What are we to make of Roberto Mangabeira Unger's return to Massachusetts? It seems plausible that the professor is an honest man who did not profit from his stay in government, and that he needs to keep his salary. His chances of obtaining an elected position are slim, unless he manages to learn enough Portuguese to communicate with voters in a few short months, and opportunities to make a living as a public intellectual or through speaking fees are limited in Brazil. It would not have been prudent to give up a sinecure.
He has served the Lula administration well in his capacity of head of Sealopra, essentially an academic asylum to which lunatics be committed voluntarily before they become criminally insane. The incompetent economists at Sealopra, led by Torquemada de Campinas, have not done nearly as much harm to Brazil's economy as, for instance, the troika comprising Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, Celso Amorim, and Marco Aurélio Garcia have to Brazil's international relations. Part of the explanation is the absence of an academic asylum such as Sealopra or Unicamp for foreign policy experts, who as a consequence tend to congregate at the Instituto Rio Branco, where they attain the capacity to bring about real damage. Fortunately for Lula his popularity depends on the country's economic performance and not on its international credibility. We may surmise that Lula appreciates Prof Mangabeira's contribution, but at the same time is satisfied to let him go.
What about Harvard? Let us remember that American universities, in particular the wealthy private ones, suffer from much fewer bureaucratic encumbrances than Brazilian academia, yet they are bound by some rules, tenure among them. Had Harvard a desire to keep Prof Mangabeira in the faculty, it would have been straightforward to offer an extension of his leave; but it is difficult to force out a professor who once made important contributions and later falls out of touch with reality or becomes afflicted with agnosia gravis. Harvard's one opportunity to let Prof Mangabeira go would be for him to decide to stay in his other job. He decided otherwise.