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Letter to the Harvard community

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

I have notified the Harvard Corporation that I will resign as President of the University as of June 30, 2006. Working closely with all parts of the Harvard community, and especially with our remarkable students, has been one of the great joys of my professional life. However, I have reluctantly concluded that the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard’s future. I believe, therefore, that it is best for the University to have new leadership.

Harvard’s greatness has always come from its ability to evolve as the world and its demands change – to educate and draw forth the energy of each successive generation in new and creative ways. Believing deeply that complacency is among the greatest risks facing Harvard, I have sought for the last five years to prod and challenge the University to reach for the most ambitious goals in creative ways. There surely have been times when I could have done this in wiser or more respectful ways. My sense of urgency has stemmed from my conviction that Harvard has a special ability to make a real difference in a world desperately in need of wisdom of all kinds.

As I leave the presidency, my greatest hope is that the University will build on the important elements of renewal that we have begun over the last several years. Much as I might have preferred to help, as President, to build more of the magnificent structure that will be early 21st century Harvard, I take satisfaction in having played a part in laying some of the foundations for what may come.

We have recognized in the last several years, based on extensive deliberation and on the objective evidence of surveys, that the quality of the experience we provide our students is not fully commensurate with their quality or the quality of the Harvard faculty. The faculty has launched a substantial effort to renew the undergraduate experience with results already apparent in significantly greater student-faculty contact, in a major increase in international opportunities for our students, and in a start on bringing space for student activities and social life up to the standard of peer institutions. Much lies ahead as the curricular review moves forward. We can all share the hope that, whatever the result, it will be one that puts the needs of our students at the center of our educational design.

At a time when the median age of our tenured professoriate is approaching 60, the renewal of the faculty has to be a central concern. A number of faculties, notably the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, have seen their most rapid growth in over a generation in the last several years. As the Harvard faculty is renewed, I believe it essential that the University do much better than it has done traditionally to ensure that we are doing everything we can to attract, develop, and retain the most promising emerging scholars who will define the future of their disciplines. Significant steps have been announced with respect to hiring, mentoring, research support, and tenure review, but continued attention to these issues over the next several years is essential, especially if we are to achieve the shared objectives of promoting diversity and interdisciplinary appointments.

We have taken important steps in the last several years to extend to all parts of the University the promise that talent, and not ability to pay, is the key to a Harvard education. With our elimination of family contributions for students from families with incomes below $40,000, Harvard has reaffirmed its commitment to education as a source of opportunity in this nation and has significantly increased the economic diversity of the student body in the College. We are extending the same philosophy to our graduate and professional schools by making sure that students who choose academic or public service careers are well supported while at Harvard so that they are not unduly burdened if they choose careers whose chief rewards do not come in financial terms. Given the resources that strong endowment returns have made available, there is much more that can and should be done to sustain a University-level commitment to financial aid.

Even as we have continued to build our faculty in the humanities and social sciences and create new facilities for the arts, the University is in the midst of unprecedented commitments to science and technology. The success of these investments will be crucial over the next several decades to the University’s global standing and to the economic health of our region. We are building, or have plans to build, scientific facilities with area totaling more than 25 football fields. And we are entering into new collaborations, such as the Broad Institute and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, which bring together different Schools within Harvard, MIT, and area hospitals to work on the kind of large-scale cross-disciplinary inquiry that increasingly defines modern science. Recognizing the centrality of technology in today’s intellectual life, we also have plans for dramatic increases in Harvard’s commitment to engineering. All of this energy will require careful focus. I am very hopeful that the work of the Provost and the current cross-university faculty science planning committee will permit continued progress in this vital area.

Bringing the University together has been a central, and very challenging, goal in recent years. We have made important, if unglamorous, gains in increasing financial transparency across the University and have realized financial and operational efficiencies in matters ranging from purchasing to budgeting to human resources to the raising of funds. We have also seen an increase in the number of joint and concurrent degree programs, and I am encouraged by the recent attention of GSAS to supporting cross-university doctoral programs. But we still have a great distance to travel. We cannot maintain pre-eminence in intellectual fields if we remain constrained by artificial boundaries of departments and Schools. “Each Tub On Its Own Bottom” is a vivid, but limiting, metaphor for decision making at Harvard. We will not escape its limits unless our Schools and Faculties increase their willingness to transcend parochial interests in support of broader university goals.

This issue will be especially important with respect to the unique opportunity the University has before it in Allston. In recent years we have made further land acquisitions, and begun to prepare sites for development. Just last week we announced plans for a first major science building and additional space for our art collections. A master physical plan is taking shape and the University has begun acquiring the necessary development capacity for its implementation. The greatest challenge will be to mobilize the tremendous creativity and energy in our community to assure that what we build in Allston enables the University as a whole to undertake pioneering work in important new ways that make a real difference in the world.

As fulfilling as they have been in many ways, these last years have not been without their strains and moments of rancor. After a period of sabbatical and reflection, I look forward to taking up the tasks of teaching and research at the University and to returning to my professional preoccupation with questions of national and international economic policy. In the meantime, I hope and trust that we will together move through the remainder of this academic year in a spirit of good will and constructive engagement with the work of the University.

I will treasure the continuing friendship and support of so many exceptional colleagues and students at Harvard. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have served as Harvard’s President.

With appreciation,

Lawrence H. Summers