TCS Daily


Profile in Courage

By Michael Rosen & Raphael C. Rosen - June 16, 2006 12:00 AM

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Peering out the window of one of this town's many excellent coffeeshops, one could be forgiven for thinking that all is right at Harvard.

The ancient pageantry of commencement, conducted this week, still inflects Harvard Square as newly minted Ph.D.'s and college grads alike stride confidently along Mt. Auburn Street, proudly exhibiting their regalia.


The Harvard graduation ceremony -- the school's 355th -- doesn't differ all that much from other schools' commencements. Yet the colorful formalism of the procession -- replete with former class marshals in top hats and tails; the supervisory presence of Harvard's Corporation, College Fellows, and Board of Overseers; and the venerable Sheriff of Middlesex County's calling the meeting to order -- bears witness to just how old and traditional Harvard's spring ritual is. Fittingly, the ceremony itself is performed in "Tercentenary Theatre."

At moments like these, the very best of Harvard -- its undying commitment to the traditions of the academy -- shines through even the rain that lashed 30,000 spectators assembled for commencement.

And yet, the nation's oldest university has endured some of its very worst moments recently as its faculty unceremoniously showed President Lawrence Summers the door. And as Harvard struggles to find a successor to its formidable ousted leader, daunting challenges remain.

The contrast between the splendor of commencement and the purging of Summers is clearly on the minds of everyone in attendance -- students, parents, alumni, faculty, and administrators. Entering the Yard, one is greeted by volunteers distributing copies of The Gazette (the administration's newspaper, known affectionately as "Harvard's Pravda") and The Crimson (the student paper), both of whose front pages bear prominent photos of the outgoing president. Seemingly every other spectator is discussing, in muffled tones, Summers's last graduation.


And when he finally arrives at the head of the procession -- unlike others, wearing no hat or poncho despite the driving rain -- he shakes hands and greets well-wishers with a somber smile. He is greeted by the College students' stentorian chants of "Larry! Larry! Larry!" -- a fitting bookend to the throngs of crestfallen undergrads who surrounded him during his resignation announcement.

What endeared Summers so much to students was his fundamental commitment to restoring the noble values of academia -- namely, ensuring that professors actually taught students engaging, challenging material, partook of truly open-minded intellectual inquiry, and resisted the fatuous enticements of simplistic political sloganism.

The commitment to academic integrity that Summers urged upon Harvard transcends the impetuous politics of right and left. Summers himself, who served as President Clinton's Treasury Secretary, is an iconic New Democrat. Yet his calls for reform were met with implacable hostility from the most reactionary elements at Harvard.

What, then, were the sins of Summers? First, he made the daring suggestion that professors offer classes that provide students with broad knowledge of a given field. For instance, Harvard's creaky "core" curriculum -- required of all students in order to graduate -- contains few classes of the "English Literature: A Survey" variety and far more of the "Uninhibited Selves: Deconstructing Transgressive Narratives in Hunter S. Thompson's Corpus" type. Super-specialized faculty members chafed at Summers's naïve attempt to increase the breadth of their course offerings.

Summers also strove to unify the university across different disciplines. As he told The Crimson in his parting interview, his goals included "breaking down some of the barriers, financial and intellectual, between Harvard's schools." Yet bringing coherence to nearly a dozen different schools sprawled on both sides of the Charles River proved a very challenging task -- especially in the face of turf-protective deans.

His more controversial moments included his infamous discussion of respected scholarly work on the possibility of innate cognitive differences between men and women. In that instance, the ferocity of his critics was matched only by the slavishness of his numerous apologies. But he was right to go with his instinct: defending academic inquiry, even when it conflicted with contemporary (hyper)sensitivities.

In the same vein he sharply rebuked academic boycotts of Israel. When a group of Harvard faculty members and graduate students sought to persuade Harvard's Corporation to divest its holdings in the Jewish state, Summers rightly decried the petition as anti-Semitic in its effect. Recently, he went still further, denouncing a British academic union's proposed boycott for singling out Israel. Summers expressed his expectation that it would be "repudiated in the strongest possible terms by scholars in Britain and beyond."

In contradistinction to far too many university administrators, Summers appreciated that the academic left's faddish flirtation with hateful Israel-bashing doesn't merely border on the anti-Semitic; it corrodes scholarly freedom and what ought to be the esteemed integrity of the Ivory Tower.

Yet another controversy has been the place of the military on campus which, in Harvard's case, is effectively non-existent. Our grandfather, a decorated World War II Navy vet in town for graduation, attended a touching ceremony in which nine ROTC officers received their commissions on the steps of Harvard's hallowed (World War I) Memorial Church. Though Summers further aroused the ire of the military's critics when he became the first Harvard president in recent memory to address the new officers, those involved in the ceremony heaped adulation upon him. Somber, proud parents and their student-officer children expressed deep gratitude to Summers for his courage to stand up to unchallenged academic assumptions.

This year, he received what would otherwise be a kiss of death for any university administrator: a letter of thanks from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praising him for offering a "recognition of [the officers'] personal commitment to serve this great nation." Summers was the rare president who recognized both the need for and the ability of Harvard students to actually improve the country and the world.

* * *

We needn't shed a tear for Summers personally; he's now getting to do what anyone dreams of. As he told the Crimson, "I'm looking forward to doing what I haven't really had a chance to do in 15 years...to reflect, to write, and to speak freely, unencumbered by any institutional responsibility."

But we should fret on Harvard's behalf. In his commencement address, Summers said that "If Harvard can find the courage to change itself, it can change the world." We hope he is right -- and though the messenger departs, his message endures.

Raphael C. Rosen graduated from Harvard College's Class of 2006 last Thursday. Michael M. Rosen, TCS Daily's IP columnist, is looking forward to his 10-year reunion in a few years' time.


24 Comments

Faculty perspective
It speaks well both of Summers and the Harvard faculty that an undergrad could not have seen what seems to be the real reasons Summers lost faculty support. Both President and faculty did their political infighting behind closed doors, precisely to protect the image and traditions of Harvard that Rosen values.

Sexism: Summers' suggestion that women are underrepresented on the Harvard faculty because they don't work as hard as men was a huge gaffe. Imagine what would have happened had he said it about Blacks. The two excuses -- he was speaking for himself off the record, there is research backing this -- don't work. Whenever a university president speaks to more than 3 people not in his/her immediate family, it's for the university. The "research" showing women don't work hard is a phoney as research supporting creationism.

Misunderstood role: the faculty of Harvard are its most important asset, and most volatile. They believe they run the intellectual side of the university while the president's job is fundraising. If the president doesn't like the undergraduate curriculum, he can ask the faculty to create a committee to re-examine it. He even can express his own view, but not so widely as to polarise the faculty committee.

Conservatives lionizing Summers should remember that he is one of the prime movers behind "Rubinomics", that evil doctrine that says federal spending and income should be roughly balanced and that the government should pay down the national debt. This reckless policy gave rise to the distructive "Clinton bubble" that sent the stock market soaring and raised the median US income, led to nearly zero inflation.

as usual LG offers up lies
Summers never said that women didn't progress because they were lazy. He said that many women had different priorities. There's a big difference, but apparently it's beyond your limited intellectual capacity to understand it.

Of course "Rubinomics" had nothing to do with the good economy over the last decade and a half, but one would have to know something about economics to understand why.

LG, as usual, prefers disproven and ridiculous liberal bromides to something as piddling as mere facts.

hello, Mark
> Summers never said that women didn't progress because
> they were lazy. He said that many women had different
> priorities. There's a big difference, but apparently
> it's beyond your limited intellectual capacity to
> understand it.

It's true. The difference does escape me. Summers suggested (wondered whether) women don't get tenure because their priority systems don't allow as much hard work. (Remember the Vice President's "other priorities".) Anyway, Mark, I'm sure it's not beyond your capacities to explain it.

> Of course "Rubinomics" had nothing to do with the
> good economy over the last decade and a half, but one
> would have to know something about economics to
> understand why.

Actually, I do know something about economics, and I know the conservative script from reading bonzo blogs like this. The Clinton bubble was the final throes of the Reagan boom, which had a hiccup during Bush, Sr., only because he broke his promise and raised taxes. The down economy during term 1 of Bush, Jr., was the ill effects of Clinton/Rubin/Summers balanced budgeting
(bursting the Clinton bubble) and the current boom is the result of Bush tax cuts (actually, the last might be true, except the "boom" is mainly on paper and only for the rich).

> LG, as usual, prefers disproven and ridiculous
> liberal bromides to something as piddling as mere
> facts.

Tell me a fact, any fact.

LG compounds his lies with utter confusion
Saying that some women have different priorities, is not the same as saying they are lazy. I'm not surprised that you continue to push this lie. It's the only defense you've got.

If you know anything about economics, it would come as a complete surprise to me, considering everything you've ever mentioned on the subject has been completely wrong.

Faculty Perspective My Ass
LiberalGoodman, it's hard to take your post too seriously considering you intentional distortion in you second paragraph.

What is sad is that many faculty (in some cases, majorities) supported Summers...Summers had quite a bit of support within the professional schools and even in the Arts & Sciences. I was somewhat disappointed in the man for staying put and fighting the good fight. But hopefully a book he authors will serve a greater purpose.

Going back to your post:

- your first point on "sexism" distorts the truth (I suspect you did this quite intentionally)
- you create a strawman that Summer's "style" was really the problem since he didn't consult with the faculty enough; you intentionally downplay the PC, multiculti ideological underpinnings of the faculty "revolt"
- your last point is off topic

What's funny
is that LG still maintains the fiction that the faculty at these Ivy League schools are by definition the smartest people in America.

Keep at it Mark
Goody Two shoes is incapable of telling the truth. He's as bad as Hampton.

That is a joke!!
First define "smart". Educated is different by far; high IQ is closer, but high "can do" is probably at least as big a part. Desire/drive trumps formal education every time.

In the financial arena note Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple Computers), Ray Kroc (McDonalds), DaveThomas (Wendy's), etc. None of them have a college degree and the last two never graduated high school, yet all four are/were among the richest people in the world. This is just one arena where education is a null, yet these people were smart. Probably above average IQ combined with well above average desire, drive and work ethic.

I find formal education to be almost as often a negative as a positive in peoples lives. Too many average IQ people (not all or even nessarily a majority, by any stretch) have degrees and think that entitles them to better paying jobs and better positions in life. These people don't have the desire or work ethic and believe they have accomplished all they need to be successful just by graduating from college.

They are condenscending, ignorant and often liberal. All to many of them also become teachers and college professors.

Faculty=smart… No, not in my book.

Liberals seem to favor tyranny over truth
Somehow, in reading perhaps a half dozen in-depth articles in the NYT and WSJ re the Summers affair, I never ran across the idea that Summers thought women did not get ahead in science and math because of lack of work. And who can doubt that had he made such a statement it would have been very prominent in these articles. Here I thought he referred to the well documented male superiority of males in science and math. Well, maybe I missed it. Other commentators have suggested LiberalGoodman is a liar. Well, apparently his recall ability is rather weak, enabling his biases to color his memory, making him self-deluded and a fool.

Saying the Harvard tenured faculty “run the intellectual side of the university while the president's job is fundraising. If the president doesn't like the undergraduate curriculum, he can ask the faculty to create a committee to re-examine it. He even can express his own view, but not so widely as to polarise the faculty committee” describes perfectly the faculty’s democratic, and hence now tyrannical, control. This is a description of a faculty without checks and balances. Is the board of the Harvard Corporation also, like Harvard’s president, a humble supplicant a rubber stamp for the out of control faculty? The love of liberals for tyranny and hatred of truth comes through loud and clear.

Well said!
I think you nailed the nonsense we see in academia and the liars who defend it.

Summer's Treatment
Shows how democrats who are closer to the middle are castigated & attacked. I would think instead of frightening the more "centrist" democrats it should embolden their resolve to bring their party back from the brink.

All you guys do
All you guys is taunt and say I'm wrong or can't understand or whatever. It would strengthen your
case to offer corrections rather than just denials.
For example, you say Summers did not say women are
lazy (OK, he said the same thing slightly differently).
If you actually know what he said, say do. Otherwise,
shut up.

You say you love truth, but truth is something positive.
You have to say something before it can be true (or
false). Try it.

1. What did Summers suggest was the reason Harvard lacks women faculty?

2. Did Summers do a good job as Secretary of the Treasury?

3. Did the Harvard faculty think Summers was heavy handed?

O.K. Show me!!
O.K., here are out-takes from Summers’ remarks: (Summer's complete remarks are too long to post here)
“…To take a set of diverse examples, the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture. These are all phenomena in which one observes underrepresentation, and I think it's important to try to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for underrepresentation.”

“There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the-I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.
Maybe it would be helpful to just, for a moment, broaden the problem, or the issue, beyond science and engineering. I've had the opportunity to discuss questions like this with chief executive officers at major corporations, the managing partners of large law firms, the directors of prominent teaching hospitals, and with the leaders of other prominent professional service organizations, as well as with colleagues in higher education. In all of those groups, the story is fundamentally the same. …”

“…And the relatively few women who are in the highest ranking places are disproportionately either unmarried or without children, with the emphasis differing depending on just who you talk to. And that is a reality that is present and that one has exactly the same conversation in almost any high-powered profession. What does one make of that? 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. They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect-and this is harder to measure-but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place. And it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women. That's not a judgment about how it should be, not a judgment about what they should expect. But it seems to me that it is very hard to look at the data and escape the conclusion that that expectation is meeting with the choices that people make and is contributing substantially to the outcomes that we observe.…”

“…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. And that has got to be a large part of what is observed. Now that begs entirely the normative questions-which I'll get to a little later-of, is our society right to expect that level of effort from people who hold the most prominent jobs? Is our society right to have familial arrangements in which women are asked to make that choice and asked more to make that choice than men? Is our society right to ask of anybody to have a prominent job at this level of intensity, and I think those are all questions that I want to come back to. But it seems to me that it is impossible to look at this pattern and look at its pervasiveness and not conclude that something of the sort that I am describing has to be of significant importance. To buttress conviction and theory with anecdote, a young woman who worked very closely with me at the Treasury and who has subsequently gone on to work at Google highly successfully, is a 1994 graduate of Harvard Business School. She reports that of her first year section, there were twenty-two women, of whom three are working full time at this point. That may, the dean of the Business School reports to me, that that is not an implausible observation given their experience with their alumnae.”

There is much more, but this is the crux of the outcry against Summers. Where, exactly, does he even infer that women are lazy? He says that the choices women make (to get out of the work place so they can get married and have children for example), perhaps choices they shouldn’t be forced to make but that is the way things are in our society right now, are a big reason for this disparity.
I believe there are several studies and papers that show he is, at least to some extent, correct. In that light, why the backlash? I guess it doesn’t pay to be honest with liberals, especially a liberal women’s group!

As to your other questions, 2. requires an opinion and I don't know enough to give one on this aspect. 3. who cares, they are obviously out of control regardless.

Summers
Summers didn't suggest a reason for a lack of parity for women in the math and sciences faculty at Harvard. What he suggested was that all avenues of research should be followed. The research about differences in men's and womens capabilities in the math and sciences indicates that on average there isn't much difference but the distribution is broader for men meaning they populate the best and worst more so than women.

Summers was an adequate, even good Sec Treas.

Hard to be heavy handed when you haven't much arbitrary power, but a mootable point. OTOH, the artsy-fartsy faculty was pretty mule-headed and not much inclined to discussion and reasoned arguement

Rain
Dear authors

I was present for this year's graduation ceremonies for my son's graduation from HBS (MBA). While it rained lightly and fitfully throughout the gen'l graduation and HBS reception and graduation, it was not driving. Under the circumstances the weather set the right tone.

from your post:
From your post, here's the beef:

> There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of
> the ... disparities ... with respect to the presence
> of women in high-end scientific professions. ...the
> first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis.
> The second is what I would call different
> availability of aptitude at the high end, and the
> third is what I would call different socialization
> and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my
> own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly
> the order that I just described.

Reading further, it is clear that Summers thinks women don't have the committment to career that men have (what I called "lazy"), and that there are fewer very smart women. Note that he does not offer the "white men can't jump" explination for the fact that whites are under represented in the NBA. He only insults women.

Liberal irrationalism
Larry Summers suggested three plausible hypotheses concerning the difference between male and female achievement in mathematics and physical science. His point was that the question should be settled by empirical research, not political fiat or name-calling. The squeal and howls of protest from the mindless minions of political correctness are proof positive of the stupidity, irrationality and bigotry that lie at the heart of leftist ideology.

He said that some women have different priorities
you want to pretend that this is the same as saying they are lazy. That would be true only if working at Harvard were the only thing that counted as work.

Maybe in your pathetic little mind, this equivocation is true, but out here in the real world, we know that it isn't.

1) Summer's suggested that one possibility is the widely acknowledged FACT, that men are statistically over represented at the extremes.

2) Don't know, don't care.

3) Harvard faculty, like most liberals, thinks it is intolerable for anyone to be allowed to disagree with them.

more elitist claptrap
Unless someone has the same priorities that LG does, they are lazy.

Anyone who fails to put 100% of their effort into their job, is lazy. Even if they are working very, very hard at something else.

The insult exists only in your mind. Which isn't saying much.

Let me expand on #2
I'm not a liberal. I'll defend Summers when he is right, slap him around when he is wrong.

Whether Summer's was a good treasury secretary or not, is utterly irrelevant to the question at hand.

Just because I may or may not agree with Summers on the issue at hand, is not proof that I agree with everything he did as Treasury Secretary. Nor is there any logical reason why I can't agree with him on one, and disagree with him on the other.

The whole issue of his tenure as Treasury Secretary is nothing more than a red herring.

It's all about choice - and the attitude of some that certain choices are unworthy
The quote you gave from Summers works at and around the simple fact that women who decide to reproduce cannot devote the same singleminded effort to career that men who want to reproduce can.

This is not, as you say, due to the way things are in our society, but rather to the way things are in women's and men's bodies and, yes, in their minds, for it would be amazing in the extreme if 2 billion years of evolution had not differentially disposed females and males in their attitudes and devotions to the care of offspring in which they have hugely different leves of investment.

But then we come to an interesting phenomenon, for the supposed "liberals" are surprisingly quick to downgrade the fecund choice of motherhood, and surprisingly quick to upgrade the sterile choice of professorhood.

As to Summers, the man was and is an intellectual coward who failed to aggressively defend his views when the feminists leaped to the attack despite that amazing piece of theater in which a femele Harvard faculty member in effect admitted that his comment gave her a swooning attack of the vapors.

Humph!
You just can't admit that you are wrong, can you? You equate the desire to not work 80 hours a week and give up family time with laziness? Yeah, right. We all "knew" that was what you meant!

If you ask me, what Summers actually said is that women were too smart to become slaves to the "man".

And where, exactly, do you get the idea that he said there are fewer "very smart" women? Or are you equating "smartness" with advanced education?

You'd get more respect around here if you didn't grasp as straws in your attempt to save face, and instead just admitted that you were WRONG!

-Bob

not just education
but a Harvard education is what defines "smart" to LG.

this reminds me
on another thread, bobjones declared in the same post that
1) Americans as a whole are stupid
2) he's not an elitist.

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