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The Brutal Politics of Academia

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 22, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: This is the hard left flexing their muscles, and saying, we don’t like the way Larry Summers thinks, we don’t like what he says, we don’t like what he does. And we’re going to get rid of him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: So, Alan Dershowitz is behind Larry Summers who is now the departing president of Harvard University. Larry Summers, former treasury secretary under President Clinton. And a man known for a number of things, among them being very bright and sometimes very abrasive and impolitic.

He said in his letter of resignation, "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, it is best for the university to have a new leadership."

HUME: Larry Summers out at Harvard University after some spectacular conflicts with the likes of Professor Cornell West and others. So what about this? What does this tell us about Harvard, about academic America, about our country?

MORT KONDRAKE, ROLL CALL: The good news is that students were against his resignation 3-to-1, so that’s…

HUME: So much for their say.

KONDRACKE: But they’re not going along with their lefty arts and scientists faculty. Look, he was in trouble largely for — in the beginning — for taking on Cornell West, an African-American professor of African-American studies, on the grounds that Cornell West was writing articles about jazz and not doing serious scholarship. Then he admitted this was error. He wondered whether women had some sort of intrinsic inaptitude about math and science.

HUME: He said the question was worth raising — he said he raised the question.

KONDRACKE: Yes, he raised the question.

HUME: And one member of the faculty said that she got the vapors, which are — or someone in the audience said it.

KONDRACKE: And it was on and on, with stuff like that. He criticized those who are…

HUME: What does this tell us?

KONDRACKE: Well, I think it also says — there were other issues. He defended an economics professor, a friend of his who got involved in a conflict of interest suit that cost Harvard $23 million.

HUME: You think that is what this was about that?

KONDRACKE: No, I think it was the former. But nonetheless he gave a lot of ammunition to his enemies.

MARA LIASSON:, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That’s right. Look, there is nothing more Byzantine than university politics. And I think this was pretty Byzantine. He had the support of the students, a fair amount of the board of trustees, or whatever it is called there, the corporation board. But the faculty, especially in arts and sciences, didn’t like his personality and the changes he wanted to bring.

The question now is, they have to find somebody new, will that person, assuming he will have a more easygoing personality, will he be able to make some of the same changes that clearly Harvard felt was necessary or they wouldn’t have hired Summers in the first place — which were more kind of left controlled — Harvard is apparently famously de-centralized. These individual departments and faculties have a lot of control over their own worlds. He wanted to change that. He wanted to bring in new younger blood, and enforce some standards, and make Harvard more vital and vigorous for the future. And we’ll see if somebody else can do that.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: He also tried to bring ideological diversity. He vetoed some pretty hard-left professors. He was therefore stepping on autonomy these old lefty arts and sciences professors, who had had autonomy before.

Also, he spoke out against those in Harvard who wanted Harvard to pull all of its investments out of Israel. He denounced it and correctly said there was a whiff of anti-Semitism in it. And also defended the military and complained about Harvard being hostile.

So, look, all of these other issues are excuses. He said things that are politically incorrect. The hard left rose up and smote him. And as a result I think it will, as you said, who’s going to succeed him? It’s not going to be another Larry Summers or anybody with any of his political courage or ideas. It’s going to be somebody who will be docile and who will accept what is obvious, the power of the hard left in that university and in a large number of other great universities.

LIASSON: You know, he’s a former Clinton administration official.

(CROSS TALK)

LIASSON:: What I’m saying is he’s certainly no conservative.

HUME: He’s only a right-winger by Harvard standards.

(CROSS TALK)

KONDRACKE: There is a kind of parallel to Democratic politicians — dare support the war in Iraq and you get clobbered by the hard left, as Joe Lieberman would find out every day if he reads the blogs.

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, if a center-left treasury secretary, in a center-left government in the United States — in the Clinton administration — ends up at Harvard, he’s considered a hard-right neo-con. It tells you what lunatic universe these universities exist in, or at least these faculties. And it tells you what kind of atmosphere these people have to live in.

HUME: That’s it for the panel folks.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.

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