Don’t use the Summers model of building faculty relationships

I once asked a librarian who was retiring his secret to getting along with teaching faculty. “Never criticize them, never tell them they’re wrong, do all you can to get them everything they want.” I nodded, but I remember being amused by what seemed to be an overly deferential approach. Of course there is a certain wisdom here, apparently not followed by the recently resigned president of Harvard Lawrence Summers.

Camille Paglia is no bootlicker, but even she notes Summers’ failures in this regard in a recent scorching editorial for the New York Times:

As president, he had a duty to research the tribal creeds and customs of those he wished to convert. Foolishly thinking plain speech and common sense would suffice, he flunked Academic Anthropology 101.

As academic librarians, we don’t need to be cowering apple polishers to have productive relationships with our faculty colleagues, but like Larry Summers, if you seek to form collaborative partnerships with them, you aren’t going to get far with conflict and confrontation.

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