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02/26/2006

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» Becker & Posner: from The Volokh Conspiracy

weigh in on the Summers resignation. Posner here and Becker

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Arun Khanna

One, as an ad-hoc measure the next President of Harvard should negotiate a 10-year fixed contract not subject to being revoked by Harvard Corporation.

Two, competition does seem to work in education albeit rather slowly. If one examines pre and post World War II periods, I would guess University of Chicago has gained ground while perhaps Harvard has lost ground.

Three, the only quibble I have with the Summers Presidency is that he should have tried harder to retain Jack Meyer at Harvard Management Company.

Arun Khanna

Re: "Those overly sensitive faculty members at Harvard who consider his style blunt and confrontational should attend some of the seminars in the department of economics at the University of Chicago. Summers would appear relatively mild in comparison."

In an economics seminar people have a common objective; I am guessing a big reason for the problems at Harvard is that different faculties don't have a common objective.

DF

GB: he ran up against faculty members with closed minds on issues like explanations for the differences in male and female achievements.

Actually, what irked Nancy Hopkins and many others was his implication that the hypothesis "The dearth of women in the upper echelons of academia is due to discrimination" could be ruled out on the basis of economic analysis. Larry said:

http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2005/nber.html

"The second problem is the one that Gary Becker very powerfully pointed out in addressing racial discrimination many years ago. If it was really the case that everybody was discriminating, there would be very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people.... .... And I think one sees relatively little evidence of that. So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination."

It was Larry's claim that economic dogma rules out the possibility of discrimination that stuck in Nancy's craw. It's ironic that this statement led to his downfall, given that Larry's dad changed the family named from Samuelson to Summers to avoid anti-Semitic discrimination.

It's amazing and inspiring that all Nancy Hopkins did to set this whole thing in motion was GET UP AND WALK OUT OF HIS TALK.

Jim Hu

Those pointing at Nancy Hopkins should keep in mind that she isn't even on the Harvard faculty - she's at MIT.

dick

If Nancy Hopkins is on the MIT faculty, then they have my sincere sympathies. I hope they keep her bottled up since she is a danger to the community if let loose.

snowball

It's funny that Prof. Becker notes that faculty should have a limited role in running universities because, in part, "professors are not selected for interpersonal skills." Well, Larry Summers fit that description. He was a fantastic professor, with extremely poor interpersonal skills.

He would *never* have landed the presidency of Harvard had he come packaged as Prof. Summers, abrasive and boorish visionary genius. Rather, he was selected in large part because of the perception that he had successfully sanded down his rough edges in DC sufficiently to work well with others in Washington, rising to Treasury Secretary.

damtp_dweller

"It's amazing and inspiring that all Nancy Hopkins did to set this whole thing in motion was GET UP AND WALK OUT OF HIS TALK."

It's also extremely ironic that she failed to notice her actions were typical of the "hysterical woman" stereotype she dislikes so much. If I recall correctly, her exact comment was

'[Had I not left the speech] 'I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

DF

Don't you guys think it's a LITTLE interesting to think about this:

If Dr. Becker had never argued that one could use deduction from dubious premises (regular economics) instead of empirical research ("behavioral" economics) to conclude "discrimination doesn't exist in the labor market" Larry Summers would never have cited it, Dr. Hopkins would never have walked out of Larry's talk and it's a VERY good bet Dr. Summers would still be president of Harvard?

Arun Khanna

Summers did well to cite Becker. However, I can't help feeling that perhaps Summers should have also considered the implications of two less prominent (than Becker) Chicago Professors work. I am referring to Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales (2000), The Tyranny of Inequality, Journal of Public Economics.

Bob K


I don't know if there is discrimination in academia. But I've seen amazing teams of brilliant minorities in the private sector doing outstanding research, much better than research coming from academic journals.

In fact, I have the impression that the private sector hires more minorities than academia.

I've always wondered why they are here and not teaching somewhere, why no one tries to equalize the proportion of minorities in academia vs the private sector. I think it's because they make a lot more money here but, again, it surprises me no one tries to poach them to academia. And they have no interpersonal skills problems, no bullies here, they are quiet regular guys inside and outside the office or lab.

Will

After reading this thoughtful discussion, I can only wish that Messrs. Posner and Becker were members of the Harvard Corporation. Their example demonstrates why I (as an alumnus of both Harvard and the U of C) will donate generously to the University of Chicago, but will give not a dime to the bloated pustule of pomposity and self-regard which is Harvard University.

anon

Generally, some worker ownership of organizations seems to be positive and work. However, it seems like there may be a limit to this. At some point, if workers own too much of an organization (eg, 50%), then the organization is too beholden to workers and not enough to customers and other stakeholders. This may be the case at Harvard.

I have for some time started to get the sense that certain universities do things more for fundraising than for academic purposes. It seems the two may be at odds in certain circumstances.

A university system may be somewhat like the U.S. - you need checks and balances, and separation of powers (executive, legislative, judicial). There may need to be a mix of decentralized, autonomous units (states) and a central body (federal).

Not to pitch false dichotomies... but sometimes it seems like sometimes unique people have to choose between A) being very effective, brilliant, original and pushing and B) dull, ordinary, routine, unoriginal, and even sometimes wrong and ineffective. It seems like people in bucket B) can have longer careers but may not have the same impact. Many people would prefer conventional failure to unconventional success (Keynes).

chy

you may use html tags for style are you a spam bot if not type human here

anon

The Economist, Feb 25 2006
A Survey of Wealth and Philanthropy

Excerpt:

But just as the world's wealthy and powerful are discovering the joys of giving, students of the American model of philanthropy are becoming increasingly critical of its flaws. This is not just a private concern for the donors: because of America's huge tax breaks for charitable donations, it is a matter for public scrutiny too. The cover story of a recent issue of Stanford University's "Social Innovation Review" is entitled "A Failure of Philanthropy". It argues that those American tax breaks are of most benefit to things like elite schools, concert halls and religious groups. "We should stop kidding ourselves that charity and philanthropy do much to help the poor," says the author, Rob Reich.

anon

"but will give not a dime to the bloated pustule of pomposity and self-regard which is Harvard University."

when it comes to one of my alma maters, i have feelings similar to your perspective toward Harvard. However, i have much different feelings toward another alma mater (similar to your U of C perspective). some schools perpetuate stereotypes of people. people living under stereotypes know and feel when someone is stereotyping them - good or bad. some people even feel pressure to conform to a stereotype that may be anathema to their nature (self-fulling, negative stereotypes).

G Caldwell

Posner had me agreeing until he said that, unlike the faculty, who he says are employees, "The president is the CEO and he has both a reputational and a financial stake in the success of the institution." A CEO is an employee, however. History shows that CEO's pretty often act in their own self-interest to the detriment of their employers. It should be sufficient on this point to refer to Warren Buffett's remarks today in his letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway and various recent articles by Ben Stein regarding the avarice of some CEO's. It may be that a university president may have a greater reputational and financial stake in the success of the institution than the faculty does. But Posner offers no evidence or argument on this point. He simply makes a bald assertion. This was a disappointment given his usual clarity in setting out the support for his views.

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