Campus greets news with alarm, applause, and disapproval
Sense of relief nearly universal
CAMBRIDGE -- A student in Harvard professor Judith Ryan's literature class yesterday uncharacteristically blurted out the news in midlecture: ''He's resigned."
At the business school, the news prompted a business history class to break into applause. As Leigh Miselis, 26, opened her inbox to find Lawrence H. Summers's campuswide resignation e-mail, she could only shriek.
''I think it will be good for Harvard's public image that this is over," said the international development graduate student. ''This is the top university in the country, and to have all that controversy was embarrassing."
In the halls of the science center, in Harvard Yard, in the corridors of historic Sever Hall and the coffeehouses of Harvard Square, news of Summers's resignation spread by cellphone and laptop and by the buzz in classrooms. Students' sharp opinions about the departing president were tempered by a near-universal sense of relief that his divisive tenure would end soon.
Some blamed Summers for dragging one of the nation's most prestigious universities into the spotlight with tussles with faculty and remarks that invited criticism, including his controversial speculation about women's role in science.
Others vocally supported him, blaming his detractors.
''He did a lot for the university," said Raymond Jean, 19, a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering and economics. ''Although his comments [on women in science] were wrong, it did not warrant his resignation."
Most students and faculty received a brief resignation e-mail from Summers around 1 p.m., ending speculation that had been bubbling on campus since rumors of his impending resignation surfaced last week.
A few hours later, in front of brown-brick Massachusetts Hall, a small crowd of students cheered for Summers, toting signs, wearing red shirts bearing his face, and shouting 'Viva Summers!" as he gave brief remarks with dozens of reporters and television news crews in attendance.
Across campus, there seemed little agreement about Summers's departure.
''The fact that he buckled to pressure from one aspect of the university is a little alarming," said Yomari Chavez, 20, a psychology major, as she munched on pizza in the science center. ''I think it's a bit cowardly to start all these initiatives and then quit."
But Steve Lin, a sophomore social anthropology major, said the resignation was necessary to ease faculty tensions.
''I think it probably is the right thing to do," he said . ''It kind of is the path to less conflict."
Some students said Summers was a remote figure for them, and they hoped his successor would connect more with students.
''I think he let his fame get in the way of his relationship with students," said William Walter, 20, a biology major.
Derek Bok, former Harvard president, will take the reins temporarily this summer, but there was much speculation on campus about Summers's permanent replacement, with President Clinton and US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor mentioned by several students. Others gave more general suggestions.
''I would like to see a woman president," Walter said.
Nicholas Stroustrup, 23, a systems biology graduate student, said Summers's resignation could obscure his genuine contributions to Harvard.
''It's sad that his legacy will be the scandals, instead of unifying the campuses or what he would have accomplished if he had the time to follow through," he said, sitting at the Au Bon Pain cafe in Harvard Square for a study session.
In the midst of the breaking news, campus tours continued, with groups of parents and potential students wandering amid the ivy-covered red brick buildings, as student guides awkwardly tried to explain the news.
Across Harvard Square at the Kennedy School of Government, Olaf Gudmundsson, 32, and James Crabtree, 28, discussed Summers during their weekly chess match in a student lounge.
''In general, the professors are jealous and angry, just as people are jealous and angry with anyone who is in charge," said Gudmundsson, a public administration student from Iceland.
Crabtree, a public policy student from England, replied, ''But I suppose if he had lost the confidence of the faculty, his resignation was bound to happen."
Both agreed that Summers's decision to step down June 30 would have no bearing on their time at Harvard.
''We both graduate in June," said Crabtree. ''So, we go out with Larry."