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February 23, 2005

What's Troubling Harvard

Elizabeth Anderson: February 23, 2005

The current troubles of President Summers remind me of a conversation I had with my dissertation advisor, John Rawls, nearly 20 years ago.  No two great Harvard scholars could be more opposite in intellectual temperament:  Summers the supremely arrogant; Rawls, the supremely modest.  (Whenever a student offered a misguided criticism of his work, Rawls would blame himself for not expressing himself clearly, rather than the student for failing to read him correctly.)  Yet even Rawls had a blind spot for Harvard's faults, which is shared by Summers today.  In that conversation long ago, Rawls told me of his recent visit to Oxford University, warning me not to accept an offer to teach there until I was securely tenured somewhere in the U.S.  Oxford was too obsessed with rank, he said, happy to treat the likes of him as royalty, but terribly snobby to not-yet-established scholars, who could expect to be treated shabbily.  While I appreciated his kind advice, it was almost too much to keep from laughing.  Here I was at Harvard, an institution that bent over backwards to make distinctions of rank invidious--even to the point, in those days, of putting their "folding chairs" (Assistant Professors on terminating 3-year appointments) on a common party line, instead of giving them the dignity of individual office phones!  (When I arrived at the University of Michigan to take up a tenure-track position after graduating from Harvard, the atmosphere felt so egalitarian by comparison that I felt like Orwell arriving in Catalonia.  My feeling didn't last, but neither did Orwell's.)

Now that the senior faculty have been getting from President Summers a dose of the humiliating medicine so many of them have happily doled out to the lower academic orders for decades, they are in revolt.  But is the revolt aimed just at restoring the prerogatives of rank undermined by President Summers' arrogance, or is it aimed at undermining the institutional arrogance of Harvard itself, so that it can undertake the critical and humbling self-examination it so desperately needs?  There is rot in the system, all right, but I fear that neither President Summers nor the faculty are jointly prepared to confront the full dimensions of it.  Consider some of the recent newsworthy events at Harvard:

1. President Summers berates Cornel West for grade inflation, supposedly declining scholarship,  and supporting Al Sharpton's campaign for President.  Professor West leaves in a huff for Princeton.  What's wrong with this?  Comments like this one on the substantive merits of Summers' opinion of West miss the point. Grade inflation is a serious issue well within the province of the President.  But it is ludicrous and demeaning to single out West on this count, given its pervasiveness at Harvard.  Systematic problems demand systematic and impersonal solutions, not arbitrary Presidential second-guessing of the grading patterns of individual faculty whom he holds in contempt.  The same point applies to concerns about scholarly productivity of tenured faculty members.  What may be a legitimate form of institutional accountability and standard-setting in an impersonal, publicly vetted, and universally applied system of rules becomes an imperious violation of academic freedom in the hands of a President who applies privately tailored standards at his personal discretion.  As for West's extra-curricular political activities, these are none of the President's business.  My concern is not only with contract feudalism (see here and here).  It's with political correctness.  Those who hailed Summers for taking down West, a supposed practitioner of political correctness, should have excoriated Summers instead, for presuming to dictate to faculty what political affiliations are correct for a Harvard professor to have.

2. President Summers, in the wake of criticism of Harvard's poor record of tenuring women in the sciences since he assumed office, suggests that women are innately deficient in high aptitude for these subjects and would rather spend their time having babies, and relegates hypotheses about sex discrimination and differential socialization to a distant third.  The issue here is not the legitimacy or possibility of exploring the hypothesis of innate sex differences in valued attributes and motivations.  Contrary to claims that feminist agents of political correctness have driven such research out of the academy, research into such hypotheses is active, as Lynn Sanders reminds us.  Nor did Summers' critics call for censorship of such research.  They did question the intellectual merits of Summers' selective consideration of evidence (see, for example, here).  Despite his avowals that he wished to be proved wrong in the relative weights he assigned to genetic and social causes, his rhetorical assignment of burdens of proof belies his prejudice.  The evidence is far from sufficient to shift burdens of proof for or assign relative importance to any of the hypotheses Summers considered.  But this is not the fundamental issue, either.  Research scientists are entitled to their biases, in the sense that science can't get underway without people willing to place their bets on sometimes controversial hypotheses as yet unproved, and can't succeed unless people are free to vigorously pursue such hypotheses even in the face of rival hypotheses claiming their own empirical support.  The issue is rather that Summers was not speaking as a research scientist in the fields in question.  He was speaking as the President of Harvard University.  In that capacity, Summers' deployment of his biases could not function in the fruitful way biases often function among research scientists.  They functioned instead as lame excuses for a poor institutional record of tenuring women.  (Lame, because they can't explain declining rates of tenure under Summers' leadership.)  A less arrogant Harvard would have borrowed a leaf from MIT, which subjected its own treatment of women faculty to empirical scrutiny, discovered problems, and took action to correct them.

3. Several Harvard-affiliated faculty have engaged in plagiarism, including Lawrence Tribe (Law School), Charles Ogletree (Law School), Ali A. Sultan (formerly of the School of Public Health), and Doris Kearns Goodwin (Harvard Board of Overseers).  {Alan Dershowitz (Law School) has also been accused of plagiarism, although he vigorously disputes the charge.)  In view of the rash of plagiarism cases, I wrote a letter to President Summers on October 7, 2004, arguing that the pattern suggested a systematic problem with the use of research assistants:

It would be ludicrous to suppose that the authors in question were trying to pass off, as their own, the published works from which they plagiarized.  These works were too famous to make that supposition credible.  Plagiarism of published works is but a symptom of wholesale plagiarizing of texts submitted by research assistants.  The offending authors failed to recognize that the passages from published works were not in their own voice, because their method of "writing" books by assembling and editing minimally referenced memos drafted by research assistants is inconsistent with having a voice. . . . Disciplining the offending faculty is not enough.  To prevent future violations of this sort, Harvard must review the roles of research assistants and lay down strict standards for how they may be used.  I suggest, for starters, that faculty be forbidden from using research assistants to draft any part of what they publish under their own names.

President Summers replied to my letter in November:

The University, as a matter of policy, does not comment on individual
reviews of the conduct of faculty members.  Rest assured, however, that we
take these matters very seriously.

The reply rather misses my point, which was not to inquire into the punishments meted out to individual faculty members, but to urge a change in a research culture that appears to facilitate these abuses.  When a pattern of abuse emerges, it's time for systematic change.  I'm still waiting to see whether Harvard can overcome its institutional arrogance, view itself clearly and critically, and adopt necessary reforms.

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» The case against Summers from Majikthise
Ideologues are spreading misinformation about Larry Summers' dim future at Harvard. They are trying to paint him as a martyr to academic freedom, a visionary leader who fell on his sword to "stimulate open debate." In fact, Summers' controversial remarks [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 23, 2005 3:19:11 PM

» Harvard and Larry Summers from Political Animal
HARVARD AND LARRY SUMMERS....Over at Left2Right, Elizabeth Anderson has an idiosyncratic look at the whole Larry Summers flap. Her overall position seems to be that the real problem is "rot in the system" at Harvard, not Summers per se, but... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 24, 2005 2:05:24 AM

» Harvard and Larry Summers from Political Animal
HARVARD AND LARRY SUMMERS....Over at Left2Right, Elizabeth Anderson, a professor of philosophy and women's studies at the University of Michigan, has an idiosyncratic look at the whole Larry Summers flap. Her overall position seems to be that the real ... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 24, 2005 2:12:11 AM

» Harvard and Larry Summers from Political Animal
HARVARD AND LARRY SUMMERS....Over at Left2Right, Elizabeth Anderson, a professor of philosophy and women's studies at the University of Michigan, has an idiosyncratic look at the whole Larry Summers flap. Her overall position seems to be that the real ... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 24, 2005 2:16:56 AM

» HARVARD -- from PRESTOPUNDIT
"There is rot in the system": Here I was at Harvard, an institution that bent over backwards to make distinctions of rank invidious -- even to the point, in... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 25, 2005 12:03:08 AM

» MATH AND MOMMIES from Begging To Differ
The Larry Summers conversation has been so thoroughly discussed that any angle introduced at this point is likely to repeat points previously made. That said, I'd like to note the argument put forth by Elizabeth Anderson, which I thought assertively... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 17, 2005 8:29:38 AM

Comments

Posted by: Tad Brennan

Good post.
1&2 look a little different from 3, no? 1&2 do a good job of showing why the faculty revolt against Summers has nothing to do with trying to subject his views to a test of feminist orthodoxy. His infractions are against rules for good faculty management on one side, and the scientific method on the other.

I suspect 3 is a problem endemic to law-schools, per se, and built into the way legal scholars have been trained to work (i.e. too fast, and through the exploitation of their assistants). Any special Harvard slant on this problem? Perhaps magnified because there are more writers there, and what they write is more likely to be scrutinized? Brian Leiter has posted a number of items related to legal research and legal publishing on his site.

Agreed, there is one common thread: Harvard is the epicenter of self-satisfied complacency. But do we only fuel the complacency by focussing on the place? I liked a comment over at Brad DeLong's site, that maybe what happens at a handful of elite institutions is less important than we are making it.

Posted by: Tad Brennan | Feb 23, 2005 7:53:18 AM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Ouch: this law professor has never even hired a research assistant. I know plenty of law professors who use RAs to read up on cases and commentary for them, but wouldn't dream of asking RAs to draft prose for them.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 23, 2005 8:14:11 AM


Posted by: Bill Gardner

I share your concern (point 3) about the decline of scholarship and accountability associated with the misuse of research assistants' work. The biomedical world has been struggling with ethical issues about the authorship of research papers for some time (see, for example, http://www.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/rcr/rcr_authorship/winResources.html). You suggest "that faculty be forbidden from using research assistants to draft any part of what they publish under their own names." I would restate this to require that authorship credit be given to every person making a substantive contribution to the text. Drummond Rennie (a JAMA editor) and his colleagues put forward a standard that requires all JAMA authors to provide a footnote defining their specific contributions to a text (Rennie D, Yank V, Emanuel L. When authorship fails: a proposal to make contributors accountable. JAMA 1997;278:579-85). I would further propose that we forbid contracts for RAs in which the RA gives up authorship rights.

Finally, as an alumnus, I agree wholeheartedly with the criticism of Harvard's culture.

Posted by: Bill Gardner | Feb 23, 2005 8:20:15 AM


Posted by: Ken

Liz:

I don't want to take issue with the substance of your post. And I'm really reluctant to enter these discussions about what Summers said and whether his critics are just knee-jerk anti-nativist leftie loonies or something. The whole thing has been much too breathless for my tastes. Plus I respect you as a thinker and philosopher enormously. So I wouldn't want you to take anything I have to say the wrong way. But I do have to say that I think that you are not being entirely fair in your characterization of Summers when you say:

President Summers, in the wake of criticism of Harvard's poor record of tenuring women in the sciences since he assumed office, suggests that women are innately deficient in high aptitude for these subjects and would rather spend their time having babies, and relegates hypotheses about sex discrimination and differential socialization to a distant third. 


As I read Summers, he didn't state or imply anything that can be fairly characterized by the provocative phrase "innately deficient in high apptitude for these subjects." In fairness to you, since there is no quantifier attached to your characterization -- no 'some women', 'all women', 'most woman', 'many women' -- it's hard to know exactly what you think he meant even from your own words. Anyway, I read him as having said that even if the mean scores for women and men on various measures of various presumably relevant appitutdes are roughly identical, there is still the question of how men and women cluster about those means. He claimed -- and I don't know if its true or false -- that women and men scatter differently, with men clustering more at both the low and high extremes and women clustering more between the extremes. I don't see how that translate into "women are innately deficient in high apptitude." Moreover, he said that even at the extremes we're talking only small differences in the scatter pattern. He made the further, and important claim that these small differences can have enormous consequences for men and women in high end professions. He didn't really explain why he thought that or what the "non-linearizing" mechanism might be. I suspect that there is really quite a lot to argue about here. I don't really see what the non-linearizing mechanism could be myself, especially if you control for his other two factors. That's relevant because his non-linearity claim was about the independent contribution of differential variability between men and women.

Anyway, my only claim is that you haven't fairly characterized his claim about the biological stuff.

Also he didn't say that "women would rather spend their time having babies." He didn't say anything so straightforward or simple, as I read him. I read him as pointing to what he sees as a collision between the dynamics of family life in contempory culture, especially family life for highly educated, highly skilled, men and women and the dynamics of work life for those same men and women. And he seemed to be saying that the biggest cause -- I got the impression he thought "by far," but that's not explicity -- of the disparity between men and women in high end professions is the clash of these two dynamics. Paraphrasing this as "women would rather spend their time having babies" again seems at best a gross oversimplification. His claims, if I understand them, are arguably true. Having children does have a differential impact on the lives of men and women in our culture. We could and should certainly try to work toward arrangements of all kinds that diminish the difference. Summers in fact seemed to be inviting an inquiry into how best we might do that, if you ask me.

About discrimination being a distant third. I read him as restricting those parts of his discussion to Harvard's search procedures. If that's right, it wouldn't be surprising if he thought that discrimination was the least significant cause. I mean if in this day and age Harvard is still deploying either overtly or covertly discriminatory practices that have a MASSIVE effect on the composition of its professoriate, then they are in really big trouble. It's not that one expects no such practices to be still in place, but you would think with the vigilance that universities tend to bring toward such issues, they would be much much less impactful than they were in an earlier day.

Socialization is another matter. You're right that he did downplay socialization, but mainly by saying that we're not so good about spotting what's due to socialization and what isn't . I think that's correct. Plus I think that parent, schools, the goverment overestimates the role of the "old" generation in socializing the "new" generation. But that's a long, long discussion.

Anyway, it's not my intention to get involved in the merits of these issues right now. I don't know enough about Harvard to even contemplate even wanting to dispute your core claims. And I think there are much better settings to discuss biology vs socialization vs social dynamics etc and their consequences for explaining differences between the lives of men and the lives of women. So I won't get into that here either.

Posted by: Ken | Feb 23, 2005 8:49:49 AM


Posted by: S. Weasel

Ohhhhhh...that explains it! I had wondered how people in high places could possibly find themselves plagiarizing text. I thought it was a lunatic moment, like rich people caught shoplifting.

I'm not much reassured to learn they use verbatim chunks of material dug up by assistants, but at least I don't have to imagine Doris Kearns Goodwin hunched over a Google search, CTRL-C'ing and CTRL-V'ing with mad abandon.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Feb 23, 2005 9:21:15 AM


Posted by: Andrew

Ken,

"I mean if in this day and age Harvard is still deploying either overtly or covertly discriminatory practices that have a MASSIVE effect on the composition of its professoriate, then they are in really big trouble."

No one "deploys" covert discrimination - the whole point is that you don't mean to be discriminatory but you just can't help it, eg through unconscious bias, social structures, etc. A department full of male professors, even if they have the best of intentions, often tends to have unconscious and subtle biases against hiring women. And these subtle, small biases can, summed up over an entire lifetime, combine to have a massive influence on the number of women who stay in science. (Death by a thousand pinpricks, etc.)

"you would think with the vigilance that universities tend to bring toward such issues, they would be much much less impactful than they were in an earlier day."

In fact, they are less impactful - note how the number of women getting PhDs and faculty positions in hard sciences has been rising in recent decades. But who's to say that they've already reached zero impact? Declining discrimination is perfectly consistent with continuing substantial discrimination.

Posted by: Andrew | Feb 23, 2005 9:31:00 AM


Posted by: Mona

Interesting insight into Harvard by Prof. Anderson; like S. Weasal I've been pretty freaked as to how these stellar authors could possibly be plagiarizing, given how stupid and unnecessary it should be for them to do so.

I do want to quiblle with Prof Anderson that the MIT study on women was properly empirical, or even worth that much. You can read what Cathy Young has to say about it in Salon here.

Posted by: Mona | Feb 23, 2005 11:04:51 AM


Posted by: Emender

A minor correction: do you mean "belied" his prejudice (midway, near the Sanders cite)? Or betrayed, revealed, exposed, something like that?

Posted by: Emender | Feb 23, 2005 12:00:29 PM


Posted by: ken

Andrew:

You say:

In fact, they are less impactful - note how the number of women getting PhDs and faculty positions in hard sciences has been rising in recent decades. But who's to say that they've already reached zero impact? Declining discrimination is perfectly consistent with continuing substantial discrimination.

Sure, it's true that declining discrimination is consistent with substantial discrimination. But the former doesn't entail the latter. And you can't argue from a possibility to a reality.

So, I would think that this is a purely empirical question, about which one should have an open mind.

You don't have to be completely open, in the sense of assigning no prior probability to the hypothesis that despite declining real discrimination, there is still substantial discrimination. But what's more interesting are not the priors, but what the data show and how they drive us to update our priors, if you catch my drift.

Anyway, I was only making the point that it wouldn't be surprising if the President of Harvard thought that Harvard had by now made enough progress in refining its search procedures and was vigilant enough about enforcing fair search procedures that his priors for the proposition 'discrimination in our search procedures is a major cause of disparity" were pretty low.


Posted by: ken | Feb 23, 2005 1:42:37 PM


Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner

"Those who hailed Summers for taking down West, a supposed practitioner of political correctness, should have excoriated Summers instead, for presuming to dictate to faculty what political affiliations are correct for a Harvard professor to have."

No one actually believe this do they? Look I'm as much for theoretical niceities as the next person, but I don't have a problem keeping neo-Nazis or David Duke style racists off of University campuses (which academia has been, thankfully, doing very effectively now for decades.) My only complaint is that Universities dont keep out left wing extremists quite as consistently.

Now, I'm not saying that Cornel West was fairly targeted as being such an extremist. What I'm saying is that it is ok for Harvard (or any other school) to say, for example, "You cannot belong to an anti-Semitic poltiical party and be a Professor here." Hell, I for one would not just say that was OK, I'd DEMAND they say that.

Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner | Feb 23, 2005 2:41:10 PM


Posted by: Tad Brennan

Suppose we approach this blog in line with its original intentions, and think of it as the front-porch of academic liberalism, where we sit on a summer's evening facing the public thoroughfare with a sense of ease and a smile of welcome, willing to share our beliefs with utter strangers, and eager to hear their beliefs in exchange.

What does this post tell the conservative world about the liberal world, or about how the world looks to liberals? How does it contribute to that mutual understanding that is so important for our unity as a nation?

Well, I think it does one thing well. Passersby have heard a lot of loud noises coming from our parlor window, noises that sound like a large group of academic liberals ganging up to strangle another of their kind. Here he is, an Eastern elite liberal academic, a former member of the Clinton White House fer god's sakes, apparently being lynched by other liberals in the very bastion of Eastern liberal elitism. Passersby are understandably puzzled, alarmed, and affronted. That does not look like a house to go into.

It is important, for that reason, for a post like this to make clear why the hullabaloo you are hearing is not the sound of a lynch-mob at work. Neither the treatment meted out, nor the rationales behind it, are such as would make this interaction count as a lynching. This is not an hysterical mob taking irrational revenge on an innocent victim; instead, the issues are much more complicated and the grievances more real.

That's an important point to make clear to the passersby, and there is no way of making it other than as Elizabeth Anderson does, i.e. carefully distinguishing the real issues, showing exactly wherein Summers was out of line, showing what are the sources of the faculty's discontent, and so on.

With that point recognized, I am still left thinking--oh hell, why do we always have to embarrass ourselves to the public this way? Some of them looked friendly--some of them might even have been willing to sit around and chat. Might have been nice to make a few more friends--you never know when a few more friends will come in handy, or even just a familiar face to help you out when you're in a jam. Come to think of it, we're already in a jam--this country has a lot of problems facing it, and we need to work together to face them.

I'm left thinking--after we have made our excuses for the hullabaloo, can we go back to putting our best foot forward, here on the front porch, and talking about issues that might interest the passersby, instead of frightening them off? Issues that can show how much common ground there is, and how willing we are to reach out to people outside the house, instead of merely excusing the ruckus inside?

Posted by: Tad Brennan | Feb 23, 2005 2:55:50 PM


Posted by: john t

President Summers------"poor record of tenuring women---since he assumed office". Post hoc ergo propter hoc??

Posted by: john t | Feb 23, 2005 3:28:41 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

Problem is that is does look like a lynching when Hopkins describes her nausea at Sommers remarks and then weeks later we get to read what so upset her. Appears that reasonable people cannot disagree at Harvard to the passersby.

This post appears to be an effort to put Summers in a bad light in order to save the reputation of the institution.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 23, 2005 3:37:11 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

And alas you will need to recruit some new posters if this idyllic "front porch conversation" metaphor is to be pursued. Tad, I suggest that you volunteer your services!

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 23, 2005 3:46:22 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Noah, Elizabeth's post says that Harvard itself is corrupt: hard to see how that could amount to blaming Summers to save the institution's reputation.

john t: At Harvard, you might want to know, the president has an independent review at the end of the tenure and promotion process. (I know of no other school that does that.) And some people make it all the way through the process -- through the department, through the college, and perhaps (that is if Harvard does this; I don't know) through the provost, and then get turned down by the president. I have no idea whether Summers himself has been turning down a disproportionate number of women candidates. Nor would it follow that if he had he was doing so for bad or misogynistic reasons. But there is more reason to be concerned than post hoc propter hoc suggests.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 23, 2005 4:08:34 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

Don,

All human institutions are corrupt to some extent...no great revelation that Harvard is among them...if the recollections of UM by Jay Nordlinger @NRO are accurate then you have problems too.

It seems tho that the post places most of the blame for the current kerfuffle on Summers but the more I think about the actual content and implications of his remarks, he has done Harvard and the academy in general a great service by generating this debate.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 23, 2005 4:52:20 PM


Posted by: Brian Leiter

Since I, obviously, agree that Larry Summers is not entitled "to dictate to faculty what political affiliations are correct for a Harvard professor to have," it is perhaps worth stating that I can recall nothing in the NY Times Magazine article (which I referenced) on that subject; indeed, this is the first I've heard of that. My recollection, perhaps inaccurate, was that Summers primarily chastised Cornel West for making rap albums and pursuing supreficial rather than scholarly projects. Academic freedom does not encompass freedom from being chastised by administrators. It would, however, protect West from formal retribution, such as loss of his job, or loss of pay and professional privileges and the like. There was, of course, no indication of such a threat, and, in any case, the idea that an academic celebrity such as West was vulnerable on this score is, of course, a bit silly, as his decampment to a no doubt equally (perhaps more?) attractive position at Princeton shows.

This is minor, in any case, and does not detract from your more central points.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Feb 23, 2005 6:00:36 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

And I might add as I am wont to do that it is a much greater blight on Harvard's reputation to see the sordid spectacle of a corrupt faculty pursuing a liberal perspective like a pack of howling wolves.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 23, 2005 7:03:49 PM


Posted by: noah

Correct the last comment to say:

sordid spectacle of a corrupt faculty pursuing the holder of a decidely liberal perspective like a pack of howling wolves.

A bit over the top...maybe...basically true probably.

Posted by: noah | Feb 23, 2005 7:19:58 PM


Posted by: v

This post was very nice. It is not surprising that the culture at Harvard is so bad. They have an unhealthy policy of treating tenure track faculty badly and simply buying off faculty from other universities for senior, tenured positions. On this count, I think Prof Summers did realize this problem and at least claim to do something about it.

Personally, I believe that a lot of the outrage at Harvard is an excuse to settle scores with him over other issues. It is, however, greatly entertaining to see a bunch of faculty get treated the way they treat others. And when people like Prof Hopkins put on the show they did, it is hard to feel that it was not deserved.

On the larger issue of women in sciences, I think Prof Summers was wrong and mistaken in speaking as he did, especially given his position. I don't think, however, that he is the first President of Harvard to hold these views. I think the smartest thing that the faculty at Harvard could do now is to let him continue as President and use his weakened situation to improve the situation for women in the university, though I doubt that this is what would happen.

Posted by: v | Feb 23, 2005 7:44:13 PM


Posted by: john t

Don H Thanks for the correction.

Posted by: john t | Feb 23, 2005 10:35:34 PM


Posted by: Lee Scoresby

"Interesting insight into Harvard by Prof. Anderson; like S. Weasal I've been pretty freaked as to how these stellar authors could possibly be plagiarizing, given how stupid and unnecessary it should be for them to do so"

I can't say for sure about all of these professors, but many of them have a reputation for not being stellar writers. In other words, for years RAs have been writing their work, or at least editing incoherent jumble into actual prose.

In all due respect, I think Elizabeth's claim that we should focus on abuse of the RA system misses the point: under any reasonable academic definition, assembling a book or paper with significant sections written by RAs is an act of plagarism. They produce, more or less, what academic honors systems refer to as "assembly papers." The fact that this was a case of double plagarism only makes it worse. None of these people should, if the facts are consistent with what is being discussed here, be affiliated with Harvard or any major research university. Students who engaged in even half of the activities they are accused of would find their positions in serious jeopardy. Superstar academics should be held to the same standards.

Posted by: Lee Scoresby | Feb 24, 2005 11:44:31 AM


Posted by: Don Herzog

I'm emphatically with Lee, though I've occasionally been told it's naive. If plagiarism is presenting another's work as your own, and an RA wrote the actual prose, and you publish it under your name, you're plagiarizing. QED.

But I think Elizabeth is also with Lee: I think she's claiming that using RAs for prose production is abuse.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 24, 2005 11:47:06 AM


Posted by: oliver

What do you call it when clerks write judicial opinions?

Posted by: oliver | Feb 24, 2005 1:21:05 PM


Posted by: David Handelman

Another point that should be made on the supposed arbitrariness of Summers singling out Cornel West for criticism is that Prof. West was not just an ordinary tenured professor, subject to direction and oversight from the head of his department, but instead one of a handful of interdisciplinary "University Professors" officially reporting to the president of the university. Of course in practice that tends to mean total academic freedom, but the point is that Summers was specifically within the rights of his office to take it upon himself to tell Cornel West what to do.

Of course there was no way to do that without it coming across as an insult likely to push West to leave, not that Summers apparently even tried. But then again with West's recent lack of *any* "serious" academic output (and sure there's a great debate to be had on the merits of public vs. ivory tower intellectual activity), and especially with that so-called "rap" album (which is really more spoken word/R&B, but more to the point is so pathetically bad, almost beyond belief), he really had left himself in a vulnerable position. And I say this as a former student of Dr. West's who was actually quite impressed with his teaching abilities and commitment to undergraduate education, and sad to see him go.

Posted by: David Handelman | Feb 24, 2005 1:21:52 PM


Posted by: Colin Danby

Ken: Reread! (1) The logical structure of the speech, and Summers is explicit if you read with any degree of attention, is to minimize the importance of discrimination as an explanation for the observed gender imbalance, (2) Summers himself glosses his explanation of women dropping out as their following "legitimate family desires," and (3) The argument about greater male variance is quite extreme if you read carefully -- once you are out a few standard deviations to the right, as Summers helpfully points out, a small diffrence in variance can yield very large disproportionality, on the order of 5:1. Since for *any* highly selective position you presumably want your pool to come from the right-hand tail of the population's distribution, the argument that women have slightly less overall variance is automatically an argument for their genetic inferiority *if the job is selective.* Population averages are not important here.

Posted by: Colin Danby | Feb 24, 2005 2:17:10 PM


Posted by: noah

Here is a speculative answer as to how differences in aptitudes between men and women could occur:

1) Assume the normal distribution for these aptitudes are identical in men and women in the sense that the DNA for these aptitudes are the same (most likely true).

2) Testosterone and/or other environmental influences changes the way female vs. male brains are wired (I believe it is well established that the brain does not fully mature until the third decade and we know that considerable rewiring occurs). If testosterone produces different wiring then the male normal distribution could change in a manner such that while the mean remains identical (vs. female) the variance does not.

I don't believe it is ipso facto sexist to entertain such thoughts but the feminists at Harvard and elsewhere apparently do. The question is whether feminists would ever accept evidence that the variances for any particular aptitude are different. I doubt it. And that is why we say the issue is "politicized". I guess Summers should be fired after all for not "getting it".

Posted by: noah | Feb 24, 2005 2:19:40 PM


Posted by: ken

Colin:

Did you miss, " the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. ?"

Did you not notice that he concludes his argument about discrimination with the following remarks about the competitive academic market place:

If it was really the case that everybody was discriminating, there would be very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating, because of what it would mean for the pool that was available. And there are certainly examples of institutions that have focused on increasing their diversity to their substantial benefit, but if there was really a pervasive pattern of discrimination that was leaving an extraordinary number of high-quality potential candidates behind, one suspects that in the highly competitive academic marketplace, there would be more examples of institutions that succeeded substantially by working to fill the gap.

Do you think that it is not a "legitimate family desire" to spend time with one's children??

I think you're conflating the question whether women in fact drop out more frequently than men from the "legitimate family desire" to spend time with children, as Summers calls it, with the question whether social structures that confront men and women with DIFFERENT work/family choices are just or equitable. You can certainly think the desires are legitimate, but deny that the social structures that structure the choices for men and women differently are.

Also did you not notice that right after the phrase "legitimate family desires" there occurs the phrase "employers' current desire?" Notice the word there is 'current' not 'legitimate'. That's important since the use of 'current' leaves open the possibility of change and explicitly entails no normative endorsement. Did you fail to notice that he is talking about the "clash" between the two -- family and work -- and talking about the difference between the impact of that clash on men and women's lives?

So I don't get your point. Could you maybe explain yourself better?

Also, by your way of reading the variance claims made by Summers, shouldn't it follow that if the quantifier dropping conclusion that "women are genetically inferior to men" follows, then the quantifier dropping conclusion that "women are genetically superior to men" follows equally well. For simply take jobs or social roles (prison inmate, for example) that select not from the high extreme, but rather from the low extreme. Men will be overrepresented there, not, presumably, because of their superiority, but because of ther inferiority.

But this isn't serious. It's silly. But it's what your approach to reading Summers seems to me to commit you to. My real point is that quantifier dropping statements just aren't useful in this context. There's a logic and semantics of "generics" and "defaults" that is worth bringing to bear here. There's lots to say, but I'll just make the point that you really can't get logical support for the generic or default "statement" -- I put "statement" in quotes because I really see these things as more like defeasible inference rules than propositionally contenful statements -- 'Women are genetically inferior to men" from the kind of premises in Summer's talk.

But arguing this further would get us into some pretty abstruse semantics/logic.

Finally, i did get one thing wrong. Summers thinks the discrimination and socialization are themselves part of the non-linearizing mechanism that makes differential variance and the differential impact of the social structuring of family/work choices matter disproportionately for women. That's why he says:

"those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination." where the phrase 'those considerations' clearly refers in context to the clash (large factor) and difference variance (not as large factor).

Posted by: ken | Feb 24, 2005 4:05:47 PM


Posted by: Colin Danby

Ken: I wrote simply, and narrowly, to defend the quality of Elizabeth Anderson's exegesis of Summers. I am not addressing the many further questions that can be raised about Summers' assumptions, evidence, logic, and obiter dicta.

So, on whether Anderson got Summers right: (a) Obviously, when he discusses discrimination he means discrimination in academic hiring processes. Did Anderson claim he meant anything else? (b) The "clash" still hinges on women wanting disproportionately to be with kids, so Anderson's original characterization is fine. (c) Within the context, which was explicitly set BY SUMMERS and which Anderson is simply following, we are talking about elite academic hiring, so population *averages* are irrelevant. What matters, *as Summers says*, is what is going on several standard deviations over to the right.

Posted by: Colin Danby | Feb 24, 2005 4:39:38 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

noah writes,

I don't believe it is ipso facto sexist to entertain such thoughts but the feminists at Harvard and elsewhere apparently do. The question is whether feminists would ever accept evidence that the variances for any particular aptitude are different. I doubt it.

Evidence, please.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 24, 2005 4:50:02 PM


Posted by: Colin

Colin:

You ask, " Did Anderson claim he meant anything else?"

Here is what Liz said: Summers "relegates hypotheses about sex discrimination and differential socialization to a distant third."

So she was imprecise. She left out any modifiers about the scope of discrimination. I think when a ascribee explicitly uses a modifier and the ascriber explicitly drops the modifier the ascription isn't very fair minded, especially when sort of by Gricean principles dropping the modifier at least implicates that the ascribee meant something of less restricted scope. So, yeah, I do think that Liz in one sense ascribed to Summers -- not directly, but via something like conversational implicature -- thoughts he did not express.

About the clash. I do lots of things that I "would rather not do" and don't things that "I would rather do" because I feel, rightly or wrongly, that I have no choice. You can't infer from what I in fact do anything about what I'd rather be doing.

So, no, actually, I don't Liz's attribution to Summers even begins to reflect the complexity of what Summers was talking about. To paraphrase what he said as "women would rather spend their time having babies" is, I think, extremely unfair. It almost sets up a straw man. It certainly doesn't engage the issue.

But like I said, I'm not in a position to take issue with the core of Liz's post. And I so don't.


Posted by: Colin | Feb 24, 2005 5:15:57 PM


Posted by: Colin Danby

Greetings, Other Colin:

Re discrimination it's obvious that both Summers and Anderson are talking about the same thing with the same scope. Re actions Anderson is using precisely the same assumption that a neoclassical economist like Summers would use, that actions, like dropping out of professional career tracks, reveal preferences. She understands his argument.

And sure, Summers is talking about complex things even if he is doing it in a tendentious and poorly-informed manner. Anderson is simply giving us the logical structure of Summers' argument. Even Summers discusses us the logical structure of Summers' argument. What's your point?

Posted by: Colin Danby | Feb 24, 2005 5:54:54 PM


Posted by: oliver

It occurs to me this dependence on RA's is part of an academic arms race related to how long it takes to get tenure (because you have to do a postdoc) and hence why there aren't so many tenured women in the tracks that involve long postdocs (e.g. the sciences). I'm thinking that being a top academic nowadays requires a level of intellectual productivity that is hard to achieve without RAs, and so it's a self-perpetuating and even escalating system (perhaps in which the next stop is something like the German dozent system of Einstein's day). Back in the old days when women really were held to be inferior by the people in hiring positions, at least in principle they could have attained tenure before their biological clocks ran out. Now somebody else's tenure depends on them doing a long stint as a postdoc.

Posted by: oliver | Feb 24, 2005 6:08:36 PM


Posted by: LPFabulous

I sort of hope Summers does get fired, so he can go get a real job and stop dancing around with the lily-livered know-nothings who populate Harvard. Can we now officially declare Harvard as the most vastly overrated institution on the planet? While people like Nancy Summers and Liz Anderson are getting the vapors because Summers would dare to utter a statement that is almost certainly true, the rest of the world is fist-pumping because the snooty and obnoxious morons populating the halls of Harvard are exposing their idiocy for all the world to see.

Are there any serious human beings alive who aren't grinning ear to ear because of the ridiculous uproar this has caused? Call it schadenfreude if you want, but God does academia deserve to lose every ounce of respect it's losing right now.

Posted by: LPFabulous | Feb 24, 2005 6:36:30 PM


Posted by: LPFabulous

Sorry, I meant Nancy Hopkins. You know, the ninny with the "shallow breathing" and the "heart pounding".

Posted by: LPFabulous | Feb 24, 2005 6:40:18 PM


Posted by: noah

The evidence is clear...the debate itself...Hopkins says she was nauseated by his remarks but when I read his remarks I felt no nausea whatsoever. A "liberal" attitude would welcome a debate. Any conclusion that Harvard is helpless in its efforts to recruit "equitably" top rank physicists or mathematicians by factors beyond its control seems to be unacceptable.

Posted by: noah | Feb 24, 2005 6:41:01 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

noah, at most that tells you something about Hopkins. You pressed a much broader claim about feminists' unwillingness to think about these issues, though Elizabeth's post points you to a reminder by Lynn Sanders that feminists do indeed think about them. I'm looking for evidence for that broader claim:

I don't believe it is ipso facto sexist to entertain such thoughts but the feminists at Harvard and elsewhere apparently do. The question is whether feminists would ever accept evidence that the variances for any particular aptitude are different. I doubt it.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 24, 2005 7:51:49 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

Don,

I wish I knew more about the specifics of the debate in Harvard Yard.

Ive seen reports that the faculty are restive about other issues such as maybe having to move across the Charles to less prestigious quarters.

Seems like to me from afar that the debate on the merits has not been engaged...I could be wrong. Perhaps you could enlighten me.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 24, 2005 8:17:53 PM


Posted by: noah

Of course the definitive source would be the participants themselves. Ask Hopkins. Bet she won't answer.

Posted by: noah | Feb 24, 2005 8:29:49 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

Way back when the Summers brouhaha came up in an earlier thread, I recall reference to a Harvard mag article (I recall posting a followup that included links to the coverage in Science about the tenure offer numbers under Summers and how they were dropping). Somewhere in there was the argument that the drop reflected the unintentional discriminatory effect on women of an intentional discrimination on the basis of age...the claim was that Summers wanted younger hotshots for Harvard, and this enriches for males.

Noah: Nancy Hopkins isn't on the faculty at Harvard - she's in the Biology Dept. at MIT. What did you want to ask her?

Posted by: Jim Hu | Feb 24, 2005 11:50:37 PM


Posted by: Ralph Wedgwood

Since Liz cited Rawls's authority for the view that Oxford in the mid-80s was characterized by an intolerable form of academic snobbery, I thought I would say that since I was an undergraduate at Oxford 20 years ago, and teach there now, after many years of being in the USA in between, I can confidently say that Oxford (or at least, Oxford philosophy) is vastly better in that respect now than it seems to have been then. (This is not to say of course that there isn't still room for improvement....)

Posted by: Ralph Wedgwood | Feb 25, 2005 9:48:02 AM


Posted by: DoctorDoctorPhil

RE: Comment 1:

Summers didn't harass West because he supported Al Sharpton's bid for president. He criticized West for cancelling classes so that he could participate in political events. Big difference.

Posted by: DoctorDoctorPhil | Feb 25, 2005 10:58:23 AM


Posted by: noah

Calling for a show of hands...how will all this shake out?

Bang=Summers gets fired

Whimper=continuing controversy

Epiphany=harvard faculty see the error of their way and all register as republicans

Posted by: noah | Feb 25, 2005 8:32:23 PM


Posted by: noah

As an eternal optimist I vote Epiphany!

Posted by: noah | Feb 25, 2005 9:17:37 PM


Posted by: Perseus

Professor Harvey "C-minus" Mansfield (of Harvard University) gives his take on the Summers affair in a Weekly Standard article:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/297gfbih.asp

(He echoes my comment from way back about economists being characteristically blunt, which is not the best trait for a public figure.)

Posted by: Perseus | Feb 26, 2005 6:20:57 AM


Posted by: noah

Well at least brave and to my mind truth telling Mansfield has tenure and will only be intensely disliked (he says that there is no risk of lynching!) in Harvard Yard. I think admiration is in order.

And Don there is your answer.

Posted by: noah | Feb 26, 2005 11:23:04 AM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Come on, noah, you can't support a broad generalization about feminists by reporting that Harvey Mansfield makes the same generalization. I am not in the general habit of assumuing that whatever Mansfield -- or anyone else -- says is true.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 26, 2005 11:27:11 AM


Posted by: noah

Don,

Agree. He is just stating my position more eloquently than I can plus he probably has more knowledge about the intransigence of feminists at Harvard than either of us do.

Do you know of any prominent feminists that have publically called for more research on the matter or who have accepted Summers reasoning?

Mansfield indicates that that would be suicidal for just about any fledgling academic, feminist or not. You seem to be saying that feminists are all just good truth loving liberals. Evidence please.

Posted by: noah | Feb 26, 2005 11:52:57 AM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

After all if feminism is true then we should all believe it...then of course it would not be about women at all but about human beings in general. A paradox. Feminism is a prism...it cannot be true.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 26, 2005 12:07:55 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

Anecdotal evidence is not worth much but I will offer my experience which echoes what Mansfield says. Feminists are angry and utterly without humor. They take their anger to the bank and seem to gain an unsustainable rate of return. The feminist wife of a friend now years later cannot seem to let go of her anger at me for daring to suggest that Bill Clinton should be impeached for flouting his Constitutionally prescribed duties long before the Lewinsky business came to light. Gee, its just impossible to discuss politics around an ardent feminist...its like a life or death issue with them.

It seems to be that from the outside looking in that the only happy solution for men in the academy is capitulation.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 26, 2005 2:45:04 PM


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