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Tulane Honors Program

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Harvard President's Remarks

Harvard has released the transcript of Summers remarks about women and their ability to achieve high level jobs in academia. The transcript begins (and places things into context):
I asked Richard, when he invited me to come here and speak, whether he wanted an institutional talk about Harvard's policies toward diversity or whether he wanted some questions asked and some attempts at provocation, because I was willing to do the second and didn't feel like doing the first. And so we have agreed that I am speaking unofficially and not using this as an occasion to lay out the many things we're doing at Harvard to promote the crucial objective of diversity. … The other prefatory comment that I would make is that I am going to, until most of the way through, attempt to adopt an entirely positive, rather than normative approach, and just try to think about and offer some hypotheses as to why we observe what we observe without seeing this through the kind of judgmental tendency that inevitably is connected with all our common goals of equality.

So, he was engaging in a hypothetical discourse. He repeated his caveat in observing that many women apparently chose having a family over the career.
I think it is hard-and again, I am speaking completely descriptively and non-normatively-to say that there are many professions and many activities, and the most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties near total commitments to their work.

... Another way to put the point is to say, what fraction of young women in their mid-twenties make a decision that they don't want to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week. What fraction of young men make a decision that they're unwilling to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week, and to observe what the difference is.
Then he turns to the sciences, and notice the last snippet I am about to post, he seems to be saying not "here is one possibility" but "I think the reason is, at least in part, fundamental to a difference in nature" (my words, not his). So he says,
... it seems to me, looking at a relatively simple hypothesis. It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined.
...So my sense is that the unfortunate truth-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-is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem.
Well. From there he does indeed to go on to say that, in his experience, there are simply differences in taste between girls and boys (say, an affinity for trucks or engineering) that is not related to cultural imprinting.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Summers is not going to get out of this mess easily, whatever you think of his views.

Update: Helen of the Internet has Summers!


  • The Obvious - more valuable than you think

    Meghan Cox Gurdon, DC Examiner, 2/14/05


    'Some years ago, my friends Amy and Charles had a marriage breakthrough. Amy's mother had slipped her a heavily thumbed copy of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," the 1992 blockbuster by John Gray that sought to explain to the mystified why spouses behave the way they do. Amy kept the book in the bathroom, to express "appropriate disdain," but one day found herself wandering into the kitchen with it to read a passage aloud to her husband.

    '"It says here," she told her husband scornfully, "that a man thinks of himself as the king of his household, and of his wife as the queen. Isn't that ridiculous?" Her husband blinked. "No. It's true."

    'Amy was nonplussed and sputtering. "But but all these years I always thought we were partners, equals, co-chairs, even-steven!"

    '"We are equal," said the king, "but we are not the same."

    'The effect of this revelation was astonishing, Amy says. Imagining her husband in his ermine robes, she suddenly felt more appreciative of him, less irritated when his inclinations departed from hers, and considerably more yin-like to his yang, which is always fun.

    'Still, you think: It takes a book to point this out? Yes, alas, it does. It is a measure of the success of radical feminism that it is even now news to smart dames like Amy that husbands genuinely are different from wives -- not just in their manly equipage, shall we say, but in their idea of themselves, in their deepest longings, in the very pattern of their speech.'

    By Blogger Evan, at 7:40 AM  

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