BOSTON (AP) Lawrence Summers was touring the Harvard University athletic fields in September when he saw a group of linemen lunging for the football. Without warning, Summers in suit and tie jumped into the middle of the drill, got the ball and began running the show.
“He kind of off-the-cuff took over one of the drills,” coach Tim Murphy recalled. “I think our kids got a big kick out of it.”
Whether on the athletic field or with the faculty, Harvard”s new president has been leaping into the fray since he took the post in July.
Former University of Michigan President Lee Bollinger was a finalist for the position Summers holds. Bollinger is to become president of another Ivy League institution, Columbia University, this summer.
Among the issues Summers, the former Clinton administration treasury secretary, has faced in recent months:
n a threat by some of the nation”s top black scholars to defect to Princeton.
n questions about his support for Harvard”s banished ROTC program.
n opposition from faculty members to his push to hire younger professors.
n accusations by Hispanic studies professors that he is not supportive.
n demands by janitors and other low-paid Harvard employees for a “living wage.”
The flurry of controversies in the first months is no surprise, said Summers” friend Donna Shalala, who served with him in President Clinton”s Cabinet and is now president of the University of Miami.
“Everybody makes demands,” said Shalala, former secretary of health and human services. “It”s called “gotcha.” They”re looking for everything. Fundamentally, they”re wondering, “Who is this person and what do they care about?””
Summers already has established a far more confrontational style than his predecessor, Neil Rudenstine. His bluntness some say abrasiveness has bruised egos, but his energy has many excited.
Summers, 47, seemed unfazed by the recent challenges during a brief interview, but acknowledged: “Certainly, I come to Harvard after having been away for a decade with a lot to learn.”
Summers, a native of New Haven, Conn., was an economics professor at Harvard for 10 years, beginning in 1983, before leaving to work in the Treasury. Clinton appointed him secretary in 1999.
An early test for Summers at Harvard came after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He responded by praising Harvard”s ROTC program, which was kicked off campus during the Vietnam War and later stripped of university funding because of the military”s “don”t ask, don”t tell” policy on gays.