Archive for June, 2006

Larry Summers’ Parting Shots

Posted on June 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

Today is the last day of the Summers’ presidency. (Some would note that it precedes Independence Day, a national holiday.)

President Summers has been popping up in various odd places lately. Last night he appeared on the Charlie Rose Show (he and Rose are, apparently, friends from Washington days). I didn’t see the show, but here’s a summary.

(By the way, the interview negates George Stephanopolous’ claim that his talk with Summers would be Summers’ only interview.)

Summers also gave an interview to Justin Pope, the AP’s education writer. (Why Pope? Seems an odd choice; one wonders if Pope would agree to a Q & A, while other outlets would not.)

An excerpt…

AP: Harvard is governed essentially the way it was 350 years ago: by a secretive, 7-member, self-perpetuating body called the Harvard Corporation. Does the system need to change?

Summers: I think the university does need to reflect on questions of governance… The university’s governance structure was set at a very different time when universities were investing much less than they’re able to invest today, when the demands on them from a larger society are much less than they are today.

And so I think particularly after a period of some tension between a president and members of the faculty, I think it would be appropriate for there to be reflection on institutions of governance at Harvard.

AP: But to what end?

Summers: I think the university needs to be more prepared to change and adapt itself. I think that the veto power is too widely distributed within the university. There’s too much stove-piping into individual disciplines and individual departments. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences hasn’t created or eliminated a department in more than 35 years.

Stovepiping?

I can’t really figure out whether Summers is suggesting that the Corporation needs changing (I don’t think so) or that the FAS needs to have more power taken away from it (seems more likely…)

More to come later…but by the way…I’m taking Germany over Argentina.

Larry Summers and the Department of Economics

Posted on June 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Thanks so much to all of you who’ve been contributing such thoughtful comments lately. Here’s another one that deserves to be highlighted. I’d be curious to hear some responses to this…as it seems that some answers are called for.

Henry Rosovsky and Michael Spence were both economists and deans of FAS. While Spence was not as successful as Rosovsky it was not because of his relations with FAS faculty. Faculty did not dislike Summers because he is an economist, but because he was an arrogant, unprincipled, unethical and ultimately ineffective leader. But why did so many economists rally around him? Perhaps because he put his friend David Cutler in charge of the social sciences? Perhaps because economics increased its number of faculty appointments by a very large percentage even while other social sciences with large enrollments did not grow at all (Psychology) (History is the other social science to grow a great deal, I wonder why History and Economics grew so much?). Perhaps they liked Summers so much because he made such a big deal about “improving undergraduate education” but did nothing about the economics department which has very unsatisfied undergraduates? Perhaps it is because there is a dirty secret that the economists teach much, much less than other social scientists and humanists. They doctor their teaching loads with team taught classes where they show up a few times a semester and a lot of professors get credit for the same course and they make it look like they are teaching a normal load? Perhaps it is because he said out loud what the economists must believe about women not being smart since they had until this year only two tenured women? Or perhaps it is because he defended their friend Shleifer even while it deeply shamed the university? Or perhaps there are other skeletons in that closet? If Larry Summers had cared one iota about undergraduate education he would have gone after people in his own department and he would have asked them to teach a full load, to hire some women to tenured posts, to pay attention to their undergraduates, to show up in their offices instead of working at the NBER. If he cared about Harvard’s bottom line he would have stopped the process of economists running their grants through NBER and giving them the overhead instead of Harvard. Glaeser is a smart guy, unethical and sleazy, but smart. That is why he did not want to be on the radio with Richard Thomas, who is both smart and ethical and who could counter some of Glaeser’s self serving lies about Larry Summers.

Maureen Dowd On the Warpath

Posted on June 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Maureen Dowd uses her column today to share how much she sympathizes with Anna Wintour, the thinly fictionalized protagonist of “The Devil Wears Prada,” and excoriate the author of that book, Lauren Weisberger.

On the first front, Dowd says that the Wintour character in the film doesn’t sound unreasonable in her expectations of what an assistant should do.

Is it so wrong of Miranda to expect her assistant, Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway), to know how to spell Gabbana, reach Donatella and ban freesia? Is it so bad to want help getting a warm rhubarb compote for Michael Kors? Or to have an assistant who knows what an eyelash curler is?

Dowd then notes that she herself once asked her assistant to choose her cell phone ring, “50 Cent’s “In Da Club” or the Fox Sunday football theme?”

Which is just the kind of personal detail that makes Dowd so annoying: It’s irrelevant and shouts, “Look at me! Look at me!” And it’s schizophrenic. I’m a guy’s girl, she says—I listen to rap and watch football. But I’m helpless at technology, she admits, fluttering her eyebrows. Can’t you please help me with my phone?

In any case, Dowd truly sympathizes with Wintour over Weinberger because ” it just seems better, this time, to side with the Wicked Stepmother than the opportunistic Cinderella.”

Weinberger’s an sleazeball, Dowd argues. “This Cinderella’s primary value turned out to be voyeurism, profiting by keeping her nose to the glass and poaching off her glamorous former boss’s life.”

She recycles the in-vogue (no pun intended) term for “The Devil…”, calling it a “hiss-and-tell.” Then she adds that “Lauren Weisberger plotted to be rich and famous by writing about how she didn’t want to become Anna Wintour….[But] it’s more admirable to be the beast to which the parasite attaches itself than to be the parasite.

Well, this is singularly harsh stuff, and, I think, unfair.

I write, of course, as a colleague of a famous person who ultimately wrote a book about that person. It’s a very different kind of book than “The Devil Wears Prada,” of course—warm and complimentary, I think/hope. Nonetheless, some pundits criticized me on the same grounds: That plebeians who come to know rich and famous and powerful people should not disclose their secrets.

Nonetheless, I think I can be relatively objective.

First of all, I seriously doubt that Lauren Weisberger “plotted to be rich and famous” by writing a novel. Think for a minute about American culture these days, and who gets to be rich and famous. Writing novels isn’t exactly your ticket to fame and fortune. More likely she’s a young woman who wanted to write a book and wrote about what she knew. She has since gone on to produce a second book which, I gather, while not great literature, shows that she has some talent for the genre.

Second, Anna Wintour has, in her world, an immense amount of power, lots of money, the resources of a giant publishing company behind her…and by all accounts she is imperious and cruel to people who work for her. She also promotes anorexia, both in the pages of her magazine and in her body, and the destruction of animals for their fur.

If you have power and you don’t use it for good, it seems to me, you open yourself up to people pointing this out. Especially when you treat those people terribly merely because you can. Or worse: Because in the value-void world of fashion, it actually adds to your reputation to act like a total bitch.

The process of writing a “hiss-and-tell” may not be pretty, nor the motives perfect. But these books do serve a function: they promote democracy in a country where celebrity is increasingly blurred with royalty. (And if you don’t believe me, check out pictures of Anna Wintour at a fashion show.) They are what you might call a cultural check-and-balance.

Maureen Dowd has grown so far removed from the lower orders that she has forgotten this—forgotten what it’s like to have no power, no clout, no money. For a New York Times columnist, that’s both a shame and a problem.

It’s unfortunate that Dowd doesn’t realize this; that she has no self-consciousness. If she did, she might realize that her description of Weisberger—the parasite attaching itself to the beast—is, some would say, a pretty good description of journalists. If Maureen Dowd really wants to see the devil in Prada, she should look in the mirror.

Harvard To Ellison: You’re a Liar

Posted on June 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Marcella Bombardieri picks up the Larry Ellison story in today’s Globe, in which several Harvard officials speculate on what Ellison’s real motives for reneging on his proposed $115 million donation may have been.

No one seems to believe that Ellison is really so upset over Summers’ departure that it just wouldn’t be the same for him to pay up.

Writes Bombardieri:

Christopher Murray, the professor who would have run the institute, questioned Ellison’s statement that the gift was withdrawn because of Summers’s resignation .

“I am not sure what to make of Ellison’s remarks, as he was not willing to speak with Summers on this topic, despite repeated attempts,” Murray said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News yesterday. Murray also told the Globe last week that Harvard had not communicated directly with Ellison since last November, several months before Summers’s resignation.

InsideHigherEd.com has a piece that further emphasizes the point.

…Some other officials at Harvard say Ellison’s rationale for abandoning the gift don’t quite ring true, given how events unfolded in the more than two years since Harvard and Ellison reportedly began talking.

Bombardieri is the only writer I’ve seen who seems to realize that both sides in this ugly mess should just shut up.

Well, she doesn’t exactly put it that way.

Here’s what she says:

The failed deal is bad news for both sides, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “When people hear a gift’s been withdrawn, it’s not good for Harvard and it’s not good for Ellison,” she said. “People are always worried about their reputation as a good place to give.”

Translation: Both parties should just shut up.

Derek Bok has wisely kept his name out of these stories. But maybe it’s time for the president, or someone who works for him, to give Professor Murray a call and ask him to go away for the holiday weekend already.

In newspapers across the country, word is out that a huge donor to Harvard withdrew his money because he was unhappy about Summers’ departure. True or not, that isn’t a story you want to get around. It’s making Harvard look passive and whiny and jilted, not strong and self-confident. The quotes coming out of Harvard have a sore loser quality about them.

Here’s a tone that might work better: “We’re sorry that Mr. Ellison decided to make another choice, but we hope to work with him in the future, and meantime, we’re continuing our important work trying to stop the spread of disease in Africa.”

And, except maybe for the middle part, it has the advantage of actually being true…..

_____________________________________________________________

P.S. Here’s a question, though: Why did Harvard actually start to set up the institute and hire staff even before the money had come through—especially given that Ellison has a history of shaky giving?

The Summers Presidency on WGBH Tonight

Posted on June 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Professor Richard Thomas, the chair of the classics department, has posted something two items below that is worth putting on the main page (and if you have a chance to look at that item, the first post is quite interesting as well).

WGBH is doing a piece on the Summers presidency at 7 p.m. tonight (on Greater Boston). Professor Ed Glaeser of the Economics Dept. was to represent the positive side of the Summers presidency, and I was approached by Jeff Keating of WGBH and agreed to go on and give what would have been a moderate but generally more qualified point of view. I was to have gone to their office at 4:00 p.m. today. At 3:30 p.m. today WGBH called me and asked if I would go on with Harvey Silverglade since Prof Glaeser had “time issues” and couldn’t make it. Yeah, sure, as we’ll see.

I said I wouldn’t go on unless it was to balance an altenative FAS faculty positon (i.e. Prof Glaeser’s), which had been the plan all along. They said they would get back to me, but did not do so.

At 4:15 I called them, and surprise, surprise, Prof. Glaeser’s “time issues” had been resolved, he had arrived, and was about to tape the show. I said, “I’ll be right over,” but was told Prof. Glaeser had said he would not do the show if any other faculty member was put on. I said I thought WGBH might have refused to proceed in such circumstances.

So tune in at 7 p.m. for a fair and balanced back and forth, with Prof. Glaeser responding to previously taped pieces with Profs. Daniel Fisher and Judith Ryan which he has presumably had the opportunity to see prior to his remarks.

Tricky move, Prof. Glaeser and WGBH.

Richard Thomas

In the Department of Bad Writing

Posted on June 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

“When David Ortiz steps to the plate for the Boston Red Sox, you think about a bat connecting with a ball. You don’t think about a fist connecting with a wife.”

—Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe, today

Ellison to Harvard: Drop Dead

Posted on June 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Wall Street Journal, among others, reports that Larry Ellison isn’t giving a dime to Harvard after all. The reason? According to an Ellison spokesperson, because of the unsettled situation at Harvard in the wake of Larry Summers’ departure. (All right, imminent departure.)

According to the Journal, Mr. Ellison said he plans to give the money that would have gone to Harvard to a charity that trains teachers and educates impoverished children in the developing world. He didn’t identify the institution or elaborate further.

Something about this doesn’t feel right; Ellison’s intended gift was first made public in June 2005, and it wasn’t as if Summers wasn’t already a controversial figure at that point; women-in-science had already happened. In fact, at least from a public perspective, the months from June through January were relatively calm ones in the Summers era. Ellison had eight months in which to start writing checks. He didn’t….and now he says it’s because of upheaval that began in February.

There’s another story here. Anyone know what it is?

By the way, these Journal etchings are sort of odd, aren’t they?

[Lawrence Summers]

World Cup Fever, Part 52

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

Like many of you, I was appalled that Italy beat Australia the other day, 1-0, with about five seconds to go in stoppage time. The “win” came on a penalty kick that shouldn’t have been a penalty kick; trying to stop a run by Italian Fabio Grosso, Australian defender Lucas Neill attempted a sliding tackle inside the box. A dangerous play if you don’t make contact with the ball…but Neill didn’t make contact with either the ball or Grosso. The Italian began to maneuver around Neill’s prone form, then came up with a better idea; he fell over his opponent. The ref called a penalty kick, and that was it.

There are two schools of thought about diving in soccer. One is that it’s boring and irritating and reflects a certain lack of toughness that is very un-American; we are, in theory, tough. The other is that it’s an art form, as Austin Kelly argues in Slate today.

Perhaps both are true, but I’m inclined to dislike the ease with which players fall to the ground and grab their calves in apparent agony, only to jump to their feet and trot around seconds later. It disrupts the flow of the contest, like all those fouls in the last minute of a basketball game. And, as Harvey Mansfield would put it, it is not manly.

(Professor Mansfield, an op-ed on this subject would be timely: soccer diving, manliness, and the American aesthetic. Feel free to run with that.)

Besides, the Australians—the Soccceroos—played a tough game against a far more experienced opponent. Wouldn’t it have been great if they’d beaten the Italians? The team from Italy has not particularly impressed me so far…but they’re great actors. Get anywhere near them and they crumble like France’s Maginot Line.

Come to think of it, the French are pretty good at diving too.

Let’s see now, who’s left: England, France, Germany, Brasil, Argentina, Italy, Ukraine, and Portugal.

How can you not root for Brasil?


The Italian takes a dive—thereby robbing Australia, a great nation,
of a chance to advance at the World Cup
.

The Fight Between Larry and Larry

Posted on June 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

The San Jose Mercury News reports that Larry Ellison is giving a $100 million gift to the Ellison Medical Foundation to sponsor research on aging and aging-related diseases.

Though the paper says the gift is unrelated to the $115 million Ellison allegedly promised but never paid to Harvard, it’s hard to imagine that the Oracle chief executive, reported by the Wall Street Journal to be laboring under a cash crunch, is likely to make two $100 million gifts.

A source close to Ellison said Monday that Summer’s shaky tenure and ultimate departure has adversely affected Ellison’s decision to give the [Harvard] donation.

The Mercury News adds that the money will count toward Ellison’s settlement with the federal government in an insider trading case….

From this and the other published stories on the Ellison gift, it’s impossible to tell what really happened here. Was Ellison a Summers supporter who withdrew the gift in protest of Summers’ ouster? Or was he just reluctant to give the money to a place—and a president—so plagued by controversy? Or did his decision not to pay the money have nothing to do with Summers, and he’s just using that as an excuse?

One wonders if the flurry of news stories coming out of Harvard can’t now be seen as preemptive spin—Summers making it look as if Ellison was reneging because he’s not reliable, rather than the more embarrassing spectacle of Ellison deciding that he didn’t want to give Summers the money.

As I say, impossible to tell from the published facts….

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on June 26th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Isla Bartolome, Galapagos