Summers Releases Transcript of Remarks on Women in Science

Transcript closely resembles previous accounts of speech

Bowing to mounting faculty pressure, University President Lawrence H. Summers today released a transcript of his controversial remarks on women in science last month.

The nearly 7,000-word transcript generally confirms previous accounts of the speech, in which Summers suggested “issues of intrinsic aptitude” might be responsible for the underrepresentation of female scientists. In the remarks, Summers said he was deeply skeptical of discrimination as a possible cause of the phenomenon.

“If there was really a pervasive pattern of discrimination that was leaving an extraordinary number of high-quality potential candidates behind,” Summers said, “one suspects that in the highly competitive academic marketplace, there would be more examples of institutions that succeeded substantially by working to fill the gap.”

In a letter to the Faculty this afternoon, Summers once again apologized for the speech, which came at a Jan. 14 conference of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

“Though my NBER remarks were explicitly speculative, and noted that ‘I may be all wrong,’ I should have left such speculation to those more expert in the relevant fields,” Summers wrote.

Addressing those professors who criticized him at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting for fostering what they called a toxic atmosphere at the University, Summers said he was open to dissent.

“In this University, people who disagree with me—or with anyone else—should and must feel free to say so,” Summers wrote.

James R. Houghton ’58, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, released his own letter to the Harvard community this afternoon expressing confidence in Summers.

“We take seriously the views expressed at Tuesday’s meeting and recognize their intensity,” Houghton wrote. “President Summers has made plain to us that he is listening carefully to the concerns that have been expressed. We are confident of his ability to work constructively with the faculty and others to advance the goal that all of us share—ensuring that Harvard’s academic programs are as good as they can be, and that our community of faculty, students, and staff is as strong as it can be, now and in the future. We fully support him in that effort, and we know how devoted he is to its success.”

Houghton’s letter marked the first public statement representing the Corporation as a whole since Summers’ remarks were first reported last month.

In his remarks at last month’s conference, Summers suggested three “broad hypotheses” may account for the dearth of women in science and engineering.

“One is what I would call the...high-powered job hypothesis,” Summers said. “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,” he added.

A Crimson reporter verified the transcript this afternoon against an audiotape of the remarks. Only inconsequential false starts and repeated words were omitted.

In a question-and-answer session that followed Summers’ remarks, an oddly prescient questioner asked Summers for a tape of his comments.

“I noticed it’s being recorded, so I hope that we’ll be able to have a copy of it,” said the questioner. “That would be nice.”

“We’ll see,” Summers said.

The transcript indicates that Summers’ response to the question was followed by laughter.

—Please check thecrimson.com for updates as the day progresses.

—Daniel J. Hemel contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at seward@fas.harvard.edu.