Summers Sparks Debate at Tufts

Tufts campus divided over Summers’ lecture to be given tomorrow

University Professor Lawrence H. Summers once again has the presses rolling—this time over a speech he will make tomorrow at Tufts University.

A small group of professors there have publicly denounced the choice to invite the former Harvard president to speak, and some have called for a boycott.

But some students and Tufts administrators said that they were excited about the lecture and plan on attending it.

Summers said yesterday that he will speak on some of the same themes that he discussed while leading Harvard.

"I expect to address general issues, but I am sure I will touch on my experiences at Harvard," Summers said in an interview with The Crimson.

His talk, entitled "Rethinking Undergraduate Education," is part of the Richard E. Snyder Presidential Lecture series, which occurs each semester.

Tufts professors said they are less concerned about Summers’ proposed topic than with controversial comments he has made in the past.

In 2005, Summers drew widespread criticism for a speech in which he suggested that there might be innate differences in the scientific aptitudes of men and women.

Tomorrow’s lecture also comes on the heels of several incidents that have brought issues of diversity into the spotlight at Tufts. At last fall’s Snyder Presidential lecture at Tufts, author Shelby Steele spoke out strongly against affirmative action.

And in December, controversy arose after a satire published in the school’s conservative paper, The Primary Source, also criticized affirmative action.

The timing of Summers’ speech has led several professors to take action and voice their discontent publicly.

Associate Professor of Music John McDonald, in a letter to the Tufts Daily on February 14, called for a boycott of the event by encouraging students to "come next door to the Granoff Music Center at 8 p.m. on March 14 and hear some challenging new music instead."

Gary R. Goldstein, a professor in the physics and astronomy department, wrote a message to Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow expressing his disapproval.

"When I saw that [Summers] was asked to give the next lecture in the series, I was very concerned that this sends exactly the wrong message to the campus when we are trying to heal ourselves," Goldstein said yesterday.

Golstein also rejected the idea that by condemning the lecture he was denying Summers free speech.

"I’m not saying Larry Summers should shut up. I’m just questioning why he was invited in the first place and proposing that what he has to say is not going to be very interesting," Goldstein said.

Goldstein added that he expects "quite a few of us to boycott," and that there "may even be some protests."

But Tufts administrators said that the atmosphere has cooled and they no longer expect a boycott to occur. Bacow, who asked Summers to speak one year ago, defended his choice.

"I thought he had something interesting to say about undergraduate education," Bacow wrote in an e-mail. "I do not consider him a controversial choice, nor does the vast majority of the Tufts community."