I had neither time nor the desire to attend the FAS faculty meeting that took place on Tuesday. Indeed, the meeting has become an opportunity for various anti-president elements to ventilate their strange emotions and strange opinions and to give Summers a hard time. If one wants to get a bit frustrated, it is enough to read the report in The Crimson. The article says, among other things:
- Capturing the sentiment of most professors who spoke at the meeting, English Department Chair James Engell appealed to Summers and Harvard’s governing bodies to recognize that the president has left the Faculty “divided, demoralized, and dispirited.”
Nevertheless, I have personally been psychologically immune against these matters since July when I decided that one should not attempt to harmonize his opinions about these issues with the "politically correct majority" because they are just too far from something that could be considered as an acceptable starting point for a compromise. Also, one should never try to surrender or apologize to these people because the only conceivable result of such an approach is to strengthen their position. And the goal of many of them is nothing less than to push the whole society infinitely far in a rather weird direction. As far as I can say, the debates at the faculty meetings have been more or less hijacked by people whom I don't trust - and it is counter-productive to go into battles that are lost from the very beginning. Most well-known supporters of Summers skipped the last meeting and it is obviously good for their health.
Last night, we had a nice dinner at the Faculty Club and I was sitting next to a well-known senior biochemist who also supports Summers.
One of the new plans of the revolutionary committees is a "radical dean search plan". What does it mean? It means that in the "ideal" case they want to choose the new FAS dean themselves, with Summers having no influence whatsoever. They think about several alternatives how the new dean should be found - and neither of these alternatives is the correct one, namely that the dean should be chosen by the president. In other words, dozens of self-appointed "leaders of the people" - many of whom have little demonstrable experience and/or management skills - want to exclusively control some of the most important political decisions at this university. What do they exactly think about their qualification? Do they really think that they are better managers than Summers or that they have a better vision? Who is exactly encouraging them to think in this nonsensical way? Have they been the secretaries of treasury or the chief economists of the World Bank? And what do they think about their job description?
Unfortunately, many people indeed prefer puppets over of thinkers-in-chief, form over content, anarchy over leadership, political correctness over the truth, vacuous clichés over rational debates, and it's probably better not to think about these issues too much and avoid similar unconstructive meetings.
Prof. Andrei Shleifer
There is another line of attack against the president whose logic is completely beyond my understanding. The other "crime" that Summers apparently "committed" was that he is a personal friend with Andrei Shleifer. See a description of the affair here. Andrei Shleifer is a star economist at Harvard who was also active during privatization in Russia. He is an expert in price dynamics, market inefficiencies, corporate control, and transition to capitalism, among other things. No doubt, the emerging capitalism in the former Soviet bloc needed gifted economists, managers, experience, and capital from the West.
As far as I understand, Shleifer was caught into some of these weird regulations about the conflict-of-interest: the type of rules that if your wife drinks Danish beer, you must be very careful whether your business partners in Russia had Danish grandmothers. His problem was settled as he paid $2 million dollars of compensations, to the full satisfaction of the courts. As far as I can see right now, Shleifer himself has been cleaned. Even an attack against Shleifer himself would probably lack any legal substance these days. How can Shleifer's situation be used as a weapon of mass destruction against Summers whose "sin" is to be a friend and have a respect for another star economist is simply beyond my comprehension. It reminds me of the plans to exterminate Denmark because a few Danish cartoonists drew a cartoon.
Unfortunately, the president will face another lack-of-confidence vote. The person who proposed the motion is from comparative literature. Indeed, if you compare her literature and the literature from last spring, she only added the word "continues" to the previous lack-of-confidence resolution. This precious contribution of her to the humankind is a sufficient recipe for another blockbuster.
Finally, I must mention that what I wrote here is not terribly controversial in the physics department. Consider Melissa Franklin, the first tenured female physicist here and consequently one of the heroes of feminism. While she denies the crucial reponsibility of feminism for the current furore and she wants to emphasize that the issues have gone well beyond the feminist interests, she seems to agree completely that the situation is mess, and a hypothetical dismissal of Lawrence Summers would probably cause a rather devastating hit for the whole Harvard University. Needless to say, we would probably agree on a whole ensemble of other issues, too.