[Paleopsych] CHE and NYT: More on Summer's Remarks
checker at panix.com
Wed Jan 19 15:09:18 UTC 2005
Female Professors Assail Remarks by Harvard's President, Who Says It's All a
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.1.19
By PIPER FOGG
Harvard University's president, Lawrence H. Summers, has come under
fire by some scholars for suggesting that one reason fewer women make
it to the top in mathematics and science may be the result of innate
differences from men.
Some prominent female scholars have called his remarks offensive,
while other academics say his comments synthesized some current
research on gender differences. Mr. Summers said his views, delivered
on Friday at an economics conference in Cambridge, Mass., have been
Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology who led at 1999 panel on the status of women there,
walked out in disgust in the middle of Mr. Summers's speech, she said.
News of the incident was first reported on Monday in The Boston Globe.
About 50 people attended the conference, sponsored by the National
Bureau of Economic Research and titled "Diversifying the Science and
Engineering Workforce: Women, Underrepresented Minorities, and Their
S&E Careers," at which Mr. Summers gave a luncheon talk. While no
transcript of his remarks exists, conference attendees say he
discussed several possible hypotheses for why fewer women than men are
in the top ranks in science and math at elite universities.
He discussed the theory that women with children are reluctant to work
the 80-hour weeks that are required to succeed in those fields.
Conference attendees said Mr. Summers then discussed the possibility
that men and women may have different innate abilities that were
previously attributed to socialization.
When Ms. Hopkins heard that, she said, "I was profoundly upset."
"That kind of discrimination holds people back," she said.
But Mr. Summers, an economist who served as treasury secretary in the
Clinton administration, said in an interview on Tuesday that people
have misinterpreted his remarks as suggesting that women cannot do
"Nothing I said or believe provides any basis for either stereotyping
women or for fatalism about our ability to draw more women into
scientific careers," he said.
He added that he did intend to challenge an audience of social
scientists to understand the many factors that have led to the
underrepresentation of women in science and engineering, and he noted
that more study is needed on the issue.
Not everyone was offended by Mr. Summers's speech. Paula E. Stephen, a
professor of economics at the University of Georgia, said that Mr.
Summers had organized a set of comments on current research findings
on the topic and also put forth potential remedies, including
providing professors with more child-care services.
One reason some reactions to Mr. Summers's comments were so vehement
may have been a suspicion that he is insufficiently committed to women
in academe. Last fall, 26 female professors at Harvard complained that
the number of tenured women there had declined during his presidency.
He has said that he is committed to the advancement of women.
Background articles from The Chronicle:
* Where the Elite Teach, It's Still a Man's World (12/3/2004)
* Female Professors Say Harvard Is Not Granting Tenure to Enough
* How Babies Alter Careers for Academics (12/5/2003)
No Break in the Storm Over Harvard President's Words
NYT January 19, 2005
By SAM DILLON and SARA RIMER
Members of a Harvard faculty committee that has examined
the recruiting of professors who are women sent a protest
letter yesterday to Lawrence H. Summers, the university's
president, saying his recent statements about innate
differences between the sexes would only make it harder to
attract top candidates.
The committee told Mr. Summers that his remarks did not
"serve our institution well."
"Indeed," the letter said, "they serve to reinforce an
institutional culture at Harvard that erects numerous
barriers to improving the representation of women on the
faculty, and to impede our current efforts to recruit top
women scholars. They also send at best mixed signals to our
high-achieving women students in Harvard College and in the
graduate and professional schools."
The letter was one part of an outcry that continued to
follow remarks Mr. Summers made Friday suggesting that
biological differences between the sexes may be one
explanation for why fewer women succeed in mathematic and
One university dean called the aftermath an "intellectual
tsunami," and some Harvard alumnae said they would suspend
donations to the university.
Perhaps the most outraged were prominent female professors
"If you were a woman scientist and had two competing offers
and knew that the president of Harvard didn't think that
women scientists were as good as men, which one would you
take?" said Mary C. Waters, chairman of Harvard's sociology
department, who with other faculty members has been
pressing Mr. Summers to reverse a sharp decline in the
hiring of tenured female professors during his
At the center of the storm, Mr. Summers posted a statement
late Monday night on his Web page, saying that his comments
at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit
economic research organization in Cambridge had been
misconstrued and pledging to continue efforts to "attract
and engage outstanding women scientists."
"My aim at the conference was to underscore that the
situation is likely the product of a variety of factors and
that further research can help us better understand their
interplay," he said. "I do not presume to have confident
answers, only the conviction that the harder we work to
research and understand the situation, the better the
prospects for long term success."
Mr. Summers also received support from Hanna H. Gray, a
former president of the University of Chicago and a member
of the Harvard Corporation, the university's governing
body. Dr. Gray said she believed that Mr. Summers's remarks
had been misinterpreted.
"I think that Larry Summers is an excellent president of
Harvard, firmly committed and deeply respectful of the role
of women in universities and one who is anxious to
strengthen and enhance that," she said.
At Friday's conference, Mr. Summers discussed possible
reasons so few women were on the science and engineering
faculties at research universities, and he said he would be
Among his hypotheses were that faculty positions at elite
universities required more time and energy than married
women with children were willing to accept, that innate sex
differences might leave women less capable of succeeding at
the most advanced mathematics and that discrimination may
also play a role, participants said. There was no
transcript of his remarks.
His remarks caused one professor to walk out and another to
openly challenge them.
In their letter to Mr. Summers, the standing committee on
women, reproached him for thinking that he could speak as
an individual and an economist at a small, private
conference without it reflecting on the university.
They said it "was obvious that the president of the
university never speaks entirely as an individual,
especially when that institution is Harvard and when the
issue on the table is so highly charged."
On and off the campus, Mr. Summers's remarks were the
subject of heated debate yesterday.
Denice D. Denton, the dean of engineering at the University
of Washington who confronted Mr. Summers over his remarks
at the conference, said that her phone had not stopped
ringing and that she had received scores of e-mail messages
on the subject. She said Mr. Summers's remarks might have
put new energy into a longstanding effort to improve the
status of women in the sciences.
"I think they've provoked an intellectual tsunami," Dr.
Howard Georgi, a physics professor and former chairman of
the department, sent an e-mail message to Mr. Summers,
saying he made a mistake in judgment in accepting the
invitation to speak as a provoker. Dr. Georgi also sent a
note to his students assuring them that they were
Maud Lavin, who graduated from Harvard in the class of
1976, was one of the first women to take a demanding
theoretical math sequence, Math 11 and Math 55, and is an
associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of
Chicago. Ms Lavin said in an interview yesterday that she
would not donate any more money to Harvard as long as Mr.
Summers was president, after firing off an angry e-mail
message to him.
"I am offended and furious about your remarks on women in
science and mathematics," Ms. Lavin wrote. "Arguments of
innate gender difference in math are hogwash and indirectly
serve to feed the virulent prejudices still alas very alive
and now even more so due to your ill-informed remarks."
Students were also discussing the remarks. Thea Daniels,
21, a Harvard senior majoring in sociology said she and her
roommates spent Monday evening talking about them.
"We were just upset," Ms. Daniels said. "It's disconcerting
that the man who is supposed to have your best interest in
mind and is the leader of your education community thinks
less of us."
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