Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Burn the witch!

In the past few days, this blog has seen some rather heated discussions of intolerance, attempts to suppress "offensive" speech, and elevation of dogma over science on the part of the religious right. Now comes an example of the same from the politically correct left: Harvard president Lawrence Summers has announced that he will resign at the end of this academic year. His decision is widely seen as stemming in large part from the brouhaha over his speech last year in which Summers said, in part, that the underrepresentation of women in science may be partly due to biological differences between the sexes (and thus irremediable), which prompted an outcry from the faculty. In his letter to the Harvard community, Summers notes that "the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard's future."

Here's my March 1, 2005 Boston Globe column on the Summers controversy:

THE REAL scandal at Harvard is not that university president Lawrence Summers suggested, at a private symposium, that the small numbers of women in math and science departments at top research institutions may be due less to sex discrimination than to personal choices and inherent sex differences. The scandal is that his fairly innocuous, carefully hedged remarks sparked an irrational, intolerant outcry and that Summers was forced to offer groveling apologies in order to save his job.

Now that the transcript of Summers's remarks at the National Bureau of Economic Research Conference on Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce on Jan. 14 has been released, let's clarify what Summers did not say. He did not say that women are intellectually inferior to men or that women can't be great scientists. He did not say that young women shouldn't be encouraged to pursue careers in math and science or that there is no need to combat discrimination. (In fact, he said just the opposite.) He did suggest that even with the best efforts, full parity might be unattainable.

One reason for the imbalance, Summers said, is that science is one of those fields where highly successful people must have "near total commitments to their work" and fewer women than men are willing to make such a commitment, particularly women with families. (He added, "That's not a judgment about how it should be.") That is, quite simply, true. In a 2001 study by University of Vanderbilt psychologists David Lubinski and Camilla Persson Benbow, nearly a third of talented female graduate students in math and science and only 9 percent of the men said it was important to work part-time for at least a part of their careers. More egalitarian family roles would solve the problem.

Summers also touched feminism's third rail: biological differences between the sexes. The issue isn't average mathematical ability, which is quite similar for men and women; it's that many more males are clustered at the high and low ends of the scale, among the geniuses and the learning-disabled, while women are more likely to be found near the middle.

Is it "crazy," as Harvard physics professor Howard Georgi averred, to suggest that this may be due partly to scientifically proven brain differences? These differences aren't absolute (about a third of each sex usually fits the pattern more typical of the other), but they're significant enough to result in uneven distribution. Few would question the role of biology in the fact that four out of five children with autism are male.

Why deny it so strenuously when it comes to mathematical and scientific geniuses? Why refuse to consider that innate differences in temperament may make women more likely to prefer people-oriented occupations? Discrimination can't explain why women have made far greater inroads in formerly male-dominated fields such as law and medi cine than the hard sciences.

Summers's comments are hardly beyond criticism. He may well have underestimated the role of culture in gender differences. His story about his daughters calling their toy trucks "daddy truck" and "baby truck" belongs to the annoying "how my kids confirm gender stereotypes" anecdotal genre. Still, his informal talk was more grounded in solid research than the 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology report on the status of women faculty, a largely data-free hodgepodge of broad claims about discrimination and women's feelings of marginalization and misery.

The anti-Summers backlash is a scary display of know-nothingism, an embarrassing spectacle of academics rushing to denounce the mere statement of an unorthodox hypothesis. Like the MIT study, it's likely to create a climate that ultimately won't be good for women scientists. In his talk, Summers warned that an aggressive push to hire and promote more women i.e. preferential treatment may cast a shadow on women's merits, even when their advancement is based solely on talent. A number of women scientists such as Lynn Hillenbrand, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, have expressed similar concerns.

It has been suggested that Summers's comments could discourage scientifically talented young women. But exaggerated claims of pervasive, subtle discrimination could have an even more discouraging effect. Our message to these women should be that they are individuals whose talent is not diminished by the male-to-female ratio in their field and whose personal choices play a key role in shaping their careers not victims whose fragile egos must be protected from dangerous ideas of gender difference.


The witch-hunt against Summers may not have been quite up there with Stalinist show trials, as some have rhetorically claimed; but it was an egregious display of PC intolerance, and now the witch-hunters have had their burning at the stake, which is likely to have (pardon the mixed metaphor) a chilling effect on other administrators who would raise similar contentious issues.

For those who want to read Summers' heresy for themselves, here it is. Stanley Kurtz thinks Summers' real sin was the apology (his Galileo moment, so to speak), and he may be right.




108 comments:

AprilPNW said...

There was a female professor within earshot of Mr. Summers when he made his comments that stated, I believe, something to the effect that his statements made her "nauseous", "wanting to vomit" or "made her dizzy"? (or something along those lines..)

Regardless of the exact words - SHE was the one that really pissed me off the most in this whole mess. Did anybody, anybody in the press point out how spinless and weak her reaction was? Who is reinforcing stereotypes here? Reminds me of Victorian women getting "the vapors".

mythago said...

Color me skeptical. It's a whole year later, the furor has died down, for every person criticizing Summers ten more pop up to scold about PC and witchhunts and how women really do suck at math--and he's being forced out by the feminists? Sure he is.

Did anybody, anybody in the press point out how spinless and weak her reaction was?

Did anybody *not*?

Mike said...

I heard that Summers was a good administrator but the faculty disliked his personal style. I'm sure that l'affaire Summers didn't help, but it isn't clear that this was the main reason for his resignation.

If anyone is interested in the source of gender differences, I highly recommend this debate between Stephen Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke, both professors at Harvard. It might not change your own personal opinion, but you can at least see some of the empirical evidence on both sides.

Joan said...

It was Nancy Hopkins, an MIT professor. I was so appalled at her behavior, and the complete failure of MIT as an institution to repudiate her ridiculous remarks, that I've cut off all my donations to them. I'm embarrassed of my alma mater, and I'm embarrassed for them. There was a time when they were a well-respected institute of higher learning, and I suppose that's still true in some disciplines. But this entire Hopkins-Summers affaire has shed some ugly light on exactly how power plays are made at the top universities.

Great article, Cathy.

Gary McGath said...

My sense, as a Harvard employee (software engineer for the libraries), is that what was really going on is that Summers was trying to break through established fiefdoms at Harvard and made too many enemies along the way.

But it's widely perceived that he was forced out for heresy. This is not good for the future of open debate at Harvard.

AprilPNW said...

Thanks Joan. Hmmm, it was an MIT professor to boot? Good lord.

Here is article about this issue I found very interesting:

http://chronicle.com/free/2006/02/2006022106n.htm

beenaround said...

Mythago says:


for every person criticizing Summers ten more pop up to scold about PC and witchhunts and how women really do suck at math


Hmmm, I think Summers' statement was more nuanced than that ... perhaps more along the lines of the following:

SEX DIFFERENCES IN
MATHEMATICAL APTITUDE

Jim said...

Gary hits pretty much full on, I bet - Summers was abrasive => didn't flatter the superstar's egos enough. Then miracle of miracles, he said something they could hang him for. It may have taken a year, it might have taken longer, but they finally made thier move.

This is good for the general state of the academic establishment. It exposes very openly something that has been only controversial before. Besides, if it tarnishes the Harvard brand a little, that will be good - substance over branding.

Ampersand said...

I think it's important to distinguish between attempts at censorship - such as proposing laws intended to limit what left-wing professors can teach; attempts to teach religious dogma as science in public schools; and over-the-top criticism which makes disagreement uncomfortable.

What happened to Summers falls into the latter category. In an ideal world, disagreements like this would be much more civil, and I do worry about the chilling effect this sort of thing can have on speech. (The right does it too; I know plenty of folks who hesitate to criticize Israel because they don't want to be labeled "antisemitic" - a label Mr. Summers has applied broadly to Israel's critics).

But what happened to Summers is simply not in the same category as legislation to control professors, or teaching creationism as science. To imply the two are equivalent is an attempt to be "balanced" by criticizing the left for a splinter as much as you'd criticize the right for cutting the whole finger off.

Richard Bennett said...

Amp says: But what happened to Summers is simply not in the same category as legislation to control professors, or teaching creationism as science.

I would argue that it's worse. The Summers case indicates that people who aren't willing to endorse the rather ridiculous notions of gender quotas in the sciences aren't able to function in our elite academies because political correctness is so intolerant of incorrect thoughts, even those that are empirically based.

I was once banned from a notorious left-wing blog simply for pointing out that twice as many black girls as boys get college degrees. It's an empirical fact, and the party who banned me had even posted a study confirming it. But intellectual fascism doesn't want to deal with uncomfortable realities, and that's what sunk Summers.

Revenant said...

attempts to teach religious dogma as science in public schools

Hm. Teaching creationism as science in public schools would, indeed, be a very bad thing. On the other hand, it isn't actually happening yet, outside of a few local areas. Students are, on the other hand, taught unscientific nonsense like "there are no inherent mental differences between men and women".

Creationism and anti-liberal teaching laws represent the greater *potential* threat to learning. But left-wing biases represent the greater *existing* threat, because academic settings are currently controlled by left-wingers rather than right-wingers and creationists.

Ampersand said...

Students are, on the other hand, taught unscientific nonsense like "there are no inherent mental differences between men and women".

Who are you quoting here? Can you link a reasonable source giving evidence that the problem you describe actually exists?

Richard, I doubt Cathy is hoping her forum will become a place for posters to rehash past disagreements - including our disagreement over why you were banned from my blog. Let's let it drop.

Cathy Young said...

It seems pretty clear to me, from the chronology of the events, that the faculty revolt against Summers following his remarks about sex differences played a key role in leading to his resignation. No, admittedly this is not as bad as outright censorship, but it's still pretty bad.

Barry: I'm not sure how (if at all) high school classes address the issue of sex differences, but as far as I know the notion that gender is entirely a social construction is still the reigning dogma in women's studies.

I would like, by the way, to second your request for not bringing conflicts from other blogs to this site (particularly since the question of black females outnumbering black males in college is rather tangential to this post).

JodyTresidder said...

Revenant,
May I robustly second ampersand's request for the source of that quote?

Revenant said...

Who are you quoting here?

I was paraphrasing, not quoting (hence the "like") -- sorry for being unclear. In my personal academic career I encountered this assertion in several of my psychology courses, particularly developmental psych. It is a common belief in the social and mind sciences -- one which, as we saw in the Summers case, is adhered to with religious zeal by many members of the academy.

Can you link a reasonable source giving evidence that the problem you describe actually exists?

Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" is a good source of references to academic hostility to the idea of inborn mental differences.

But really, are you honestly going to try to act like the problem doesn't exist? When the mere suggestion that women's lack of presence in mathematics *might* be *partially* due to biology -- a hypothesis with considerable supporting evidence and little to refute it -- causes academics to feel physicially ill and forces the man making the suggestion to issue embarassing and uncalled-for apologies? Come on.

Ampersand said...

Cathy wrote: Barry: I'm not sure how (if at all) high school classes address the issue of sex differences, but as far as I know the notion that gender is entirely a social construction is still the reigning dogma in women's studies.

I've never seen the position Revenant cited taught in a women's studies class. I have seen a considerably more nuanced and less offensive view taught (nutshell: the "nature or nurture" question is a false dichotomy; and what differences exist (regardless of their cause) don't tell us about what individuals can accomplish.)

And I suspect it is rarely, if ever, taught as "dogma," in the sense that students are penalized for disagreement. Far less often than economics is taught as dogma, in my experience.

Of course, I haven't surveyed every WS department, so my view is anecdotal - but so, I suspect, is yours. Given that thousands of WS classes are taught, it's not surprising if a handful are as you describe, but I suspect most are more like what I'm describing. Because WS professors, on average, aren't idiots.

W.B. Reeves said...

The political squabbles internal to Harvard hold no particular fascination for me but they do seem to eventially make their way into the larger media.

My impression is that this is the final act of an extended cold war between Summers and the faculty at Harvard. Summer's made himself no stranger to controversy along the way, the Cornel West affair comes to mind. I've no doubt that his remarks were a useful blunt instrument in the hands of his enemies. I doubt that this alone would have led to his resignation though.

Summers himself doesn't so much as mention the issue in his own statement. Unless your counting his vague reference to:

"...the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty..."

The closest he comes to citing a central conflict is when he says:

"We cannot maintain pre-eminence in intellectual fields if we remain constrained by artificial boundaries of departments and Schools. "Each Tub On Its Own Bottom" is a vivid, but limiting, metaphor for decision making at Harvard. We will not escape its limits unless our Schools and Faculties increase their willingness to transcend parochial interests in support of broader university goals."

I can imagine how this sentiment would be received by the existing Department Heads and their various institutional dependents.

This takes nothing away from Cathy's critique of the misuse of Feminism for mean political ends. Any decent advocacy has to be grounded in fact or it's simply demogoguery. To the question:

"Why refuse to consider that innate differences in temperament may make women more likely to prefer people-oriented occupations?"

I can only provide an imperfect answer for an imperfect world. So long as a significant number will argue that biology is destiny, any suggestion of bio-determined behavior is going to be treated as the Camel's nose in the tent. Lousy for reasoned debate, I agree.

Ampersand said...

Revenant, I assumed you were talking about kids being taught "there are no inherent mental differences between men and women" in high school science classes, but rereading I see that the "high school" part wasn't actually said. So that may be part of why we're talking past each other.

I'm also concerned about your "paraphrase," which I suspect of being less a paraphrase than a caricature of a significantly more nuanced and defensible position.

It is a common belief in the social and mind sciences -- one which, as we saw in the Summers case, is adhered to with religious zeal by many members of the academy.

That you're continuing to talk in very vague ways, and that you don't actually name any of these "members of the academy," doesn't make me more confident that you're not attacking a straw man.

In most debates, there are people on both sides who are over-the-top and insulting in their rhetoric, and also people on both sides who construct decent, well-thought arguments. The debate over biological essentialism is no exception.

I wasn't very impressed by The Blank Slate; too many of his arguments seemed based on a straw-man version of what opposition views are. IIRC (and it's been a while), he also had a bad habit of referring to arguments generically (i.e., "feminists say....") rather than attributing them to specific verifiable authors.

But really, are you honestly going to try to act like the problem doesn't exist?

But really, are you honestly going to try to act like you should be exempt from providing empirical support for factual claims you make?

I don't know if the problem exists or not. But your word isn't enough evidence to convince me.

When the mere suggestion that women's lack of presence in mathematics *might* be *partially* due to biology -- a hypothesis with considerable supporting evidence and little to refute it -- causes academics to feel physicially ill and forces the man making the suggestion to issue embarassing and uncalled-for apologies? Come on.

I don't understand this "forces" you're referring to. Did someone hold a gun to Larry Summers' head while he wrote the apology?

One academic said she felt ill - which was a dumb thing to say, especially to a reporter. But she also said a lot of other things, which everyone has ignored; it's not really her fault that the press chose to focus on that one stupid comment. And a lot of academics made substantive responses to Summers' thesis.

You might start by reading Elizabeth Spelke's half of this debate - thanks, Mike! - before you conclude that there's not much evidence to support views contrary to your own. Part of the problem is the belief that it's impossible for reasonable, informed people to disagree on these matters; that's a error made by some of the academics who criticized Summers, but it's also an error you're making.

Revenant said...

Revenant, I assumed you were talking about kids being taught "there are no inherent mental differences between men and women" in high school science classes

No, I was talking about college (as were you, I had assumed, since you referred to "laws limiting what left-wing professors can teach").

I'm also concerned about your "paraphrase," which I suspect of being less a paraphrase than a caricature of a significantly more nuanced and defensible position.

It is a paraphrase of the position that there are no inherent mental differences between men and women. There is no "nuance" in that position for me to miss out on.

There are scientists who believe in inherent gender-based mental differences, but they are for the most part careful to not draw attention to themselves or discuss their beliefs with undergrads -- unless the difference can be couched in a way that makes it sound like women have the advantage, of course. Saying "there are no differences" is safe; saying "there may be differences" can end your career. Ergo undergrads get exposed to the former idea and not the latter.

That you're continuing to talk in very vague ways, and that you don't actually name any of these "members of the academy," doesn't make me more confident that you're not attacking a straw man.

You didn't bother citing any attempts to "teach religious dogma as science" or examples of "laws intended to limit what left-wing professors can teach". Should I assume you are attacking a straw man? Of course not; that would be disingenuous of me, just as your attempt to pretend the academy isn't vehemently hostile to the idea of inherent gender differences is disingenuous of you.

I don't understand this "forces" you're referring to. Did someone hold a gun to Larry Summers' head while he wrote the apology?

You're being absurdly literalist here. It is often said "the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign", "popular sentiment forced Kerry to vote for the Iraq war", or "women are forced to choose between children and career". Nobody's holding a gun to any of the above people's heads. The expression "X forced Y to do Z" is commonly used, in colloquial English, to mean "X placed Y in a situation where the only acceptable course of action was Z". Summers was a university administrator faced with a faculty in open revolt over a suggestion he had made that violated their religious beliefs; he was forced to apologize because the alternatives -- resigning or continuing to manage an openly hostile faculty -- were worse.

One academic said she felt ill - which was a dumb thing to say, especially to a reporter.

Don't even TRY to pretend that the histrionic response to Summers' remark consisted of one woman saying one egregiously stupid thing.

a lot of academics made substantive responses to Summers' thesis.

Hm, awfully vague. Sounds like a straw man to me. :)

You might start by reading Elizabeth Spelke's half of this debate

I am fairly certain that I am much more familiar with the mind sciences than you are; in any case, I have read the Pinker/Spelke debate many times. I find her argument to be quite weak, especially since she hedges it thus:

"Could biological differences in motives — motivational patterns that evolved in the Pleistocene but that apply to us today — propel more men than women towards careers in mathematics and science? My feeling is that where we stand now, we cannot evaluate this claim. It may be true, but as long as the forces of discrimination and biased perceptions affect people so pervasively, we'll never know."

In other words, after attempting at length to argue that gender-based differences are demonstrably not to blame for a lack of women in certain academic fields, Spelke retreats to the position that we can't really know yet if the causes are biological or not -- but she leaves open the possibility that they could be.

Part of the problem is the belief that it's impossible for reasonable, informed people to disagree on these matters; that's a error made by some of the academics who criticized Summers, but it's also an error you're making.

I haven't made that mistake. I think there is no real evidence supporting the "no differences" theory but I'm open to being convinced otherwise. The problem is that few in academia feel the same way; you either toe the leftist line that all differences are the product of social pressures or your career suffers for it. Remember, Summers didn't say "it is a fact that women are worse at math". He was crucified just for *suggesting* that it *might* be true. When I call for every professor in the mind sciences who even suggests that there are no inherent mental diffences to resign in disgrace, THEN you can say I'm acting the way Summers' critics did.

Richard Bennett said...

Ampersand, what makes you think I was talking about you? I've noticed that many, many feminist blogs don't allow debate, so there's nothing unique about yours.

The point is that the feminist left is intolerant, and that's the main takeaway from the Summers case.

It's interesting that those who cheer Summers' resignation are demanding evidence that people such as he are unwelcome in academe. That's the whole point of the discussion, after all.

Summers was frozen out of Harvard for suggesting that men and women may not have equal interest or even equal aptitude for the sciences. This is a kind of de facto censorship and it's apparently very widespread in American universities.

The sciences have traditionally been less affected by this sort of witch-burning than humanties departments, but it's obviously spreading.

beenaround said...

revenant says:


Remember, Summers didn't say "it is a fact that women are worse at math". He was crucified just for *suggesting* that it *might* be true.


From where I stand he was not suggesting that women are worse at math than men are, on average. He was talking about the extreme right hand end of the curve, and there is definitely evidence that even if the means are the same, the SDs are different.

Universities do not look for average abilities in their professors, it seems to me.

Richard Bennett said...

Well, that and also that women aren't all that interested in science and math.

Synova said...

I think that the idea that if something isn't *taught* then it isn't taught is just wrong. If it's not on a syllabus or in a textbook then it's not there?

It doesn't have to be in the syllabus or the textbook to inform every moment of a class or a community.

When people complain of political correctness, they're talking about the unspoken rules that must not be broken... all those "must nots" or "musts" that simply *are*.

Whatever really happened, the perception is going to be that Summers broke those unspoken rules and then everyone else has to fear breaking them too, or suffer the same consequences. How can this *not* negatively affect students? Will they dare speak those things that lost a powerful person like Summers his job? Will they dare speak other things?

mythago said...

It seems pretty clear to me, from the chronology of the events, that the faculty revolt against Summers following his remarks about sex differences played a key role in leading to his resignation.

It isn't so clear to me. Summers has had a stormy tenure since he walked into office--because he's a bully or because he doesn't play faculty politics, depending on whom you ask. (Surely I'm not the only one who remembers the Cornell West dust-up.)

As far as drumming him out of Harvard, Summers intends to take a sabbatical, after which he will return to Harvard as a University professor.

Yes, those awful feminists just ruined his life, didn't they?

Cathy Young said...

mythago, I don't think that being forced out of a university presidency is right up there with facing a firing squad, but I don't think it's trivial, either. Would you be equally dismissive if he had been forced to step down as a result of, say, making comments in opposition to the war in Iraq? I'm not to trying to be snarky, btw -- just asking an honest question.

Richard Bennett said...

The feminists haven't ruined Summers' life, because they can't. He's a man of considerable accomplishment so he's going to be fine, with Harvard or without it.

The real question is whether they've successfully ruined Harvard for a generation. Forcing the president into resignation for expressing thoughts that offend the prevailing dogma is a serious matter for the university because it sends the message that the spirit of free inquiry is effectively dead. And without that, what good is a university?

At Harvard, the terrorists have won.

Anonymous said...

mythago says:

Yes, those awful feminists just ruined his life, didn't they?

Another reason people sometimes talk past each other in these discussions. I've noticed a tendency for some folks, especially on the PC left, to view these disputes in terms of a victim - oppressor dichotomy. And they impose such a view on the arguments of their opponents.

Summers isn't a victim. There is no innate right to be president of Harvard. The issue for a lot of folks is whether PC views on gender discrepencies in the faculty of Harvard are going to be a job requirement to hold the Presidency of Harvard. In the end, such a requirement damages Harvard, and might damage women and their concerns in the long run.

Anonymous said...

My goodness Richard, "no confidence" votes are definitely not terrorism.

reader_iam said...

Your original column (and this post) gets it right.

One academic said she felt ill - which was a dumb thing to say, especially to a reporter.

This misses the point, in my view. It was an appalling reaction for her to have, period, whether she voiced it or not, and utterly telling of her mindset toward information or opinions (in this case, both) that don't fit into her world view. Utterly inappropriate in a setting that's supposed to be about "higher" education.

chase said...

Although I have no first-hand knowledge of the internal politics at Harvard, my long personal history in academia leads me to believe a whole slew of issues led to Summers' resignation. Even at the lowliest of community colleges, power struggles between instructors and administrations can make live quite uncomfortable for all involved. I can only imagine, with the bloated egos and arrogant liberalism at Harvard, this effect was magnified.

Summers made the critical error of publicly suggesting an opinion discordant with the progressive ideology that virutally all Harvard professors advance. While some saw an opportunity for genuine debate, academic exploration and such, others would rather attach damning labels such as "misogynist", "sexism" and "antequated" to the man in order to discredit and ultimately can him.

Summers is right in going though. As unfortunate as it is, being at odds with so much of the faculty puts functional limits on what he can accomplish. It's better for both that he escape to greener pastures, meadows more accepting of ideological interplay.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I come back to this...

Nancy Hopkins remarks were certainly histrionic, and it was very stupid of her to make them in front of a reporter. On one hand, it completely re-enforced that whole hysterical woman stereotype, and that is just plain embarrassing.

On the other hand, when people have had to deal with a lot of sexism, they can get ridiculously hypersensitive to it. I have certainly had the experience of my high school computer science teacher lecturing the class on how women are not good in mathematics and computer programming. I had the second highest grades in his class. Just one example. I have lots more. I can't tell you how many women I have met who were told by male math teachers that women don't have an aptitude for math. It is ridiculous to me that some people honestly don't see that being repeatedly discouraged from pursuing a career path has an impact. (Lucky for me, my dad is an engineer, and believed in both math and me.)

Yet, YET, according to Spelke, nearly half of all undergraduate degrees in math and sciences go to women. In fact, in my graduate statistics program, the overwhelming majority of MS candidates were women. Most were from China, but most were women. Not exactly evidence for Richard's position that women aren't interested in math or sciences.

What it seems women are not interested in is being faculty in math and sciences. In the humanities, psychology, and the other softer disciplines, you need a Phd to get a decent job. In math and sciences, you don't. In fact, if you go work for industry (rather than the university), you can make as much or more than the professors, have nice benefits, and work a 40-45 hour week.

I could have gone the Phd route. I could have spent 3-3.5 more years getting beating down in graduate school, working 80 hour weeks between classes, assistantships, and homework so I could make a little more when I first graduated. But someone please explain to me, WHY is THAT a smarter choice???

Z

colagirl said...

I have certainly had the experience of my high school computer science teacher lecturing the class on how women are not good in mathematics and computer programming. I had the second highest grades in his class.

A friend of my fiance's, in computer science, has some nice stories about being the only female in a section full of male CompSci students, complete with a CompSci TA who looked her straight in the chest whenever he was talking to her. It was apparently not a pleasant experience.

There may be very well biological differences between the sexes in mathematical ability. (My personal opinion of [i]The Blank Slate[/i] was that it looked very impressive at first glance, but when Pinker started talking about areas about which I had personal knowledge, it looked substantially less so.) However I'm not ready to entirely dismiss social factors either, including stereotypes of math and computer science as being full of guys who couldn't date in high school.

Z--My roommate is in a field where basically the only way to support yourself is to get a Ph.D. and pray for a tenure-track position. She'll be graduating this May and is in the long, exhausting and incredibly discouraging job-search phase. When talking to me about it, she told me that she had decided that she would never tell her children to go for a Ph.D. because she was no longer sure it was worth it. I thought it was a pretty sobering assessment of what the costs and prospects were in pursuing a higher-ed degree.

Jack Roy said...

I take a slightly different view. I think the Summers persecution was a peeved faculty taking revenge for perceived slights and the necessary stepping-on-toes that comes with any broad reform (which, if memory serves, Summers was attempting). PC intolerance was a cover for it, no doubt, but the actual motives are a little more mercenary. (And, certainly, no more respectable.) I keep asking everyone who's following this whether they've read The Human Stain; the story seems exactly parallel to me.

Lori Heine said...

I see a definite parallel between The Human Stain and real life in this case. A professor asking an offhand question as to whether two no-show students are "spooks" -- not realizing the possible racist meaning of the word -- leads, in the novel, to his near-ruin. It's a fascinating book, and I won't ruin the ending here. Dr. Summers, however, was TRYING to be careful in what he said (or at least, so I assume), and still he ended up stepping on a land-mine.

Political correctness IS a problem, I'll agree. But it is really only part of a larger problem, which is that people no longer want to think. I see no point in flying off in a tizzy about what Summers said ( the substance of which is almost certainly true). His critics did nothing to discredit his claims. In fact, their ridiculous carrying-on only strengthened his credibility with the very people most inclined to believe him anyway.

Which brings me to my main point. I, too, remember being told, in math class, that girls were simply not as smart as boys when it came to the subject. This, as Cathy has taken pains to make clear, is NOT what Dr. Summers said. But it is how a great many people, including those in academia, have chosen to interpret what he said.

"The point is that the feminist left is intolerant, and that's the main takeaway from the Summers case."

Mr. Bennett, a whole lotta folks out there are intolerant. The feminist left, the anti-feminist right, and just about everybody in between. The liberal feminists have hardly covered themselves with glory on this issue. But of course all the usual suspects have also risen up in condemnation of them. Are we to believe that THEY are totally level-headed, fair and disinterested? Only if we live in fantasy-land.

The less-crazed and more rational among the feminists are afraid that Dr. Summers' remarks will be taken out-of-context and used to block female students' advancement in math and science. It isn't only frothing-at-the-mouth radical PC feminists who have an interest, after all, in misunderstanding what he said.

AprilPNW said...

Anonymous said:

"Nancy Hopkins remarks were certainly histrionic, and it was very stupid of her to make them in front of a reporter. On one hand, it completely re-enforced that whole hysterical woman stereotype, and that is just plain embarrassing."

"...Just one example. I have lots more. I can't tell you how many women I have met who were told by male math teachers that women don't have an aptitude for math. It is ridiculous to me that some people honestly don't see that being repeatedly discouraged from pursuing a career path has an impact. (Lucky for me, my dad is an engineer, and believed in both math and me.)"

Great remark about Ms. Hopkins and her over the top reacation.

Since we are decrying the repression of free inquiry and discussion, I'll add a fly in the ointment to Ms. Anonymous above (after all, raising the level of the debate).

I am the oldest child, and have always had a close relationship w/my father - an engineer geek with a physics degree. Much like Ms. Anonymous, my father never failed to believe in me and my intelligence. However, despite his very best efforts to get me interested in math, AND a school career with nearly 100% FEMALE math teachers - I simply don't get it. I followed the typical path: little girl thinks math is 'fun' in middle school, turns into complete math idiot by high school. Looking at my background, it appears that this should not have happened.

In regards to Ms. Anonymous' stories of discouragement from male teachers... I can't help but put my "hard ass" hat on here: you had the second highest grade in your math class. I can't come up with a better, more clear example of simply proving someone wrong. Maybe I've always been exceptionally stubborn and ornery, but I'm slightly disturbed that it doesn't occur to some women that someone telling them they "can't" do something might be flat out wrong...especially when they have their own evidence that they "can" do it. Whatever happened to questioning authority?

Maybe I'm being too hard on young women - but a little sass seems to be in order here.

Revenant said...

The real question is whether they've successfully ruined Harvard for a generation.

Well, realistically speaking you don't go to Harvard for the education. You go to Harvard for the contacts you make while you're there. If what you're after is an education, there are plenty of places that will offer better instruction in the field of your choice for a lot less money. So I doubt this will "ruin" Harvard.

Anonymous said...

The Ultra Left are so orthodox! Today, they're all so "Passé Reactionary"; in their 40's or older and no clue where they're going or what life is all about. They don't advocate "education". No! Why it's all like a "religion" to them. If you don't buy their sanctimonious mumbo-jumbo, their world-view, and their holy water and prayer books, you ain't a'gonna graduate, and you ain't a'goin ta get'a good job need'er. (Scuse my english, I only gott'a BA at'a 'Merican University.) My! How we have fallin! We're kissin OBL's feet, saying sorry for some stupid cartoons, going broke throwing money at MD's, hospitals, and Social Security recipients, suing the pants off each other for every reason some ambulance-chasing lawyer can think of, not supporting our troops, tearing the country apart like we did in the '60's, and for what? For What? I guess Summers' biggest problem is the same one the rest of us have in such abundance: ________ (fill in this space yourself).

Anonymous said...

I realize, in retrospect, that I didn't state some things that I should have. I was reacting less to what Summers' said, than to some of the comments in this thread. As for Summers' remarks, I disagree with some of his points, but I don't find his statements objectionable. I certainly don't think he should have been fired for those remarks. As a researcher, I think that gender differences, biological and otherwise, are something that should be researched and debated. But Lori is absolutely right, it isn't just the feminists who like to misrepresent the research.

Z

Anonymous said...

aprilpnw,

Actually, I had a little too much sass at that age. I laughed out loud in class during his lecture, and the dolt blushed, grumbled a bit, and changed the subject. I don't think my reaction had much of an effect on the class, actually. I was pretty much a nerd, so I was considered 'different', anyway.

But what he said did have an effect. The guys that were struggling tried harder. After all, he had associated inability in math with feminity. The girls who were struggling had an excuse. Some of them just quit, and switched to a different class.

Z

Anonymous said...

aprilpnw,

I forgot to address your other point, since we are swapping annecdotes. My girlfriends father was an engineer, too. (Which we both think is funny.) Neither her nor her brother 'got' math. My girlfriend is dyslexic, so all languages are hard for her. (Math is a language) Her brother just wasn't interested.

Z

Lori Heine said...

I really can't say, from my own, personal experience, whether I would have taken a greater interest in math even if I had been encouraged to. All I can say is that I definitely wasn't. Only my dad seemed to think it was necessary for me to master it, though even he didn't care very much how far I went with it. As long as I could balance my checkbook.

To this day, I have difficulty even doing that. I took "dummy" math all the way through high school. However, I was able to read and write at what was then ninth-grade level by the time I was in the first grade, and zoomed along in accelerated English from then on.

A lot of it has to do with what interests a particular kid. I found math tedious, preferring instead to curl up somewhere with a good book. I can get lost all day in a library or a bookstore. Can my B.A. in English, with a minor in history, be accounted for by the fact that I'm "typically girly?"

I also smoke cigars (great big, stinky old stogies), go out hunting with my dad's Browning shotgun and read the sports page before anything else. It's been years since I've worn a garment made for a woman, and I haven't been in a dress since I was a teenager. If anyone who knows me heard me described as "girly," they'd have a pretty good laugh.

I think we've merely touched the tip of the iceberg on the question of what makes men men and women women. If we all didn't worry our heads so much about it -- and spend so much time at each others' throats over ideology -- we might actually discover that the issue would work itself out. To arrive at the right answers, we must first be interested in finding them.

Revenant said...

I also smoke cigars (great big, stinky old stogies), go out hunting with my dad's Browning shotgun and read the sports page before anything else.

Plus, of course, there's the whole "being attracted to women" thing. :)

I think it is generally acknowledged by most scientists and non-scientists who believe in inborn, gender-associated mental traits that the opposite gender can have those traits too -- just not as often as the associated gender does. That's true for physical traits, too, such as height, body fat distribution, etc.

Synova said...

When my cousin got her PhD in... gosh, she's was doing work in genetic engineering, gene therapy for cancer but I'm spacing what her PhD was... anyhow, when she got her degree, she also said that she doubted it was worth it and wouldn't do it if she had it to do over.

My baby sister has a MS in Physics and is teaching. Her experiences in grad school (and the stories my cousin told and others as well) border on horrific. The hours expected, the slave labor, the... punishment, really... it's a bit as though the professors want to be d*mn sure that the younger generation has to suffer every bit as much as they did... as though they're finally entitled to be bowed and scraped to.

Though my sister worked with many supportive people one of her professors was a misogynist of the old school, but even more than that, he seemed to feel it was his *duty* to defeat the week and unworthy. He did this to male grad students as well. He tried to break his students. The idea of having a family, a life, or even sleep... that's for the weak. (My sister said... it's not like I can wait for him to die, he's 72 and runs marathons.)

She is/was involved in efforts to Unionize graduate students. I'm libertarian (mostly) so even the idea of a Union is a hard sell, but she'd have sold me on it easily, the work practices seemed so egregiously unfair.

(I did have to ask her, though, how it could be all Bush's fault when nearly all of the offending profs were Democrats and the problem existed in a system that was dominated by Democrats long before Bush was elected.)

Ampersand said...

Revenant wrote:

You didn't bother citing any attempts to "teach religious dogma as science" or examples of "laws intended to limit what left-wing professors can teach".

Because I wasn't asked for citations. But if you doubt the truth of those statements, just ask for citations and, unlike you, I'll support my claims with evidence.

...just as your attempt to pretend the academy isn't vehemently hostile to the idea of inherent gender differences is disingenuous of you.

No, it's not disingenuous. I honestly believe that most professors in intro psych and the like teach students that gender differences in behavior might be caused by biology, by culture, or by a combination, depending on which theory one subscribes to, and that even ones who teach with a bias towards the social explanations still teach that other theories exist and that evidence can be found to support more than one view.

I think your claim that a substantial number of professors are teaching "there are no inherent mental differences between men and women," full stop, is untrue.

Similarly, when you say:

There are scientists who believe in inherent gender-based mental differences, but they are for the most part careful to not draw attention to themselves or discuss their beliefs with undergrads -- unless the difference can be couched in a way that makes it sound like women have the advantage, of course. Saying "there are no differences" is safe; saying "there may be differences" can end your career. Ergo undergrads get exposed to the former idea and not the latter.

...that's just nonsense.

Contrary to what you seem to believe, evolutionary psychology is extremely popular in the university, and commonly taught at the introductory level. A google search for "Alcock syllabus" found over 14,000 results, for example.

Take a look at this class blog for a family studies class - clearly, they are being taught evo-psych. (Actually, I'm not sure they're being taught any alternatives to evo-psych). Nothing in the class blog suggests that the class is especially controversial, or that the professor has to fear for his career as a result of teaching it. Certainly, he doesn't fear having his lessons discussed on the internet where anyone can read it.

Of course, maybe that's atypical. But if most professors prefer not to teach about biological theories of gender differences at all, we'd expect that to be reflected in textbooks (supply and demand, and all that).

When some evolutionary psychologists recently reviewed what intro textbooks say, they found that the vast majority of intro psych textbooks discuss sociobiology and/or evolutionary psychology - and the majority teach it in a neutral or positive fashion. (Source).

Contrary to your claims, it's clear that college professors are free to teach evo-psych and other biologically-based theories of gender difference, and frequently assign textbooks discussing such theories.

So that's my evidence. Where's yours?

Revenant said...

Because I wasn't asked for citations.

Neither was I, but you saw fit to criticize me and accuse me of offering straw man arguments for failing to provide them. :)

I think your claim that a substantial number of professors are teaching "there are no inherent mental differences between men and women," full stop, is untrue.

As I noted earlier, if you are truly that unaware of the state of modern academia then there really isn't much point in discussing the matter with you. You lack the knowledge required to make useful comments on the subject.

A google search for "Alcock syllabus" found over 14,000 results, for example.

A google search for "Holocaust never happened syllabus" returns 39,100 hits. What's your point?

You are, in any case, moving the goalposts. I said the academy was hostile to the idea of gender-based biological differences in the mind. It is entirely possible to accept evolutionary psychology and not believe that evolution has resulted in sexual dimorphism within the human mind.

Take a look at this class blog for a family studies class - clearly, they are being taught evo-psych

Congradulations on providing something that's completely irrelevant to my point. Now do a search on that blog and note the complete lack of any mention of inherent, gender-based differences in human thought.

So that's my evidence. Where's yours?

I'm amused that you wasted all that time finding and linking those web pages and somehow failed to notice that not a single one of them mentions inherent gender-based psychological differences.

Some evidence for my claim that suggesting gender-based differences can ruin your career is, of course, the case of Summers himself. As for evidence for my claim that students aren't taught about gender-based mental differences unless the data can be spun to make women sound better, well, you can't prove a negative. But your failure to find any actual evidence of students being taught such things is certainly interesting...

Ampersand said...

Revenant wrote:

Neither was I [asked for citations], but you saw fit to criticize me and accuse me of offering straw man arguments for failing to provide them. :)

You are mistaken. From my post of February 22nd, 5:07pm:

Can you link a reasonable source giving evidence that the problem you describe actually exists?

Unless you're about to argue that there's a substantial difference, in the context of an online debate, between being asked for "a reasonable source giving evidence" and a "citation," clearly I did ask you.

As I noted earlier, if you are truly that unaware of the state of modern academia then there really isn't much point in discussing the matter with you. You lack the knowledge required to make useful comments on the subject.

Ad Hominem attacks on me don't do anything to improve your case. Just the opposite, in my opinion.

Now do a search on that blog and note the complete lack of any mention of inherent, gender-based differences in human thought.

I'm guessing you didn't notice that the first assigned reading is Buss' The Evolution of Desire. It's not possible for a class to read David Buss and not learn about the theory of "inherent, gender-based differences in human thought." You might as well argue that a class assigned one of Catherine MacKinnon's books isn't being exposed to radical feminist ideas.

(Also, if you read the professor's blog, it's clear he's a proponent of sexual dimorphism within the human mind, and that's what he teaches.)

It is entirely possible to accept evolutionary psychology and not believe that evolution has resulted in sexual dimorphism within the human mind.

That's a good point. Fortunately, we can settle this question by seeing which specific authors are cited by basic psychology textbooks.

As the study of textbooks I linked to in my previous post noted, the evolutionary psychologist most often cited in basic psychology textbooks is... wait for it... David Buss. "Indeed, in the last 5 years David Buss has not only become the most cited author in sections on EP, but is cited more frequently than all other authors combined."

Some evidence for my claim that suggesting gender-based differences can ruin your career is, of course, the case of Summers himself.

Summers remains a full professor at Harvard; his career as a professor is not in danger. If you want to argue that college Presidents are much more restricted in what they can say and remain effective administrators and fundraisers, I'd agree with that, but that doesn't prove anything about what professors can teach in the classroom.

Finally, please don't post to say that responding to me is pointless, I'm ignorant, etc. Frankly, I think you've been a bit rude.

Richard Bennett said...

A bit rude, eh? Well, we know how to deal with that.

I think it's interesting to note the attempt to hijack this discussion, per this comment: If you want to argue that college Presidents are much more restricted in what they can say and remain effective administrators and fundraisers, I'd agree with that, but that doesn't prove anything about what professors can teach in the classroom.

You see, Amp, we actually are discussing a particular college president defeat by the PC/feminist jihad here, and not the freedom of tenured professors to teach sensible and well-researched theories of behavior. So you've gone so far down the rabbit hole that you're condemning your own obfuscation.

What an interesting turn.

Anonymous said...

Harvard Alum, Matthew Yglesias, weighs in:

http://www.tpmcafe.com/node/27016

Revenant said...

You are mistaken. From my post of February 22nd, 5:07pm: Can you link a reasonable source giving evidence that the problem you describe actually exists?

And as I noted in my follow-up post, I personally encountered the problem in college. That's a reasonable source, unless you're planning to accuse me of lying.

Ad Hominem attacks on me don't do anything to improve your case. Just the opposite, in my opinion.

You appear to be under the mistaken impression that I'm trying to convince *you* of anything at all. I'm no more interested in convincing you that the academy is hostile to the idea of gender-based differences in the mind than I am in convincing you that creationism is wrong or the earth isn't really flat. I'm just perplexed that you persist in denying the simple fact that the academy is thus biased.

I you consider it an "ad hominem attack" that I deem you ignorant of modern academia then, well, that is your perogative. You yourself can, in my opinion, be quite insulting in the manner you speak to other people. :)

Richard Bennett said...

The Matt Yglesias blog on this subject is informative. The PC left wants to redefine Summers' downfall as an internecine squabble over power and control of budgets rather than a chilling example of the punishment of incorrect thought. In this formulation, Summers was forced out simply for trying to take too much control away from the A & S faculty.

It's a convenient way of framing the issue because it takes the central problem off the table by "blaming the victim," but it's ultimately unsatisfying and dishonest.

Assuming that the faculty was out to get Summers for eroding their perks and power, the fact remains that the means they used to accomplish this end still relied on his public expression of incorrect thought.

So at the end of the day, this clever analysis serves to underscore the power of intellectual fascism in left-dominated institutions: restrictions on thought are so powerful they can be used to advance nefarious and selfish ends.

And the university suffers.

Ampersand said...

I wrote: You are mistaken. From my post of February 22nd, 5:07pm: Can you link a reasonable source giving evidence that the problem you describe actually exists?

Revenant: And as I noted in my follow-up post, I personally encountered the problem in college. That's a reasonable source, unless you're planning to accuse me of lying.

I don't accuse you of being a deliberate liar. However, it seems unlikely that your personal experiences form a large enough sample to draw a firm conclusion from. There are numerous other mythological objections that could be made to your anecdote-as-evidence approach.

That's why anecdotal data alone is not usually considered acceptable as evidence of the truth of a proposition in a debate.

In any case, now that you've resorted to the "if you don't accept my purely anecdotal evidence as a reasonable source of evidence, you're calling me a liar!" argument, I think it's best that I bow out of further discussion on this thread. No hard feelings, and stay well until next time.

Revenant said...

So at the end of the day, this clever analysis serves to underscore the power of intellectual fascism in left-dominated institutions: restrictions on thought are so powerful they can be used to advance nefarious and selfish ends.

Well said. Although I don't think you can limit the phenomenon to left-dominated institutions in particular. The problem is institutions that become dominated by dogmatic ideologies, whether those ideologies are left, right, or otherwise. The Libertarian Party, for example, can't field a competent Presidential candidate because any rational libertarian gets shouted down and accused of facistic tendencies. Pro-gay Catholics priests get purged from the church ranks. Etc, etc.

The problem isn't so much that universities are packed with left-wingers, but that the universities have become hostile to non-leftie thinking. That is the problem that needs to be fixed.

Richard Bennett said...

The problem isn't so much that universities are packed with left-wingers, but that the universities have become hostile to non-leftie thinking.

Indeed, that is the problem. It appears to me that the left isn't what it used to be. In the 60s and before, the American left loved to engage in debate and felt that all they needed was a place on the podium to win the debate as they had superior ideas. History has battered this illusion down and the left now realizes that the only debate it can win is one in which the other side is silent. Hence the need to silence people like Summers.

And it's not just at elite universities. A number of our high-profile left feminists refuse to appear on TV programs or in fora in which certain people of incorrect thought are present, such as Hoff-Sommers.

I think you should give Amp the benefit of the doubt regarding his perception of pro-feminist bias in the universities. He's a women's studies graduate of Portland State U., and it very well could be that his college experience wasn't at all similar to yours.

At PSU one might think diverse views were accommodated if the point of view that "all sex is rape" had equal visibility with "OK, only 90% is rape." That's open-mindedness of a sort.

But detailed empirical evidence of the political bias that exists in American universities is hard to validate, just as it is for media bias or any other kind of systemic bigotry. But I'm pretty sure Larry Summers isn't the president of Harvard any more, even though I don't have a link to a journal article establishing this fact by statistical correlation.

Ampersand said...

Dear me, the wonders of careless spell-checking. I posted:

There are numerous other mythological objections that could be made to your anecdote-as-evidence approach.

That should have said "methodological objections." But on the other hand, what I actually posted is funnier than what I had intended to post, so it's all good.

Richard Bennett said...

For those who stubbornly maintain that Summers' censure by the Harvard FAS had nothing to do with his views, here's the explanatory note that was originally attached to the no-confidence motion last March:

The original no-confidence motion contained an explanatory note that explicitly referenced "Mr. Summers' apparently ongoing convictions about the capacities and rights not only of women but also of African-Americans, third-world nations, gay people, and colonized peoples." The note also condemned Summers for his 2002 speech in which he said calls from professors and students for divestment from Israel were "anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."

The note was ultimately removed from the motion, but you get the idea.

W.B. Reeves said...

It's interesting that the two people complaining the most about the harm that dogmatism can cause, while insisting that summer's case is an example of such, also reject any evidence contrary to their view, labeling it as leftwing.

Revenant said...

I think you should give Amp the benefit of the doubt regarding his perception of pro-feminist bias in the universities. He's a women's studies graduate of Portland State U.

Ah, that explains everything. Women's Studies -- the Intelligent Design of the Left. :)

W.B. Reeves said...

Ah, that explains everything. Women's Studies -- the Intelligent Design of the Left. :)

Spoken like someone who never took a single class on the subject.

Richard Bennett said...

...reject any evidence contrary to their view...

Actually, I'm the one who actually provided evidence, and it was even on-topic.

the Intelligent Design of the Left. :)

Indeed, both are faith-based dogmas completely divorced from empirical reality.

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W.B. Reeves said...

Actually, I'm the one who actually provided evidence, and it was even on-topic.

We appear to have different standards when it comes to evidence. For example, you cite an explanatory note that was attached to the original no confidence motion as a damning affirmation of your view.

You then admit, off handedly, that the note was dropped from the final draft.

Contrary to your contention, this fact actually undermines the notion that Summer's remarks about women and the hard sciences were the primary cause of his resignation. Its exclusion from the final draft is clear evidence that it represented a minority position, unsustained by the majority of those supporting a vote of no confidence.

Leaving this point aside, the note itelf lists Summer's attitudes towards women as one of a number of criticisms and draws no distinction between them as to their relative importance.

Since no one on this thread ever argued that "Summers' censure by the Harvard FAS had nothing to do with his views", you're simply raising a straw man of your own creation. The issue posed is the significance, not of Summer's views in general but of the particular views referenced by Cathy and the outcry over them.

Attempting to alter the basis of discussion to include any and all criticism of any and all of Summers' views is, in fact, off topic and an exercise in moving the goal posts to boot.

Based on your assertion above, I went back and re-read each of your posts on this thread. The business about the rejected wording of the explanatory note is the only bit of hard evidence that you present and your interpretation of it is, at best, one sided and partial. The rest of your comments consist of unsupported assertions combined with partisan bombast that is the intellectual, moral and ethical equivilent of the "Bush=Hitler" school of argument.

"Dogmatic" is one of the kindest adjectives for this style of "debate."

Indeed, both are faith-based dogmas completely divorced from empirical reality.

If you actually believe this, you should have no difficulty identifying the principle of "faith" that animates Women's studies. With the appropriate citations of course.

Synova said...

I've never taken a "women's studies" class nor would have been willing to take a women's studies class. Firstly, in my little high school graduate mind, it seemed that "women's studies" was based on the notion that women were marginalized... therefore the women's studies class had to be about marginal issues. Otherwise, why not get those "women's studies" incorporated into the regular curriculum, the one that was important for everyone?

To the extent that conception isn't true, the mere fact of "women's studies" serves to cause the marginalization.

What *do* they teach in women's studies classes anyhow? I can't even imagine a curriculum. What about women, other than periods and babies, isn't also true about men?

Lori Heine said...

People originally argued in favor of Womens' Studies courses because so much of our contribution was ignored in the teaching of "mainstream" history. Even back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when I was in high school and college you would scarcely have known that women existed prior to our own century, so little was mentioned about them.

As I am no longer in school, I can't say whether Womens' Studies is now being used as an excuse not to include womens' history in "mainstream" history courses. It would be interesting to get the perspective of some of the younger readers of this blog on that question.

W.B. Reeves said...

What *do* they teach in women's studies classes anyhow? I can't even imagine a curriculum. What about women, other than periods and babies, isn't also true about men?

If you're actually interested in an answer to your question, I'd say that was an excellent reason to audit an intro course at your local college or university.

However, if you were being rhetorical, I can supply a few short and therefore limited answers.

Whatever inate differences may exist between the two sex's is subject to debate. What isn't subject to debate is that men and women have played differing social roles throughout human history. The current status of women in our society is of extremely recent vintage and presents a fundamental break with the status of women in the past.

The transformation of women from chattals and dependents to full citizenship and independence raises a number of interesting questions. One such is that if women are fully human and autonomous beings, why is it for the vast majority of our history the were relegated to a position surbordinate to that of men? Indeed why were women, more often than not, seen as a form of property to be held by men? How did women cope with such conditions? What cultural strategies did they develope in response to their lesser status? How did their subordinate status and such coping strategies impact the societies around them? How does the legacy of this past effect the condition of women today? Etc., etc.

Prior to the advent of Women's studies such questions were given marginal attention, if that. Whatever else maybe said about Women's studies, without them it's doubtful that such questions would have ever received the attention they deserve. Certainly not to the degree that they have.

As for your last point regarding periods and babies, do you think these distinctions so negligible as to have no effect on the priorities and attitudes of women as opposed to men? Do they have nothing to do with the roles imposed on women in the past? Are we to believe that if the biological facts were reversed, that if men were the bearers of children rather than women, it would effect no substantive change in the character of human culture and society?

Give it some thought.

mythago said...

For those who stubbornly maintain that Summers' censure by the Harvard FAS had nothing to do with his views

Of course it had SOMETHING to do with his views. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. It's just nonsensical to claim that everything was peachy until Summers talked about how girls can't do math, and suddenly the giant PC feminist conspiracy ground into action to get him removed as President.

Synova said...

That's what I remember, too, Lori. And it's very true that women's contributions were ignored for the most part, and the contributions of minorities and whomever else were ignored. It's much better that we get a complete picture of the world when we study.

It seems to me that one of two things must (logically) be true. Either women and minorities are still marginalized, in spite or because of women's or minority "studies". Or they *have* been incorporated into the larger realm of university studies. If the second, then what service do the courses serve *now*.

w.b. Women's studies are still marginalized. That was my point. And I've done a fair bit of thinking about those things you listed. But when I do, and when I hear people talking about women's place in a sociological or legal context in a culture... freedom of movement and autonomy and ownership of property, whatever, a little voice in my head always says "and what was it like for men?" Because I don't see that men were less constrained, even if in different ways. I don't see how anything can be studied without the whole picture.

If History and Anthropology and Social Studies are incomplete without women... aren't they also incomplete without men?

Richard Bennett said...

Of course it had SOMETHING to do with his views. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Good, you admit that Dr. Summers' views had something to do with his being effectively fired from the presidency. Now what are the views that offended those who forced him out? Summers isn't a neo-con, a fathers' rights advocate, or a champion of imperialism, racism, or Zionism. He was a cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration, and by any fair definition of the term Summers is a liberal.

But he's the old-fashioned kind of liberal who believes in science, reason, and in the proposition that the search for truth is the essence of academic life. He's the kind of guy who likes to debate and argue, partly for the fun of it, and partly because he believes that the truth emerges from the battle of ideas.

This orientation is very much at odds with the post-modernist ideology that dominates Harvard's A&S faculty. Check the note on the original resolution: "...not only of women but also of African-Americans, third-world nations, gay people, and colonized peoples."

Summers is the kind of guy who wants to argue and debate over everything, and the FAS is a closed-minded little hive that has no interest in truth, only a commitment to wield power in the name of all the oppressed groups in the world.

That's the view that got Summers canned, not some backward notion that girls can't do math (which he never claimed in the first place and doesn't believe in any case.)

And if we review the logic that the Summers-haters have brought to this discussion it's clear why such a person is a threat to them; their arguments are all over the place.

colagirl said...

"and what was it like for men?" Because I don't see that men were less constrained, even if in different ways. I don't see how anything can be studied without the whole picture.

An excellent point, Synova, and one I agree with. Not to mention as well that gender is not the only axis of constraint and difference operating on people's lives. Class, wealth, minority / nationality, religious and other statuses--some relevant to modern society, some not--all combine with and crosscut male/female dynamics in various ways in different times and places. I don't think you will find a lot of people arguing that the wife of a large plantation owner in the Old South was worse off than the male slaves on the plantation, simply because she was female and they were male.

Now to be fair, modern women's studies, from what I've seen, does try to take this into account and to examine the differing ways in which these multiple statuses have interacted in various societies. The problem here for me is that all too often it tends to collapse into hierarchies of "identify all the ways in which x individuals were oppressed" and/or other topics that seem to me to be essentially a whole lotta nothing. And maybe that's what we're left with when we try to isolate one facet of human experience such as gender. *shrug*

W.B. Reeves said...

Synova,

If History and Anthropology and Social Studies are incomplete without women... aren't they also incomplete without men?

Well this is certainly true but I don't see how having an area of study that focuses on women, or any other subset of human society, necessarily excludes any other aspect of study. Do you know of any instance where Women's studies have supplanted the traditional areas of research? Is it possible to obtain a degree in the fields you list if you don't venture outside the realm of Women's studies?

Since you began by indicating your ignorance of what actually goes on in Women's studies, I have to ask what makes you think that they ignore the role of men? It seems to me that any inquiry into the status of women requires examining the role of men, if only to contrast it with that of women.

To take an example of your own that you listed with your query "what was it for men", the fact that women not so long ago were not allowed to hold property draws it's significance from the fact that men during the same period could.

Does any specialization within general fields of study excite the same concern from you? Do you think that having special areas of study for say African Americans or Amerindians amounts to excluding the role of all other groups? If I were to specialize in the role of Chinese workers in American history, society, culture, would I be ignoring the big picture? Or would I be giving justified attention to an overlooked aspect of these general subjects? I think you're creating a false opposition here.

That isn't to say that there aren't examples of the kind of shoddy, blinkered perspective that you fear. Considering that Academia by its nature attracts various levels of crack pottery, speculative endeavors being prone to this, it would be surprising if no such examples could be found. However, I doubt you would find anywhere that the study of the role of women has crowded out the consideration of other aspects from general study.

I find your logic vis a vis "marginalization" circular. A topic is considered marginal when it receives less attention than "mainstream" subjects. If you increase the attention and resources devoted to a subject, by definition you decrease its marginality and increase its importance. You are paying attention to what had been previously slighted or ignored. This is the antithesis of marginalization.

The only way I can make sense of your comment on this point is to assume that you are confusing marginalization with specification. You seem to be equating marginalization with identifying women as a distinct class worthy of study within larger fields of inquiry. Does it marginalize men if we likewise specify and identify them?

It really isn't possible to study the broad sweep of human experience without categorizing its various elements. Divisions along the lines of Race, class, nationality, sex, ethnicity, etc. are a fact of that experience. Its difficult to see how ignoring such divisions would be less "marginalizing" than inquiring into them.

W.B. Reeves said...

Good, you admit that Dr. Summers' views had something to do with his being effectively fired from the presidency.

Disingenuous since no one but Richard himself ever raised this argument. One can hardly "admit" something that was never denied in the first place.

But he's the old-fashioned kind of liberal who believes in science, reason, and in the proposition that the search for truth is the essence of academic life. He's the kind of guy who likes to debate and argue, partly for the fun of it, and partly because he believes that the truth emerges from the battle of ideas.

One could be forgiven for assuming that Richard is personally aquainted with Summers since he speaks so authoritatively about the man.

This orientation is very much at odds with the post-modernist ideology that dominates Harvard's A&S faculty. Check the note on the original resolution: "...not only of women but also of African-Americans, third-world nations, gay people, and colonized peoples."

A note which was rejected from the final draft of the motion and which can in no way be honestly described as representing the majority view of the motion's supporters.

Summers is the kind of guy who wants to argue and debate over everything, and the FAS is a closed-minded little hive that has no interest in truth, only a commitment to wield power in the name of all the oppressed groups in the world.

Richard loves rhetoric before substance. It allows him to pretend that a minority opinion, implicitly rejected by the majority of Summer's critics is, nevertheless, somehow representative of them. When one has already reached a preferred verdict, evidence is purely incidental.

And if we review the logic that the Summers-haters have brought to this discussion it's clear why such a person is a threat to them; their arguments are all over the place.

Whereas Richard's arguments are essentially fact free.

Synova said...

I've no problem with specializing at University. Specializing lets you ignore things not in your specialty.

You say that more money and recognition of an area of study makes women's issues less marginalized. How so when it confines them nicely in their own little place, and labels them so a student knows where not to go?

Do I think specialties in minority studies marginalize those? I think they can. A History or Diplomatic Relations course in something or other is an invitation to people outside that group to become an expert in it. It says, "the Middle East is important" or "Japan is important." Do minority studies courses attract just as many students from other groups? Or is what happens essentially voluntary segregation?

Richard Bennett said...

reeves, your personal attacks aren't winning anybody over to your side, whatever side that is. My claim - that Sumemrs was fired for his quaint belief in reason - is supported by the facts, not only in the explanatory note but in the statements his opponents have made to the press.

W.B. Reeves said...

You say that more money and recognition of an area of study makes women's issues less marginalized. How so when it confines them nicely in their own little place, and labels them so a student knows where not to go?

By this standard, specialization itself would be a form of marginalization. Every special field of study is similarly "confined" and I imagine that many students avoid many of them for idiosyncratic reasons. It's known as exercising educational choice.

Where do you get the idea that the purpose of Women's studies is to corral the uninterested? I think the institutional assumption in higher education is the opposite. It's assumed that the student is interested in whatever field they have chosen, otherwise they wouldn't have chosen it. I don't know of any special field of study that sees its mission as recruiting the indifferent or actively hostile student.

Neither do I see any evidence that special studies become less significant in the general curriculum by virtue of receiving greater institutional support. As you yourself say:

It says, "the Middle East is important" or "Japan is important."

What's wrong with saying that Women's Studies are important as well?

A History or Diplomatic Relations course in something or other is an invitation to people outside that group to become an expert in it.

Here we disagree. The invitation for such courses is no different than for any other course. That is, an open one to any and all interested in the subject.

Do minority studies courses attract just as many students from other groups? Or is what happens essentially voluntary segregation?

This is rather confusing or at least I find it so. What is the relevance of the ethnic composition of the student body? What has that to do with it?

Your reference to "segregation" is puzzling as well since there is no question of excluding anyone, much less any group, from any field.

If by segregation you mean that particular fields of study are likely to attract a fair proportion of those who feel a personal connection to the subject matter, you are misusing the word.

That more women than men are likely to pursue Women's studies is no more and instance of segregation than is my preference for Celtic studies.

W.B. Reeves said...

reeves, your personal attacks aren't winning anybody over to your side, whatever side that is. My claim - that Sumemrs was fired for his quaint belief in reason - is supported by the facts, not only in the explanatory note but in the statements his opponents have made to the press.

I don't consider anything I've said as rising to the level of a "personal attack". I've made no comments touching on anyone's birth, ancestry, personal habits or likely destination.

I have made some sharply worded criticism of what I consider flawed reasoning and defective argument. You don't like it. That's your privilege as much as mine. Still, embracing victimhood seems an inappropriate response.

I would think a better reply would be to bring out all those facts that you have. The ones you haven't, as yet, posted on this thread. Or perhaps the testimony of one of the nameless Summers opponents quoted in the press that you cite.

To each his own I suppose.

BTW, all the explanatory note proves is that its proponents, whose number is unknown, lacked sufficient influence to keep it in the final draft.

Richard Bennett said...

BTW, all the explanatory note proves is that its proponents, whose number is unknown, lacked sufficient influence to keep it in the final draft.

That's all it proves?

Funny, but looking at the evidence itself - those pesky facts - it seems to me that it proves quite a bit about what the authors of the no-confidence motion had against Summers. The explanatory note is a thing in itself.

Its subsequent deletion from the no-confidence motion is a separate thing, and one about which reasonable people may differ. It could be that such notes are regarded as bad form, or that the proponents felt it was too transparent, or any number of other things.

Reason is about examing all the facts, reeves, not just the politically correct ones.

And your commentary doesn't rise above the level of personal attack because you've failed to offer any evidence of your own, while criticizing that which has been offered by the voices of reason in this discussion as insufficient.

Lori Heine said...

I think some honest distinction needs to be made between looking at the differences between the aptitudes of male and female students and the debating the wisdom of womens' studies as a separate discipline.

As women make up half of the human race (actually, slightly MORE than half), it is ludicrous to cordon off the study of our contribution to human history as something called "womens' studies." The fact of females being fifty percent of the human race applies not only to ancient Celts or Australian aborigines, but to every civilization ever known.

For the record, I agree with what Dr. Summers said. I do not believe that he should have been fired for having said it. That established, I still think there is something second-class about having womens' half of history (which is actually inextricably intertwined with mens') treated as less important.

The same crowd who dumps on womens' studies would object just as strenuously to a more complete integration of history, from womens' perspective, into the mainstream subject. This is also the crowd that decries how radical feminists are misinterpreting what Dr. Summers said -- while at the very same time, they distort it in a different direction.

To put it more plainly and bluntly, just as there are some girls (of all ages) who simply don't like boys, there are boys who don't like girls. There's plenty of hostility -- and there are a whole lot of skewed views -- on both "sides."

This seems, to me, like the domestic violence debate all over again. And the same sides for all the usual suspects.

As commenters have made clear here, however, the whole Summers controversy is too complex to be neatly summed up as "he didn't like girls, and made the mistake of saying so." The poor guy walked a mile on eggshells trying to get his point across, but by the time he uttered the fated words that supposedly doomed him, he had already made so many enemies that they were merely waiting for a chance to bring him down.

Anything he might have said that had been the least controversial could have done the trick.

mythago said...

The poor guy walked a mile on eggshells trying to get his point across

Right, because when you walk on eggshells, you tell people flat-out that you're trying to provoke them.

I do not believe that he should have been fired for having said it

He wasn't.

W.B. Reeves said...

That's all it proves?

Funny, but looking at the evidence itself - those pesky facts - it seems to me that it proves quite a bit about what the authors of the no-confidence motion had against Summers. The explanatory note is a thing in itself.

Its subsequent deletion from the no-confidence motion is a separate thing, and one about which reasonable people may differ. It could be that such notes are regarded as bad form, or that the proponents felt it was too transparent, or any number of other things.


This is an absurd argument. According to this line of "reasoning" the existence of the propose explanatory note is supposed to tell us "...quite a bit about what the authors of the no-confidence motion had against Summers." Yet the fact that those authors rejected the note by excluding it from the motion is suppose to tell us nothing? Arguments that operate by ignoring contradicting facts are not credible.

Reason is about examing all the facts, reeves, not just the politically correct ones.

This, of course, is precisely what you are refusing to do.

And your commentary doesn't rise above the level of personal attack because you've failed to offer any evidence of your own, while criticizing that which has been offered by the voices of reason in this discussion as insufficient.

You obviously didn't read my initial post which cited Summer's own statements as to why he was resigning. His statement is a fact. That his words don't support your fabulations is one of those "pesky facts" that you choose to ignore.

BTW, if you make affirmative assertions such as 'Summers was fired for politically incorrect statements' it's your responsibility to prove your case. In this responsibility you have manifestly failed. You cannot demonstrate that the note, the sole piece of evidence you've given, represents a general sentiment among Summer's opponents as a whole for the simple reason that they never endorsed it. While you may consider your opinions to be above such petty evidentiary concerns, no one is obliged to grant you such exalted status.

If you believe otherwise, I'm afraid it is you who are being unreasonable.

Lori Heine,

Very well put. I think you summarize the topography of the debate nicely, though I might differ with you on particular points.

Richard Bennett said...

Yet the fact that those authors rejected the note by excluding it from the motion is suppose to tell us nothing?

I don't recall saying that.

W.B. Reeves said...

I don't recall saying that.

Disingenuous to the last.

Richard Bennett said...

More insults, eh Reeves?

Here's the deal: the explanatory note exists, we can read it and we can parse it. It's a public statement and it's not vague or ambiguous.

The folks who deleted it from the FAS resolution didn't issue a statement saying why they deleted it, so we can only speculate as to their motives for doing so.

Your argument depends on the assumption that you have perfect knowledge of these motivations, and no knowledge of the explanatory note itself.

Disingenuous? Well, it's not for me to say but one might very well think so.

W.B. Reeves said...

Your argument depends on the assumption that you have perfect knowledge of these motivations, and no knowledge of the explanatory note itself.

While your argument requires that we attribute the sentiments of the explanatory note to the entirety of the motion's authors. This despite their rejection of the note for the final draft. What exactly do you base that assumption on?

I doubt that you could name the person or persons who actually penned the note or the circumstances under which it was composed. Yet, you feel completely at ease in claiming it as proof of your assertion that political correctness was the primary motive of Summer's opponents.

You have no way of knowing whether the note represented the view of one of the motion's initiators or the views of all but one. Unless, that is, you accept its exclusion as evidence that it was a minority view right along. That wouldn't serve your argument though.

It doesn't require "perfect knowledge" to comprehend this. Just a reasonable degree of critical thinking.

beenaround said...

w.b.reeves says:


That more women than men are likely to pursue Women's studies is no more and instance of segregation than is my preference for Celtic studies.


Indeed! Just the same as the fact that more men than women are likely to study Physics or Computer Science is not an instance of segregation or discrimination ...

beenaround said...

I tend to agree with w.b.reeves that we cannot know the motivation of the people who put in the now discarded explanatory note mentioned by Richard Bennett, nor can we really know much about why it was rejected except that for one reason or another it was not acceptable.

We can, of course, speculate about the reasons ...

However, Summers chose a difficult task, and he might have been better to remember the phrase "Choose your battles wisely" when considering making statements (however carefully he phrased them) that were likely to be misunderstood ...

Richard Bennett said...

Now you're down to the hair-splitting, Reeves. When a person writes a public statement, I assume that the person believes it unless I have evidence to the contrary. When a group of people sign a public statement I make a similar assumption.

When another group of people is asked by these authors to endorse the statement, and some decline, that doesn't alter the intent of the authors.

Is this very complicated?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think that one of the great things to come out of the whole situation regarding Mr. Summers is the many debates it has sparked.

W.B. Reeves said...

Now you're down to the hair-splitting, Reeves. When a person writes a public statement, I assume that the person believes it unless I have evidence to the contrary. When a group of people sign a public statement I make a similar assumption.

When another group of people is asked by these authors to endorse the statement, and some decline, that doesn't alter the intent of the authors.


Well, this is something substantive.

As I understand it, you're saying that the motion was originally published with the explanatory note attached. If this is the case, you would be justified in assuming that it reflected the view of anyone who signed it. If you mentioned this
crucial point previously, I must apologize for having missed it. If you didn't in fact mentioned it prior to this, I have to ask a couple of questions.

First, do you know for a fact that it was included in the initial public version of the motion or are you simply making another assumption? My impression from your earlier posts was that the note never made it into the motion proper. If it was contained in the published motion and dropped later, your point about the originators of the motion would be well taken. It still wouldn't justify the idea that it represented the primary motivation of the general opposition to Summers but it would definitely say something about the motives of the initial framers of the motion.

Do you in fact know the chronology of the note's developement? Was it part of the published motion? A link to the source of such information would be helpful.

You see this isn't hair splitting at all. It goes to the fundamental question of whether or not the note supports your interpretation.

I don't know if you have ever participated in drafting such a motion. In my experience, these things are usually done by committee with different aspects of the text being farmed out either to subcommittees or individuals tasked to hammer out the specific wording. The preliminary text is then brought back to the larger body for approval or disapproval. Initial drafts usually take a "kitchen sink approach" since the whole purpose is to appeal to the broadest constituency possible. The final published document is inevitably a heavily pared down version of the first draft. This is why it is important to determine exactly when the note was dropped from the motion.

I'll be interested to see what you have on this.

beenaround said...

Anonymous says:


Personally, I think that one of the great things to come out of the whole situation regarding Mr. Summers is the many debates it has sparked.


One can speculate that that was Summers' intent ...

W.B. Reeves said...

Indeed! Just the same as the fact that more men than women are likely to study Physics or Computer Science is not an instance of segregation or discrimination ...

I would agree. Unless, that is, a pre-existing, pervasive pattern of institutional discrimination between male and female students can be demonstrated.

beenaround said...

w,b,reeves says:


I would agree. Unless, that is, a pre-existing, pervasive pattern of institutional discrimination between male and female students can be demonstrated.


So, can it?

beenaround said...

Summers' Fall provides some additional commentary on this matter.

It contains perhaps the clearest statement of what he said on that subject, which I include here:


"It does appear that on many, many different human attributes—height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability,” he said, "there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population." He noted that physicists working at any of the top 25 research universities would be three and a half to four standard deviations above the mean and that "even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially."


That looks to me to be nothing approaching the statement that women suck in math.

W.B. Reeves said...

So, can it?

No idea. That's just my minimum standard for taking such a charge seriously.

Lori Heine said...

Whenever I hear a charge publicly made against someone, I always try to ask myself what the one making the charge might stand to gain from it. Human nature being what it is (for BOTH sexes), many of us will say whatever it promotes our interests to have people believe.

Long ago, I stopped believing most of what professional feminists had to say. It is simply not in their interests (or at least, they do not seem to see it as desirable) for men and women to begin giving each other the benefit of a doubt. They profit from female anger against men, which generates male anger against women, and back and forth it goes.

So the professional feminists think Dr. Summers' statement was insulting to women. Surprise!

The very least we all owe to the truth is to question whenever people with a particular axe to grind try to demonize their target of choice. In the long run, those who profit from stirring up female resentment against men are doing women no favors, either.

W.B. Reeves said...

Whenever I hear a charge publicly made against someone, I always try to ask myself what the one making the charge might stand to gain from it. Human nature being what it is (for BOTH sexes), many of us will say whatever it promotes our interests to have people believe.

This is one approach. My own is to first ask: Is the charge factual? The substance of the allegation determines the significance of the accuser's motives.

If the charge is false then the accuser's motives may give us an insight as to whether their action was malicious or well intended. If the charge is true the motives of the accuser hardly matter.

That's the way I see it.

Lori Heine said...

W.B., I agree with you. But I believe that what many of the commenters have been doing, throughout this thread, is debating the substance of what Dr. Summers said.

Most of us have heard what both Summers and his attackers have had to say. I simply find most of what the feminist Left has said about Summers' comments not only untrue but absurd. All they did was make a martyr out of him to the Far Right. Considering the fact that the man is hardly a staunch conservative, that makes little sense.

Now some in the Dittohead Crowd are getting away with talking out of both sides of their faces. They say that the feminists have misquoted Summers, but then they turn around and misquote him themselves.

The man never said that ALL women are dumber than ALL men at math or science. For that reason, it certainly is appropriate to ask that we go back to the substance of what was said and make sure we understand it. The same comments have been disingenuously distorted by many on both the Left AND the Right.

W.B. Reeves said...

Point taken Lori. I would agree that both sides have made Summer's comments into a political football to serve their opposing agendas. I also agree that this is a bad thing for the cause of free inquiry and honest debate.

Taken by the themselves, Summer's comments vis a vis women and the hard sciences were a perfectly legitimate recognition of existing data. The only debate that ought to have ensued would have concerned the interpretation of such data or, perhaps, the validity of same.

Instead, we get the rhetorical bombast of blast and counter-blast. Facts are the first casualty in a war of ideologues.

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