TCS Daily


Let the Students Vote

By James D. Miller - March 17, 2005 12:00 AM

By a vote of 218-185 the Arts and Sciences faculty of Harvard voted for a resolution expressing lack of confidence in their president Larry Summers. My guess is that Dr. Summers will soon resign. But before he does, I would urge him to let Harvard's students vote on his fate. If a majority of students rebuked the Arts and Science faculty by supporting Dr. Summers, he would have a mandate to make nearly any changes he wanted at Harvard.

Dr. Summers initially got in trouble for suggesting that researchers consider the possibility that biology partially explains the dearth of female science professors. There seems to be much evidence that men have higher variances in intelligence than women do, meaning that there are more very smart and very stupid men than women. These data are consistent with the fact that most physics professors and prisoners are male. As I understand it, Dr. Summers' crime was that in pointing to this evidence he harmed the self-esteem of potential female scientists and so has discouraged women from becoming science professors. The biological evidence, however, applies only to population averages and so should have little meaning to anyone who knows enough about herself to be seriously contemplating getting a Ph.D. in science. Perhaps this sounds heartless, but anyone who doesn't understand this and had her self-esteem damaged by Dr. Summers really isn't intellectually qualified to become a science professor.

The lack of confidence vote will cause many Republican, conservative and libertarian students to give up their dreams of becoming college professors. These students will not be behaving irrationally because the vote signals that even a moderate Democrat like Dr. Summers is ideologically unwelcome in academia.

Many in the blogosphere are mocking Harvard over this vote. But be under no illusions. If Ward Churchill was ever fired most professors would think it the result of Bush-inspired McCarthyism. The vast majority of American professors, however, undoubtedly believe that Dr. Summers should be fired for what they perceive to be his bigoted views on women.

The Ward Churchill and Larry Summers fiascos are gifts to college reform advocates because they clearly demonstrate how colleges have been taken over by the ideologically intolerant left. Although Harvard is a private college, public universities are controlled by boards of trustees that are often appointed by governors. Republican activists should place as much priority on influencing appointment to boards of trustees of major public universities as they do to judicial appointments.

The U.S. government must give huge amounts of money to Harvard each year in the form of research grants, student aid and tax breaks. If, however, the Harvard faculty lacks confidence in their own president can we really trust Harvard with any more taxpayer money?

James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work.

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