For those who have been following the tumultuous presidency of Larry Summers at Harvard: today Harvard announced that he's stepping down at the end of the academic year. Summers' resignation letter says, "I have reluctantly concluded that the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard's future. I believe, therefore, that it is best for the University to have new leadership." Summers made this announcement in the face of a possible no-confidence vote by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on February 28.
A no-vote would have only been symbolic, as the faculty had neither hiring nor firing power. In fact, in a similar vote not quite a year ago, the faculty voted 218-185 that they lacked confidence in Summers' leadership. But this time around, there was a growing sense that the Harvard Corporation (who does have hiring and firing power) was considering action. The instigating (but far from sole) issue a year ago was Summers' remarks at a conference suggesting that perhaps women's relatively low presence on mathmatics and science faculties resulted from a combination of (1) their relatively lower interest in high powered jobs that required massive professional commitment; and (2) innate difference in abilities. Summers' ever-so-slightly more nuanced version of the second point posited a different degree of variance across the sexes, which would mean that even if women were in aggregate as talented as men in math abilities, they might be underrepresented at the very high and very low ends of mathmatical aptitude. Quite apart from the dubious merits of his claim, many deemed the remarks highly inappropriate given his institutional position as Harvard's President.
(I won't even go into the substance of his earlier remarks, except to note that one of the many things that bugged me about his remarks at the time was that even if -- and it's a really big if -- there were truly more men at the far outer limits of mathematical aptitude, why should we be so sure that this should translate in a direct way into the sex make-up of, say, biology and chemistry faculties? Math departments, okay, perhaps. But is there really such a clear correlation between pure math intelligence and success in creative research design and execution in the sciences more generally? Is that empirically justifiable, or is it just the unwarranted assumption of an economist with math-envy?)
Derek Bok will serve as interim President until Harvard names a replacement.