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Feb 27, 2006 2:46 pm

Matory on Summers

A piece in today's Globe examines the the role in his resignation of Larry Summers' confronting anti-Israel sentiment among the faculty. The article correctly notes that Summers' vocal opposition to a faculty petition urging Harvard to divest from Israel was not the only reason for faculty opposition to the president, but reporter Alex Beam suggests that attitudes toward Israel represented a"fault line" among the faculty. Extreme anti-Israel professors generally populated the ranks of Summers' critics, and backers of Israel generally stood up for Summers.

J. Lorand Matory, professor of anthropology and of African and African American Studies, sponsored the initial no-confidence motion against Summers. To the Globe, Matory argued that Summers' support for Israel represented"one among a variety of issues on which Mr. Summers seemed to advocate the rights of the privileged." Quite like Summers' success in pushing through guaranteed free tuition for lower middle-class students. Standing up for the"rights of the privileged" indeed!

Matory continues:"Because of his extremely vocal support of Israel, he essentially shut down the national divestment movement." So, in other words, Summers was worthy of censure not only because of what he said, but because he was effective in saying it. Prof. Matory offers quite a model for a university president.

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Robert KC Johnson - 2/27/2006

It's my sense--and this is clearly not scientific, and things might have dramatically changed in recent weeks--that Summers had extremely strong support from all of the sciences, along with Economics. In short, departments that agreed with his pedagogical vision didn't seem to have much problems with his personality. These departments, of course, aren't a majority--perhaps 25-30% of the faculty?

On the other hand, he had only one public supporter (the woman he was dating) in English, only three public supporters in History, and all but unanimous opposition from Afro-Am, Soc., Anthropology, women's studies, and other such departments.

Dershowitz's branding the affair a "coup" was overstated, but I do think he was right in noting that Summers' opponents were far more committed to the cause of ousting him than his supporters were to retaining him.

The other bureaucratic element, as far as I've been able to determine, was a group of humanities and social science chairs, some of whom, such as History's Andy Gordon, are non-ideological, and came out against Summers on the grounds that the situation was too disruptive to the college and he was too difficult to deal with. But as far as I know, the chairs of none of the departments where support for Summers remained strong could be counted as part of that group.

Louis Nelson Proyect - 2/27/2006

School’s Out for Summers
Harvard’s president didn’t get expelled so much for his ideology as for his naïveté. And the university would do well to pick a Larry 2.0 next.

by Kurt Andersen


Oscar Chamberlain - 2/27/2006


Apparently a large majority of the faculty opposed Summers remaining in office. However, most of the discussion I have seen concerning Summers tends to use as examples opposition from history, anthropology, etc. I have seen little about Chemisty, Physics, Business, or other fields not traditionally considered liberal.

If a majority of faculty in those areas opposed him too, isn't that evidence that there was much more to this than left-liberal bias, and that, just maybe, that bias was not the primary reason for his departure.

I don't know Harvard's governance structure, so I might be way off base. But it seems a question worth asking.

Louis Nelson Proyect - 2/27/2006

A Harvard University president has a tough balancing act to perform. While the university as an institution serves US corporate goals by preparing an elite to take over the reins of industry and the military, it must also appear enlightened and benign. Summers was very good at the first task but poor at the other. Despite Professor Matory, there is no special stigma on the left attached to being a Zionist apologist. Leon Botstein is president of a college that has a faculty that is tilted far to the left of Harvard's, but he has signed the same petitions decrying "anti-Semitism" on campus as Summers and Lee Bollinger, the president of my own institution. Summers's problem was not his politics, but his tactlessness.

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