March 16, 2005

The Summers lesson.

Now that Harvard president Larry Summers has suffered his vote of no confidence, will anyone ever be willing to suggest that there is a biological difference between the male and female brain? (Link via Memeorandum.) Of course they will! They do it all the time. Then what is the lesson of the Summers downfall? It's that you can't hold a powerful position an institution that does not have a proportional number of women and make people feel that you are more interested in explaining away the problem than trying to solve it.

UPDATE: Quoting this post, David Wallace-Wells (in Slate) calls me a "lawyer" and "a rare voice in support of the [anti-Summers] resolution." Should we call lawprofs "lawyers"? I haven't practiced law in over twenty years. More importantly: did I write in support of the resolution? I didn't mean to, but I didn't condemn it as so many bloggers did. I'm just deriving the relevant lesson from the experience. Whether the Harvard folk are right or wrong to treat their leader the way they did, Summers surely could have done a better job of understanding and communicating with the people he meant to lead. Most bloggers, it seems to me, are focusing on too much on one aspect of the Summers controversy: the legitimacy of studying whether there is a difference, on a biological level, between male and female brains. I certainly think it is a legitimate matter of study, and I am very critical of attempts to browbeat people into towing the line and saying "gender" is entirely "socially constructed."

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