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Jewish World Review
Feb. 23, 2006
/ 25 Shevat, 5766
How could Harvard continue to harbor a president who wonders aloud about possible male and female differences?
Marianne M. Jennings
Seems to me I predicted this. When soon-to-be-former Harvard prez Larry Summers suggested last year that we look into DNA for an explanation as to why fewer broads are scientists I knew his days were as numbered as the Pitt/Jolie alliance is today. There's not much hope of long-term commitment when the mother of your child was once married to Billy Bob Thornton, has two adopted children, pilots her own aircraft, and trots the globe for cameo appearances with Kofi Anan, despots, and a cast of thousands of hunger and AIDS victims. Are these activities the hallmarks of a woman looking for a 50th golden wedding anniversary? Or even shooting for tin?
Likewise, how could Harvard continue to harbor a president who wonders aloud about possible male and female differences? Summers once suggested that the rap music CD of Cornel West, holder of a coveted university professorship and key player in Harvard's African-American Studies department, was not serious scholarship. West, in a snit and supported by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, found refuge and a position at Princeton where his CD lyrics (don your do-rag and rap with me now), "No other people in the modern world have had such unprecedented levels of unregulated violence against them," moved them as Dr. Dre never did. You can't unleash this type of practical thought in Cambridge and expect the relationship to last. Summers is fortunate to have escaped drive-bys by women in comfortable shoes for his heresy.
The Summers' ouster, largely orchestrated by the women-who-study-women-without-glancing-at-science faculty, is found in Ghostbusters. Dr. Peter Venkeman (Bill Murray) and Dr. Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) were evicted from their positions and research lab at Columbia University because, in the words of their dean, "Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable. You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkeman." Aykroyd concludes that they are now pariah in the academic world. Murray assures him that find jobs await them in business. But Aykroyd tells Murray the truth, "Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities; we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."
Press reports, including the newspaper of both record and Dowd rantings, assure that Summers' "abrasive" personality was the root cause of the faculty no-confidence votes. Balderdash! The root cause was Summers' belief that the greatest threat Harvard faces is complacency. As I begin my 30th professorial year I find myself leaning more toward the Summers' view of elite higher ed. So much of what we once did that was valuable is gone. So much of what we currently do is wrong. So much of what we should be doing meets resistance.
My colleague Brian Foster, now provost at the University of Missouri, frosted a few erudite derrières at the American Council on Education as a participant on the "Recapturing Public Confidence in Higher Education: Leadership Challenges for Chief Academic Officers" panel. Dr. Foster said that academics are so ineffective when talking with the public about what they do that "they might as well be talking backwards, in Russian." From the time he became dean of ASU graduate college 20 years ago at ASU, Brian has run a great bully pulpit.
Summers ran his own bully pulpit to opine on grade inflation — pointing out in 2000 that over half of the grades awarded at Harvard were A's. The faculty responded that such achievement was not grade inflation but rather a testament to their brilliance at teaching. Lake Wobegon on the Charles. Summers wondered why "patriotism" was a dirty word at Harvard's Kennedy School and worried about many things at Harvard that could not be translated from backwards Russian to common sense. Summers held a mirror up to the scholars at Harvard. For too many of the faculty this introspection was as painful as a 50-year-old woman viewing herself in magnifying make-up mirror with fluorescent lights. The surface of the moon superimposed on a bloodhound looks smoother than her complexion. Rugged feedback, as it were.
Flaws can be masked well under sophisticated tools. Pancake #5 and eyeliner for the woman. A complex system of scholarship ratings, rankings, and evaluations for faculty. Tenure, merit, and promotion criteria demand faculty publications in the so-called top-tier or "A" journals, a list based on rigor of review, rejection rate, and the imprimatur of the faculty who will then use the journals they have predesignated as simply the tops. Not that much of the knowledge will be used by anyone functioning in the real world where they expect results. From the mission statement of the Academy of Management Journal:
"To be published in AMJ, a manuscript must make strong empirical and theoretical contributions and highlight the significance of those contributions to the management field. Thus, preference is given to submissions that test, extend, or build strong theoretical frameworks while empirically examining issues with high importance for management theory and practice."
Annoying passive voice aside, theoretical frameworks are preferred but only if important in practice? Oh, the oxymoroness of it all.
Formulas, weights, measures, mentions, and all manner of calculations serve as the criteria for tenure and performance evaluations. Two hits in a tier-one journal for three years running will earn you a reduced teaching load and merit pay. One hit per year in tier-one journals and two in tier-two journals will earn you the same, and either formula kept up over a period of six years could get you tenure.
Wait, there are article submissions that are rejected but have received revision requests (try again) — those count too, but I cannot yet do the math. Tier-one revision requests count more than tier-two revision requests. A rejection is a rejection is a rejection is the English-speak. One published and utilized piece in a trade journal or business publication is worth less than a might-be-published piece in a tier-one journal, or tier-two, for that matter.
But one tier-one revision request is worth more than a tier-two actual publication. Perhaps this is all just theoretical framework that doesn't work in practice? If you understand the formulas (and I am not there yet) as well as the dubious quality distinctions, then you understand how academics such as Ward Churchill and Cornel West earn tenure and star status. Their theories are the stuff of claptrap and their publications embarrassingly laughable when exposed to the light of day. They followed the arbitrary formulas for measuring achievement. And Summers dared ask if it all made sense.
Summers has made his mistakes. He had a history of loose cannon moments as head of the World Bank during the Clinton administration. I've always worried about his support of Dukakis — chalk that up to Massachusetts blue-blood-birds-of-a-feather. He gave a Harvard economics professor, Andrei Shleifer, and his friend, too big a pass on Shleifer's conflicts of interest in helping to create, under a federal grant to Harvard, the Russian capital markets even as he was investing in Russian oil stocks. Shleifer should have been sacked. Summers let it ride.
But his administrative missteps at Harvard were the facile justification for the coup d'etat. This was an ouster by a desperate leftist faculty. First the Congress, then the White House press corps and the mainstream media, and now the liberal arts faculty at Harvard. The tantrum has become the leftist policy tool du jour. The three enfants terribles fail to realize that getting your way does not mean you have won. Democrats are the minority in Congress. The MSM falls more deeply in ratings and circulation each year. Accountability for tantrums is a beast.
The common man and woman, despite their innate differences, are on to the ivory tower boondoggle. They are not falling for the complexities of mediocrity or the continuing lack of rigor and pluralism in thought. They expect results. The Harvard leftists looked like as if they had seen ghosts when Summers ran that simple thought by them. The Harvard faculty conveys smugness in its victory over a man they now depict, using revisionist slog, as a poor leader. Common sense tells a different story outside Cambridge. I resent these twits because I carry their low credibility as I try to convince parents, public, and businesses that we do understand their concerns and demands. Harvard hissy fits aside, some of us can offer results.
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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State
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