Thursday, February 23

Harvard President Resigns rather than getting Fired

Despite the fact that he had established his intellectual reputation at Harvard, loved the place, and was as devoted as anyone there to the life of the mind, Summers nevertheless managed to persuade much of his constituency that he was an alien in their midst. And this had less to do with his views, or his position in the kulturkampf, than his manner, which was almost comically maladroit. One of Summers' favorite phrases was, "Here's what you're thinking." This would typically be followed by a bravura summation of what his interlocutor was, in fact, thinking. (Harvard professors harbor the vanity that they know very well what they're thinking.) Summers had a gift for arming, rather than disarming, his audience. One of his own aides described for me a famously contentious meeting with Law School faculty at which, he said, "Larry told them he wasn't going to pay any attention to their views, when in fact he was going to be listening to their views." Summers so offended his own preferred candidate to head the Graduate School of Education, whom he subjected to a withering cross-examination, that she changed her mind about taking the position until members of the school interceded.

Mr. Summers did not admit to making any mistakes, but he seemed to acknowledge missteps in his leadership. "I have sought for the last five years to prod and challenge the university to reach for the most ambitious goals in creative ways," he said. "There surely have been times when I could have done this in wiser or more respectful ways."