T Nation

Larry Summers and Academic Freedom

So the story I brought up a while ago in reference to our affirmative action discussion is really taking off as a controversy at Harvard – I would liken it to a witch trial.

Larry Summers had the utter temerity to suggest that there might actually be genetic differences between male and female brains, and all hell has broken loose – besides accusing him of being sexist, various faculty groups have suddenly discovered all sorts of relevant-sounding complaints concerning his management style and whatnot that went strangely unmentioned for the previous 4 years (or however long he has been President of Harvard – I think he went in right after Clinton left office). He even noted an easily demonstrated statistical point concerning the distribution of male IQs being flatter (less congregated on the mean) than are female IQs – HOW DARE HE?

Academic freedom? Not if you want to broach a topic covered by politically correct dogma. Sure sure, if you want to harass students or call 9/11 victims Nazis, then everyone will jump to defend your academic freedom – but ask a question concerning genetics, and BAM!

Here are some relevant links to check out on this tempest in a teapot in Cambridge:

Here’s a transcript of the actual Summers comments (have fun wading through the academic verbiage):

Here’s an NYT story on the current squawking:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/18/education/18harvard.html?

Furor Lingers as Harvard Chief Gives Details of Talk on Women
By PATRICK D. HEALY and SARA RIMER

Published: February 18, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 17 - Bowing to intense pressure from his faculty, the president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, on Thursday released a month-old transcript of his contentious closed-door remarks about the shortage of women in the sciences and engineering. The transcript revealed several provocative statements by Dr. Summers about the “intrinsic aptitude” of women, the career pressures they face and discrimination within universities.

Dr. Summers’s remarks, which have only been described by others until now, have fueled a widening crisis on campus, with several professors talking about taking a vote of no confidence on the president next week. - That idea alone is unprecedented at Harvard in modern times.

Among his comments to a conference of economists last month, according to the transcript, Dr. Summers, a former secretary of the United States Treasury, compared the relatively low number of women in the sciences to the numbers of Catholics in investment banking, whites in the National Basketball Association and Jews in farming.

He theorized that a “much higher fraction of married men” than married women were willing to work 80-hour weeks to attain “high powered” jobs. He said racial and sex discrimination needed to be “absolutely, vigorously” combated, yet he argued that bias could not entirely explain the lack of diversity in the sciences. At that point, the Harvard leader suggested he believed that the innate aptitude of women was a factor behind their low numbers in the sciences and engineering.

“My best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon - by far - is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity; that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude; and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination,” Dr. Summers said, according to the transcript.

“I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them,” he added.

Over and over in the transcript, he made clear that he might be wrong in his theories, and he challenged researchers to study his propositions.

He also urged research on “the quality of marginal hires” to the faculty when efforts to diversify are under way. Do these hires, he asked, eventually turn into star professors? Or “plausible compromises” that are not unreasonable additions to the faculty? And “how many of them are what the right-wing critics of all of this suppose represent clear abandonments of quality standards?”

Several professors said Thursday that they were only more furious after reading his precise remarks , saying they felt he believed women were intellectually inferior to men.

Everett I. Mendelsohn, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, said that once he read the remarks, he could understand why Dr. Summers “might have wanted to keep it a secret.”

“Where he seems to be off the mark particularly is in his sweeping claims that women don’t have the ability to do well in high-powered jobs,” said Professor Mendelsohn, who was one of a group of faculty members who sharply criticized Dr. Summers’s leadership at a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Tuesday. “There’s an implication that they’ve taken themselves out of that role. But he brings forward no evidence.”

But Dr. Summers seemed to back away from those theories on Thursday in a letter to the faculty released with the 7,000-word transcript. In it, he said he should “have spoken differently on matters so complex,” and he said he had “substantially understated the impact of socialization and discrimination.”

“The issue of gender difference is far more complex than comes through in my comments,” he said in the letter.

The senior member of Harvard’s governing corporation, James Houghton, released a letter shortly after the transcript was made public, offering praise and support for Dr. Summers.

With the timing of the release of the transcript, at 2:15 on a class day, faculty members were still studying it and trying to digest its meaning on Thursday evening. But some faculty members said they were already drawing the conclusion that Dr. Summers believed that innate differences were a significant reason for women’s lack of success in math and science careers.

“What bothers me is the consistent assumption that innate differences rather than socialization is responsible for some of the issues he talks about,” said Howard Georgi, a physics professor who has been part of a successful effort in Harvard’s physics department to recruit more women for tenured positions.

“It’s crazy to think that it’s an innate difference,” Professor Georgi added. “It’s socialization. We’ve trained young women to be average. We’ve trained young men to be adventurous.”

In recent weeks, the Summers controversy has led to a wider debate among academics about not only innate gender differences but also the state of campus political correctness - with Dr. Summers’s supporters insisting that a left-wing cabal on the faculty was seeking to bring down his presidency over his remarks.

Among his critics on the faculty, the current outrage against Dr. Summers amounts to a culmination of reaction to three years of sharp-edged remarks, actions and displays of attitude by the Harvard president that to these professors have been divisive and unworthy of one of the world’s leading universities. Dr. Summers gained notoriety several months into the job by offending a leading professor of black studies at Harvard, Cornel West, who promptly decamped to Princeton University.

Yet some Harvard professors and leaders said that the critics were focusing too narrowly on remarks that were meant to be private and provocative, and that they were losing sight of Dr. Summers’s accomplishments at the university.

“My primary response to the transcript is that President Summers has profoundly apologized,” said Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor who is a strong supporter of Dr. Summers. “At this point the university will be much better served by looking forward rather than by parsing his comments.”

On Thursday, after the transcript was issued, Dr. West volunteered his reaction to the latest imbroglio.

“I’ve been praying for the brother, hoping he would change,” Dr. West said in an interview. “It’s clear he hasn’t changed, I feel bad for Harvard as an institution and as a great tradition. It was good to see the faculty wake up. The chickens have come home to roost.”

While Harvard professors plan to convene Tuesday to discuss the transcript and Dr. Summers’s leadership, and some have spoken of a vote of no confidence, it is the Harvard Corporation that has decisive influence over Dr. Summers’s fortunes. It stood behind him on Thursday.

Funny thing is, Larry Summers may actually be correct:

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,12033956-13762,00.html

Researchers say it is all down to differences in the reliance of the sexes on either grey matter or white matter in their brains to solve problems. They found that in intelligence tests men use 6.5 times as much grey matter as women, but women use nine times as much white matter.

Grey matter is brain tissue crucial to processing information and plays a vital role in aiding skills such as mathematics, map-reading and intellectual thought. White matter connects the brain’s processing centres and is central to emotional thinking, use of language and the ability to do more than one thing at once.

Professor Rex Jung, a co-author of the study at the University of New Mexico, said: "This may help explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing, like mathematics and map-reading, while women tend to excel at integrating information from various brain regions, such as is required for language skills. “These two very different pathways and activity centres, however, result in equivalent overall performance on broad measures of cognitive ability, such as those found on intelligence tests.”

Previous studies have shown that women have weaker spatial awareness than men, making it harder for them to read maps. Research has also found that in childhood, girls’ vocabulary develops more quickly and that in later life women can speak 20,000 to 25,000 words a day compared to a man’s 7000 to 10,000.

For the study, published in the online edition of the journal NeuroImage, researchers performed a series of brain scans on 26 female and 22 male volunteers using magnetic resonance imaging equipment. All the volunteers were in good health, had no history of brain injury and the average IQ scores of the two sexes were similar.

Their brains were scanned while they carried out tests designed to assess their general intelligence. Researchers then created a map of a brain showing the varying levels of activity in the brains of men and women. About 40 per cent of the human brain is grey matter and 60 per cent white matter.

As I stated on my blog:
http://doneasasociety.blogspot.com/2005_01_01_doneasasociety_archive.html)

A while back I read on the Volokh Conspiracy about comments Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard, about some possible explanations for the underrepresentation of women in the upper echelons of professional life, including upbringing, genetics, and time spent on child rearing.

Well, as you can imagine, the comments on genetics didn’t go over too well.

“I felt I was going to be sick,” said Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who listened to part of Summers’s speech Friday at a session on the progress of women in academia organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. She walked out in what she described as a physical sense of disgust. “My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow,” she said. “I was extremely upset.”

First of all, my minor point. How spineless must you be that simply hearing someone state that genetics may make it harder for you to do math makes your heart pound and leave you with shallow breath. C’mon. Grow up, Ms. Hopkins. Thank God the women in the military, the female firefighters and police, the millions of other women who have fought society (such as winning the right to vote) didn’t collapse upon hearing a challenging proposition.

Okay, the bigger point. According to this study, Lawrence Summers was probably right!

[quote study here]

So he’s right. Big deal, right? Well, Yeah. It is a big deal because it illustrates my second point.

We have become so concerned about political correctness, so concerned about making sure that nobody hears disparaging comments about them, that we are willing to suppress facts and truth just to make sure that nobody is hurt. It’s better to bury our heads in the sand that to admit that which is based in fact. What’s next? Are we going to stop telling kids that only women get pregnant because we don’t want to destroy a boys hope of being a mom? Awww…who am I kidding? Boys don’t get this kind of attention. Nobody would be offended by hearing that…

Research has also found that in childhood, girls’ vocabulary develops more quickly and that in later life women can speak 20,000 to 25,000 words a day compared to a man’s 7000 to 10,000.
I very much doubt that men would suddenly become short of breath and weak of knees.

But back to the point. Does this concern anyone else? How is this any different than the Catholic Church suppressing science as blasphemous? How is labeling someone like Lawrence Summers a sexist any different than labeling Galileo a heretic?

Oh yeah – he’s correct. At least from what we know now. That just makes this even a better example of the theater of the absurd that is the world of academia (note, this isn’t to say “lernin’ is bad” – it’s a much different point).

I just heard bits and pieces about this brew-ha-ha on the tube. But, from what I heard, it seems as if Summers prefaced his remarks with a caveat. The caveat being that he was just trying to spark debate, and that he was purposely proposing thoughts that would spark discussion.

But like I said, I just heard bits and pieces.

Seems the Liberals only encourage academic freedom when it supports a position they hold dear…such as bashing America.

[quote]hedo wrote:
Seems the Liberals only encourage academic freedom when it supports a position they hold dear…such as bashing America.[/quote]

What do liberals or conservatives have to do with this?

Are you saying that anyone who disagrees with Summers right to say this is liberal and anyone who agrees is conservative?

Let’s see you prove that causally.

…and for that matter, wtf does America, bashed or otherwise, have to do with this? […and you say the liberals have a one track [alleged] mind].

…and just for the record: When it was common knowledge -and conservative orthodoxy - that the earth was, not only, flat, but also the centre of the universe, I can take it as read that any other thought was obviously a liberal plot [and that if America had ‘existed’ at that point in time then proposing a non-flat, non-centralised earth would have been America bashing]. That’s if I follow your ‘point’.

Isn’t it amazing how many people ignore the empirical evidence right in front of their eyes? Men are better at sciences and math- fact. Blacks are faster and can jump higher- fact. My girlfriend can vacuum and clean better than me? Fact. My gay cousin can dress better than me? Fact. I have an inbuilt phobia about asking for directions? Fact.

[quote]deanosumo wrote:
Isn’t it amazing how many people ignore the empirical evidence right in front of their eyes?.. Blacks are faster and can jump higher- fact. … My gay cousin can dress better than me? Fact. [/quote]

My question is: since we’ve been advised by an “expert” that the reason Black people are faster etc is because they eat sweet taters, what is it that gay people eat that makes them better dressers???

It’s the pink foo-foo drinks with the umbrellas.

I am just shocked someone at Harvard had the balls to state the truth.

That the NOW spazzed only proves the case.

[quote]Joe Weider wrote:
deanosumo wrote:
Isn’t it amazing how many people ignore the empirical evidence right in front of their eyes?.. Blacks are faster and can jump higher- fact. … My gay cousin can dress better than me? Fact.

My question is: since we’ve been advised by an “expert” that the reason Black people are faster etc is because they eat sweet taters, what is it that gay people eat that makes them better dressers???[/quote]

Cock, I guess.

I am not convinced that this rises to the level of a witch-hunt, but it is entertaining.

I do not see the direct connection between Summer’s comments (as a President of Harvard) and Ward Churchill’s comments. All that they share is that they are both involved with Universities. One person (Summers) is in a distinct position of power, whereas the other one was writing a paper.

I thought that part of the reason for the uproar was that there were fewer females earning tenure since Summers was appointed. I am not sure about this part, but it was not mentioned at all.

[quote]iscariot wrote:
hedo wrote:
Seems the Liberals only encourage academic freedom when it supports a position they hold dear…such as bashing America.

What do liberals or conservatives have to do with this?

Are you saying that anyone who disagrees with Summers right to say this is liberal and anyone who agrees is conservative?

Let’s see you prove that causally.

…and for that matter, wtf does America, bashed or otherwise, have to do with this? […and you say the liberals have a one track [alleged] mind].

…and just for the record: When it was common knowledge -and conservative orthodoxy - that the earth was, not only, flat, but also the centre of the universe, I can take it as read that any other thought was obviously a liberal plot [and that if America had ‘existed’ at that point in time then proposing a non-flat, non-centralised earth would have been America bashing]. That’s if I follow your ‘point’. [/quote]

iscariot:

“What do liberals and conservatives have to do with this?” I was hoping that you were kidding when I first read that statement.

Who exactly ushered in this insane era of political correctness, which fosters the sort of behavior we are seeing at Harvard against Summers?

I agree (in part) with a previous poster deanosumo. We cannot even enter into an intelligent debate about certain topics in this country without being attacked by the thought police and the politically correct crowd. Now why is that?

Do you think the conservatives began this insanity (they might be responsible for other forms of insanity, but not this one). No, the political correctness was begun by the liberals, and on the Universities and Campuses across the nation They are directly responsible for this social train wreck!

Here’s some more background info on the Summers situation:

Crimson Blues
Harvard Clash Pits
Entrenched Faculty
Vs. Brusque Leader
Summers’s Executive Style
Hits Academic Roadblock;
Board Digs In for Fight
A Firestorm Over Gender

By ROBERT TOMSHO and JOHN HECHINGER
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 18, 2005; Page A1

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Harvard University’s secretive seven-member governing board issued an unusual statement yesterday: It stands behind the school’s president, Lawrence H. Summers.

The board’s one-page letter to “the Harvard community” sets the stage for a possible showdown between Mr. Summers and his prominent faculty critics, who are moving toward a referendum on his leadership.

The immediate source of friction between Mr. Summers and the faculty was a talk he gave at a recent conference on work-force diversification – statements that he finally made public yesterday – but the roots of the clash run deeper. (Read the transcript of the talk.)

Hired more than three years ago to retool Harvard for the 21st century, the former Treasury secretary has found the hierarchical management style common in corporations and cabinet agencies to be a tough fit for a storied university accustomed to decision making that is decentralized and collegial. The confrontation comes as more and more universities, pressed financially on several fronts, have turned to leaders with experience outside academia to reinvigorate their institutions – and have in turn often met resistance from faculty.

The campus firestorm over Mr. Summers erupted last month when he made comments at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference here suggesting that innate gender differences could help explain why fewer women gain high-level academic careers in science and math. Prominent Harvard faculty and presidents of other elite universities spoke out publicly against his views.

But the gender remarks proved to be only the catalyst that this week ignited a broader assault on Mr. Summers’s performance since he took the helm in 2001, a period that has been marked by an unusual number of public rows with the powerful faculty, many of whom have nothing to fear from him because of lifetime tenure guarantees.

At an on-campus meeting with Harvard faculty earlier this week, senior professors flayed Mr. Summers for his management tactics and sometimes abrasive manner. Several said that the stage was set for a motion to take a faculty vote of no-confidence in Mr. Summers – something no one can remember ever occurring at the university in recent times. Mr. Summers called the meeting a “searing” experience, according to the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper. Bowing to demands from faculty members, Mr. Summers released a full transcript of his comments at that Jan. 14 conference yesterday.

A vote of “no confidence” would be symbolic since, in the university’s system, the president serves at the pleasure of the board, called the Harvard Corporation. But it might be difficult for Mr. Summers to rule effectively if his faculty were not behind him.

Harvard said Mr. Summers would not be available to comment for this article.

With some professors already complaining that the governing board has not done enough to rein in the sometimes brusque former Treasury secretary, the blunt language of the transcript could wind up further inflaming the debate.

Founded in 1636, Harvard is one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, with 41 Nobel laureates among its current and former faculty and a $22.6 billion endowment that is, by far, the richest of any American university. Managing such an institution can also take its toll: Mr. Summers’s predecessor, Neil L. Rudenstine, known as a manager who agonized over details, found the Harvard presidency so taxing that he had to take time off in 1994, with Harvard acknowledging at the time that its chief was overwhelmed with the job.

When Mr. Summers came to Harvard, he was viewed as a strong figure who would speak out on national issues, reinvigorate the faculty and make undergraduate education more rigorous.

Last year, in a move supported by Mr. Summers, a Harvard committee recommended far-reaching changes in the undergraduate curriculum, which would boost the number of required science courses and encourage students to spend time abroad.

But battles with Harvard faculty broke out soon after Mr. Summers arrived. His confrontational style marked a sharp departure from that of his predecessor, Mr. Rudenstine, a soft-spoken Renaissance scholar. During Mr. Rudenstine’s tenure, Harvard’s African-American Studies department became widely regarded as a national powerhouse.

Many at Harvard are still bitter that Mr. Summers singled out one of the department’s stars, Cornel West, three years ago for a highly unusual presidential scolding of a tenured professor. Among Mr. Summers’s issues, according to Prof. West’s associates: making a hip-hop record and allegedly missing classes to help with a political campaign. At the time, a person close to Mr. Summers said he was only trying to encourage Prof. West to concentrate on scholarship and teaching. The incident inspired widespread publicity, and Prof. West ultimately left for Princeton University.

According to the transcript released yesterday, Mr. Summers cited “issues of intrinsic aptitude” to explain the scarcity of women in the higher levels of science and engineering. He also said that “it does appear that on many, many different human attributes – height, weight…overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability – there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means” or average levels of ability “there is a difference in the standard deviation and variability of a male and a female population.” Standard deviation is a statistical measurement that describes a significant degree of difference from the average, or mean.

In addition to aptitude, Mr. Summers cited as a primary factor tensions between women’s “family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity.”

Daniel S. Fisher, a Harvard professor of physics, said the new documents would not quell the tumult. He called the transcript “shocking” and added that Mr. Summers’s comments at the conference are only part of the reason for faculty discontent.

Mr. Summers also told participants at the conference that women weren’t the only group underrepresented in an important activity. “To take a set of diverse examples,” he said, “the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and agriculture.”

According to the transcript, Mr. Summers cited no sources for these assertions and told conferees he was trying to be provocative with his comments.

In the latest of several apologies, the Harvard president said in a letter sent to faculty yesterday that he would have spoken differently if he could “turn back” the clock. “Though my…remarks were explicitly speculative, and noted that ‘I may be all wrong,’ I should have left such speculation to those more expert in the relevant fields,” he wrote.

Mr. Summers’s supporters predicted the moves will help fend off calls for his ouster. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz says Mr. Summers “comes off much better in the statement than he has come off up to now. He should have put this out earlier.”

Harvey C. Mansfield, a Harvard professor of government, said Mr. Summers has also taken on such issues as grade inflation and the generally liberal leanings of the school’s faculty. “He is being attacked for his strengths and not for his defects,” Prof. Mansfield said. “The liberals of Harvard lost the election last November. They are taking it out on Larry Summers.”

The turmoil that has pushed the Harvard president to the brink of a possible faculty referendum on his leadership has much to do with encounters like a session between Mr. Summers and some of his professors in November of 2003.

At the time, the university was planning a massive and still-unbuilt satellite campus that would require an undetermined number of professors to move across the Charles River from Harvard proper, to neighboring Allston, Mass. Accustomed to having a say in matters such as department mergers and new programs of study, German professor Peter Burgard asked Mr. Summers whether the faculty would be voting on the Allston plan as well.

The answer was a quick “no,” according to the professor and others who were there. “I asked why not,” Mr. Burgard recalls, “and he said because it was a personnel and financial matter and not a curricular matter even though he had justified the move to Allston on curricular grounds in a 10-page letter he sent to the faculty.”

The controversy at Harvard comes at a time when governance issues have spawned friction between more and more university presidents and faculties accustomed to a greater say in operation of their institutions. Robert Sloan resigned as president of Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, last month and took the largely ceremonial post of chancellor following several no-confidence votes by faculty. Angered by a lack of input and other issues, the faculty senate at the University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg, Miss., recently asked state officials to replace Shelby Thames, the university president.

Observers say such battles reflect broader changes in higher education. State legislatures are demanding more efficient use of tax dollars at public universities, and universities, both public and private, are becoming increasingly complex operations. Facing competing demands for limited resources, many colleges are forced to raise funds nearly full time. Many are picking top executives from the ranks of government and corporations to meet these challenges.

After earning a bachelor of science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975, Mr. Summers enrolled at Harvard as a doctoral student in economics. By 1983, at the age of 28, he had become a tenured professor of economics, one of the youngest in the school’s history.

Mr. Summers, now 50 years old, has a history of ruffling feathers with provocative remarks that get him into trouble. As chief economist at the World Bank from 1991 to 1993, he signed a memo that, in jest, argued the economic merits of dumping garbage in poor countries. As deputy Treasury secretary, in 1997, he provoked controversy when he told a small group of reporters asking about Republican efforts to repeal the estate tax that: “There is no case other than selfishness.”

With then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin as his tutor, Mr. Summers practiced being more diplomatic and circumspect. Mr. Rubin, a Harvard alumnus and a current member of the Harvard Corporation, backed his prot?g? for the Harvard presidency. Mr. Rubin did not return a call seeking comment for this article.

Early in his tenure, Mr. Summers also stirred criticism of age discrimination on campus by vetoing the offers of tenure to two 54-year-old scholars. In a 2002 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Summers said he wanted to adjust the tenure criteria the school uses in an effort to find younger candidates whose best work lay ahead of them, rather than in the past.

For many reasons, Harvard itself is difficult to govern because it has long had a decentralized power structure, in which the deans of each school within Harvard have unusual power, says Henry Rosovksy, a former dean of Harvard’s faculty of arts and sciences. Each dean traditionally controls a share of the school’s vast endowment – or, as many at the school say, “each tub on its own bottom.”

But Mr. Rosovksy points out that Harvard’s president, in another respect, has more power than those at many other institutions because, in practice, he has final approval of faculty appointments. “There’s no question that President Summers has taken steps toward achieving” greater centralization, Mr. Rosovksy said.

That effort has led to discomfort among some in the faculty, who say that Mr. Summers has assembled the trappings of a chief executive, with a larger public-relations staff and a grand style that conflates Harvard’s success with his own.

Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor of government and sociology, says universities function best with give and take between strong deans, input from the faculty as well as a president who isn’t afraid to set agendas and propose ideas.

But other professors maintain that Mr. Summers’s main failing was running afoul of ideas favored by the liberal elite. Mr. Summers, for example, has expressed his support for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which was banned from Harvard during the Vietnam era. While falling short of calling for a return, that stance has angered gay students because of the military’s prohibition of openly gay soldiers.

In a letter to the university community on behalf of the other six members of the Harvard Corporation, board member James R. Houghton said the board recognized the intensity of faculty criticisms of Mr. Summers and is taking them seriously. Mr. Houghton, who is chairman and chief executive of Corning Inc., said the Harvard president is “strongly committed” to advancing opportunities for women.

“More generally,” he added, “we know him as someone very much determined to learn from experience, to encourage discussion and debate, and to help Harvard pursue academic excellence in all of its many forms.”

Faculty members say it is unlikely that Mr. Summers will face a no-confidence vote soon, at least in part for procedural reasons. Because so many wanted to speak at this week’s meeting with Mr. Summers, it has been continued until next Tuesday.

Because a no-confidence vote was not on the agenda of the original meeting, 80% of the faculty present would have to approve consideration of such a move at next week’s session under university rules, faculty members say. If 80% of the faculty do agree to consider such a proposal next week, it could be voted up or down at that meeting by a simple majority. If not, it could be placed on the agenda of the next regularly scheduled faculty meeting, slated for March 15.

Write to Robert Tomsho at rob.tomsho@wsj.com and John Hechinger at john.hechinger@wsj.com

[quote] “What do liberals and conservatives have to do with this?” I was hoping that you were kidding when I first read that statement.

Who exactly ushered in this insane era of political correctness, which fosters the sort of behavior we are seeing at Harvard against Summers?
[/quote]

eeehhhh…not all political correctness is directly attributable to liberals v conservative and reducing it to such is a concern.

This matter, regarding Summers - irrespective of the correctness of what he said - is, in part, a free speech issue, but there is also the context and the social resonance surrounding it to consider and to my mind is at least as important.

Now, personally, I haven’t heard enough evidence either side of things to have an informed opinion - and you can bet that uninformed opinion makes up 99.99% of any response - but you can be sure that a lot of women, conservative, liberal or otherwise will be pretty pissed at an intimation that their sex determines their abilities.

Unless of course the prevailing thought is that you can be conservative until such time as you disagree with something like free-speech, then you become a PC liberal.

Frankly, as arguments go, that’s rubbish and from what I’m hearing, is using liberals as an ad hominem straw man for conservative issue dodging [on this forum].

[quote]iscariot wrote:
“What do liberals and conservatives have to do with this?” I was hoping that you were kidding when I first read that statement.

Who exactly ushered in this insane era of political correctness, which fosters the sort of behavior we are seeing at Harvard against Summers?

eeehhhh…not all political correctness is directly attributable to liberals v conservative and reducing it to such is a concern.

This matter, regarding Summers - irrespective of the correctness of what he said - is, in part, a free speech issue, but there is also the context and the social resonance surrounding it to consider and to my mind is at least as important.

Now, personally, I haven’t heard enough evidence either side of things to have an informed opinion - and you can bet that uninformed opinion makes up 99.99% of any response - but you can be sure that a lot of women, conservative, liberal or otherwise will be pretty pissed at an intimation that their sex determines their abilities.

Unless of course the prevailing thought is that you can be conservative until such time as you disagree with something like free-speech, then you become a PC liberal.

Frankly, as arguments go, that’s rubbish and from what I’m hearing, is using liberals as an ad hominem straw man for conservative issue dodging [on this forum].
[/quote]

iscariot:

It’s all about free speech my friend, not “social resonance.” Liberals (mostly) don’t like free speech if it has anything to do with things like gender matters. More spefically, women being inferior relative to math and science. Sommers can’t talk about what every person in the country over the age of 21 has known for years! And why is that? THE PC POLICE (who are mostly liberals).

I will say this, liberals love free speech (usually) if it defends a persons right to desecrate a religious statute, burn the US flag, print pornography, or talk about killing policeman in rap music (hey I think I might post this over on the rap music thread).

There’s more but you get the idea. The PC police are mostly (not entirely) liberals! Don’t like it? Sorry.

I just love being patronised, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy…

Moving on.

[quote]ZEB wrote:
iscariot:

It’s all about free speech my friend, not “social resonance.” Liberals (mostly) don’t like free speech if it has anything to do with things like gender matters. [/quote]

Maybe that would have to do with most so-called ‘gender role’ crap being absolute bollocks - although considering some of the screed I’ve read it wouldn’t surprise me to find support for the notion that women are more biologically suited to staying at vacuuming the house…

[quote] More spefically, women being inferior relative to math and science. Sommers can’t talk about what every person in the country over the age of 21 has known for years! And why is that? THE PC POLICE (who are mostly liberals).
[/quote]

As someone having a wife with a degree in pure math and is a WMO class 1 meterologist I find this amusing; now, as a general tendency it may be proved true scientifically, however, I haven’t seen enough evidence to have an informed opinion.

Now, you see, the thing with free speech is that there is a slight difference between that and ignorant free speech. Now, I’m very Voltaire about the notion of what people say but with the added proviso that people actually have a clue about what they’re boring the rest of us with.

Now, from what I contextually read and understand from the original articles posted, it appears that what Sommers’ said was that it [female math and science abilities] was [roughly] a ‘potentiality that bore further investigation based on the data he had.’ Data which doesn’t include generational factors and educational patterns of teaching and encouragement which could affect current data [or are you going to tell me that social attitudes ‘don’t’ affect social trends generations later?]

[quote]
I will say this, liberals love free speech (usually) if it defends a persons right to desecrate a religious statute, burn the US flag, print pornography, or talk about killing policeman in rap music [/quote]

ehhhh…and I suppose all the businessmen/ woman in the music and film industries making a crapload of money of such things are liberal free speech activists too?

…and as for religious statutes being desecrated, I suppose that sort of free speech is wrong, but it’s OK for fundamentalist religious speakers to denounce homosexuals, abortion, Harry Potter etc from the pulpit.

…and if we follow the black and white lines of your logic, then the morality police are all conservative?

An interesting take on the whole thing from economist Arnold Kling:

http://techcentralstation.com/022105B.html

“if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. And perhaps it’s not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean. But it’s talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class.”
– Lawrence Summers

Harvard President Lawrence Summers gave an informal talk at the National Bureau of Economic Research that some of his opponents denounced as sexist. Now that a transcript of the talk has been posted, it is clear that it as near a perfect example of judicious, thoughtful speculation as any imperfect human being might produce.

I have three daughters. Two are in college (not Harvard), and one is in high school. Their educational experience is already polluted by the anti-intellectualism represented by the hostility to Summers’ talk. To fight this pollution, the faculty at Harvard and other high-caliber universities owe Lawrence Summers nothing less than full vindication and endorsement.

True or False

At the University of Maryland, my oldest daughter, Rachel, took a class in which one test included a question in which she was asked to respond to the statement “Gender is socially determined.” This was given, not as an essay question, but as a machine-graded true-false choice. Having read the textbook for the class, Rachel knew that the machine would treat “true” as the correct answer. She herself believes that the answer is something other than “true.” Perhaps, if given an opportunity, she could have written a thoughtful, balanced essay on the topic. Evidently, however, her professor does not have a sufficiently open mind to be willing to face such an essay.

The question facing Lawrence Summers as he gave his talk was, “True or false: the explanation for the high ratio of males to females in physics, math, and engineering at universities like Harvard is cumulative sex discrimination.” Evidently, the textbook answer is “true.” Instead, Summers gave a thoughtful, balanced essay answer that was something other than “true.” For that, many modern academics, including some smug critics at MIT and other prestigious institutions, believe he deserves a bad grade. Shame on the critics. Praise to his defenders.

The Becker Test

At one point in his talk, Summers trotted out a thesis first articulated by Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, who argued that discrimination harms the discriminator. Becker’s point is that it is inefficient to allow non-economic factors to affect a market decision. Therefore, the discriminator will achieve sub-optimal results, either in terms of consumption or profits.

Suppose that in math and science, some departments discriminate against women. Then according to the Becker-Summers argument, those departments, because they are willing to choose second-rate men over first-rate women, will be at a disadvantage relative to departments that are either nondiscriminatory or which discriminate in favor of women. Summers argues that we do not see evidence of these “profit opportunities.” As Summers admits, this is a limited argument, because it does not speak to possible discrimination earlier in life. However, it does give pause to anyone who wants to give the automatic “True” response of discrimination.

Gender Differences

Having argued that the Becker Test indicates fails to indicate discrimination, Summers continues:

“So my best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong”

Summers argues that to be a professor at a top university is to be at the very top of one’s profession, just as a corporate CEO is at the top of a firm. He says that to reach the top of a profession, one must dedicate an inordinate amount of time. He says that this need for professional dedication conflicts with family responsibilities for both men and women, but this tends to take more of a toll on women.

Summers’ other point concerns statistical distributions. On a variety of attributes, statistical measures show that men have higher variance than women. Thus, if you look at the very top or at the very bottom of the distribution, you will find a larger share of men, while if you look in the middle, you will find a slightly larger share of women. He conjectures that this difference at the extremes exists for some attribute that is important in math and some branches of science. If to be at the top of one of those fields you need a genetic trait that is found only once in every 5000 or 10,000 people, and if rare genetic traits are more often found in men, then when you look at the top of those fields you will see more men.

Male-Dominance Behavior

At this point, I am going to engage in some anecdotally-based observations on gender differences. To his credit, Summers mostly avoided such stereotyping.

I believe that it is characteristic of males more than females to focus on the “dominance hierarchy.” Males are very concerned about “whose is bigger,” and this shows up particularly when a group of males gets together for the first time. They compare, they boast, and they try to assert superiority. I noticed this when my first-year graduate school class at MIT met on the lawn the day of student orientation. It made me uncomfortable then, and such behavior has made me uncomfortable ever since.

Another example was in 1998, when my Internet company, Homefair, merged with a similar company, The School Report. At the first meeting of the executives of our two companies, our CEO and the other company’s CEO turned the occasion into a male-dominance contest between themselves. In the process, the rest of us, used to being treated as equal partners, instead were treated as lackeys. It took some effort to lower the testosterone levels enough to restore organizational balance and harmony.

Male-Dominance Behavior can be summarized in the following table. It shows how someone in male-dominance mode bases his treatment of another person on his perception of that person’s place in the relevant pecking order.

Higher than Self

Potential Relationship
Flattery

Equal to Self

Rival
Show Off/Put Down

Lower than Self

Irrelevant
Ignore

My experience is that in male-dominated organizational groups, one observes this sort of behavior. Guys tend to flatter the boss in the belief that this will help them build a useful relationship. They try to make their rivals look bad and try to make themselves look good. They disregard people who they think are not in a position to promote them or to compete with them.

My sense is that women find male-dominance behavior annoying. They particularly dislike being treated as “irrelevants” during meetings. I can understand their point of view. I avoid the American Economic Association meetings, in part because I am sickened by the flattery and the Show Off/Put Down. Above all, being treated as an “irrelevant” rather than as a fellow human being by people you once thought of as friends and colleagues is a highly discouraging experience.

So to Lawrence Summers’ list of possible reasons that women are under-represented in some fields, let me add annoying male-dominance behavior. To the extent that one must put up with or join in such behavior to succeed in largely-male fields, I could see where otherwise qualified women might not have the taste for it.

Self-regarding Attribution Bias

Another of my anecdotally-observed gender differences concerns self-regarding attribution bias. Self-regarding attribution bias means that you internalize success and externalize failure. Suppose that you have bought and sold many stocks over the years, with mixed results. If you tend to view the profitable investments as reflecting skill, while viewing the losses as reflecting bad luck, then you have this bias.

In my observation, more men tend to have this bias, and more women tend to have the reverse bias. That is, men tend to credit themselves with success and blame others for failure. Women are more likely to credit others for their success and to blame themselves for failure. I believe that the process for selecting CEO’s for large organizations tends to select for self-regarding attribution bias. I believe this accounts for the susceptibility of corporations to scandals - the Darwinian process in corporate America too often rewards men who think they are immune to any adversity. I think it is far less likely that women - or, more generally, someone who is capable of internalizing failure and recognizing external factors in success - would lead a company to scandal.

Venture capitalists, because they believe in swinging for homeruns, seem particularly inclined to select in favor of self-regarding attribution bias. This tendency led to the excesses of the dotcom era, as documented in The New, New Thing, for example. Venture capital is another field where women are notoriously under-represented, particularly as CEO’s of venture-funded firms, even though women have a high rate of entrepreneurial success otherwise.

The Biggest Danger

Perhaps male-dominance behavior and self-regarding attribution biases are issues that our society needs to address. Perhaps we would be better off if we saw less of those forces at work selecting CEO’s - or college Presidents.

But the biggest danger on campus today is not discrimination against women. It is discrimination against thinkers like Lawrence Summers and my daughter, who should not be forced to affirm propositions that they believe are complex and far from completely true.

Here’s a Washington Post editorial from February 19:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36631-2005Feb18.html

Harvard’s Free Mind

Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page A30

APRIMARY function of universities is to ask questions and to advance knowledge, popular or otherwise. When they do this well, whole societies benefit: from scientific innovation, from smarter economic and social policies, and from a culture that values truth and reason above prejudice. This is why the battle over Harvard’s president has broad national consequences. If Lawrence H. Summers loses his job for the crime of positing a politically incorrect hypothesis – or even if he pays some lesser price for it – the chilling effect on free inquiry will harm everyone.

Mr. Summers advanced his controversial thesis at a meeting of economics researchers who were discussing the scarcity of women in university science and engineering positions. He began by mentioning Harvard’s commitment to “the crucial objective of diversity” and “our common goals of equality.” But he explained that on this occasion he would not discuss what the world ought to be like. Instead, he would seek to provoke fresh thinking on why it is as it is.

Mr. Summers offered three possible reasons for women’s underrepresentation in top science faculties. The most important, he suggested, is that women on average (which doesn’t mean all individual women) may be less willing than men are to work 80-hour weeks and make the family sacrifices that high-pressure occupations require. “That’s not a judgment about how it should be,” he reiterated, adding that new research “may prove my conjectures completely wrong.”

Next, Mr. Summers suggested that fewer women than men are outstandingly good or outstandingly bad at math. If this is so, the average ability of men and women may be identical, but the pool of math geniuses from which top universities recruit is disproportionately male. Mr. Summers conceded he might be wrong on this point, adding that “I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true.” But he cited research that led him to think that innate differences probably explained more than the third and most eagerly cited category of reason for women’s underrepresentation: social and parental pressures that direct women away from sciences, coupled with workplace discrimination.

One can agree or disagree with this ranking of reasons or with Mr. Summers’s reading of the research on gender and ability. But it’s contrary to the mission of a university to attack people for provoking fresh thought on big issues – issues that, as Mr. Summers rightly put it, “are too important to sentimentalize.” The furious reaction from some members of the Harvard faculty may reflect disaffection with Mr. Summers’s leadership on issues ranging from his questioning of tenure to his expansion of the campus. Mr. Summers has sparked controversies on other subjects, too, including political diversity in the law school, the quality of African American studies and campus criticism of Israel. If those subjects in part underlie the movement against Mr. Summers, his critics should engage them directly and not unjustifiably paint him as an anti-feminist bigot.

I’m glad that your wife has an advanced degree in Math. However, don’t fall into the trap of believing that the exception disproves the rule! For every woman with an advanced degree in Math there are thousands who struggle each day to understand vey basic Math. You have noticed this, right?

Another point, you stated that there is a difference between “free speech and ignorant free speech.” Yes, true enough, but as you know we must allow both. In order for the one to exist the other must follow. Liberals would like us to believe that certain things should not be stated, written or otherwise thought. Those things are usually about God, (church and state), country, family, you get the idea.

Next, yes most of the business men/women in the music industry making piles of money from anti-family movies and questionable rap lyrics are indeed liberal. And in fact they have given large sums of money to the DNC and other liberal causes. If you check you will see that candidate Kerry raised more money than President Bush in both California and New York, the entertainment capitals of our nation. It surely is not a secret that Hollywood loves liberalism, right?

Finally, I agree with you in that it is wrong for “fundamentalist?s religious speakers to denounce homosexuals…from the pulpit.” They should be denouncing the act, not the person, as we are all sinners. Claiming a certain act is wrong, from the pulpit, is certainly one of the rights of religion in a free society. You do agree with this, no?

Your final statement is true. Most of the “morality police” are indeed conservative. The reason for this is simple, the democratic parties liberal faction (which is the majority at this time) have given up even the pretense of having any sort of moral compass.

That, my friend, is the reason they (the liberal democratic party) will have only occupied the White House for 12 out of the past 40 years, as of 2008. And holding minority status in both houses of congress for the past decade! By nominating the most liberal Presidential candidate in recent memory, Howard Dean, as the new DNC chief I am sure that this trend will continue.

Thanks for tolerating the digression. However, it all ties in together nicely I think. Liberals are indeed the ones who are screaming about Summers recent factual statement. It is liberal dogma which attempts to supresses truth in this case. Liberals are also the ones who are losing ground politically, which in turn will (I hope) turn back the hideous politically correct movement that only harms our nation.