Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The winter of Summers discontent

Here, via Stanley Kurtz at NRO’s The Corner is a WaPo article on efforts both to save Summers’s job and to take it from him. Here’s an attack on Summers from he op-ed pages of the same paper, also via Kurtz. And here, from Win Myers, is a summary of a Harvard Crimson poll of Harvard faculty.

College and university presidents typically wear out their welcome sooner or later, angering or alienating one intense constituency after another until the opponents outnumber the defenders. That, I take it, is a fact of life in the academy, most certainly in any university where the personal and intellectual agendas of various constituencies aren’t qualified by or subordinated to a larger sense of a common mission or by a prudent willingness on the part of the grown-ups involved to recognize that no one is perfect and no one is perfectly and always right. Summers can, I think, survive this particular conflict and if he can force his critics to gain a sense of proportion (a dubious proposition, I admit), he might emerge with a strengthened hand. But I think the likelier outcome is that, down the road, there will be a new conflict, one that ultimately brings his presidency to an end.

I hold no particular brief for Summers, but his comments deserved a more nuanced and scholarly response than provided by many in his audience. For an example of "appropriate" criticism, you could do a lot worse than look at this piece. If Harvard’s faculty are incapable of this level of nuance and equanimity, then perhaps the best that can come of this brouhaha (I was going to use "kerfuffle" or "kerfluffle," but I can’t decide which is the proper spelling) is greater insight into the character of that instituttion and its denizens. So much the better for the rest of us.

Update: Another interesting and temperate piece of Summers criticism, focusing on what he calls "the work-intensity tournament model of choosing people for the high-prestige prize academic slots."

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