News your connection to The Boston Globe

Harvard faculty again in uproar

Professors confront Summers in meeting

Almost a year after Harvard University faculty last called for Lawrence H. Summers to resign as president, roughly a dozen professors yesterday angrily confronted him at a faculty meeting, with several suggesting that he step down or be fired.

''You should know that so many of us can no longer place any trust, much less have confidence" in the president, Farish A. Jenkins Jr., a zoology professor, told Summers during a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the largest school at Harvard.

Faculty meetings are closed to the professional media, but Jenkins provided a written copy of his prepared remarks to the Globe.

Jenkins, who previously had not spoken out against Summers, then recommended that the Harvard governing board appoint an acting president and begin a search for Summers's replacement ''to reverse this tide of chaos."

Yesterday's meeting was the latest in a series of clashes between the president and faculty, which last March cast the first faculty vote of no confidence in a Harvard president since at least the Civil War. The pending departure of the arts and sciences dean, William C. Kirby, prompted the most recent uproar. Professors say Summers pushed out the dean, and the tone of yesterday's meeting showed that Summers's efforts to improve his relationship with faculty members have failed.

Judith Ryan, a professor of German and comparative literature, said after the meeting that she might introduce a new motion to vote no confidence in Summers, and that several other people were considering doing the same.

''I think it's time for him to realize that he has very little likelihood of regaining the confidence of this faculty," she said.

John Longbrake, Summers's spokesman, said the president was not available last night.

''President Summers has heard the concerns of the faculty and continues to be committed to working constructively with them," Longbrake said.

During yesterday's faculty meeting, which ran for a little more than an hour, more than a dozen professors criticized the president to his face or asked him challenging questions. No one rose to support him, according to several professors who attended.

Jenkins said during the meeting that morale on campus is ''grim," and Kirby's departure and other administrative turnover ''has been so great that the academic year's operational programs are lagging and some seem largely ineffective." He also said faculty hiring has been limited to subjects that the president seems to favor.

The most dramatic moment of the meeting, according to several accounts, came when mechanical engineering professor Frederick H. Abernathy asked Summers about Andrei Shleifer, the star Harvard economist who is close friends with Summers. A federal judge ruled in 2004 that Shleifer had conspired to defraud the US government by making personal investments in Russia that conflicted with his government consulting contract to advise Russia.

Many professors have been upset that there has been no sanction against Shleifer at Harvard, at least as far as is publicly known. Such disciplinary action is considered confidential. Abernathy, reached by telephone last night, said that during the faculty meeting he cited the university statement of values, and said many of the people responsible for the Russia project ''had not exhibited integrity."

Abernathy then asked Summers whether the recent expose in Institutional Investor magazine, critical of both Shleifer's actions and Harvard's apparent inaction, was correct.

Summers said he had recused himself from the case, but Abernathy pressed him to express an opinion. According to several professors, Summers then said he did not have sufficient knowledge of the facts in the case.

Many professors let out an audible groan or rolled their eyes, professors said.

''There was shock and consternation," at his answer, music professor Kay Shelemay said.

Although they refused to comment on the record, several people said they did not believe Summers's answer, considering he and Shleifer are such close friends, and Summers gave a deposition in the government lawsuit.

Longbrake reiterated that ''the president recused himself from the very beginning of his presidency from involvement in this case."

Only the university's governing board, the Corporation, has the authority to remove Summers. The Corporation has stood by the president during the controversy of the past year.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives