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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

February-18-05

Harvard President Finally Releases Transcript of Controversial Speech

Following pressure by women's groups and Harvard faculty members, Harvard President Lawrence Summers finally released the transcript of the speech he gave at an academic conference last month during which he suggested the possibility that women have less innate ability to perform in science and mathematics than men. “I’m glad his words are finally out there,” Shirley Malcom, director of education for the American Association for the Advancement of Science told the New York Times. “So many of us have been accused of implying that [Summers] said things he did not, and now people can judge for themselves.” However, the Feminist Majority Foundation has heard that some women professors in attendance for Summers’ remarks are questioning whether the text of his speech has been modified because of the backlash it has caused.

Academics have had mixed reactions to the transcript, which many have not yet had a chance to fully read. ''I disagree point for point," said developmental psychology professor Elizabeth Spelke, according to the Boston Globe. ''There is not a shred of evidence for the biological factor, based both on my own research and my reading of other people's research." Physics professor Lisa Randall, who has been supporting Summers, said that after reading the transcript, ''it really did seem to be more his point of view and less him raising questions than I had expected … It could be that is his argumentation style, to put something out there and wait for people to contradict him. But those are damaging beliefs," the Globe reports.

Summers has faced calls to resign from some faculty members. On Tuesday, a faculty meeting of more than 250 professors turned into an opportunity for professor after professor to air their grievances against Summers. “It would not be exaggerated to call this a rebellion,” said one professor who wished to remain anonymous, according to Reuters. Some professors have been discussing calling for a vote of no confidence in Summers next week, the New York Times reports. The university’s governing body, however, expressed support for Summers with a vote of confidence yesterday, ABC News reports.

The Feminist Majority Foundation joined 20 other women’s rights groups in sending a letter to Summers, calling on him to “publicly commit to making the elimination of barriers to, and the advancement of women in, math and the sciences a major priority of your tenure at the University.” The letter also stressed that there is “no evidentiary support for the proposition that physiological differences can explain the disparities between the genders that persist in math and science.” Shortly thereafter, Summers "http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/uswirestory.asp?id=8881">announced the creation of two task forces and a new senior administrative position aimed at increasing the number of women faculty in the sciences.

TAKE ACTION MentorNet, an e-mentoring organization for women in engineering and science, is collecting signatures from professors, students, and practitioners of these disciplines for a letter to Senators Wyden and Allen asking them to lead efforts to increase the number of women in science

DONATE to support FMF’s work to achieve gender equality in education

Media Resources: Transcript of Summers’ speech; New York Times 2/18/05; Feminist Daily News Wire 1/18/05, 2/4/05; ABC News 2/18/05; Boston Globe 2/18/05


© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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