Harvard Faculty: “No Confidence” in President Larry Summers

Beleaguered Harvard University president Larry Summers was just given a vote of no confidence by the Arts & Sciences faculty. However, he still appears to enjoy the confidence of the board that oversees the university’s funding.

Harvard Faculty Approves No-Confidence Motion Against Summers (Bloomberg)

Harvard University’s largest faculty group approved a no-confidence motion against President Lawrence H. Summers following his comments that women may lack the aptitude to excel in science and engineering. The vote by the 690-member Faculty of Arts and Sciences was 218 in favor and 185 against, with 18 abstensions, said J. Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology and African American studies who wrote the proposal. “There is no noble alternative to his resignation,” Matory said in an interview following the faculty meeting today. “He should resign as president of Harvard University.”

The faculty also supported a second motion by Government and Sociology Professor Theda Skocpol that expressed regret for Summers’ management missteps and praised his pledge to try to improve relations with the staff.

Skocpol is a legendary figure in the field of comparative politics. I’m sorry to see her join in this farce. Summers’ leadership has energized several interesting debates within the academy, which strikes me more than most university presidents accomplish.

The Crimson notes, “The motion is non-binding—only the University’s top governing body can force Summers to step down.” The Boston Herald elaborates,

The FAS is one of 10 faculties that comprise the university, and Summers reports to the Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing board, which has expressed its support for him. But the unexpected passage of the vote was nonetheless a significant setback to Summers’ efforts to rebuild his standing with Harvard’s faculty in the wake of the uproar over his comments about women in science at an academic conference in January.

The fact that nothing Summers said was untrue or even legitimately controversial is apparently irrelevant to the discussion.

Update: I should note that I spent a number of years as a member of an Arts and Sciences faculty, albeit not at a place as prestigious as Harvard. My general bias is in favor of faculties and against administrators, especially those, like Summers, who’ve come in from the outside rather than up through the ranks of the faculty-chair-dean-provost track.

Still, Summers has done an admirable job of taking on what I take to be legitimate issues at Harvard only to be met with animosity from a stultified faculty used to being coddled. Presumably, they didn’t expect that from a former Clinton Administration cabinet secretary. Frankly, neither did I.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Gottlieb Almanegro says:

    “Womans be thinkin too much.” … Ike Turner

  2. Everyman says:

    So much for the effectiveness of multiple apologies by President Summers, apparently unconcerned that they would make him the sorriest man in Cambridge. Is anyone learning anything on the Left Bank of the Charles?

  3. Clint Lovell says:

    They asked him to be provocative so they could turn around and bash him with it.

    How very typical and very unprogressive of them.

    I remember reading somewhere that there was a time when people who said the world was round were put to death.

    I don’t know if women are inferior to men or superior to men and I don’t care. I do care that these supposed bastions of liberal thought aren’t quite as liberal as they would like you to believe.

    Liberal in their thoughts, but keen censors of all thoughts that don’t agree with them.

    I always found that attitude to the be hallmark of intellectual immaturity.

  4. Phill says:

    Larry Summers is an arrogant blowhard who is not doing his job effectively. The job of a university president is to lead, Summers is not leading.

    There is a big difference between rasing important matters for debate and ignorant blather.

    The real issue that has the faculty objecting to Summers is his blocking tenure recommendations for a number of female faculty. This is generally considered to be illegal discrimination on Summer’s part.

    The faculty did not ask Summers to be provocative or raise the issues he chose to raise. If he was sincere in attempting to raise standards at Harvard one would expect him to have found other areas in need of improvement in addition to the black studies department and the female faculty. As it is his targets look to be suspiciously those of an unthinking biggot.

  5. bryan says:

    The faculty did not ask Summers to be provocative or raise the issues he chose to raise. If he was sincere in attempting to raise standards at Harvard one would expect him to have found other areas in need of improvement in addition to the black studies department and the female faculty. As it is his targets look to be suspiciously those of an unthinking biggot.

    Excuse me, but when do the faculty have any say in *asking* the president of the university to do anything?

    Last I checked, Harvard’s standards were pretty high to begin with. You make serious allegations with nary a link to them and expect us to just accept your word?

    The problem for the arts and sciences faculty is that the vote was hardly a landslide against, and this is only one of 10 bodies. If Summers survives into a new budget year and nobody follows arts and sciences over the cliff, I’d expect some significant budget cutbacks coming their way.

    “no confidence,” indeed.

  6. The Snark Who Was Really a Boojum says:

    So tell us Phil, what part of “leadership” involves being afraid to think differently from one’s followers? o_O

    And what part of firing someone for being “an arrogant blowhard” serves the cause of free speech or academic freedom? Are you saying that we should make allowances for the fact that Leftist academics never progressed beyond the social dynamics of a kindergarten class? O_o

    BTW, if academics lost tenure for being unthinking bigots how long do you think the average feminist would keep her job? 😛
    *snicker* ^~^

  7. The Snark Who Was Really a Boojum says:

    I presume those who would like to see Mr. Summers lose his job wouldn’t mind if we helped them out by abolishing the tenure system *completely*? Just a thought. 😉

  8. G. Hamid says:

    Let Me Get This Straight

    The Colorado University at Boulder faculty have expressed their support for Ward Churchill, who lied about being a Native American, called all but the janitors killed on 9/11 “little Eichmanns”, claimed other’s artwork as his own, and plagiarized the writing of fellow academics.

    The Harvard University faculty have expressed no confidence in Lawrence Summers, who said that women might not have as great an aptitude for science and math as men.

    So let me get this straight, people actually pay money to attend these asylums?

  9. David Thomson says:

    “Last I checked, Harvard’s standards were pretty high to begin with. You make serious allegations with nary a link to them and expect us to just accept your word?”

    When was the last time you checked? In 1870? Ross Gregory Douthat argues in his new book, Privilege: Harvard And The Education of The Ruling Elite” that this supposedly great university is something of a diploma mill. I personally believe that people normally are sent to prison for less than what occurs daily at Harvard.

  10. Harvard’s such a great place. Only there could faculties “comprise the university” when other universities have to be satisfied with comprising their constituent faculties. And Phill can’t spell “bigot” (or his name, or “raising” or properly possessivize Summers’ name!)

    The only real question here is why in the world Summers is wasting his time in this fetid swamp of stupidity and criminal ignorance.

  11. Nice article. I was voting against both, of course. My article about it is here:

    A sad day for Harvard

  12. TheAnchoress says:

    Great post – and really great comments, too.

  13. Edward Lee says:

    The real issue that has the faculty objecting to Summers is his blocking tenure recommendations for a number of female faculty. This is generally considered to be illegal discrimination on Summer’s part.

    Who are you, that you are privy to this information?

  14. Michael K. says:

    This is very ironic. I began my undergraduate career at Harvard as a physics major. My girlfriend at the time was also a physics major. Well, I never saw so much coddling of girls in my life. We were both pretty average students as I remember, but whoa boy was she treated differently. She received constant encouragement and impetus, while the rest of us (yes, mostly boys) were left to sink or swim.

    I don’t think they did her any favors in the long run, as she was no more inclined to be a physicist than I was. She just stuck with it longer, having been constantly told that she was some sort of champion for women’s rights blah blah blah.

    More than sheer brainpower, science careers demand unceasing devotion and an iron will. You have to love it, and you have to be prepared to sacrifice, big time. If there are fewer women scientists, my guess is not that they lack the “aptitude” (whatever that means), but rather the inclination. Fewer women are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.

    At Harvard, the idea that women are being *discouraged* from entering the sciences is so funny it makes me laugh. The opposite is true. And it’s been that way for some time, at least since Derek Bok was around.

    The real problem for Harvard’s social engineers is that, despite all their encouragement, women just don’t want science careers. Summers’s surmise about womens’ aptitude is probably wrong, but he’s right in the sense that when you find yourself locked in a contradiction — in this case the “problem” that “too few” women choose science careers — it’s time to check your premises.

  15. Michelle Y. says:

    As a current undergrad woman in science (though the physics/math kids like to sneer at us biology majors), I have to agree with Michael K. You have to be brilliant (and there’s always someone more brilliant than you), and you’ll have to be willing to devote long hours in an often lonely lab, fight for grants, beg for job offers, grovel for tenure….you might as well endure similar suffering in i-banking and at least make some money.

    It doesn’t help that the required (large) introductory courses are also designed to suck any joy whatsoever out of scientific inquiry.

  16. dob says:

    “Summers’s surmise about womens’ aptitude is probably wrong”

    Why? It’s certainly supported by most available evidence, not to mention most empirical outcomes.

    Yet, because there is always some “but” to be raised , possible alternate explanation, potential (invisible) structural discrimination present, etc. – the opposite conclusion is the only one a “decent” person can draw. Heh.

  17. dob says:

    “Larry Summers is an arrogant blowhard who is not doing his job effectively. The job of a university president is to lead, Summers is not leading.”

    This is (sadly) correct – Summers should never have started his orgy of apology to begin with, but rather should have forcefully rebutted his pathetic critics. (Ie: See the recent LAT kerfuffle)

  18. sammler says:

    Michelle Y.: Introductory courses are certainly not “designed to suck any joy whatsoever out of scientific inquiry.” They are meant to make sure that whatever inquiries you make, after the introductory course, will be consistent with at least the fundamental part of that which is already known.

    Yes, introductory courses are tiring — the material is unfamiliar to you and too-familiar to the instructor. But, if you are serious about a field, what you see in the introductory course is the toolset you will be using for the rest of your life. Scientific inquiry without these tools is merely idle speculation.

  19. Just Me says:

    Also, I would point out that Summer’s never argued that women were inferior or couldn’t do it.

    I think we need to get past the notion that different means inferior. I think science is showing more and more that men and women think differently-women bring certain strengths to the table and men bring certain strengths to the table (in general-we all know with humans there always exceptions to the trends), instead of deciding who is better or worse, we should use both stengths together, since they are actually complementary.

    I think Summer’s is being shafted, and I agree his mistake was apologizing, instead of clarifying.

  20. Jack Tanner says:

    This is just payback for summers challenging the academic fraud Cornell West. The rest of the faculty is saying that if Summers can get rid of West then none of them are safe. That’s why the initiator was from AA studies.

  21. Hugh says:

    Some of those writing here forget that Summers was, and is, a faculty member as well as an administrator.

    It is noteworthy that many of those who wish to condemn Summers are very likely those who would argue that Ward Churchill’s ‘right to free speech’ should not be attenuated . What about Summers’ right to free speech ? Why no defense for him

    BUT, after all, this is from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard — and what can one expect — second rate minds at a second rate university.

  22. LJD says:

    Yep. Colleges are liberal, and they freely apply hypocrisy to their policies in that interest.

    So here you have women, using their superior reading (and writing) skills, to exact revenge, because they’re pissed they can’t do math.

  23. Aaron says:

    Summers problem wasn’t that he stated that there exists the possibility of innate differences. The problem was how he did it. Research into innate differences already exists, so it can hardly be some PC pushback that is the cause of this (although it’s undeniable that it’s contributed to some of the after-effects — I would argue, however, that it is far from the majority). Summers, however, pushed this idea as if it were somehow new and ‘provocative’. It’s condescending. He went into a conference on women and science and, rather than treating the convened researchers as equals and as adults, he acted as if they were college freshmen needing of provocation. His string of barely supported guesses was hardly worthy of a keynote speech. And this isn’t the first example of Summers treating the faculty like children. This (minor) revolt is really the culmination of a number of incidents.

    Setting aside his arrogance, this is also about leadership. The role of a college president is to talk about the things we can do, rather than the things that we cannot change. Regardless of whether innate differences exist or not, there clearly are other factors involved with the prevalence of women in science (compare across countries, for example.) These are things that we can affect. Summers could have focussed his speech on that, but he didn’t. Look at the first sentence of his speech:

    I asked Richard, when he invited me to come here and speak, whether he wanted an institutional talk about Harvard’s policies toward diversity or whether he wanted some questions asked and some attempts at provocation, because I was willing to do the second and didn’t feel like doing the first.

    That’s not leadership; it’s overweening laziness. Apparently, talking about fixing the problem bores him. He’d rather be provocative.

    I don’t agree with the no confidence vote. Summers is a smart guy and has the opportunity to do some much deserved shaking up of things. Beyond that, he deserves a chance to learn how not to be a dick. But, right now, he’s failing in his role as a university president and as a leader.

  24. The Snark Who Was Really a Boojum says:

    “The problem was how he did it.”

    So you feel he didn’t grovel hard enough while saying it? o_O

    What I note is that the sentence you quote indicates that he had consulted the person who had asked him about what it was that person wanted. That hardly sounds arrogant to me. So your arguement against Mr. Summer boils down to 2 points:

    1. “Duh! We don’t like the way he talks. Duhhh!”

    2. “Boohoo! Boohoo! We don’t like the topic he picked. It was mean of him to pick that topic. How dare he? Wahhhhhhh!”

    Neither of those points encourages me to believe that his tormentors are the towering champions of academic truth and justice you seem to think they are. In seeking to condemn him they have only censured themselves instead.

  25. Bemused foreign observer says:

    The primary purpose of a university, its fundamental underpinning, its very raison d’être, is the unfettered, unbiased pursuit of knowledge and truth and the dissemination thereof to the bright, eager minds of tomorrow. The primary task of a university dean is to steer a course in that direction and to measure and reward progress therein.

    If Dean Summers succeeds in wresting control from the corrosive elements who seek to stifle and suppress with political pressure and tantrums, those ideas which they cannot dispel with reasoned argument and logic, he will have refocussed the mission of Harvard to its primary task and the institution will owe him an immense debt of gratitude.

    Now, might I be so bold as to suggest a small offering by one of Harvard’s own alums. Do not write further on this topic until you have read the following:

  26. Joachim Martillo says:

    Why did faculty members have to vote no confidence in Summers?

    There have been far too many hints of financial impropriety.

    1. Harvard Fund managers have been overcompensated.

    Summers has been much to cozy with Professor Shleifer and his wife even though this couple may have exposed the university to millions (maybe at worst hundreds of millions of dollars of financial liability).

    Is Summers getting kickbacks? In view of some of the malfeasance that has occurred in recent years at BU, it is not an unreasonable question. He either is or is not. The numbers of dollars involved are so large that one might have to consider Summers stupid if he is not getting a payoff of some sort. In any case, the questions about fiduciary propriety since Summers became Harvard President have to make all potential contributors concerned that their largess might end up in somebody’s pocket instead of benefiting Harvard.

    2. Summers has a double standard that amounts to racism.

    He had a problem with some of the nonacademic activities of Cornel West but had no similar problem with comparable activities by virulent anti-Arab anti-Muslim activists like Ruth Wisse and Alan Dershowitz. Apparently, ethnic Ashkenazim on the faculty may make outrageous and extremist statements in the support of Zionism and the State of Israel, but an African American like Cornel West may not engage in relatively ordinary political activism.

    3. Summers’ commitment to racist ethnic Ashkenazi tribalism takes precedent over his commitment to free academic discourse.

    He condemned the Divestment movement at Harvard for being anti-Semitic in effect if not in intent. Yet he did not give a clue to the Harvard community how to express criticism of Israel without being anti-Semitic in effect. Obviously, Summers is unwilling to tolerate criticism of Israel or of Zionism.

    4. Summers panders wealthy racist ethnic Ashkenazim.

    Martin Peretz is an extreme racist ethnic Ashkenazi, who believes in the superiority of Jews over Arabs
    because he asserts that the historical, ethnic or national rights of Jews to Palestine are superior to the human rights (including residence rights and property rights) of the native population and
    because he assumes that the Jewish settler population should be privileged over the native population.

    Ruth Wisse is a second rate Yiddish scholar, who litters her published works with anti-Arab and anti-Polish comments. She has accused one of the preeminent Yiddish scholars of the 20th century of thinking with his dick because he wanted to develop Yiddish studies in Poland.

    Yet it was okay for Martin Peretz to fund a professorship for Ruth Wisse.

    In contrast, Arabs may not contribute to fund a professorship in Islamic studies at the Harvard Divinity School. Summers effectively prevented Sheikh Zayed from contributing to the University because of right-wing racist ethnic Ashkenazi Zionist complaints that a Larouchite had given a talk at a think tank (apparently one of many) funded by Sheikh Zayed.

    Larouchites have occasionally given talks at the Pentagon apparently by invitation of ethnic Ashkenazi Neoconservative advisors to the President. Larouchites may be looneys, but they are often well-informed looneys, and sometimes knowing what the lunatic fringe is saying is worthwhile.

    In effect, Summers allows racist ethnic Ashkenazim to contribute to the University and therefore have an effect on University policy, but apparently wealthy Arabs may not.

    Because contributing gives influence, we can expect that during the Summers administration, Harvard will become a preserve of wealthy racist ethnic Ashkenazim. The rest of the world (especially Blacks, Poles, Arabs or Muslims) need not apply.

    5. Summers does not have a clue about scientific thinking.

    Even though he is supposed to know something about statistics, mathematics, the social sciences and science in general, his beliefs about gender differences in the sciences seem based on irrational prejudice and bigotry.

    Not only will Summers create a University environment explicitly hostile to women in the sciences, but Summers’ complete lack of understanding of scientific reasoning underscores the ridiculousness of his attempt to reform Harvard education to increase the amount of science training that Harvard undergrads receive.

    Harvard undergrads need to learn to think scientifically (something that Summers apparently never learned). Taking more science courses just means that Harvard undergrads will have a large body of knowledge that will be obsolete within a few years of graduation.

    6. Harvard needs to rid itself of Summers.

    Not only is the mere presence of Summers at Harvard exceptionally divisive, but the presidency of Summers also threatens the ability of Harvard to raise funds and to attract the best of students and scholars throughout the world. A vote of no confidence is the first step to end the Summers era of darkness and bigotry at Harvard University.

  27. edvin says:

    I think he’s doing a great job promoting Harvard. His comments were made months ago and people are still up in arms about this whole matter. There are new articles about him and harvard almost everyday. In this day and age where short attention span is the norm, that is quite an accomplishment.

    What he said has scientific merit and support so I don’t know why people are so uptight. Peoplehave different strenghts and weaknesses. We should stop bickering and start celebrating our differences! Life’s too short man. Just relax and enjoy it while we can!