Embattled Harvard President Will Resign

Harvard University's Lawrence Summers announces that he will resign at the end of the academic year. The move comes a week before the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was expected to take a second no-confidence vote on Summers, who has been criticized for his abrasive personality and intemperate remarks.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. The embattled President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, is stepping down. Faced with unprecedented discontent from faculty and some students, Summers says the controversy has made it unworkable for him to stay on the job. Former Harvard President Derek Bok will take over for him in July.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH reporting:

Summers's resignation comes just days before he faces a second faculty vote of no confidence, and nearly a year after his first. It's been a rocky tenure for Summers. He drew fire several years ago for a disagreement with celebrity professor Cornell West, who ended up defecting to Princeton, then last year, for his controversial suggestions that women may be innately less capable in math and science. And most recently, he was blamed for forcing out a popular dean.

In a conference call today with reporters, Summers said the rifts with some faculty members made it impossible for him to continue as president.

Mr. LAWRENCE SUMMERS (President, Harvard University): I worked very hard over the last year to build bridges to meet members of the faculty partway. But this was just not going to come together.

Dr. ARTHUR KLEINMAN (Professor, Harvard University): It was like there was a slow burning fire that couldn't be put out.

SMITH: Professor Arthur Kleinman is a member of the faculty council and one of Summers's early critics. He says Summers's resignation was inevitable, given the President's abrasive personal style. But he says it's also a loss for Harvard.

Dr. KLEINMAN: It's a tragedy in a way. Here's a brilliant guy who had, in my view, a very fine vision for this university, but he was the wrong guy. His skills are just not the kind of skills you need to run a university like this.

SMITH: Many on campus applaud Summers's resignation, even his critics, calling him courageous for doing the right thing for Harvard.

J. Lorand Matory, Professor of African and African-American Studies, said Summers lost his political authority and offended too many on campus.

Dr. J. LORAND MATORY (Professor, Harvard University): Mr. Summers repeatedly and persistently articulated positions to disadvantage the disadvantaged, to privilege the privileged, and silence anyone who thought that the disadvantaged needed a place at the table.

SMITH: But there are others who say that Summers's voice is the one being squelched by the forces of political correctness.

Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said Summers sill had a lot of support among faculty and students, and he says he's outraged by what he calls an academic coupe d'etat.

Mr. ALAN DERSHOWITZ (Professor, Harvard University): My fear is that this coupe d'etat emboldens the hard-left at Harvard to think that they can get their way in many other matters, and will encourage them to try to impose their kind of political correctness test on the selection of future presidents and deans and faculty members. And it sends a very chilling message throughout the community that you offend the hard-left at great risk to your own career.

SMITH: Some faculty also worry that this may be the beginning of a Harvard that is ungovernable. They say this represents a shift in power, from Harvard's governing body, known as the corporation, to the faculty. That will make it hard for Summers' replacement to be any more successful.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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