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Professor's motion seeks to air dissent on Summers

After nearly two weeks of speculation about whether Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers might face a faculty vote of no confidence, one professor has put such a motion on the docket for the next Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting in March.

However, some professors said that any measure of this kind would be unlikely to pass and others privately said that the language of this specific motion is too controversial to garner widespread support. Many faculty members have spent hours this week discussing other ideas for resolving the crisis of confidence in Summers.

J. Lorand Matory, professor of anthropology and African and African American studies, said he has secured a spot for his motion on the agenda of the March 15 meeting, although he said he hasn't finalized the language because he is still consulting with colleagues.

Matory's draft reads, ''While the faculty gratefully acknowledges Mr. Summers' apologies for degrading remarks about women and for lapses of respect in his communication with faculty members, the faculty also wishes to register its dissent from a number of pronouncements by the President that would otherwise appear to represent us collectively, and to urge limits on the proposed expansion of presidential prerogatives."

The motion does not use the words ''no confidence," but Matory said he views it as a motion for a no-confidence vote, or a vote of censure.

''I hope it will encourage him to resign," Matory said.

The draft also has three paragraphs of explanation that refer to several Summers controversies: the memo he signed while working at the World Bank in 1991 suggesting that Third World countries were underpolluted; his support for the Reserve Officers Training Corps on campus, despite a ban on gays serving openly in the military; and his criticism of signers of a petition for divestment from Israel as ''taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent."

It criticizes Summers's ''apparently ongoing convictions about the capacities and rights not only of women but also of minority populations, third-world nations, gay people, and colonized peoples," the explanation says.

Such specific complaints, and especially language such as ''colonized peoples" -- a reference to Palestinians -- make many of Summers's critics uncomfortable, although several declined to be quoted yesterday about Matory's statement. The motion would also be sure to invite more allegations that political correctness has run amok at Harvard, already commonly heard since Summers's remarks that women might not have the same ''intrinsic aptitude" as men in science first drew fire in January.

Professor Stephen Owen, who criticized Summers at an emergency faculty meeting Tuesday, said a vote of no confidence ''is not necessarily the wise thing to do."

''There is no point in doing it if it's not going to carry, and the harsher it is, the less support it gets, which makes it even worse," Owen said yesterday.

Nancy L. Rosenblum, chair of the government department, said she hoped parliamentary maneuvers could keep the motion from coming up for a vote.

''A lot of people think [a vote of no confidence] would weaken him, and a weakened president is not what we want," she said. ''What we want is a strong but more responsive president."

Rosenblum said she thought a lot of people would support the creation of an elected body of professors that would act as a mediator between the faculty and the president and the governing Corporation.

In fact, the Faculty Council, an elected body, on Wednesday night requested a meeting with the Corporation, according to professor Everett Mendelsohn, a member of the council, who at a Feb. 15 faculty meeting criticized the Corporation's silence on the controversy.

The Faculty Council's request to the Corporation was ''to share views, to share things we have observed and heard, and to inquire on their understanding of where things go," he said.

At Tuesday's emergency meeting, three respected professors offered to serve as mediators between the faculty and the president and the Corporation, but the proposal was withdrawn after others criticized it as being orchestrated.

The Corporation, the only body that would have the power to fire Summers, issued a letter last week supporting him.

In a poll conducted last weekend by the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, 52 percent of Arts and Sciences professors who responded said they disapproved of Summers's leadership, but only 32 percent said they thought Summers should resign.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached via e-mail at

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