Thursday, February 23, 2006

Go, Alan, go! 

Alan Dershowitz wrote a scathing column in the Boston Globe on the resignation of Larry Summers, and then followed it up with an interview with Hugh Hewitt last night which had me frozen in my chair. Dershowitz was calling out faculty:
Hewitt:...You wrote a magnificent column in the Boston Globe today that I think summarizes what is going to be the reaction of 90% of alumns, students, faculty. Am I overshooting that estimate?

AD: I don't think so. I think certainly, you're right about alum, and students, probably it'll be 70-75%. Faculty? I would say it's probably half and half in the faculty of arts and sciences, and probably 90-10, or 80-20 in the graduate school faculty. Certainly, the law school was generally very supportive of Larry Summers, and it was incredible chutzpah for the arts and sciences faculty, merely a plurality of them, to engineer this coup. And let me tell you who engineered it. It was engineered by particularly an anthropology professor, a guy named Randy Matory, who teaches Afro-American and Afro-South American studies. And basically, what he said in his resolution that he first proposed, was Summers has to go because number one, he's too patriotic. He's trying to tell us to be more patriotic. And that, by Matory, is regarded as the great sin, that he's teaching patriotism...

HH: Let's pause on that, professor. Did he actually make that statement in a faculty meeting, or reduce it to writing somewhere?

AD: Yeah, he said it on a television show last night, and I can, I think, find it and read you his exact quote, because it is just remarkable that a person would say this. He says, "He (Summers) was telling us we should be more patriotic," and that's among the list of things that he says he should be fired for. He said, "He was also telling us that people who insist that Palestinians have rights should be quiet, because they're being anti-Semitic." Now that second one is just an out and out lie.
Dershowitz goes on to say nobody outside the Arts and Sciences faculty were consulted, and just beats Prof. Matory like a drum for almost a half-hour. Radioblogger has the sound as well as the transcript, and there is pleasure in the listening.

Thomas Sowell provides a good summary of the problems Summers had.
His fatal flaws were honesty and a desire to do the right thing. That has ruined more than one academic career.
That and the opinion of many that Summers does not suffer fools gladly. Summers is not a conservative. He worked in the Clinton Treasury department through two administrations, the last three years as the secretary. He is a very practical Democrat, though -- see for example his discussion of NAFTA and convincing Democrats to embrace it -- and debate, bruising though it may be at times, is part of his style. Anne Neal is absolutely right in pointing to Summers' public questioning of the divide between the Harvard faculty and the public as being the broader context that lead to his resignation (e.g., his statements on military recruiting.) He was unable to get the Arts and Science faculty to do much with a curriculum review that had the promise of bringing back some understanding of the Western canon.

In some sense his resignation makes sense: The things that mattered most to him were dead in the water; his was a spent force. But the force was spent by continued attacks from an entrenched, radical faculty that leaves Alan Dershowitz seeming like a right-wing ideologue. One must wonder why the governing Harvard Corporation would tolerate such lunatics taking over their asylum.