Harvard Seeking Women

By January 22, 2005

[NOTE: FIRE's Co-founder and Vice Chairman Harvey A. Silverglate appears in the video available at CBS News' online coverage. See the video "Kelly Cobiella reports on the continuing debate...."]

A week after he was criticized for suggesting there are biological differences in men’s and women’s scientific abilities, the president of Harvard University said he initiated a new program to recruit women to the prestigious institution.

Lawrence H. Summers told The Boston Globe for a story in Saturday’s editions that he has appointed historian Drew Gilpin Faust, the dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, to oversee the initiative. The institute focuses on the study of women, gender and society.

"The events of recent days and continuing concerns suggest that we as a university need to do much more," Summers said.

Summers insisted his remarks at a closed academic conference on Jan. 14 were misrepresented. The comments suggested possible biological differences may help explain why women have not achieved as much as men in the fields of math and science.

His statements prompted Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Nancy Hopkins — a Harvard graduate — to walk out on Summers’ talk. Five other participants in the National Bureau of Economic Research conference, including Denice D. Denton, chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, also said they were offended.

Summers said he was not endorsing a position, only stating that there is research that suggests such a difference may exist. His words sparked wide discussion on Harvard’s campus and a string of angry calls and e-mails, nevertheless.

Summers said task forces will be created as early as next week to examine how the university hires and cultivates women faculty members, and will study disparities between men and women, especially in the sciences.

The initiative will "assure that we have the most robust mechanisms we can to recruit and develop the careers of female scholars," he said. He said the university would begin implementing any recommendations by the end of the semester.

The flap over his comments on women in science is not the first time Summers has come under criticism since taking the helm at Harvard.

In 2002, prominent black scholars Cornel West left Harvard for Princeton after a dispute during private discussions with Summers. Summers reportedly questioned the academic validity of some of West’s pursuits, which included recording a hip-hop album.

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Schools: Harvard University