Harvard, Larry, and Canon Law

From today's Boston Globe, yet another story about the no-confidence vote for Harvard President Larry Summers earlier this week.

As the partner of a Harvard grad student, and, beginning July 1st of this year, as a future resident tutor and therefore "officer", however junior, of the university, I have spent most of the past month in conversations about President Summers...and Harvard isn't in the NCAA tourney (unlike my current academic domicile, Boston College, who won yesterday in their first round game against Ivy League champs UPenn, go eagles, etc.), so Larry remains the major topic of conversation.

The merits of the case, pro and con arguments, etc., are all over the place, but what's interesting to me today in this Boston Globe story is the very real problem of what a "no confidence" vote of the Arts and Sciences faculty actually means. Since hiring and firing of presidents is the sole responsibility of the seven-person, illuminati-like Harvard Corporation, this vote doesn't have any practical effect, and yet many of the faculty voting presumably think that it should. As a theologian working primarily in ecclesiology, I'm constantly being reminded of how relatively neglected R.C. canon law has been by contemporary acdemic theologians; as people like Fr. Joseph Komonchak at Catholic U. and Fr. Gilles Routhier at Laval have consistently pointed out, if your grand ideas about how things should be run in the church are never translated into actual structures by which things are run, then $1.58 and an ecclesiology of communion will still only buy you a tall coffee at Starbucks. Harvard's problems in translating many people's feelings, even their solid, reasoned intellectual judgments, regarding Larry Summers may well reflect a particularly academic temptation of confusing good intentions with results. It's no accident that every major decree of the Council of Trent included canons for the implementation of the decree; it's a lesson in institutional praxis for both contemporary ecclesiology and the esteemed faculty of Harvard.

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