Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

February 17, 2005

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

I write as the senior member of the Harvard Corporation, which has kept itself informed about the concerns raised by President Summers’s remarks at a mid-January NBER conference and those expressed at the February 15 meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. I would like to offer a perspective on those concerns.

During his first three-and-a-half years as Harvard's president, Larry Summers has brought energetic leadership to an unusually complex and demanding job. He has worked vigorously to advance a range of university priorities that many people across Harvard highlighted for attention during the course of the search leading to his appointment.

All of us share an institutional interest in progress on a number of important fronts - from enhancing undergraduate education to spurring innovative interdisciplinary work, from planning for Allston to opening Harvard’s doors wider to students from low-income backgrounds, from taking creative advantage of new information technologies to intensifying the international aspects of education and scholarship. While members of the Harvard community understandably have diverse views on how best to proceed in these and other areas, the members of the Corporation believe that President Summers has demonstrated a consistent willingness to focus attention on major challenges and opportunities facing Harvard and to help move the institution forward.

We have spoken with him at length about the aftermath of his remarks at the NBER conference on women in science. We know that he genuinely and deeply regrets having spoken as he did, and that he is strongly committed, as we are, to Harvard’s pursuit of focused institutional approaches to advancing opportunities for women in science and also in academic life more broadly. More generally, we know him as someone very much determined to learn from experience, to encourage discussion and debate, and to help Harvard pursue academic excellence in all of its many forms.

We take seriously the views expressed at Tuesday's meeting and recognize their intensity. President Summers has made plain to us that he is listening carefully to the concerns that have been expressed. We are confident of his ability to work constructively with the faculty and others to advance the goal that all of us share - ensuring that Harvard's academic programs are as good as they can be, and that our community of faculty, students, and staff is as strong as it can be, now and in the future. We fully support him in that effort, and we know how devoted he is to its success.

Please feel free to communicate with me, or with the Corporation's next most senior member, Hanna Gray, if you have views you wish to convey directly. You may send e-mail to us at houghtonjr@corning.com or hgray@uchicago.edu, or, if you prefer, you may write to us through the Office of the Governing Boards, Loeb House, 17 Quincy Street, Cambridge.

With thanks and best wishes,

James R. Houghton
Senior Fellow