Despite Summers, questions remain about Levin’s leadership

To the Editor:

Whatever sympathy he may have for his Cambridge colleague, President Levin must feel a little satisfaction as Larry Summers becomes the shortest serving Harvard president since the Civil War. But Levin should hesitate before turning Summers’ failure into a vindication of his own leadership style, as should the News (“Cantabs can benefit from Yale’s example,” 2/23).

To his credit, Levin has provided capable management of Yale while remaining almost universally admired, if not loved. It is hard to imagine Summers’ brand of public administrative ugliness going on under Levin’s steady hand. But after nearly 13 years in office, it is still difficult to see what the legacy of the Levin era will be. He has supervised a renovation of Yale’s residential colleges and a tremendous expansion of the University’s endowment and has made a strong recommitment to the sciences. But none of these achievements suggests a grand new vision for the University, and none seems designed to make a prospective student’s choice between Harvard, Princeton and Yale a no-brainer. Levin rarely attempts more than incremental steps to move Yale ahead of its rivals and often seems content simply to keep up.

In his short tenure, Summers pushed Harvard to establish an entire second campus on the other side of the Charles River. He began a restructuring of the university’s undergraduate education that is far more expansive than what Yale’s curricular review attempted two years ago. Perhaps most importantly, he moved to draw together a university whose schools often act as largely autonomous bodies.

Summers had a plan to make Harvard the pre-eminent academic institution in the world, one that would stand head and shoulders above Yale. That plan, of course, is now very much in doubt, since much of Summers’ vision will likely be kicked to the curb along with him. Nevertheless, we could still easily see a radically different Harvard in the coming years, one that owes a great debt to the vision of its now-humbled president. For all his achievements, Levin has never aspired to such heights, and it remains unclear whether he is up to the challenge.

Will Sullivan ’06

Feb. 23, 2006

The writer is a former Managing Editor for the News.

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