Thursday, March 17, 2005

Larry Summers and academic freedom

So the Harvard faculty voted no confidence in the President. Does it show how insensitive the President is to gender issues? Does it suggest that the faculty believe in civil discourse? Does it show that the current state of the professoriate is vibrant or even mildy thoughtful? None of the above. It most of the 200 + faculty who voted against him probably had not even bothered to read the transcript of his remarks. What he said was not at all outrageous and was appropriately qualified. There are differences between men and women. They do result in differences in performance in some areas. They are not entirely uniform so that there are plenty of examples of brilliant women in math and the hard sciences. But there indeed may be some inate wiring differences that we should be aware of. Did Summers make the next connection that women should be excluded from the sciences and math? Of course not.

What the vote ultimately suggests is a much more profound point - the poverty of riches. If the richest university in the world can become embroiled in this kind of political pandering - then it may have a lot of dough but the really exciting things happening in academia may be happening somewhere else.

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