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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Did Russia Exposé Help Sink Harvard's President?

NEW YORK -- Two years ago, when David McClintick, an author and investigative journalist, agreed to write an exposé on Harvard University's effort on behalf of the United States government to help Russia privatize its economy in the 1990s, he had little inkling the article would play a part in forcing the ouster of Harvard's president, Lawrence 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 six weeks before Summers' resignation, which he announced last Tuesday. The move came just two weeks after a Feb. 7 meeting when the president was challenged on several issues, including his reaction to events described in McClintick's article.

In roughly 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 at a time when they were working under contract to establish capitalism.

Their behavior led the United States government to file civil charges against Harvard, Shleifer and Hay for 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 subjected to any disciplinary action from Harvard.

Some Harvard watchers attribute that to Summers' influence, though he formally recused himself from the matter, and they see the entire 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 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," he said. "The wheeling and dealing and the internal dynamics of the group are fascinating."

There is a wide range of opinion in the powerful circle of Harvard watchers on just how significant McClintick's article was in galvanizing faculty members. Richard Bradley, the author of "Harvard Rules: Lawrence Summers and the Battle for the World's Most Powerful University," has written frequently about the scandal on his blog (www.richardbradley.net).

"Suddenly, you couldn't just say this was an arcane legal dispute in which one party had somehow fallen afoul of the law," Bradley said. "Suddenly, this was exposed as a really unattractive and deliberate pattern of behavior and cover-up that quite dramatically pointed an arrow at Larry Summers."

The article was sent anonymously in brown envelopes to some senior faculty members at Harvard, according to Harry Lewis, professor of computer science and the author of the forthcoming book, "Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education."

"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,'" Lewis said.

Frederick Abernathy, an engineering professor, announced at the Feb. 7 faculty meeting how to find the article online, and he asked Summers, who had been deposed in the litigation against Harvard, if he had an opinion on the matter. According to John Longbrake, senior director of communications, Summers replied, "I am not knowledgeable of the facts and circumstances to be able to express an opinion as a consequence of my recusal."

Longbrake said Sunday: "Neither the article in Institutional Investor nor the case played any role in President Summers' decision to step down. As his letter makes clear, he reluctantly concluded that the rifts between himself and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty made it infeasible for him to advance the agenda of renewal that he saw as crucial to Harvard's future."

Summers' recusal, said Robert 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, however, maintain that the events detailed by McClintick were a negligible factor in Summers' departure. The report is available at Institutionalinvestor.com.

"I would bet you there weren't more than 20 or 30 people who read it," said Alan Dershowitz, who has taught law at Harvard for 42 years and wrote an op-ed about the resignation for The Boston Globe.

"It seems to me it was full of leaps of logic. Once people made up their minds they wanted to get rid of Summers, they were dragging up anything," he said.

In an e-mail message, McClintick said that he did not write his article to set any particular chain of events in motion. "I try to raise questions," McClintick said. "I don't like to preach, pontificate or tell the reader what to think."

Michael Carroll, the editor at Institutional Investor who first approached McClintick with the story, said McClintick's article, the longest published in the magazine since he began editing it in 1999, 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.

McClintick concurred. "If this case shows anything," he said, "it's that intelligence does not equal wisdom."