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Globe Editorial

Summers: A truth-teller, and not just to Winklevi

March 9, 2011

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After a stormy tenure as president of Harvard, followed by a stint as top White House economic adviser, Larry Summers is back — and as crankily outspoken as ever. In a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce this week, Summers forcefully defended the government’s $787 billion stimulus program. He also endorsed his portrayal in the film “The Social Network,’’ in which he swatted away a pair of rich Harvard students who asked him to intervene in their business dispute. “I’ve read somewhere, on occasion, that people think I can be arrogant,’’ Summers told the chamber with a smile. “And if that is so, I probably was.’’

That was the common view during Summers’ Harvard reign — especially when he caused a furor for raising the idea, at a conference, that women might lag in science careers because of innate differences between the sexes. While the attendant controversy helped to speed his exit, his troubles with the Harvard faculty stemmed as much from his unwillingness to charm or coddle.

Some would argue that an unwavering grouch is precisely what Harvard needed at the time. At any rate, now that Summers has rejoined the Harvard faculty, in a tenured post as director of the Kennedy School’s Mossvar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, there’s something refreshing about his persona as a truth-telling curmudgeon who’s equally honest about himself. For the entertainment value, and the chance that he’ll say what others won’t, it’s good to have Summers back.