Mike the Mad Biologist

Summers’ Sleaziness Still Surprises

From The NY Times’ Frank Rich comes this amazing tidbit about Obama economic advisor Larry Summers:

I was less shocked by the White House’s disclosure of Summers’s recent paydays than by a bit of reporting that appeared deep down in the Times follow-up article on that initial news. The reporter Louise Story wrote that Summers had done consulting work for another hedge fund, Taconic Capital Advisors, from 2004 to 2006, while still president of Harvard.

That the highly paid leader of arguably America’s most esteemed educational institution (disclosure: I went there) would simultaneously freelance as a hedge-fund guy might stand as a symbol for the values of our time. At the start of his stormy and short-lived presidency, Summers picked a fight with Cornel West for allegedly neglecting his professorial duties by taking on such extracurricular tasks as cutting a spoken-word CD. Yet Summers saw no conflict with moonlighting in the money racket while running the entire university. The students didn’t even get a CD for his efforts — and Harvard’s deflated endowment, now in a daunting liquidity crisis, didn’t exactly benefit either.

Summers’s dual portfolio in Cambridge has already led to one potential intermingling of private business and public policy in his new White House post. He tried — and, mercifully, failed — to install the co-founder of Taconic in the job of running the TARP bailouts. But again, Summers’s potential conflicts of interest seem less telling than the conflict of values that his Harvard double-résumé exemplifies.

The presidency of Harvard pays a lot of money. In fact, it pays better than the President of the United States. There has to be an equally-qualified potential advisor who understands that simply because something is legal, does not mean that it is appropriate.

Amazing. And if I had been on Harvard’s board, I would have fired him for that. Although maybe this explains how altie medicine took hold at Harvard. They’ll believe anything…


  1. #1 Eric Lund
    April 13, 2009

    The presidency of Harvard pays a lot of money.

    And one of the reasons for this is that being president of a major research university (let alone Harvard) is a truly full-time job. Not just 40 hours a week, but an always-on-duty kind of job. You have to spend a lot of time talking with alumni and convincing them to give money to the university–there are other things you have to do, but that’s the primary job.

    And if I had been on Harvard’s board, I would have fired him for that.

    For that matter, if the president of my current university (which is nowhere near Harvard in the rankings) did that and I were on the board, I’d fire him, too. For the president of a research university to take consulting fees from a Wall Street firm and not get fired for it is well into Whiskey Tango Foxtrot territory.

  2. #2 Barry
    April 14, 2009

    I’m coming more and more to the opinion that Harvard (and Chicago) should be castrated for the good of the country. Harvard has been described as a hedge fund which maintains a university as a tax dodge, and the leadership of Harvard seems to believe that.