Embattled Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers announced yesterday that he would step down at the end of this academic year, ending one of the shortest tenures in the university's history.
In a posting on the university Web site, Summers, the former secretary of the Treasury, said he would resign as of June 30.
"Working closely with all parts of the Harvard community, and especially with our remarkable students, has been one of the great joys of my professional life," he said in the open letter to the Harvard community.
"However, I have reluctantly concluded that the rifts between me and segments of the arts and sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard's future. I believe, therefore, that it is best for the university to have new leadership," he said. Former Harvard President Derek Bok was named interim president.
Summers tried to put the best face on his departure during an afternoon telephone news conference, insisting he was leaving with a sense of satisfaction for improving undergraduate education and launching a major expansion of the university.
But he also admitted to "mixed emotion," expressing regret for "rifts and cleavages" that damaged his relations with many of Harvard's arts and sciences faculty.
"Certainly, there were moments when I could have challenged the community more wisely and more respectfully," Summers said at one point during the conference. "Those, too, are lessons to be learned."
Summers said he had mulled resigning for several weeks, but made the decision last week before leaving for a ski trip in Colorado with his family.
Summers reportedly made his decision as influential members of the Harvard Corporation, the university's seven-member board, interviewed faculty critics of Summers' controversial management decisions and abrasive governing style.
Harvard's Arts and Science faculty had planned to vote yesterday on a motion of no confidence in Summers' leadership. The school voted for a similar measure last March after Summers angered women faculty members. Summers had questioned whether "intrinsic aptitude" rather than gender discrimination might play a critical role in the low representation of women in Harvard's science and mathematics departments.
In his remarks, Summers said yesterday that he had consulted with members of the Harvard Corporation before making his decision, but he added that he had not been asked to resign.
"My way was to challenge and always ask if there were better ways of doing things. For many, that led to positive results and was invigorating, but for others, it was threatening."
Embattled for most of his five-year tenure for his brusque treatment of professors and quickness to replace faculty heads who resisted his changes, Summers won support from academic conservatives for questioning liberal pieties and pressing for the acceptance of an ROTC program on campus. Summers again alluded to the "need to respect and venerate military service."
But he insisted that he saw no political cast to his decision to resign. "It's a mistake to try to make complex situations into caricatures," Summer said.
In his letter, he said he was looking "forward to taking up the tasks of teaching and research at the university and to returning to my professional preoccupation with questions of national and international economic policy."
Summer's departure marked the shortest stint of any Harvard president since 1862. He took office as the 27th president of Harvard on July 1, 2001, after a nine-month search for a successor to Neil L. Rudenstine.
Stephen Braun and Michael Muskal write for the Los Angeles Times.