Summers' Comments on Women and Science Draw Ire

Remarks at private conference stir criticism, media frenzy

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Freeman said that he invited Summers to the NBER event “to come and be provocative.”

“We didn’t invite Larry as a Harvard president per se,” Freeman said. “We invited him because he has an extremely powerful and interesting mind. And I think if we had invited him as Harvard president, he would have given us the same type of babble that university presidents give. And thank God we have a president who doesn’t say that.”

Freeman said that Hopkins’ decision to take her concerns to the press was “very bizarre in my view.” Summers said he had not expected that the comments would be published.

“If I disagree with you, I should tell you why I disagree with you and what the evidence for my point is. It shouldn’t be that I leave the room and call up a reporter and complain there,” Freeman said.

Hopkins said she mentioned the Summers speech in an e-mail exchange relating to another matter with Boston Globe reporter Marcella Bombardieri on Friday—but that she did not intend for her sentiments to spark the media circus that is already underway. Following a Globe article this morning, the story has appeared across the national media, and Hopkins said she has already received a request to appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” as well as several other television shows.

And Hopkins dismissed the notion that Summers’ remarks were meant to be kept private among attendees at the conference. “The notion that Larry Summers’ position should be kept a secret on issues like this – that’s just wrong.”

Goldin said that Summers’ support for women in academia is well-known. “The reason Larry gave this talk is that he’s extremely interested in the way that institutions can enable individuals to perform to their maximum. And it bothers him when individuals do not perform to their maximum,” Goldin said. She added that Summers is “really dedicated to changing institutions” so that women can attain leadership roles throughout academia.

“Everyone agrees that working toward gender equity is vitally important,” Summers said this evening. He said that universities must address discrimination head-on, but that academics must also engage in “careful, honest and rigorous research” to understand the factors fueling the under-representation of females. “My speculations were intended to contribute to that process,” he said.

STUDENTS REACT

In the dining halls and on the campus open e-mail lists of Harvard College, Summers’ remarks have sparked a flurry of debate as students take a break from studying for final exams to weigh in on the University president’s latest foray into the national spotlight.

“I think the evidence in favor of an ‘innate abilities’ explanation of the gender gap is very weak,” said Jessica L. Jones ’06, a biological anthropology concentrator in Mather House. “The evidence in favor a ‘social forces’ explanation is very strong.”

“I don’t think ‘innate abilities’ should be our go-to hypothesis when it’s the weakest one we have now,” Jones said.

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