Harvard President Lawrence Summers said Wednesday in a statement on the school’s Web site that he regretted not considering more carefully his remarks last week suggesting innate differences between the sexes could account for why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.
“Despite reports to the contrary, I did not say, nor do I believe, that girls are intellectually less able than boys, or that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science,” Summers said on the Web site.
However, he wrote, “I was wrong to have spoken in a way that was an unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and women. ... I deeply regret the impact of my comments and apologize for not having weighed them more carefully.”
The statement was in response to his speech at an academic conference sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research last Friday on the problems of women and minorities reaching top-tier science jobs.
Summers maintained he was simply summarizing research that suggests biological differences may play a role, not endorsing it, and several conference participants have characterized his presentation as healthily provocative and inoffensive.
But a few participants have said they were deeply offended, and one, MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins, walked out of the presentation. Hopkins has said she understood Summers to be expressing his own views.
Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Standing Committee on Women told Summers in a letter Tuesday that his remarks at the conference did not “serve our institution well.”
“It is obvious that the president of a university never speaks entirely as an individual, especially when that institution is Harvard and when the issue on the table is so highly charged,” the committee wrote.