Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Summers Lead Harvard in a Bold New Direction?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Summers Lead Harvard in a Bold New Direction?

Article excerpt

It seems almost silly to think of the "problems" that Lawrence Summers, the president-elect of Harvard University, will face.

First, there's the need to figure out where to spend the interest spinning off a $20 billion endowment. More faculty, more student aid, an expanded campus - or all three? And what about the embarrassingly regular top slot in college rankings?

In many ways, Harvard University is at the top of its game - standing astride the pinnacle of higher education in reputation, finances, and achievements. But that means Dr. Summers's true challenge will be not merely to keep it there - but to move it to the next level, observers say.

"No one really questions whether Harvard is an excellent place or its commitment to excellence," says Judith McLaughlin, director of a program for new college presidents run by Harvard's Graduate School of Education. "But there are some who will say, 'That's enough.' Others will say this is an opportunity to make a move in a new direction and stake out new territory."

So the No. 1 problem facing Summers will be figuring out what the next level is for an institution some call the "North Star" of American higher education. And if he can figure that out, how does he get 2,000 faculty, 6,600 undergraduates, 9,000 graduate students, alumni, and administrators to follow him?

"For Harvard to stay right at the top and be seen at the top, it's going to be forced into some significant change - and universities are not institutions that readily embrace change," says Frank Newman, director of "The Futures Project" on education policy at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Summers brings many qualities to his new job. He is intellectually brilliant. After getting his BS at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he earned his PhD in economics at Harvard. …

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