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At Harvard, faculty push for openness

Following the resignation of Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers, some faculty members are pushing for greater openness in how the university, known for its shroud of secrecy, is run.

Some professors in the influential Faculty of Arts and Sciences, whose uprising prompted Summers to announce his June 30 departure, and in other schools are supporting a change. Faculty members want more openness in how money is spent and why; others want Harvard's mysterious governing board, the Corporation, whose members are scattered from New York to California, to become more vocal. Several professors said they want more say in matters such as choosing a new dean or deciding what students will be taught.

''This was not just a Larry problem," said Robert J. Sampson, chairman of the sociology department. ''It had to do with deep and fundamental issues with the governance at Harvard. . . . There was lots of blame to go around."

It is well established that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences led the drive against Summers, while other schools, including law and government, had better relationships with the embattled president.

But law professor Alan Dershowitz, who criticized the faculty's attacks on Summers, said he agrees that the university needs to be more open in its decision-making. He said that at a meeting yesterday, he and many other law school professors discussed how upset they were that Corporation members met behind closed doors with select faculty to discuss Summers, but did not give others the same opportunity.

''We're entitled to know the secret handshake," Dershowitz said. ''I understand the role of secrecy in a defense department. Universities should be transparent institutions. They're not secret clubs."

Several Corporation members did not return telephone calls yesterday. Harvard spokesmen said the university has worked hard to become more open, from meetings with the president to giving a PowerPoint presentation on the budget to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the largest group on campus.

Pushing for greater openness in academia is common at universities across the country, according to the American Association of University Professors. But Harvard, a 370-year-old institution, is especially steeped in tradition.

The Corporation, a seven-member governing board, makes its own decisions. The president chooses deans, with limited input from faculty.

Professors said they would like to discuss a realm of possibilities for Harvard that could include a university-wide faculty senate, having alumni elect some members of the Corporation, and giving professors more of a say in selecting deans.

''Harvard needs to think about having some kind of postmedieval system of governance," said Gary Orfield, an education professor at Harvard. ''There ought to be a university-wide faculty . . . a voice not just for the arts and sciences, but for the entire university."

Some professors said Harvard first must put the right leaders in place before changing how it governs itself. Summers and many professors agreed with many of his goals for the university, but his blunt management style led to widespread distrust among faculty. Last month, when Arts and Sciences Dean William C. Kirby announced his resignation, professors protested that Summers had forced him out.

The episode eclipsed the fact that many professors also had issues with Kirby, who has not responded to repeated requests for an interview. Some professors said Kirby struggled with decision-making and with communicating to the faculty.

''One of the things that emerged was really how little information we have about things that are our business: how allocation of positions is made within faculty, how planning is done, certain kinds of budgeting issues," said one Arts and Sciences professor who spoke on condition of anonymity. ''When you don't have transparency, all kinds of conspiracy theories can flourish."

It is unclear how quickly the Harvard faculty will press for changes. Some professors said the interim president, Derek C. Bok, will probably tackle faculty concerns, such as choosing a new dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the ongoing review of the undergraduate curriculum.

Several professors said change would be gradual. Cynthia Friend, chairwoman of the chemistry department, said it would probably be ''more evolutionary than revolutionary."

Dershowitz has accused the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of staging a coup because they disagreed with Summers.

Andrew Gordon, chairman of the history department, disagreed, saying: ''There's been the idea that this is a bunch of politically correct professors going bananas. . . . It's not true."

Corporation member Nannerl O. Keohane, a former president of Duke University and Wellesley College, said she didn't expect Summers's opponents to exert undue influence because they succeeded.

''We are talking about the faculty at one of the best universities in the world," she said. ''And faculty members are not interested in 'taking over' the university; they are mainly interested in getting on with the work they do as teachers and scholars."

Keohane added that she was worried that ''so much of the talk outside Harvard has been that the president's resignation means that now there can't be strong leadership at the university, that no strong president could succeed because of faculty opposition."

Many faculty members -- and the Corporation -- share the same goals for Harvard Summers did, she said. ''The faculty who disagreed with Summers were focused more on the means they associated with his leadership style rather than the end in view," she said. ''. . . I want to reassure people, this doesn't mean Harvard is now going into a period of stagnation and paralysis."

Marcella Bombardieri of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maria Sacchetti can be reached at Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

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