While it raged, the Lawrence Summers affair engendered a great deal of media copy. But once it ended – quickly and somewhat brutally, with the resignation of Summers from the presidency of Harvard University – the story disappeared completely from the country's radar screen.
As you may recall, Summers spent an embattled several years at the helm of Harvard, challenging all sorts of entrenched ideas and people there, and in the process made a good number of enemies, many of whom had clout in Cambridge. These enemies soon pulled together and squeezed him till he fled.
The disappearance of this kind of story is understandable. These things have only so much shelf life, and journalism being what it is, whether print or otherwise, needs a new scandal to feed upon. So the caravan moves on.
Nor do I find it surprising that the only substantive article I've run across since Summer's resignation has appeared in a conservative magazine. Summers was done in mostly by members of the left – anyone who's honest about the affair would have to admit that – and the magazines that clamored for his departure don't need to say anything else. They were vindicated by the resignation itself.
Nor is it surprising to find that the author of the current story is Harvey C. Mansfield, a Harvard professor himself. He's been no stranger to controversy, taking all sorts of unfashionable stances since the 1960s.
His article, appropriately titled "The Debacle at Harvard," appears in the Spring 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books, which, if new to you, bills itself as "a journal of political thought and statesmanship."
According to Mansfield, the occurrences at Harvard were a debacle because a "great" university saw fit to "get rid of its most outstanding president since James B. Conant, the only outstanding president at a major university today, and doing this for no stated reason. His unofficial detractors brought up only his abrasive style. In no way could it be said either that he had completed his mission, and thus deserved retirement, or that he had failed in it, and so deserved to be booted."
Mansfield noted that the Harvard Corporation deserves the largest chunk of the blame because they brought Summers in, told him to shake things up, and when he did it, grew "queasy" and abandoned him.
Summers was also ditched by faculty members. Mansfield stated that those opposed to Summers were divided into enemies and critics: "His enemies planned or intended his demise as soon as he began to show that he had doubts about the diversity agenda."
Mansfield didn't, however, let Summers off the hook, though he did admit that he was "more sinned against than sinner."
The only problem with his brilliant article is that it will be read generally by the converted. Summer's enemies wouldn't deign to touch it – on principle – since Mansfield's newest book is a study of Manliness. Now, what type of scholar would take on a subject like that?