Summers to resign at end of academic year

By Maria Sacchetti and Marcella Bombardieri
Globe Staff / February 21, 2006
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Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers announced today that he will resign June 30, after a brief and sometimes bitter tenure at the helm of one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Derek Bok, who was president of the university from 1971 to 1991, has agreed to serve as interim president until Harvard’s governing corporation can find a replacement for Summers, who was appointed less than five years ago.

Summers, a former treasury secretary under President Clinton, took charge of the university in July 2001, and almost immediately alienated some faculty with his blunt and brusque management style. In January 2005, he sparked an uproar when he speculated about women’s aptitude in science, which led to a vote of no-confidence by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The same faculty had scheduled a second, unprecedented vote a week from today, after their dean, William C. Kirby, stepped down. Some professors said Summers had forced Kirby out of the position. The episode, the latest in a stormy tenure, was said to have led Harvard’s governing board to consider Summers’ ouster.

Today, Summers released a brief statement on Harvard’s Web site. Summers, an economist, will take a year’s sabbatical and then he will return to the university to do teaching and research as a “university professor,” the most elite rank a faculty member can achieve.

“Believing deeply that complacency is among the greatest risks facing Harvard, I have sought for the last five years to prod and challenge the University to reach for the most ambitious goals in creative ways,” he said in a statement. “As I leave the presidency, my greatest hope is that the University will build on the important elements of renewal that we have begun over the last several years."

The six members who sit alongside Summers on the governing board wrote a letter to the Harvard community announcing that they had accepted his resignation “with regret.” They praised him, saying his tenure “invigorated” Harvard’s academic programs, and said he has “extraordinary vision and vitality.”

"While this past year has been a difficult and sometimes wrenching one in the life of the University," the Corporation members said in the letter, "we look back on the past five years with appreciation for all that has been accomplished and for the charting of an ambitious forward course. We look ahead with confidence in the capacity of our faculty, students, staff, and alumni to embrace a future full of possibility and opportunity.

“Whatever our differences in perspective, and wherever we study or work within the University, all of us share a commitment to the progress of an institution whose aims are noble, whose traditions are strong, whose spirit is always restless, and whose promise - as embodied in the thousands of men and women who form the Harvard community - knows no bounds."

Bok, whose voice mail says he is out of the office until April 1, said in a statement posted on the Web site:

"I will do my best to carry out the Corporation's request," said Bok. "There is no institution I care about more deeply, and I will make every effort to work with colleagues to further the University's agenda during this transitional period."