February 23, 2006
Another Academic Casualty
of Lawrence Summers as president of Harvard University tells us
a lot about what is wrong with academia today.
took office in 2001, Summers seemed like an ideal president of
Harvard. He had had a distinguished career in and out of the academic
world, including having been a professor at Harvard, so there
was no obvious reason why he would not fit in.
flaws were honesty and a desire to do the right thing. That has
ruined more than one academic career.
Dr. Summers' problems started early on. He called in Cornel West
for a private discussion of West's scholarly activities -- or
rather, Professor West's lack of scholarly activities.
It was not
that Cornel West was inactive. He was active as a great showman
on television, he was active in politics, he was active on the
lucrative lecture circuit, and he was even active in entertainment,
writing and performing rap music. He was also popular with students,
as any professor who gives out lots of A's is likely to be.
of activity that Lawrence Summers wanted to see from West was
the kind of activity expected from full professors at a leading
university -- scholarly research and writing. Cornel West wrote
lots of things in lots of places but even an editor of the liberal
New Republic characterized West's books as "almost
the discussion between Summers and West was private, Cornel West
himself made it a public issue -- and a public scandal. West and
his supporters made this a racial issue. That made facts and logic
tell us all we need to know about Harvard and about academia in
general. Neither truth nor standards matter when it comes to one
of the ideological raw nerves like race.
Summers touched another ideological raw nerve last year, when
discussing why there were not more tenured women professors in
science. Since he was addressing a scholarly symposium, Summers
cited hypotheses and data that might explain the under-representation
of women at the top in science.
advanced what he called "the high-powered job hypothesis."
Mothers have a hard time reaching the top in jobs where people
work long hours and put everything else aside when the job requires
another well-known and unchallenged fact. Although women and men
have similar average IQs, men are over-represented at both the
lowest and the highest IQ levels. Men outnumber women among both
idiots and geniuses.
scientists are drawn disproportionately from people at the highest
levels, that is another possible factor in differences between
women and men in high-end science.
also cited other factors, including socialization and discrimination
but this did not prevent another ideological firestorm from erupting.
Summers was simply demonized and the faculty turned against him.
politically correct explanation is discrimination.
-- again. But, in the end, these hasty retreats did not save his
incessant repetition of the word "diversity" in academe,
the tragic fact is that the academic world is one of the most
intolerant places in America when it comes to diversity of ideas.
Even the president of Harvard dare not step out of line.
pay the kind of money on which whole families could live, in order
to have their children "educated" at elite academic
institutions, hearing only one side of a whole range of issues
-- race and sex being just two.
every conclusion with which students are indoctrinated were true,
unless those students develop their own ability to weigh opposing
arguments, these conclusions will become obsolete as new issues
arise in the years ahead. These "educated" people will
have developed no ability to analyze opposing sides of issues.
are getting half an education at inflated prices and learning
only how to label, dismiss and demonize ideas that differ from
what they have been led to believe. Their "educated"
ignorance is a danger to the future of this country.
2006 Creators Syndicate