Harvard President Summers walks to an undergraduate faculty meeting
Brian Snyder  /  Reuters
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers arrives Tuesday for a faculty meeting at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
updated 2/22/2005 8:19:10 PM ET 2005-02-23T01:19:10

Harvard faculty described a meeting Tuesday with university President Lawrence Summers as collegial — a session with sharp questions, but without a move toward a no-confidence vote.

The meeting with Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences was closed to the public and media. Professors said afterward they hoped it would mark the beginning of better relations — and Summers agreed.

“I thought it was a very candid and thoughtful discussion, and I hope it will help all of us move forward together in the most collegial ways possible,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

Summers’ management style and recent controversial remarks about women in science sparked forceful opposition at a faculty meeting last week.

“I think there’s movement, deep conversation, engagement,” said Dorothy Austin, a lecturer in psychology and religion at Harvard Divinity School.

History professor James Kloppenberg said Summers was “conciliatory.... His response was very different from the responses he has given.”

The meeting came in the wake of his decision to release the transcript of his remarks on the dearth of women in top science posts — and was the second such session since a furor erupted over comments last month suggesting intrinsic differences between the sexes play some role in why fewer women ascend to top-level university science jobs.

Some spoke in support of Summers and some against, “but I think everyone has calmed down,” literature professor Ruth Wisse said. “It’s a very good atmosphere.”

President hopes for ‘new chapter’
“I am committed to opening a new chapter in my work with you,” Summers said in a statement he presented to faculty that was released outside the meeting. “To start, I pledge to you that I will seek to listen more — and more carefully — and to temper my words and actions in ways that convey respect and help us work together more harmoniously. No doubt I will not always get things right. But I am determined to set a different tone.”

Though some faculty have complained about Summers’ confrontational leadership style previously, the latest controversy dates to Summers’ Jan. 14 remarks at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference — remarks he thought were off the record.

At the request of faculty, Summers released a full transcript of his comments last week, which show him arguing — with repeated qualifications — that innate differences partly explain why more men than women score in the highest ranges of math and science tests and rise to top science jobs.

He said innate differences, along with family pressure, play more of a role than discrimination and the “socialization” of girls and women away from science.

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