Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2005 /15 Adar I 5765
Debra J. Saunders
Mob rule in Academia
Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers apologized yet again at a
meeting with Harvard professors Tuesday for remarks he made some five weeks
ago about the lack of substantial "presence of women in high-end scientific
I can't believe I am even writing this column. The furor should
have died down weeks ago, but thanks to a fiercely intolerant streak in most
Harvard professors (who were emboldened by Summers' propensity to
self-immolate), the controversy lives on as a mob of angry academics tries
to run Summers out of Cambridge.
Where did Summers err? To start with, he concentrated on the
wrong gender. If, for example, Summers had said that men are less likely to
play the role of primary caregiver in the home, say, because men tend to be
less nurturing than women, academia would have applauded his insight. There
would be no charges of sexism, as sexism against men is no problem in the
Summers' next mistake was to be male. In his infamous speech to
the National Bureau of Economic Research, Summers noted that women often
don't want to work the hours needed to get to the top and that girls are
"socialized toward nursing" while boys are "socialized toward building
bridges." The quote that killed him: "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
Women say or imply the same thing all the time. They
demand work schedules that are friendly to mothers. They observe that women
excel in social and verbal arenas and that's no biggie. But when a man
says about women what women say about women, it can be career-ending
Summers' third mistake was that he did not treat women badly.
Take Summer's' old boss, Bill Clinton, who was able to date while married,
as his top female staffers (who considered themselves feminists) strove to
protect him from nubile workers. In this politically correct era, words
speak louder than actions: You can act like a sexist cad, but you can't talk
as if you think a sexist cad conceivably might have a point.
Summers' fourth mistake was that he was reasonable. Before his
remarks on women in science, Summers noted that he might be wrong and that
he didn't think it was right that there were differences in gender
If Summers sounded like a deranged, uneducated misanthrope,
however, Harvard Yard would be filled with protesters citing the need for
all bow "academic freedom." As it is, rare voices, such as that of law
professor Alan Dershowitz, have invoked academic freedom in Summers'
defense. But Dershowitz's take is by no means universal. A Harvard Crimson
poll of the university's Arts and Letters faculty found that a disgraceful
32 percent of respondents said Summers should resign, while 55 percent said
he should not.
Meanwhile, the "academic freedom" lobby has mobilized in support
of University of Colorado, Boulder, ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill,
who wrote a piece that called the Sept. 11 victims "little Eichmanns
inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the Twin Towers." Churchill later tried
to excuse the piece by explaining that he was targeting "people who function
in investment and brokerage and trading capacity" because their activities
lead to mass misery and death in the Third World.
Apparently, you don't have to be even remotely academic to hide
behind academic freedom.
Or could it be that academic freedom only works for those on the
left or the far left? Summers already had won ill will among Harvard's left
for opposing university divestment from Israel, for questioning the academic
performance of African American professor Cornel West (who split for
Princeton) and for supporting a return of the ROTC on campus.
Academic freedom for members of the military? I guess that
would be taking academic freedom too far. After all, it would be wrong for
academia to treat reserve officers the men and women who protect this
country as equals. No, the ivory tower is too special for that.
Then, after banning the ROTC, Harvard profs whined that Summers
is "dismissive and arrogant" as one professor told the Boston Herald.
Dismissive and arrogant? If anything, Summers is too accommodating. He keeps
apologizing and promising to be more sensitive and a better listener when he
ought to be blasting his critics for their intolerant rush to exile people
who express unpopular ideas.
My advice to the Harvard president: Don't apologize and promise to be a better listener. Be a man.
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