Two years ago, when David McClintick, an author and investigative journalist, agreed to write an expose on Harvard University's effort on behalf of the U.S. government to help Russia privatize its economy in the 1990s, he had little inkling that the article would play a part in the ouster of Harvard's president, Lawrence H. Summers.
"I was surprised that he was gone by February of '06," said McClintick, and "that it happened as rapidly as it did."
How Harvard Lost Russia was published in the January issue of Institutional Investor magazine, a subscription-only publication, about a month and a half before Summers' resignation, which he announced last Tuesday.
Summers quit two weeks after a Feb. 7 meeting at which he was challenged on several issues, including his reaction to events described in McClintick's article.
In about 18,500 words (22,007 including sidebars), McClintick chronicled financial improprieties by those in charge of Harvard's Russia project, including Andrei Shleifer, a professor of economics who is a friend and protege of Summers, and Jonathan Hay, a Harvard-trained lawyer. The two men were accused of making personal investments in Russia while they were working under contract to establish capitalism in the former Soviet nation.
Their behavior led the U.S. government to file civil charges against Harvard, Shleifer and Hay alleging fraud, breach of contract and making false claims.
In a settlement reached last summer, Harvard agreed to pay $26.5 million. Hay was ordered to pay a fine based on his future earnings, and Shleifer agreed to pay $2 million, though none of the parties admitted wrongdoing. Shleifer has not been disciplined by Harvard.
Some Harvard watchers attribute that to Summers' influence, though he formally recused himself from the matter, and they see the affair, assiduously detailed by McClintick, as an indelible stain on Harvard's reputation.
McClintick, 65, a 1962 graduate of Harvard, is a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of several books, including Indecent Exposure, which investigated a financial scandal at Columbia Pictures. That book was a finalist for the National Book Award and helped solidify McClintick's reputation as a meticulous investigator.
"I'd never really written about academia before, but here again, one reason I was drawn to it was you had this very small group of exceptionally brilliant people, very young people, basically trying to save Russia and then an even smaller group corrupting the enterprise," McClintick said.
Harry R. Lewis a professor of computer science and the author of the coming book Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education, said: "I certainly got people calling me up from the faculty, including emeriti faculty and people I hadn't seen in a long time, because I was quoted in it, and saying, 'Wow, I never knew this story.' "
Frederick H. Abernathy, a professor of mechanical engineering, explained at the Feb. 7 faculty meeting how to find the article online (institutionalinvestor.com), and he asked Summers, who had been deposed in the litigation against Harvard, whether he had an opinion on the matter.
John Longbrake, senior director of communications, said Summers replied, "I am not knowledgeable of the facts and circumstances to be able to express an opinion as a consequence of my recusal."
Efforts to reach Summers for comment were unsuccessful; inquiries were referred to Longbrake.
The recusal, said Robert D. Putnam, a former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, was a turning point.
"When the president responded in a manifestly untruthful way to questions that were asked about the Shleifer case," Putnam said, "it had a devastating effect on the views of people who were to that point uncommitted, people who, like me, were strong supporters of his agenda."
Others maintain that the events detailed by McClintick were a negligible factor in Summers' departure.
"I would bet you there weren't more than 20 or 30 people who read it," said Alan M. Dershowitz, who has taught law at Harvard for 42 years and wrote an op-ed article about the resignation for The Boston Globe.
"It seems to me it was full of leaps of logic," Dershowitz said. "Once people made up their minds they wanted to get rid of Summers, they were dragging up anything."
Longbrake declined to say whether Summers, 51, had read the article and whether it had influenced his decision to resign.
Michael J. Carroll, the editor at Institutional Investor who first approached McClintick with the story, said the article warranted close attention.
"Russia was going to go the way of the West, so in come the best and brightest of Harvard, and this story shows how the best and the brightest started to do things the old Russia way," Carroll said.