Saturday, March 11, 2006

Summers at Harvard

You may have read last month about Larry Summer's resignation from his post as President of Harvard University. You may recall all the handwringing in the media (and especially the blogs) about how he was a victim of political infighting, the kind of thing that now characterizes the American university system. The Economic Times gave the story the typical treatment:

Summers got into numerous spats. He lashed out at senior faculty who he thought were taking it easy. His remarks about women having less “intrinsic aptitude” for maths than men touched off a furore. He labelled those asking Harvard to disinvest in firms in Israel “anti-Semitic”.

But it was one of his cherished reforms, getting faculty to take undergraduate studies more seriously, that finally cost him his job. The top American universities are focused on research and regard teaching as a necessary evil.

All these stories you can find online with a simple google search. One thing, however, is curiously missing in all but a few of these accounts, namely, Summer's role (or odd recusal) in the strange case of Prof. Andrei Schleifer. The Institutional Investor online has published the details on Mr. Schleifer. Schleifer led a Harvard advisory program that was recently fined $31 million for its role in a scandal that defrauded the nascent democratic government in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead of simply advising the new government on capitalism, Schleifer and his Wall Street wife were investing in and profiting from the very entities they were helping to create.

The Harvard program, and Schleifer, were charged by the American government for breech of contract and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Schleifer has thus far been protected from all consequences of his actions through his apprent cozy relationship with then-president Summers. He is still an economics professor in good standing at Harvard University. This is part of the hypocricy that humanities' professors have found so galling. Summers took no interest whatsoever in their work except to tell them they needed to step it up. It will not be disputed here that there are plenty of large egos at Harvard University. They abound. But to say that they ran out a president who challenged their views on education and asked them the tough questions is more than a little simplistic.


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