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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.

By Ezra Klein  | September 22, 2010; 1:40 PM ET
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Next: Money matters -- even for teachers


Remember that Summers is considered anti-feminist political poison at Harvard. Any attempt by the University to bend the tenure rules for him would provoke a storm of outrage from the faculty and reopen that controversy.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 22, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

My reaction was the same as yours: of course Larry Summers will be able to land a job back at Harvard even if he stays past the two-year limit. Even if Harvard's budget constraints resulted in him not returning there, surely he would easily find a job at another tier 1 institution. It seems like the controversy surrounding his comments have died down over the past couple of years, and who wouldn't want to hire the out-going economic advisor to the president? All that said, his wife is a faculty member at Harvard, so returning there could very well (and understandably so) be an important priority for him.

Posted by: DJM5 | September 22, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Not the first time indeed. If memories serves; during the Clinton Administration there were resignations of two senior HHS officials deeply involved with and unhappy with the final outcome of welfare reform legislation. Both were Harvard professors who also indicated that they had to return to Harvard because of the two (2) year time limitation. If memory serves they were Mary Jo Bane and David Ellwood. Both returned to Harvard, Kennedy School; still there in fact.

Posted by: nibbler | September 22, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

summer's is smart?
really? the guy who can't open his mouth without inserting his size 7 shoe?

if you mean he works on "theories" fine, but if you mean he's actually had success in anything other than promoting himself, No

Posted by: newagent99 | September 22, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

great, more grade inflation at Harvard

Posted by: bdballard | September 22, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Mankiw's comment is hilarious on so many levels. First that wonderfully subtle statement that senior faculty are not expected to sully their hands by teaching ("good deal . . . maximum flexibility regarding teaching") This is followed by the even more hilarious view the needs of economic scholarship would be best served by younger scholars than by an "extinct volcano" who was merely at the center of the greatest economic storm to hit the world in eighty years. But I'm sure his modeling skills are quite rusty and he would get harshly dealt with by reviewers for the American Economic Review. I mean, my god, he might write a *memoir* about the Administration's effort to deal with economic catastrophe. The horror!

Posted by: robbins2 | September 22, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

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