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 professions."
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 Ivy League.
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
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 discrimination."
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 socialization.
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
My advice to the Harvard president: Don't
apologize and promise to be a better listener. Be a man.
2005 Creators Syndicate
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