John Harvard's Journal
In the wake of its March 15 vote that it “lacks confidence” in his leadership (see “At Odds,” May-June, page 55), the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and President Lawrence H. Summers worked toward redefining their relationship during the rest of the spring term. The sharp confrontation over management style and University decisions that dominated winter faculty meetings lessened in the three spring meetings, leaving time to focus on scheduled business such as changing the College curriculum (see "Curriculum Queries"). Still, questions of Harvard governance and other matters of substance continued to arise, suggesting that University affairs remain in an unsettled state.
Phillips professor of early American history Laurel Thatcher Ulrich reported May 3 on the second meeting, held on April 25, of a six-member Faculty Council delegation with Corporation members James R. Houghton and Hanna H. Gray. Three significant pieces of news emerged from what she characterized as “very candid,” intense discussions.
First, she said, all agreed that the work of curriculum revision is the faculty’s province. That seemingly obvious conclusion in fact represented a sea change, given the president’s previous high-profile engagement, from his 2003 Commencement address outlining parameters for the curriculum review through his extensive involvement, ex officio, in the committee on general education. Following Ulrich’s general comments, the Crimson on May 11 quoted Summers as saying, “The review is at a stage where it is natural for the faculty to take full responsibility.” And in fact the president, who had other pressing concerns, stopped attending the committee’s meetings.
Second, Ulrich said, the Corporation emphasized that there had to be much more faculty involvement in the planning for Allston campus developmentand greater transparency in the process. Although faculty members and deans from throughout the University have served on Allston advisory committees, physical planning has proceeded as a closely held administrative concern. Ulrich quoted the Corporation members as saying, “Planning has barely begun.” Some FAS faculty members have expressed special concern about science facilities (see "Scientific Ambitions").
Finally, Ulrich made the faculty meeting the unusual venue for disclosing that no major fundraising campaign would be launched for at least two years. Invoking a word the Corporation members used, she said that in their view, a period of “convalescence” was in order. This fiscal reality is of interest to all faculties, but perhaps none more so than FAS, which is borrowing heavily to build and renovate facilities; staffing and operating them as they come on line; expanding the professorial ranks relatively rapidly; and contending with higher costs for benefits and utilities.
Such strains heighten faculty anxieties over other issues. As an example of the general skittishness, at the April 12 faculty meeting, Richard F. Thomas, professor of Greek and Latin, asked Summers whether he had, as rumored, discussed granting other schools permission to confer the Ph.D. degree, or even separating the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) from FAS and assigning it, for reporting purposes, to the provost or another authority. Alluding to Virgil, Thomas spoke of the poet living “between republic and empire, when strong men sustained the fiction of more or less democratic systems while in fact subverting them.” Skirmishing over doctoral degrees is not novel; other schools, with their own degrees, can get in on FAS’s Ph.D. monopoly only via joint programs. But the GSAS talk was new.
Having absorbed the poetry lesson, Summers flatly said there was no truth to either rumor, and was echoed by FAS dean William C. Kirby. The latter revisited the issue on May 3, suggesting that the apprehensions had arisen as a result of a consultant’s survey he had commissioned to gather professors’ views on GSAS. He described that effort as routine data-gathering as he searched for the successor to GSAS dean Peter Ellison (see "A Notable Dean").
Deeper apprehensions were voiced by Philip A. Kuhn, Higginson professor of history and of East Asian languages and civilizations. In a motion introduced May 3, he asked that the undergraduate curriculum review be joined to a “thorough, documented projection” of the effects on graduate education. His past queries along these lines had been met by assurances from Summers that the University would raise sufficient funds to underwrite graduate financial aid and support.
As Kuhn explained separately, he worried, among other issues, that a shift in the undergraduate curriculum toward more science requirements, and less humanities coursework, would undercut teaching fellowshipsa principal means of support for graduate students, especially outside the sciences, whose financial-aid packages are far from fully endowed. (Efforts to boost the number of undergraduates concentrating in the sciences, and to enlarge the science faculty, would heighten that effect; see see "Scientific Ambitions" and "Allston Options: Up for Discussion".) Porter professor of medieval Latin Jan Ziolkowski supported Kuhn’s motion. He cited the need to staff undergraduate courses in general, and has expressed concern about the effects on graduate enrollments in the humanities if undergraduate demand wanes. The motion carried unanimously.
Airing of these undercurrents in a sense represented progress toward finding some new basis on which the faculty and the president could interact. During the April 12 and May 3 meetings, professor of anthropology and of African and African American studies J. Lorand Matoryauthor of the March 15 motionpressed Summers with questions about faculty members’ freedom to criticize the administration, and about the University’s commitment to diversity. Summers answered levelly, and no other faculty member took up the debate. (In FAS balloting for the Faculty Council for next academic year, Matory stood for office but was not elected; other faculty critics of Summers were elected or re-elected.)
Out of the spotlight, department chairs met with the Corporation and with each other. They and Faculty Council members have the summer to prepare for a new year in which FAS plans to meet as many as 14 times (the usual schedule is nine), to take on an agenda including the heavy lifting on curriculum revision; implementing the recommendations of the task forces on women faculty and women in science and engineering (see "Engineering Equality"); and whatever role FAS assumes in shaping Allston.
The underlying agenda, as one faculty member put it, is that “There is no trust.” In that, the professor echoed President Summers, who told FAS on March 15, “I am committed to doing all I can to restore the sense of trust that is critical to our work together”a challenge involving sustained change, rather than any single decision. That uncharted effort, now under way, is very much part of the University’s current business.