Editorials

Larry Summers and the Shame of Harvard

While Larry Summers may have ultimately been the architect of his own downfall as president of Harvard University, his announced resignation raises as many questions about Harvard as it does about Mr. Summers.

A brash man lacking in diplomatic skills, Mr. Summers nevertheless had his priorities right, and brought real vision to an Ivy League job that is too often reduced to that of figurehead and fund-raiser. A former Secretary of the Treasury who himself had been Harvard’s youngest tenured professor at age 28, Mr. Summers came to the job five years ago with an agenda to reinvigorate academics at a time when many college campuses are beholden to the dull devotees of political correctness. He spoke out against grade inflation—he didn’t want Harvard students to just get A’s; he wanted them to get an education. Most shocking of all, he wanted teachers to actually teach. And the students loved him for it: After his departure last week, a Harvard Crimson poll found students supporting him by a 3-to-1 margin.

It was the professors, particularly among the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who bristled under Mr. Summers’ demands. He dared to privately suggest to African-American Studies professor Cornel West that he spend more time on scholarship. Mr. West, a self-promoting propagandist and pal of anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan, reacted in an infantile manner by going public, calling Mr. Summers “the Ariel Sharon of American higher education.” Predictably, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton jumped into the fray.

It wasn’t the only time Mr. Summers would stand up to fools for the good of the university. In 2002, he made news by addressing the growing problem of anti-Semitism among American university students and faculty. Several Harvard professors and students had been demanding that the university withdraw its investments from Israel, a demand that was mirrored at 40 other U.S. universities. Mr. Summers delivered a major speech warning of this bigoted trend.

If he alienated some faculty members, Mr. Summers also handed them the ammunition they needed to build a case against him. Last year, at a conference of economists, he famously questioned the “intrinsic aptitude” of women when it came to the sciences, followed by some equally strange remarks about other groups which are “significantly under-represented in an important activity,” including Catholics in investment banking, white men in pro basketball and—most bizarre of all—Jews in farming. His statement about women was the match that sparked the fire which eventually consumed him.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, gleeful that Mr. Summers had so publicly humiliated himself, delivered a vote of no confidence last March and was preparing to do so again; the seven-member governing corporation stood by him for a year, but last week apparently told him it was time to go.

Where does Harvard go from here? Former president Derek Bok has come in as interim president, but what scholar or executive would choose to take the job full time, knowing that a faculty alliance holds such power over the management of the university?

A Bronx Tale

Usually, when a rental residential building in New York converts to co-op, residents man the barricades and shout slogans from Class War 101. Something entirely different—and welcome—is happening in the Bronx.

There, the tenants of two huge apartment complexes are working with real-estate investors to buy the buildings and convert the apartments to co-ops. There’s no talk about greed and exploitation. Instead, the residents of the Lafayette-Morrison and Lafayette-Boynton complexes—who are low- to middle-income people—say they are eager to become homeowners. And why not?

The two complexes, constructed as part of New York State’s Mitchell-Lama initiative, were designed for tenants of moderate means. Builders received generous government subsidies as part of a deal to keep rents affordable.

More than a decade ago, the eight buildings—which contain more than 1,800 apartments—began to deteriorate. The state had to step in and take over management. Rather than accept the inevitability of decline, however, the tenants organized and began agitating for a better solution: home ownership.

Working with a group called Apollo Real Estate Advisors and a not-for-profit development company, the tenants worked out a deal that will allow them to buy their apartments for about 25 percent below the market rate. This will allow the buildings to continue to house people making from $30,000 to $60,000 a year.

Many Mitchell-Lama buildings have gone on the open market in recent years as the program’s subsidies expire. The result, of course, has been the displacement of longtime tenants and the conversion of moderate-income housing into so-called luxury housing. The Bronx complex easily could have gone in that direction—some of the apartments have wonderful views of Long Island Sound. Imagine that on a real-estate pitch!

Instead, thanks to the tenants themselves, this slice of affordable housing won’t disappear from the Bronx. Even better, the apartments will be owner-occupied. That’s how New York City re-invents itself—one apartment at a time.

Hollywood East

Not so long ago, it was conventional wisdom that TV shows and movies about New York were never filmed in New York. Producers chose soundstages in Hollywood and streets in Toronto instead. But in the past few years, the city has truly emerged as a major site for TV and film production. The latest evidence: Silvercup Studios plans to build a $1 billion, two-million-square-foot complex along the Queens waterfront. The project—designed by Lord Richard Rogers, who also designed the Pompidou Center in Paris—would include soundstages, offices for entertainment companies, retail spaces and 1,000 apartments in high-rise residential towers.

Silvercup already owns soundstages (where The Sopranos is filmed) in Long Island City. The film and TV production company was started in 1983 by Stuart and Alan Suna, two brothers from Roslyn, Long Island, along with their late father, Harry, a real-estate developer who owned the famed Silvercup Bakery building.

The time is right for the expansion. The number of days that film crews spent shooting in New York rose by 35 percent over the past two years. In 2005, over 250 films were shot in the city, up from 180 in 2003, and over 100 TV shows are currently taping in New York. Meanwhile, Kaufman Astoria Studios—the city’s first film studio, also in Queens—is planning its own expansion, and the 15-acre Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard is flourishing as well.

Not only will the new Silvercup complex bring money into the city’s economy, it will also help revive the long-neglected waterfront. The Bloomberg administration’s commissioner of film, theatre and broadcasting, Katherine Oliver, deserves credit for creating the conditions for Hollywood to feel at home in New York.

Editorials