Saturday, February 19, 2005

Sara Rimer notes the continued fallout over Lawrence Summers' remarks in today's New York Times

Sara Rimer has an article worthy of the front page that instead is relegated to A10. "Rift Deepens as Professors at Harvard See Remarks" deals with the continued fallout from Lawrence Summers' remarks. The fallout's not going away, my opinion, and needs to be dealt with.

Yesterday's entry "New York Times has one powerful story on the front page to be proud of, otherwise they send in the Elite Fluff Patrol" failed to provide a link to the transcript of the remarks made by Summers.

Frank in Orlando objected to the inclusion of that story in yesterday's entry. He does not want his remarks quoted but he says he has no problem in my quoting from my e-mail reply to him:

Eight members had already e-mailed the site before I logged on this morning to mention that article so it was of interest to some people. I'm sorry that it wasn't of interest to you. You note that there are "many other interesting stories" in today's paper but you do not provide links or your comments on those. You have been quoted in defense of Elisabeth Bumiller in the past and will be quoted again any time you give permission to be quoted. My opinions ("evaluations") do not "trump" your's unless you refuse to share those with the community. Your input is valued and you've been quoted each time you've given permission. If you'd like your e-mail critique to my comments posted, all you have to do is give permission.

Besides the eight members who had e-mailed prior to the post going up, 84 members e-mailed in response to the post to state that they were not pleased with the remarks made by Summers and to ask that we continue to highlight this story. Here are comments from those who gave permission to be quoted:

Judy: It is just like that scene in Baby Boom and you do expect more from the person in charge of one of our leading institutions. There's another point, too, and that's Fritz made his remarks to J.C. [in the movie Baby Boom] in private. Even Fritz possessed enough sense to know that they were not the sort of statements you make publicly.

Shirley: Stay on this story!

Brad: It's embarrassing and Harvard should have stepped in and shown him the door some time ago.

Woody: His racist statements regarding basketball players and farmers should also be registered by people. This man is out of touch with reality. A high school student like me has more sense than Summers.

Brenda: I cannot believe that any woman could come to his defense now and I'm trying to figure out why the walk out that greeted his remarks wasn't larger.

???: Lawrence of Harvard is attempting to colonize the university.

Gore Vidal is God: Since he knew ahead of time what the topic was and since he prepared his remarks ahead of time, exactly why does he think the excuse of not having looked at the research flies? Does he think he's Cokie Roberts who can just spit out any nonsense? He's the president of a university; therefore, he's required to do some work before preparing his remarks. If a student turned in a paper with as little research, he'd receive a failing grade.
You shouldn't fall back on intellectual freedom when you've shown no indication that you've done the work required to earn the title intellectual.

Trevor: Archie Bunker's the president of Harvard? Who would have known?

Cedric: Small minds must not interfere with being appointed by the university. Loved the Baby Boom reference.

Claudia: I've read the transcript. There's no sign of intelligent life in the mind of Summers. He needs to step down now not because of his offensive remarks but because he is supposed to be representing the best of intellectual pursuits yet while speaking at a function he shows no respect for intellectual study or even interest in it.

Eli: He has to step down.

Marcia: Bigots everywhere must take comfort in knowing that there's a place for them at Harvard.

Ben: I'm floored by his statements. I was hoping that it would turn out that he'd been misunderstood. He wasn't misunderstood. He said what he wanted to with no "as this study demonstrates" and I'm left confused as to exactly what his qualifications for becoming president were. He may be qualified for MSNBC but I see no qualification for Harvard.

Maria: He needs to be challenged to come up with the proof in his pudding. He's made his statements and now wants to act as though there was nothing wrong with them. When an educator relies not on the facts but upon conventional wisdom, there's a problem.

Lynda: Hello, my name is Larry Summers and I'm a nonrecovering idiot.

Sam: How big is his ego that he thought he could stand before a conference and deliver a speech without doing any research on the topic?

Charlie: Was he delivering a speech to academics or writing an op-ed for the New York Post?

Susan: Reading his comments, I'm thinking of a song . . . "Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are . . ."

Randall: Next on Fox: When Idiots Destroy Ivy League Reputations or Educators Gone Wild.

Doug: Thank goodness some had the sense to walk out on that nonsense.

Trudy: I read the transcript. He does give brief responses except when the topic turns to sports. Suddenly he's interested then. He's shown complete disregard for the real topic and arrogance towards the people attending.

The story struck me as important. In fairness to Frank in Orlando, the story also made me angry (and reading the transcript made me angrier) so it may not have been worded clearly.
While I was pacing around trying to figure out what to say about it, I thought of two things I wanted to include in addition to the Baby Boom ref but time ran out on me and I had to post as is.

One thing I was reminded of was how insulting it was for those in the audience. And I thought of the scene in Tout va Bien where the workers turn on a number of men who refused to join them in a show of solidarity with one man yelling, "Bye bye girls! Have fun gossiping!" This while women are a part of the solidarity? Calling men "girls" because they refuse to take a stand is appropriate how? Addressing a crowd with those remarks was appropriate for Summers? I don't think so. And I can't imagine that (unless you subscribed to the Queen Bee exclusion -- "It's good to be the exception! I'm not like other women! I think like a man!") it would be considered welcoming to hear the remarks he made.

I also thought of this from Tori Amos: Piece by Piece (by Tori Amos and Ann Powers, pp. 179-180):

Yet having a child hasn't lessened my dedication to my work -- if anything, it has grown since the work helped me through so many hard times. What's truly difficult is convincing other people that I can manage it all. . . .

Apparently, Lawrence Summers is one such person Tori Amos would have to convince because he's accepted conventional wisdom (at best, stereotypes at worst) for knowledge.

I know many people who have outside of work committments that speak of work as a thank-God-I-can-get-some-rest place. Apparently the home life demands on Summers have either not been very demanding or they've failed to make an impression. But many people who have to juggle various tasks (child rearing, activism, what have you) will note that there's a calmness and order imposed via the work environment that (on good days) is not present outside of work. Summers can only see non-work tasks as interfering with work which is really a shame because it is often what we do outside of work that makes us better at our jobs. What he sees as a liability (via conventional wisdom) can also be a bonus that leads to greater strides than would be found going the conventional wisdom route of focusing solely on work 24 hours, 7 days a week.

I know that from college, when I had one job, it was easy to put off assignments and studying until the last minute. When I held down three jobs, I was much more focused with regard to college and with regard to my jobs because the time was so limited that I did have set to boundaries and organize my schedule.

This conventional wisdom approach from a university president that we are only of value when our focus is solely on our job goes against everything that I thought a liberal arts education stood for. The point of a liberal arts education (I thought) was to make a person more well rounded. Instead of decrying the conventional wisdom myths of the losses of the "mommy track," Summers, due to his position, should be noting that increased experiences such people can bring to the table and working on solutions to ensure that the universities can benefit from these experiences.

I found his reliance on conventional wisdom (and the worst of conventional wisdom) very distressing for someone who's supposed to be setting the stage for educational development.

From Rimer's article in today's paper:

"My sense of the mood among key faculty is that they're deeply, deeply distressed about the way this entire thing is tearing the university apart, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in particular," said Theda Skocpol, a government professor who spoke out against Dr. Summers at the meeting. "And I share that distress."
. . .
Despite talk of a no-confidence vote, professors said such a vote would be highly unlikely because so many had signed up to speak. As a practical matter, faculty members said, the earliest date for such a vote would be March 15, at the regular meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
. . .
Eric Dhivian, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the medical school who shared in the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, said he did not sign the letter [of support for Summers that some are ciruclating]. Instead, Dr. Chivian said, he reluctantly wrote his own letter to the Harvard Corporation. The letter criticizes what he calls Dr. Summers's pattern of making insensitive, divisive comments and describes reports from numerous facutly members of "Dr. Summers' reputation for abusing his position of power and for vindictiveness towards those who disagree with him."

[E-mail address to weigh in on this or anything is If you wish to be quoted, please note that in your e-mail.]

[Note: This post has been corrected on the spelling of "reputation" in Randall's comments. Thanks to Randall for catching that and my apologies for leaving out the "t." Randall knows how to spell reputation, I'm the idiot. 2-21-05.]