We’re sure Harvard is a bit embarrassed that the shabby treatment it gave former university president Larry Summers may have cost it $100 million. But is bashing a would-be donor really the best reaction?
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has said he lost interest in a planned $100 million donation when Summers resigned in February after years of struggle with the Harvard faculty. Now Harvard is saying that Ellison’s timing doesn’t make sense. But Harvard’s argument seems a little, uhm, suspect.
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Here’s the official Harvard line, as reported by Bloomberg:
Professor Christopher Murray said Ellison stopped talking to the school about the gift in November, four months before Summers resigned.
Murray said he began talking to Ellison about the gift in May 2004. In March 2005, Murray and Summers met with Ellison at his home and shook hands about the details of the donation, which Harvard pegged at $115 million.
Summers, who survived a faculty no-confidence vote in March 2005, didn't have another clash with the faculty until January of this year, three months after Ellision had stopped talking to Murray. It was that January clash with faculty that led to Summers's resignation in February.
But were those March 2005 and January 2006 clashes really so distinct? Murray seems to think that between March 2005 and January 2006 Summers and his enemies in the Harvard faculty enjoyed 10 months of love and roses.
That’s not the way we remember those months. It looked a lot more like a long struggle, a Cold War if you will, with occasional flare-ups. Couldn’t Ellison have just gotten tired of hearing from Harvard in November in light of the continuing controversy over Summers, and then totally lost interest when Summers actually resigned? Isn’t that more plausible than the idea that Ellison just decided to keep his money for no good reason at all but blame it on the Summers resignation?