I take very seriously the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Having said this, I considered what Harvard President Larry Summers said about women in the sciences to be totally inaccurate. Ergo, I wrote the following Letter to the Editor, which the Washington Times published on January 30, 2005. Mr. Summers resigned as Harvard’s president on February 21, 2006, in the wake of a no-confidence vote by Harvard faculty. Catharine Drew Gilpin Faust became the first woman to serve as Harvard’s president from July 2007 to the present.
Following is the letter:
“Suzanne Fields is outraged at the negative reaction caused by the remarks made by Harvard President Lawrence Summers regarding the scarcity of women in scientific and engineering positions. (“Seeking Diversity at Harvard, “ Op-Ed, Monday). Mr. Summers attributed this underrepresentation to women having lesser innate abilities than men in the fields.
For Ms. Fields to feel sorry for Mr. Summers’ behavior is to be out of touch with the discriminatory practices that have been prevalent in the history of this country. It was not too long ago that the norm in most households was for the husband to be the breadwinner, and the wife to be the housekeeper. Naturally, the molding of women to play secondary roles started during the normative years of childhood. While Ms. Fields indicated that Mr. Summers just tried to be provocative by examining the data compiled by those who study these topics, she doesn’t seem to realize that most of the studies were conducted by men.
Most of us are aware of the pernicious inclination of some people to explain group differences by relying on scientific studies. For example, differences in SAT scores between black and white Americans have been attributed to genetics. Is Ms. Fields willing to believe these unscientific conclusions? Or, better still, is she willing to accept the proposition that because white men have been the sole occupants of the White House, this disparity must be based on the genetic inferiority of other Americans?
Addressing the usual nature v. nurture arguments for gender differences has nothing to do with the outrage expressed at Mr. Summers’ remarks. Instead, it is based on the fact that Mr. Summers was out of line in making these remarks. First, he is a trained economist, not a scientist. Second, as president of Harvard, he has to be more careful about what he says because his target audience is much wider than scientists. Third, though there are scientific studies supporting his position, other studies reach the opposite conclusion. Finally, Mr. Summers is not qualified to speak about the discriminatory treatment that women of this country have suffered.
If Mr. Summers expects to last as Harvard president, he has better take a remedial sensitivity course soon.”