Summers Says He Never Considered Stepping Down
In his first sit-down interview since his January remarks on women in science sparked the gravest crisis of his presidency, Summers said he hoped to move beyond the maelstrom and forge ahead with Harvard’s efforts to encourage the advancement of female scholars.
But Summers declined yesterday to readdress the substance of his talk last month, in which he suggested that “issues of intrinsic aptitude” partly account for the underrepresentation of women in the sciences.
“You know, I’m certainly not going to try to give another academic talk on a topic where I’m not an expert on all of the various kinds of research that have taken place,” he said. “So I certainly don’t want to engage in more general speculation.”
Summers has faced pressure to relinquish his post from forces on and off campus. The National Organization for Women called for his resignation on Jan. 20, and 32 percent of 280 Faculty respondents to a Crimson poll last weekend said he should step down.
Summers said “there have been some painful moments” in recent weeks.
“It hasn’t been easy, but a certain part of being in the spotlight goes with the job,” he said. “But what’s hurt most is a lot of the criticism directed at the University and some of the divisiveness we’ve seen, and that’s what I think is very important for me—and I hope for all of us—to try to put behind us.”
Summers said the University now has an opportunity “to take concrete and positive actions” that will make an “enduring difference” in the lives of female academics. But pressed for details, he would not comment on a specific set of proposals from a high-profile panel of college chiefs who issued a report this month calling for a more “family friendly” tenure process.
The National Panel of Presidents and Chancellors—comprising top administrators at 10 universities, including nearby Tufts—recommended that schools allow tenure-track faculty with young children to take temporary part-time posts and multi-year leaves of absence.
Asked about the panel’s proposals, Summers said, “I’m certainly not in any position to get into specifics until the task forces have moved forward and made their recommendations.”
Summers, facing criticism for the downward trend in tenure offers to female scholars under his watch, established two University-wide task forces earlier this month to promote the advancement of women at Harvard.
But Evelynn M. Hammonds, chair of the Task Force on Women Faculty, said earlier this month that the National Panel’s proposals for a part-time track and multi-year leaves lie “outside of the purview” of her group.
In yesterday’s interview, Summers declined to take a stance on any of the demands made by student protestors outside Tuesday’s Faculty meeting.
Protestors called on Summers to support broader course offerings in ethnic studies. They also assailed Summers for not including a protection of “gender identity and expression” in the University’s nondiscrimination code, and they clamored for the establishment of a centrally-located women’s center on campus.
But on each issue, Summers deferred to other members of the University’s administration. He said that ethnic studies “is very much a matter of curriculum, and so questions of that area should be directed to the Faculty.” Asked if he would support an expansion of ethnic studies programs at Harvard, Summers said, “I don’t have an opinion.”
He said that the University’s nondiscrimination policy “is something that the general counsel works with,” and he said that he did not know the status of discussions on the incorporation of a gender identity clause into the code.
And he said that the proposal for a women’s center “would fall within the remit of the dean of the College, who as I understand it has in the past had some concerns about it.” Administrators have expressed worries that a center specifically designed for female students might violate the University’s nondiscrimination policy.
BACK TO BUSINESS
Summers said he has been putting in “longer days and more weekends” of late to ensure that, even amid the uproar, “the business of the University continues.”
But he declined to name any particular policy moves he had made in the past six weeks. “I can’t share specific decisions,” he said.
Summers said he has directed some of his attention to the future of the Harvard Management Company, which manages the University’s $22.6 billion endowment.
In an interview following the announced departure of the management company’s chief last month, University treasurer James F. Rothenberg would not rule out the possibility of closing the firm and moving entirely to external management of the endowment. But when asked yesterday if the management company would continue to exist, Summers said, “I assume it will.”
Summers, who as deputy secretary of the Treasury orchestrated a multi-billion-dollar international aid package to prop up the Mexican peso in 1995, is preparing to return to Mexico next week for meetings with top government officials and Harvard alumni.
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at email@example.com.