Saturday, February 26, 2005

A South of the Charles Girl Chimes In

I've not written anything on the latest Lawrence Summers/Harvard controversy because emotions are high and plenty of other people have taken up the in-the-moment sort of commentary. I have nothing to add to this. I'm more interested in the big picture anyway, and have been just sort of keeping an eye on what's been going on since I moved up to Somerville and all hell started breaking loose. To me it seems as though Summers may be onto something if he's managing to piss off all the right people like he seems to be.

This Tech Central Station article provides an excellent synopsis of the controversies to date, from Summers denouncing a call for Harvard to divest from Israeli companies to his calling Cornell West on his quality of scholarship, disallowing the law school from participating in that suit over federal funding for schools that do not allow military recruitment on campus, and the current tempest fomented by some hysterical reactionaries regarding his comments on women in the sciences.

To this, I would probably add that he's gained no fans for the current relooking at Harvard's reexamination of its student rape/harassment policy, as well, though I'm not certain to what level he's involved.

It's at this point that I make my admission that, though I have no real fondness to this behemoth north of the Charles that tends to overshadow everything else, I'm watching with much interest how this all pans out for Dr. Summers. I wish him the best in his endeavors, as 17 years ago, when I moved here, the former "sleepy commuter school," and "backwater Boston College" I was attending was in the throes of almost exactly the same sort of conflict. The gritty, strong-armed visionary who set nearly everyone on edge over there managed to pull something amazing off, too, by turning this former party school into what is now considered to be an "academic powerhouse." (I see a lot of parallels to Summers in Silber, as well - from the confrontational style to the ramping up of academics to even the Democratic politics with tough-love delivery). Boston University had nowhere to go but up, and it skyrocketed, thanks to John Silber. Harvard will always be Harvard, but perhaps with Summers to kick it back into shape, it will reverse its decline in some areas into a "Coach Bag" diploma (expensive, pretty, lots of brand name cache, but of decreasing quality - is that a BU girl metaphor or what?).

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