Summers elicited frequent laughter and received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the meeting, most of which addressed broad themes in higher education.
The university president did not refer to his controversial comments on women and science until prompted to do so by a question that came about an hour into the ninety minute-long meeting.
HBS professors described a tone unlike the intensity and contentiousness that have marked Summers’ three meetings with the FAS over the past month, in which professors have sharply criticized the president’s leadership style.
The HBS faculty were “very supportive,” said Senior Lecturer David J. Collis. “It was basically pretty normal, nothing untoward.”
Collis was the only professor who agreed to give his name out of about 15 approached for comment by The Crimson after the meeting. All but three declined to comment.
Approximately 100 professors attended the meeting. Faculty members did not describe the size of the audience as unusual, in part because attendance at HBS faculty meetings—unlike those of FAS—is required, one professor said after the meeting.
Most of the last thirty minutes of yesterday’s discussion concerned the fallout from Summers’ January remarks on differences in “intrinsic aptitude” in science between men and women, for which he has since apologized.
Summers expressed hope that the media coverage his remarks have generated will spur the University to address issues that the controversy has brought into sharper relief.
“He explained his views on trying to use the publicity as a way to make positive changes in the University, as a way to get support in terms of promoting women and diversity on the faculty,” one HBS professor said after the meeting.
Asked what he would have done differently at the economics conference where he made his now-infamous remarks, Summers said that he would not have gone to the conference in the first place. And if he had attended—and given a similar talk—“I would have placed a much greater emphasis on issues relating to socialization and discrimination,” Summers said.
None of the professors’ queries were overtly critical of Summers. At least one faculty member did, however, criticize Summers’ detractors within FAS during the meeting.
One professor asked whether the president viewed the controversy as detrimental to academic discourse.
“No idea should be something that is off limits,” Summers said in response.
Perhaps buoyed by the upbeat tone of the meeting, Summers cracked frequent jokes and received enthusiastic laughter in return.
After a professor asked the first question referring to the recent controversy, the university president exclaimed, “I’m glad the ice is now broken!” Laughter, and the sound of hands banging on tables, could be heard outside the meeting room.
The meeting’s proceedings were audible outside the Aldrich Hall room where it was being held.
—Staff writer Anton S. Troianovski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.