Harvard President Lawrence Summers is under heavy criticism for suggesting at an academic conference that women have less innate ability to perform in science and mathematics than men. He also downplayed the role discrimination and social factors play in explaining the dearth of female professors in science and engineering at major universities, according to the Boston Globe. “It’s so upsetting that all these brilliant young women [at Harvard] are being led by a man who views them this way,” said Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at MIT and a conference attendee who walked out of Summers’ talk, according to the Globe. Summers has defended his comments, saying that he was merely suggesting that the role of discrimination and innate abilities of women and men in the sciences need further research, according to the Associated Press.
This is not the first time Summers has come under fire. Top women faculty at Harvard are concerned about the lack of women receiving tenure so far under Summers’ reign as president. According to the Globe, the percentage of tenured positions offered to women in the Arts and Sciences has dropped each of the three years Summers has been in office, with only four of 32 tenured positions going to women last year. Summers also famously questioned the scholarship and teaching of African-American Studies scholar Cornel West, who later left Harvard to take a position at Princeton, the Globe reports.
About 50 academics were in attendance at the conference, entitled “Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce: Women, Underrepresented Minorities, and their [Science and Engineering] Careers,” the New York Times reports.