Harvard president promises $50M 'Diversity' Cash: Lawrence Summers Calls for ‘Cultural’ Change to Accommodate Women

October 2005

BOSTON - Lawrence Summers, the embattled president of Harvard University, has promised to spend US$50‑million on increasing "diversity" after being under the gun for months for suggesting gender differences might account for the scarcity of women in science faculties.

His move follows the recommendations of two task forces on how to boost the training, recruitment and advancement of women, from undergraduates to senior faculty.

The task forces were appointed after Mr. Summers' remarks about women's "intrinsic aptitude" for science put Harvard's treatment of women in the spotlight.

They recommended the appointment of a senior vice‑provost for diversity and the expansion of funds to hire women and minorities, with perhaps as many as 40 new staff being added.

Other suggestions concern subsidies for salaries, mentoring of junior faculty members and extending the clock on tenure for professors who go on maternity or parental leave.

The groups, which looked at other universities, also emphasized the importance of collecting more data about women's status and treatment at Harvard ‑something the university has been reluctant to do in the past. They also said department and search committee leaders should be trained on hidden biases that can hinder women's advancement.

The reports made clear that Harvard, arguably the most prestigious university in the United States, lagged behind the most aggressive universities in attracting and retaining a diverse faculty. Lat year, only four of 32 professors offered tenure in the faculty of arts and science were women.

The reports did not come with a price tag, but Mr. Summers said Monday the US$50‑million investment was "in recognition of the importance and far‑reaching nature" of the recommendations, some of which he said would be implemented immediately while others would require further study.

He added that the task forces' suggestions were not just "a Band‑Aid," but a "systemic approach" that would benefit everyone on campus.

The objective is not just [to put forward] a set of recommendations but to bring about a set of very important cultural changes," he said on a conference call with reporters.

"Universities like Harvard were designed a long time ago by men and for men. To fully succeed on these issues, we're going to have to address issues of culture.”

Mr. Summers ended up in hot water in January after he was asked at a closed door conference of the National Bureau of Economic Research to speculate on the reason for the scarcity of women professors in science faculties at major universities.

He wondered if being a mother sidetracked a woman’s career or if research indicated gender differences in the choice of specialties. As the Washington Times wrote, “he wanted these intellectuals to do what they’re supposed to do: Think”.

But his questions touched off a frenzy of political correctness, leaving Mr. Summers abjectly apologizing for his remarks and putting his job at risk.

Even before his Jan. 14 remarks that differences in the abilities of men and women may explain why fewer women excel in math and science, the Harvard president was under fire on campus because the faculty of arts and sciences had offered a declining percentage of senior jobs to women for each year of his presidency.

This week, female professors at the university reacted positively to the task forces’ suggestions, but some were skeptical that the recommendations would be enthusiastically embraced by the Summers administration, which they say has a troubled record on women’s equality.

“The real question is what the university is going to do, “said Mary Waters, chairwoman of sociology and a prominent critic of Mr. Summers’ leadership.

“There’s great fanfare announcing that the task forces are recommending these things, but a very guarded statement from the president and provost saying, “We’re going to study it.”