CAMBRIDGE, Mass. –In his five-year tenure at Harvard University,
President Lawrence H. Summers frequently found himself in the spotlight
because of rifts with faculty at the Ivy League institution.
Tuesday, facing the second no-confidence vote by faculty members in
a year, Summers announced he would leave June 30, bringing to a close
the briefest tenure of any Harvard president since 1862, when Cornelius
Felton died after two years in office.
from the Boston Globe
Just five years? It seemed like 50! Larry, we hardly knew ye. If there
is a lesson in here somewhere it is that, yes, the President of Harvard
has to be a master politician, and yes, the President of Harvard has
to be a master fund-raiser, but first and foremost, the President of
Harvard has to be smarter than you and me, and smarter than all the other
university presidents in the land. If you try to give the job to a normally
smart political fund raiser, he or she is doomed to fail, if only because there are so many naturally obstreperous world-class intellects in the 02138 zip code.
If the person is smart enough, in an academic sense (which means knowing
more about some obscure subject than anyone else in the world, even if
it is so obscure than hardly anyone else knows or cares about it), nothing
else matters. In order to protect the reputation of the institution,
Harvard has over the centuries had to keep several notable Presidents
under wraps, so to speak, relegated to windowless back rooms in the bowels
of Civil War era architectural behemoths and only brought forth on ceremonial
occasions, bundled in pharmacological blankets and surrounded by stout
Trustees to avoid embarrassing mishaps.
It just wouldn’t look good for Harvard to be changing Presidents as
frequently as, say, an upstart institution like the Federal government.
Why, previous Harvard President Neil Rudenstine had a complete mental
breakdown while in office, reduced to staring out the window of Harvard
Hall while playing with his peas and carrots, and was forced to take
a "Leave of Absence" while they got him back to the point where he could
sign his name again, and he still lasted 10 years.
Given Summer’s recent propensity for stepping into deep doo doo over
topics like innate vs. acquired sex differences and recruiting minorities
for the faculty, it is less shocking that the Harvard brain trust
is showing him the door than is the selection of his successor. Who even
knew that Derek Box was still alive? The man was named President of Harvard
in 1971, the year the Dowbrigade arrived on campus as a freshman. The
guy was ancient before WE even got kicked out the first time! James Michael
Curley was still Mayor of Boston!
We guess we should be happy that the World’s Greatest U has turned
back the clock to the guy we will still always consider "our" Harvard President,
but we may have forfeited our right to criticize. After all, we
currently work at a Major Boston University which dismissed its President
the day BEFORE he was to be inaugurated, necessitating a payoff
of several million dollars to just go away.
Actually, the Dowbrigade is thinking of throwing his hat into the ring
on this Harvard job. How long can Bok actually last, after all? And how hard can it be to preside over the World’s Richest School? After
400 years, isn’t it time for something completely different.