Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Larry Summers Takes a Hit

So the faculty at Harvard have voted (218-185) a lack of confidence in their esteemed leader. No doubt the press reports will get the story all wrong again. Here's the inside skinny from a friend on the faculty:

Dear Dave:

Thought you might be interested in today's vote. It was splendid theater--the faculty all packed into Loeb Drama Center on Brattle Street with a gaggle of reporters and cameramen outside. I arrived late and had to force my way past a bunch of them who tried to interview me. I was all set to vote against the motions of lack of confidence--a sweeping motion from Randy Matory and a more qualified one from Theda Skocpol. After a pathetic effort (probably orchestrated by our hapless Dean) to get the motions set aside on the grounds that they were "too divisive"--Stanley Hoffman nicely squelched that maneuver by arguing that if people didn't like the motions they could vote against them or abstain--we got down to business. I certainly expected both motions to fail. The trouble is that Larry's supporters are so politically inept and/or repellent. Basically the only people who got up to speak on his behalf were the economists, Steve Pinker, and the anti-PC right. The economists are rhetorically-challenged and no one likes them, so they weren't much help. (The most gifted speaker amongst the economists--a black conservative woman (don't know her name)--berated Larry at the last meeting for treating the faculty like shit.) This left right-wingers like Stephen Thernstrom and Ruth Wisse to carry the bag. I reckon they cost him thirty votes a piece. Thernstrom charged Larry's critics with "McCarthyism." He then managed to piss-off all the women by criticizing Nancy Hopkins and poo-pooing the idea that women scientists at Harvard are made to feel "vulnerable." Then up pops Ruth Wisse to blame all of Larry's troubles on the politically-correct left who wish to curtail academic freedom of speech. She quoted a great gobload of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty at us. (I wondered at the time why she didn't choose something from one of Mill's speeches censuring Governor Eyre, a man of not dissimilar temperament to our President.) Finally, Steve Pinker took the mike to tell us that Larry's critics were voting to reject the "truths" of science. By this stage, I'd decided that I wasn't voting on the same side as that lot. Their arguments all missed the point. Harvard faculty--despite what a lot of right-wing loonies outside Harvard believe--are not that PC. Most people object to Larry either because they think he's an arrogant prick who deserves to be taken down a peg, or because they think he's funnelling money in the wrong direction. A lot of junior faculty in the humanities and social sciences, for instance, voted against him simply because they're sick of earning 50,000 bucks in a job where there's little hope of tenure, no affordable childcare, and they can't pay Cambridge rents. The vote was taken and to everyone's amazement the motion passed. So what happens now? I don't think anything will change. Larry's going to promise to transform his personality (fat chance). But I suspect he will lie low for a few months, let the hapless Dean do something for a while, and then plus ├ža change baby...


And here's the perfectly reasonable opinion of Lubos Motl who voted the other way from my correspondent.

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