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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Harvard Coup

No, that’s not a typo. I don’t mean the Harvard Coop; I’m referring to the forced resignation of Harvard President Larry Summers, which Alan Dershowitz rightly calls a coup.

Definitely read Dershowitz’s column!

I do have a certain bias in favor of the faculty, not only as a full-time teacher during the year but also as a teacher at the Crimson Summer Academy at Harvard. And I do have a certain bias in favor of the left in left-center conflicts. Despite these biases, I have to say that Dershowitz is right on the money in his analysis:
Summers was being condemned for expressing views deemed offensive by some of the faculty. I personally disagreed with some of Summers’s statements, but that is beside the point in an institution committed to academic freedom and diversity of viewpoints.
Do note that it was only one faculty — the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — that was about to express a lack of confidence in Summers. All evidence suggests that he still had the confidence of the Law School faculty, the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the Kennedy School of Government, and so forth. Only one faculty out of twelve was going to proceed with a no-confidence vote, and even they might have evinced only a plurality, not a majority. Admittedly the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is the largest and most important of Harvard’s various faculties, but still....

Summers does suffer from a lack of tact, like his erstwhile colleague John Silber. Both of them say what’s on their mind, whether it’s politically advisable or not. Some people even claim that Summers has Asperger’s Syndrome. Maybe so, but at least in public schools we don’t react to people with Asperger’s by voting them off the island.

Summers, by the way, was widely misquoted in the media when they reported on his famous remarks on women in math and science. But I’ll save that for another post.

Finally, a few additional quotations from Dershowitz’s piece:
[The radical academics were] insisting on complete freedom of speech for those with whom they agree — free speech for me but not for thee!

It was arrogant in the extreme for a plurality of a single faculty to purport to speak for the entire university, especially when that plurality is out of synch with the mainstream of Harvard.

Now that this plurality of one faculty has succeeded in ousting the president, the most radical elements of Harvard will be emboldened to seek to mold all of Harvard in its image. If they succeed, Harvard will become a less diverse and less interesting institution of learning governed by political-correctness cops of the hard left. This is what happened in many European universities after the violent student protests of the late 1960s. It should not be allowed to happen at Harvard in the wake of the coup d’etat engineered by some in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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