Tuesday, March 22, 2005

So, You Want To Be a Rock n Roll Star?

Then Larry Summers wants you to take your act on the road, according to this by Andrew Kline. Seems that some 200 out of 700 Harvard faculty, may be worried that Summers wants Harvard to be a place of serious intellectual accomplishment, not a recording studio:

If the university president could make Cornel West -- the brightest mass of glowing gas in Harvard's large and glittering constellation of star professors -- quit the recording studio and return to the library, then what could he do to the lowly professors, assistant professors and lecturers whose lights remained invisible to anyone without a telescope trained on obscure academic journals?

Summers called West's bluff, and the celebrity professor chose to leave rather than work for a boss who demanded results. But in that victory were sown the seeds of Summers' future troubles.

Faculty members learned from the West affair that they'd have to be a lot tougher to win a confrontation with this president. So when Summers' remarks at a January 15 National Bureau of Economic Research conference prompted MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins to copy West and run to the media to breathlessly proclaim that the Harvard president does not sufficiently respect her disadvantaged subset of the population, the faculty were ready.

....there are more than 700 members of the Arts and Sciences faculty at Harvard, which calls into question the importance of Tuesday's vote [218-185].

It looks like the attempt to push Summers out the door does not have widespread support among Harvard's faculty. Rather, it appears to be coming from the usual suspects: left-wing professors who either enjoy challenging authority in general or who have a vested interest in keeping a strong-willed and reform-minded university president from poking his nose into their world of intellectually questionable courses and activism masked as "research."

....Faculty vote to give tenure, but the president has the final say and has full authority to nullify a faculty vote.

Last year, Summers vetoed the unanimous decision of the African and African-American Studies department to offer tenure to Marcyliena Morgan, whom the Boston Globe describes as a "hip-hop scholar."

Probably Morgan's most noted accomplishment was founding Harvard's Hip Hop Archive. Her academic credits consisted of publishing exactly one book, and the Globe reported that her classes received poor reviews from students. Nonetheless, the department voted to grant her tenure. Her husband, Lawrence Bobo, whose academic work was more noteworthy, already had tenure at Harvard. After Summers' veto, both Bobo and Morgan left for Stanford.

Summers' refusal to grant tenure to someone who so clearly did not deserve it, though she had the support of her department, had to have sent shockwaves throughout the faculty.....

And perhaps he does have the support, albeit silent, of most of the faculty. He certainly has the support of the Harvard Corporation, which functions as Harvard's board of directors. But his independence and refusal to value academic trendiness over academic rigor have made him the primary target of a disaffected minority of faculty members for whom he represents a serious threat.

Thanks to Betsy Newmark for the link.

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