Ouch! What did Theda Skocpol ever do to the Harvard Crimson?
In one of the toughest pieces I’ve ever seen in the paper, Sam Jacobs and Javier Hernandez report that Skocpol’s resignation from the GSAS deanship….
…coincided with what appeared be a wave of uncertainty about her candidacy for the deanship of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), one of Harvardâs most powerful posts.
…In recent weeks, the prospect of Skocpolâs promotion has stirred strong opposition among professors advising President-elect Drew G. Faust in her search for a new dean of the Faculty, according to an individual close to the faculty advisory committee and a senior FAS faculty member. The criticisms of Skocpol have caused Faust herself to express skepticism, the individuals said.
Interesting. I haven’t sensed this myself, but Hernandez and Jacobs are good reporters, so if they write it, I’ll take them at their word.
The only quibble I would have is when they use the term “wave of uncertainty,” but base this on the accounts of only two anonymous professors.
All right, not the only quibble. I also think the two overstate their case when they suggest that Skocpol is Larry Summers in a skirt.
To some, Skocpol came to mirror the controversial president that she once opposed, in equal parts praised both for her brilliance as a researcher and derided for her authoritarian and divisive approach to leading.
Judging from what I hear, I’d tone this down. “Derided” is too strong; I’ve never heard of anyone who doesn’t respect Skocpol, and she’s never invited the kind of vociferous criticism that Summers attracted. And I’m not sure that it isn’t also going too far to say “authoritarian and divisive.”
To me, there are two very interesting suggestions in the piece.
First, that Drew Faust has cut Skocpol loose. (Does Drew Faust have a cold streak? Discuss.)
And second, that Skocpol “is considering significant leadership positions at other universities.” (Did this come from Skocpol herself? She is not quoted in the story, but neither do Jacobs and Hernandez say that she declined to comment.*) No one is irreplaceable, but her departure would be a real loss for Harvard.
Recently on this blog there was a discussion of objectivity, and I raised my doubts about its possibility. In that context, I wonder if it isn’t relevant that this article was written by two men. Consider their description of Skocpol’s tenure battle.
Hernandez and Jacobs characterize Skocpol’s ascent at Harvard as “defined by controversy.” They note that she was denied tenure in sociology, sued, and actually won when a Bok-led “investigation” found in her favor.
One could imagine this framed as a gutsy and inspiring story. It takes courage to fight a tenure fight like that. It’s no fun, there are real downsides, and virtually never does the plaintiff come out a winner. More often, her career is severely damaged. Particularly when the plaintiff is a woman, she may be forever characterized as “divisive” and “headstrong,” in the Crimson reporters’ words. (“Headstrong” is particularly unfortunate, I thinkâit’s insulting and probably sexist. “Oh, she’s a headstrong little lady, she is…”)
Might two female reporters have presented this episode differently? Couldn’t Skocpol’s battle also be written up as “courageous,” “principled,” and “valiant”? After all, Skocpol won, and how often does that happen?
Instead, Jacobs and Hernandez cite only an old quote from sociology prof Harrison White that “it was not a happy story,” with absolutely no context. Did White have anything else to add? (For example: “It was not a happy story, because Skocpol was right: the sociology department did discriminate against her.”) Was White involved in the tenure battle in some way? Whether he was or wasn’t, we should be told that by the Crimsonites.
I’m not saying that Jacobs and Hernandez are wrong; if they report strong anti-Skocpol feeling, then it’s there.
But it would be interesting to read a piece about what Skocpol has actually done as dean, before reading the “news analysis” casting doubts on her leadership style….
*My mistake: Skocpol did decline to comment, and the article clearly says so.