Dershowitz to name one or two leaps of logic. Because, after all, I’m sure that he would never smear a journalist’s work without having something to back up his smear.

Professor, you are a great one for challenging people to debate, so I’d like to challenge you to share your criticisms of the McClintick story. You could either post something below, or, if you prefer, e-mail me at I’ll post whatever you write, unless it’s your unpublished novel. As the kids would say, If you got it, bring it.

Meanwhile….Summers’ spokesman John Longbrake, whose job must really be unpleasant these days—and by the way, there used to be “Harvard spokespeople,” and now we have “Summers’ spokesman,” a telling shift—declined to say whether Summers himself had read the piece and whether it had influenced his decision to resign.

Ivry probably couldn’t have gotten an answer to this, but I wish she had put those questions to members of the Corporation.

Couple of points.

The existence of this article—particularly in the Times, particularly in the hard-news business section—is not good for Summers. There, in the title, you have “Expose”—sorry, don’t know how to type the accent over the second “e” on this keyboard—followed by the words “Harvard’s President.”

Then, in the subhead, you have the phrase “Lack of Candor.”

Such language makes powerful impressions. And there’s more of it.

Readers of this blog may have noted that I continually refer to the Shleifer scandal as “the Shleifer scandal.” That’s because I believe it to be scandalous, and because I hope that the word “scandal” becomes firmly attached to any description of the episode. Not the “Shleifer case” or the “Shleifer affair,” but the “Shleifer scandal.”

So I’m delighted to see Ivry say that I have “written frequently about the scandal on [my] blog.” Every time the word “scandal” is used in reference to the Shleifer, um, scandal, a little bit of history is shaped. (And, of course, it’s nice to see some mention of this blog in print.)

Finally, I think Ivry did a nice job with this piece, and not just because she quoted me accurately. McClintick’s article was influential, and it was smart to point that out, and Ivry did so fairly. Sometimes, the Times reminds you of how good it can be.

At Harvard, the Backlash Continues

Posted on February 25th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 27 Comments »

Over at the Times, John Tierney joins the growing ranks of columists and commentators who seem to know virtually nothing about what’s really been going on at Harvard but are happy to play the anti-intellectual card and bash the faculty.

Writes Tierney: Harvard is an institution run for the benefit of the tenured faculty, as Summers discovered too late. His attempts to shake it up appealed to students and the junior faculty, but tenured professors were appalled when he told them to work harder. He dared to suggest that professors teach survey courses geared to undergraduates’ needs — an onerous idea to academics accustomed to teaching whatever’s in their latest book.

And of course Tierney quotes that Crimson poll —the now-infamous 3:1 ratio—as evidence of the faculty coup. According to Tierney, “Harvard has been able to take its undergraduates for granted. (It was a radical innovation when Summers called attention to surveys measuring students’ dissatisfaction.)”

Mr. Tierney seems oblivious to the fact that the surveys in question generally measured student satisfaction with their social life, not their academic life. In any case, one could argue that Summers could best have improved the student experience by authorizing his dean to conduct an ambitious and profound curricular review. Of course, Summers tried to run it himself, and he did it so badly that the review is in shambles; the undergraduates who are allegedly so fond of Summers have not been well-served.

There’s an interesting phenomenon happening here. Back when Summers made his women-in-science remarks, he was easily, probably unfairly, caricatured because the remarks could be personified in a specific individual.

But now the faculty is being caricatured simply because columnists can rail against “lazy” professors with “delicate psyches”—in Tierney’s words—without actually having to name any of them. Or recognizing that the professors who do probably the least teaching and have the least contact with students are in Larry Summers’ economics department. Or that the people most resistant to teaching those survey courses are usually in the sciences, an area upon which Summers lavished much of his attention and none of his criticism.

Summers was caricatured as an individual; the FAS is caricatured as a collective. And in some ways that is harder to redress than an individual’s grievance. It plays into the hands of anti-intellectuals all over the country, who are only too willing to believe (as Tierney is) in lazy, smug, self-satisfied scholars.

(It will be interesting indeed when Harry Lewis’ book, Excellence Without a Soul, comes out, charging that it is Summers who has truly failed Harvard undergraduates.)

I am amazed at the ability of columnists even at the Times to rail against the faculty and claim that they were up in arms because Summers told them to “work harder” without citing a shred of evidence to back this up.

Is it too much to ask for a single example? Just one solitary figure, kicking back in his overstuffed chair and telling Summers to stuff it?

I guess I’m just old-fashioned that way. I think journalists—even columnists—ought to provide some proof before they slam a 700-person group.

(And no, Cornel West doesn’t count, because when it came to teaching undergraduates, Cornel West was one of the hardest-working professors at Harvard or anywhere else. And he happened to teach the most popular survey course on campus when Summers hauled him in for a tongue-lashing. But that is an irony which Tierney clearly doesn’t know of.)

I’m also intrigued by that reference to “junior faculty” being pleased by Summers’ attempts to shake up Harvard. It’s true that Summers wanted to make it easier for junior faculty to win tenure, and I think that’s generally a good idea. At the same time, I know plenty of junior faculty who, putting aside their professional self-interest, thought that Summers was a terrible president.

Mr. Tierney, in fact, is so uninformed—but has these curious details, such as the junior faculty thing and the surveys about student satisfaction—that one has to wonder if he didn’t have one of those well-known background phone calls with Larry Summers…..

I know that some people have expressed concern about Summers staying through June. If Summers is now using the resources of his office to influence the way in which his presidency will be remembered—and to promote attacks on the Harvard faculty—that concern is well justified.

What in hell is Commencement going to be like?

Answer: a circus.

And somehow I think Summers—who, I think, kind of enjoys all the attention— wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Crimson Shows Its True Colors

Posted on February 25th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Below, former Crimson editors and business people show off their objectivity….(thanks to the poster who brought this to my attention; you can find the original here.)

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