You probably could’ve heard a pin drop as many in the audience sat stunned at what Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University, postulated. To understand what it must have sounded like to them, you’d have to think of it as if he had entertained the idea that the earth was actually flat or, worse yet, that the moon is in fact made of cheese.
The Associated Press reported, “The transcript of Summers’ remarks … shows him arguing that intrinsic differences between the sexes, along with family pressure and employer demands, probably play a bigger role than cultural factors and discrimination in explaining why fewer women than men have top science jobs.”
In a normal setting, such thoughts would likely be treated with general interest or skepticism, but not at an elite liberal arts institution like Harvard. Emphasis on “liberal.”
Reaction was swift. Many academics at Harvard and elsewhere chided Summers for his remarks. MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins walked out of the meeting, saying Summers’ words made her sick.
This wasn’t the first time Summers said something that made the ivory-tower types at Harvard cringe. In 2001, Summers disagreed with some faculty over grade inflation, asserting that instructors were “excessively generous in marking students’ work.” He also raised questions about Harvard’s affirmative action program. Some at Harvard have criticized Summers’ management practices, particularly when dealing with women.
This recent controversy coincidently got media attention around the same time as the Ward Churchill “little Eichmanns” episode did. It’s telling that some of the same people who have taken Summers to task for his remarks are probably of the same ilk as those who applaud Churchill and his “thought-provoking” views.
It’s understandable that, as some have said, Summers’ remarks may be viewed as discouraging to female students and faculty at Harvard. At a staff meeting, Summers apologized to concerned professors by saying, “I was wrong to have spoken in a way that has resulted in an unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and women.”
But what about the assertion that women and men have different academic strengths and weaknesses which are partly based on biological differences? I can remember hearing a similar explanation in my pre-college education; but, of course, I went to one of those “unaccountable” private schools — and a dreaded fundamentalist Christian one at that!
It’s fairly intuitive that men and women have different strengths, in general. On average, men are better than women at certain things and women are better than men at certain things. Only those who are totally blinded by political correctness would deny this.
The Harvard Crimson quotes Claudia Goldin, an economics professor who has researched the progress of women in academia, describing Summers’ speech as “utter brilliance.” She said she “was pretty flummoxed” by the criticism of the remarks.
But never mind that Summers’ views may have some element of truth to them. In the orthodoxy espoused by certain “intellectuals,” such a conclusion is outrageous.
The Boston Globe reported that Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said there is a “hard-left ideological group” that opposes Summers based on his criticism of “professors who called for the university to divest from Israel.”
It seems that for some in academia, any opinion that might be considered to stray anywhere near right-of-center is viewed as “ignorant” and “archaic” — perhaps even “bigoted.” Sadly, some who envision themselves as “free thinkers” and in possession of an “open mind” tend to be among the most close-minded individuals around. If you get to the point where you think that any opinion other than your own must be completely void of reason, then you’re in trouble.
These types of people probably misinterpret “liberal arts” to mean the modern political persuasion and not the Webster’s dictionary definition: “a general course of study … as opposed to a practical, technical course of study.”
This story can basically be attributed to political correctness gone amuck. When upholding group-think and political correctness at a university becomes the prime concern, free thought becomes the exception.