Constructive Criticism for Campus Administrators in ‘The Economist’
March 13, 2006
Now the Corporation of Harvard has inadvertently challenged this smugness. Ever since the university’s ruling body surrendered to pressure from the faculty and ousted Larry Summers from the presidency of Harvard at the end of last month, American newspapers have buzzed with questions about academia. Are the universities as good as they think they are? Are they upholding the standards of free speech and intellectual vigour? Are they training enough scientists and engineers? Are they encouraging social mobility?Mr Summers enraged people in all sorts of ways: questioning the rigour of some of the newer “ologies,” getting ensnared in an economist friend’s conflict-of-interest case, wondering rather too pointedly why so few women reached the top of the sciences. Both combative and thin-skinned, Mr Summers is not an easy man to defend on every count. But his ouster points to two great weaknesses in American academia.Political correctness has changed from a subject of widespread mirth to a genuine worry about freedom of speech. The depressing thing about the women-in-science controversy was not the number of academics who disagreed with Mr Summers but the number who thought he had no right to raise the issue. Universities bristle with speech codes and absurd rules: until the Supreme Court intervened this week the army was prevented from recruiting on some campuses.