June 18, 2024

Summers of Our Discontent

Kathleen Parker says that Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard President, is the prototypical example of this generation’s McCarthyism – political correctness in academia.

Summers, you’ll recall, was driven out of his university post in 2005 after he suggested at a conference that gender differences might account for an under representation by women in science, math and engineering.

Never mind that scientific evidence suggests as much. One simply doesn’t say — ever — that men and women aren’t equal in every way.

Summers’ remarks were seized upon, taken out of context and misinterpreted by many, including one female biologist from MIT, who walked out on the president’s talk, later saying that she felt she was either going to faint or throw up.

And we say there’s no difference between men and women? Can you imagine a man bolting from the room with light head and upset tummy if a woman college president suggested that genetic differences might account for males lagging behind females in reading and writing?

For thinking improper thoughts, Summers the Blasphemer was banished into the outer darkness. There’s no debating that he was punished for saying something that made a special group feel bad — the new blacklisting offense. To be called a sexist, racist or homophobe today is tantamount to being a communist sympathizer 50-60 years ago.

Great stuff from a woman who is sure enough of herself to take on the world on her own terms.


Fast-forward to this month. Summers was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the University of California Board of Regents bimonthly board meeting.

And then he wasn’t.

Maureen Stanton, an evolution professor at UC Davis, was "stunned and appalled" when she learned of Summers’ upcoming speech and circulated a petition to have his invitation withdrawn.

Sinning against the sisterhood not only isn’t forgotten, apparently it isn’t ever forgiven.

Summers’ invitation was "not only misguided but inappropriate at a time when the university is searching for a new president and continues to build and diversify its community," the petition said.

One can’t help wondering what those cultural principles might be if they don’t include supporting free speech? As the university continues to build and diversify its community, will that mean diversity of thought or only diversity of gender identity and race?

"Stunned and appalled"?  Just like I am stunned and appalled at the continued excoriation of Summers at the hands of the political correctness gestapo?  Faux drama at its most banal.

Banal because none of this is new – that America’s facilities of higher education are held hostage by the minions of political correctness has been well-known for years.  Nevertheless, it surprises and sickens me each time an incident such as this latest tripe at U.C-Davis occurs.  It’s like ordering chicken noodle soup and receiving a bowl of steaming cow manure instead – the reek of intolerance is that overwhelming.

It is truly sad that our universities should be so close-minded to contrary points of view.  It’s particularly infuriating when those perspectives have the weight of truth behind them. 

From the NY Times back in 2005:

Has science found compelling evidence of inherent sex disparities in the relevant skills, or perhaps in the drive to succeed at all costs, that could help account for the persistent paucity of women in science generally, and at the upper tiers of the profession in particular?

Researchers who have explored the subject of sex differences from every conceivable angle and organ say that yes, there are a host of discrepancies between men and women – in their average scores on tests of quantitative skills, in their attitudes toward math and science, in the architecture of their brains, in the way they metabolize medications, including those that affect the brain.

Yet despite the desire for tidy and definitive answers to complex questions, researchers warn that the mere finding of a difference in form does not mean a difference in function or output inevitably follows.

"We can’t get anywhere denying that there are neurological and hormonal differences between males and females, because there clearly are," said Virginia Valian, a psychology professor at Hunter College who wrote the 1998 book "Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women." "The trouble we have as scientists is in assessing their significance to real-life performance."

In other words men and women think differently and we’re not sure exactly what that means in practical terms.  Ya don’t say?  Evidently my fourth-grader knows some things that quite a few Harvard and U.C.-Davis professors don’t.

I also find it ironic that free thought is restricted more and more now that our colleges are largely run by the generation that told the world it was going to break down barriers to truth and justice. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, common sense has taken hold and won the day in the United Kingdom.  The British University and College Union (UCU) has abandoned it’s plans to impose an "academic embargo" on Israeli universities.

In May, delegates at the union’s annual congress in Bournemouth provoked an international storm, especially in Israel and the US, by demanding a programme of meetings to pave the way for a vote on cutting academic ties. The move was approved by 158 votes to 99. Jewish leaders, university vice-chancellors and the government condemned the move.

Yesterday David Newman, head of geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University, and academic representative of Israel on boycott issues, said he was glad the UCU had "seen sense and realised that universities are the place for open dialogue, freedom of speech and liberal thought, all of which a boycott would have prevented".

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, insisted the majority of the union’s 120,000 members would neither support a boycott call nor regard it as a priority. She said last night: "I hope this decision will allow all to move forwards and focus on what is our primary objective, the representation of our members."

However, Sue Blackwell, a member of the union’s executive and of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, said of the decision: "It is quite ridiculous. It is cowardice. It is outrageous and an attack on academic freedom."

Note the numbers involved.  In the original call for a boycott there were only 257 votes out of a membership of 120,000.  Obviously the tail was wagging the dog back in Britain back in May.

Also note Sue Blackwell’s language.  Cowardice.  An attack on academic freedom.

Those are some of the same words I would use to describe the unwarranted attack perpetrated on Mr. Summers by uber-liberal academics in this country.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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