Friday, February 24, 2006

Victory For the Faculty, Loss for Students?

An interesting take on the Harvard situation. Highlights an important question on university campuses these days: are the faculty looking out for the students or just for themselves?

Coup d'Ecole
Harvard professors oust Larry Summers. Now they must face their students.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 12:01 a.m.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--The resignation of Lawrence Summers as president of Harvard turns the spotlight on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), which has consecrated more time and energy to his ouster than to any other project of the past five years. Until now, all blame has been leveled at the president: "Fear and manipulation have been used to govern maliciously," charged one professor, who has since been awarded with a deanship. But now that these cowering professors have successfully unseated their president, scrutiny will quite rightly be leveled at them. What do they gain from their victory, and what does the rest of the university stand to lose?

. . . Harvard students frankly blossomed under the special attention he paid them. No university president in my experience had ever taken such a warm personal interest in undergraduate education. Not surprisingly, the students return his affection, polling three to one in favor of his staying on. The day he announced his resignation, they were out in force in Harvard Yard, chanting "Five More Years!"

The student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, has been outspoken in its criticism of the faculty that demanded the president's ouster. "No Confidence in 'No Confidence' " ran the headline of an editorial demonstrating the spuriousness of the charges being brought against the president, and reminding faculty to stay focused on the educational process that ought to be its main concern.

. . . But student response to the ouster suggests another long-term outcome. Although the activists of yesteryear may have found a temporary stronghold in the universities, a new generation of students has had its fill of radicalism. Sobered by the heavy financial burdens most of their families have to bear for their schooling, they want an education solid enough to warrant the investment. Chastened by the fall-out of the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family, they are wary of human experiments that destabilize society even further. Alert to the war that is being waged against America, they feel responsible for its defense even when they may not agree with the policies of the current administration. If the students I have come to know at Harvard are at all representative, a new moral seriousness prevails on campus, one that has yet to affect the faculty members because it does not yet know how to marshal its powers.

Read the whole article in WSJ.

From the Harvard Crimson article mentioned above:

The Faculty, like the president, must be held to account. As much as discontented Faculty members may lack confidence in Summers, we would modestly submit that, at this point in time, we lack confidence in them. It is the Faculty’s job to stay focused on issues that have a greater bearing over this university’s future. As Faculty members consider how they will vote on Feb. 28, they should ask what the no-confidence resolution is intended to accomplish. They should search their hearts and minds, asking whose interests they have in mind—is it merely theirs, or is it the whole University’s?

Also from The Crimson:

One of the worst things about University President Lawrence H. Summers’ resignation is the message that it seems to signal to Harvard’s students, both past and present. Summers stood for many things, but most importantly he represented the interests of our students.

In a formal sense, he participated in the curriculum, teaching a freshman seminar and co-teaching a large lecture course. But this teaching role just begins to touch the core reasons that students supported Summers: he was passionately interested in their ideas and their experiences. He didn’t listen politely and then move on to the next student in line. Instead, he argued with students about every conceivable topic, from curricular reform to the ethics of stem cell research to the war in Iraq. Summers showed up at undergraduate events, and he meaningfully talked with students. He asked tough questions and then listened to thoughtful answers. He forced students into real conversations, short on platitudes and long on substance. Occasionally the students forced him onto the dance floor.

Hat tip to Kathryn.


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