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March 20, 2005
David Warsh, Proprietor

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Dangerous Games

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted narrowly last week to censure President Lawrence Summers. An unusually rich account of what was said at the meeting appeared soon after on Harvard Magazine’s Website.

Economics professor Benjamin Friedman was described as making what seemed to me the wisest remarks.

In his experience, Friedman said, he and colleagues often had different points of view, Disagreements were common, among themselves, with deans, with department chairs and with the president.

But doing something that “amounts to changing the terms of engagement” within the university, so that disagreements resulted in calls to The New York Times and votes of no confidence, would long haunt the faculty.

The awkward silence that accompanied the announcement of the tally suggested that many of his colleagues had, in that instant, concluded he was right. The conviction only grew in the days that followed.

It’s not too late.  Newspapers also owe a more sober consideration of their part of the bargain. If votes of confidence were held tomorrow, the faculty and the papers might be losers, too.

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