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Embattled Harvard leader resigns after short tenure

Dr. Lawrence Summers resigned Tuesday as president of Harvard University after a relatively brief and turbulent tenure of five years, nudged by Harvard's governing corporation and facing a vote of no-confidence from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The announcement by Summers, an economist and a former secretary of the treasury, disappointed many students on the campus and raised questions about future leaders' ability to govern Harvard with its vocal and independent-minded faculty.

But advisers and confidants of Summers said he privately concluded a week ago that he should step down, after members of Harvard's governing corporation and friends - particularly from the Clinton administration - made it clear that his presidency was lost.

Summers, who earns a salary of $579,000 a year, is to leave office June 30. Derek Bok, 75, who was Harvard's president from 1971 to 1991, will serve as interim president until a successor is found.

Hailed in his first days as a once-in-a-century leader, Summers arrived with plans to expand the campus, put new focus on undergraduate education and integrate the university's schools. But he eventually alienated professors with a personal style that many saw as bullying and arrogant.

His desire to change Harvard's culture, which he saw as complacent, was accompanied by slights to some faculty and missteps like his statement last year that women might lack an intrinsic aptitude for math and science.

And some of his major decisions - including overhauling the undergraduate curriculum, appointing deans and mapping out a new campus - were hugely divisive at the 370-year-old university.

Several prominent donors said they were aghast at Summers' fall.

"How can anyone govern a university where a fraction of faculty members can force a president out?" said Joseph O'Donnell, a Boston business executive who is a former member of Harvard's Board of Overseers and a prominent donor.

But several of Summers' faculty critics - who are predominantly in the humanities and social sciences, but extended across the university - said the president made the right decision.

"A strong leader is not just someone who can name a goal or force a change," said Mary Waters, a sociology professor, "but someone who can bring out the best in people and find ways to encourage teamwork."

While Harvard negotiated a university professorship for Summers - the highest faculty position at Harvard, with rights to teach in any department - his friends said they did not know if he would take it. His sabbatical year, they said, may be a moment for him to survey his opportunities, from Wall Street to government.