Did Summers really leave to return to Harvard?
I was interested by Ed Luce's article suggesting that Larry Summers is returning to Harvard in part because Harvard gives people only two years of leave before revoking their tenure. That sounded, I thought, like a convenient excuse: Surely that wouldn't apply to someone of Summers's stature. But Greg Mankiw, himself an economist at Harvard, says there's something to it:
Different universities have different policies regarding faculty leave for policy jobs, and different degrees of enforcement. Harvard allows two years of leave, and it has the reputation of enforcing the rule rather strictly. I can imagine that Larry could have negotiated an extra semester of leave, but I would have been surprised if the university had extended his leave much beyond that. (FYI, I left my CEA job in February 2005 after being in Washington for precisely two years.)
Also, being a university professor is quite a good deal. Top pay with maximum flexibility regarding teaching etc. As I understand it, you do pretty much whatever you want.
Would Larry have been rehired by Harvard if he resigned and stayed another couple of years in Washington? Unclear. The pro case for rehiring would be that Larry is one of the smartest guys around and has a great deal of fascinating experience to share with students. The con case would be that he has been out of the academic research game for quite a while and that in a time of reduced financial resources, faculty slots should be devoted to younger scholars rather than potentially extinct volcanoes. Ironically, if Larry were on the faculty voting on this matter, the con case is the kind of argument he might have made.
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