Monday, February 28, 2005

Summers' time

Today the media is full of articles commenting on the on-going controversy over Larry Summers' unscripted comments to a room full of economists last month. On the op-ed page of the NY Times, Harvard grad Adam Cohen notes the role of the internet in making the debate transparent and eroding the privacy that used to contribute to a university president's power. (log-in required). Two economists look at the issue of how scientists are made, not born, and the strides women have made in increasing their representation in science. And over at the Weekly Standard, Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield argues that in its current incarnation the feminist movement is not helping the debate.

For anyone who has been under a rock or not attuned to the blogosphere, Summers made a number of comments calling into question the idea that men and women are biologically equal and suggesting biological differences as one of many reasons for the lower numbers of women in Science and Engineering. While these comments were the initial spark for controversy, the debate has now expanded to address issues such as Summers' overall behavior and role as President of Harvard, and the influence of the media on the resulting controversy. Summers had previously been criticized for his "bullying" style of leadership and his previous run-ins with the arbiters of political correctness during his publicized disagreement with former Afro-American studies chair Cornel West (now at Princeton). These issues have now become integral to the debate, putting Summers' job in jeopardy, with the faculty considering a vote of no confidence. From the perspective of a Dartmouth student, it is fascinating to watch how the debate about Summers' behavior, which really should be limited to Harvard students, faculty and alumni, is now a national one because of Harvard's unique status. If this is one of the results of a higher profile for a university, perhaps Dartmouth's relative (to Harvard) obscurity is not such a bad thing.

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