Summers Fields Tough Questions From Parents
Summers drew laughter early on as he acknowledged his “reputation for being provocative,” but in a question-and-answer session that followed, parents pressed Summers to clarify his January remarks—and at times interjected with their own judgements of the president.
“You should know that there are a large number of parents who are glad that you are here to bring a degree of non-emotional common sense to the University,” said one father to broad but reserved applause.
“And there are a lot who think you’re a jerk,” called out another dad from the rear of Sanders Theater, drawing scattered applause but mostly silence from the crowd.
Summers, visibly taken aback by the comment, paused for a moment before extending his hand out to the audience.
“Say it to me, don’t say it to each other,” Summers said. “We all want the same things. We want everyone to develop their careers. We don’t want to finger-point in any direction.”
The parents, in town to see their junior undergraduates for the College’s official visiting weekend, were mostly subdued during the event. Still, all but one of their questions focused on Summers’ now infamous speech, which came at a private conference of the National Bureau of Economic research.
“How would you give the speech differently today?” asked one parent.
“That’s a good try,” Summers replied. “As president of the University, it was a mistake for me to wade into a topic where I’m not an expert on all of the various kinds of research that have taken place.”
Asked by a reporter afterwards whether he planned to further address concerns among Harvard parents about his commitment to women in science, Summers said, “I was glad to be asked to respond to questions.”
—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at email@example.com.