Former Harvard president and Obama administration official Lawrence Summers spoke about the “culture of comfort” at Harvard and other elite college campuses during an interview with Bill Kristol published on Sunday.
In his “Conversations” series, Kristol sits down for interviews with public figures about a wide variety of issues. Kristol and Summers devoted a portion of their conversation to the rash of left-wing protests in 2015 at prominent colleges like Yale, Missouri, and Oberlin.
While president of Harvard, Summers opposed a faculty movement pushing for divestment from Israel and also sought to return ROTC to Harvard’s campus, according to Mosaic.
Kristol asked what sensitive issue caused him the most grief while at Harvard.
“They all seemed very important to me,” Summers said of the issues he took on.
“Grade inflation seemed very important to me. The culture question, the culture of comfort seemed very important to me. Questions like the university’s estrangement from people who wear uniforms seemed very important to me, and I think the collectivity in a community that was committed to a certain way of doing things, and a community that did not lack for self-regard and thought of its president more as a cheerleader than as a social critic, led to the very substantial tensions that I had with members of the faculty.”
President Obama criticized the culture of political correctness that had taken over the left wing of his party last year, after a number of high-profile incidents where students sought to insulate themselves from ideas they found harmful. Of particular note, students at the University of Michigan tried to stop American Sniper from being shown on campus, a student at Yale was reduced to profane hysterics over Halloween costumes, a Missouri professor called for “muscle” to oust a student reporter from covering a protest, and students at a number of major colleges and universities released lists of “demands” to limit free speech and make amends for perceived injustices.
The full interview is below.