The Right Coast

March 06, 2006
Down with Summers
By Mike Rappaport

"Defend yourself." That's the lesson Harvey Mansfield drew for Larry Summers the week before Harvard's president was forced to resign. Mr. Mansfield, a 73-year-old government professor and conservative elder statesman of the university, went on to suggest that Mr. Summers's capitulation to those he offended (when he said women might be biologically less inclined to succeed in the hard sciences) is not simply a craven kowtow to political correctness, but proof, also, of a character flaw. Indeed, Mr. Mansfield continued with a mischievous smile, "He has apologized so much that he looks unmanly."

So begins the Wall Street Journal's piece on Harvey Mansfield new book on manliness. An interesting subject, but not mine today. Instead, it is Mr. Summers's capitulation.

Most right wing commentators have been critical of the Harvard Faculty, who pressured Summers. And, of course, they deserve condemnation. But I am also critical of Summers for two reasons: because he lost and because he quit.

Summers did not have to take on the causes he did -- promoting open inquiry and pursuing a direct frontal assault on political correctness -- but once he did, he owed those causes his best efforts. On that score, he has been a miserable failure.

Summers kowtowed shortly after making his remarks about the possibility of sex differences concerning scientific achievement. His actions, probably, made it less likely that people can speak freely about these matters. His support of millions of dollars for more women's studies programs at Harvard also made matters worse for free speech.

If you are going to engage in a fight, it is important to win. Let me repeat that: It is important to win. If Summers was willing to resign, he should have done so and resisted the efforts to pay off his opponents. Better yet, he should have opposed the payments, stayed on, and forced his opponents to get him fired. But he caved and now has resigned.

I have heard it argued that Summers was no longer having fun as President and so decided to resign. But that is not good enough. He took on a cause and should have continued with it until a respectable time to resign emerged -- call it resignation with honor. He should not have resigned under pressure.

If Summers wanted to have fun at Harvard, he should have just coasted and conformed to the powers that be. When he took them on, he should have had a strategy. And he should have forgotten about fun, and instead pursued victory.