They’ve written a letter to Drew Faust protesting Larry Summers’ conduct and recounting their version of their meeting with him.
His manner was not inconsistent with his reputation and present day admissions of being tactfully challenged. It was not his failure to shake hands with the three of us upon entering his office (doing so would have required him to take his feet off his desk and stand up from his chair), nor his tenor that was most alarming, but rather his scorn for a genuine discourse on deeper ethical questions…
…it is deeply disturbing that a professor of this university openly admits to making character judgments of students based on their appearance….
…Ironically, our choice of attire that day was made out of respect and deference to the office of the President. As the current President, we respectfully ask for you to address this unprecedented betrayal of the unique relationship between teacher and student. We look forward to your response.
My initial thought: Good luck with that.
But I think putting Drew Faust on the spot is kind of a smart move, actually. Yes, it makes the Winklevosses look like they’re running (again) to a Harvard president for help. Not great.
Still, the fact is that Drew Faust should rebuke Larry Summers for publicly calling two recent Harvard graduates “assholes.” Insulting your students is not a good advertisement for the university, and in one selfish move—for surely Summers is trying merely to ingratiate himself with the tech crowd, and Mark Zuckerberg specifically—Summers has stained Harvard’s reputation. You can not proudly wear the label “former president of Harvard”—as Summers does, helping him to gain lucrative speaking fees and Silicon Valley consulting deals—and then ignore all the responsibilities of that position, one of which is not publicly humiliating former students. (Should be easy enough, right?) I wonder what Derek Bok and Neil Rudenstine, two eminently decent men, think of this episode?
Truth is, Summers should show some class and apologize on his own. But since that will never happen, maybe bringing Faust into it might focus the situation. At the very least, it should prompt some journalist (hello, Crimson?) to ask her if she thinks it’s appropriate for a Harvard president to call students “assholes.”
Faust has spoken at length about civility and community, and I’ve no doubt she’s sincere in this effort. But she is chronically conflict-averse, and this desire to avoid making waves weakens her. That needs to change here. Harvard has an ex-president, still on its payroll, who’s gone rogue, as James Murdoch might say. Drew Faust needs to rein him in—fast.
Some will mock the Winklevosses for the length and high-mindedness of their letter. But the truth is that Larry Summers is to blame for putting them in a difficult situation. They’re mocked if they respond; they’re mocked if they don’t. They’ve been attacked by a bully with a microphone, a man who can get press attention any time he wants and seems to have no shame about picking on those less powerful and less connected than he is. Has he no decency? It appears not. So what are the Winklevosses supposed to do—lie there and take it while a former president of Harvard, one who doesn’t play by any rules of civility and courtesy, humiliates them in front of a laughing crowd? In remarks that are transmitted around the globe?
Here’s another thing I keep thinking: In my own work, I make a point of never writing something I wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
Does anyone believe that Larry Summers would dare to call the WInklevosses assholes if they were in the room?
As I say: Bully.
The question is whether Drew Faust will stand up to him. She will be a weaker president than she is now if she does not.