Larry Summers has been ousted as the President of Harvard. (I’m based in the Boston/Cambridge area, so you can imagine the news coverage here.) If you look at the facts, it’s clear to me, he was canned because he didn’t fit the culture of the institution. (See the USA Today editorial and the Time article.)I did not attend Harvard. I have no affiliation with Harvard, so it’s possible I can’t see all of the cultural issues from the outside. But here’s what stands out for me:
- It’s not acceptable for the President of Harvard to question generally accepted ideas. (His questions re women’s genetic capability to perform hard science. I would have loved to hear the debate on that!)
- It’s not acceptable to provoke change at Harvard. Instead, change needs to come about slowly. Summers was trying to provoke change.
- It’s not acceptable to discuss what should be measured and rewarded. His idea that faculty should teach and focus on real-world problems is an example.
I would have loved to see the academics sink their teeth into these questions, perform real research and debate the answers. Harvard missed the boat–the faculty could have used the publicity of the debates to further define their brand and make Harvard an even more valuable institution.
But here’s what I saw: a bunch of overpaid underworked faculty who are more interested in protecting their positions than in helping undergraduates or graduate students learn. Daughter #1 didn’t consider Harvard. I hope Daughter #2 doesn’t either. I don’t want to subsidize a bunch of close-minded ivory-tower academics who aren’t willing to ask hard questions, research and discuss the results. That’s not an academic institution. An institution yes, academic, no.
Harvard wouldn’t hire me either to take Summers’ place 🙂 I wouldn’t fit the culture (and I don’t have PhD). But it’s clear that their next pick for President needs to fit enough of the culture so that he or she has the influence and negotiation skills to do whatever needs to be done. Summers may or may not have those skills–but given the culture he was unable to use them effectively.Cultural fit is critically important for any knowledge worker. I don’t know enough about other kinds of roles, but I suspect it’s equally important for other jobs. Make sure that when you hire, you consider how a person fits into your culture–even if you want to change it.