The scandal embroiling Harvard University's beleaguered president, Lawrence Summers, took yet another twist, when one of thebiggest faculties passed a vote of no confidence in him. In a shocking, though only symbolic, 215-185 vote, the faculty of arts and sciences approved a motion expressing a "lack of confidence" in Mr Summers' leadership yesterday. It was the latest scolding visited upon the president for remarks he made in January suggesting that women are innately less capable than men in sciences.
It had been widely assumed that Mr Summers, a former US treasury secretary, had weathered the worst of the storm. Technically, he is answerable only to the Harvard Corporation but the faculty vote is rekindling speculation that he will have to relinquish his post as head of America's most famous university.
"This was a resounding statement that the faculty lacks confidence in President Lawrence Summers and he should resign," said J Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology and African and African-American studies, who submitted the motion. "There is no noble alternative to resignation."
At the very least, it means that Mr Summers will continue to be distracted by the controversy, ignited by a speech at an academic conference on women in science. He said one reason there were fewer women attaining the highest positions in the sciences was because of intrinsic differences in ability between the sexes. He went on to say, however, that other factors involved included the child-rearing responsibilities of some women.
Few had thought that the faculty would adopt such a harsh motion, which also criticised Mr Summers' managerial style. "I don't think any of us expected this to pass. I had no idea that so many supported it," Mary Waters, chairwoman of the sociology department, told The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.
Struggling to make himself heard over protesters, Mr Summers put on a brave face with reporters after the vote. "As I said to the faculty, I have tried these last couple months to listen to all that has been said, to learn from it, and to move forward, and that's what I am going to do. I am committed to doing all I can to restore the sense of trust that is critical to our work."
To some observers, however, it may already be too late for him to regain his footing. "I see this as positively Shakespearean," said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education. "And in Shakespeare one assumes there is a tragic character, and it does seem to be evolving that way."Reuse content