[ Link verified 5/12/2009 ]
Opening Remarks at the February 15 FAS Faculty Meeting
Lawrence H. Summers
February 15, 2005
Before we move to questions, I want to say a few words about the aftermath of the January 14th NBER Conference. I went to the conference with good intentions. The issues of how we encourage women in science and academia are very important to me. I had hoped to stimulate research, debate, and progress toward solutions. I certainly did succeed in sparking debate, but not the one I had intended. As I tried to express in my letter to the community, I deeply regret having sent a signal of discouragement to people in this room and beyond who have worked very hard for many years to advance the progress of women in science and throughout academic life. I deserve much of the criticism that has come my way, but the university, I think, does not. I made a serious mistake in speaking in the way I did, especially given my role as President. I have, from this difficult experience, learned how much I still have to learn.
From what I have said, you will know, that if I could turn back the clock, I would have said and done things very differently. But if any good can come out of these difficulties, perhaps the intense attention on issues of gender can provide us with an opportunity to face some crucial issues more rapidly than might otherwise have been the case. For it is essential that universities provide a fully welcoming environment for women at every stage of their careers. We need to draw, always, on the widest possible pool of talent in building our faculty, student body, and staff.All of the many stories that I have heard from members of this faculty and many others in the last few weeks have an underlying and obvious, if sometimes hidden, fact: that universities like ours were originally designed by men and for men. And that reality shapes everything from the way career paths in academic life are conceived, to assumptions about effectiveness in teaching and mentoring, to concepts of excellence. We can make our university a better place for both women and men by rethinking our assumptions in these areas and many more. As we announced earlier, with the advice of the recently appointed task forces and drawing on experiences at other universities, we will establish a senior university position whose charge will include gender issues. Relying on the task forces, at the university level, we will take concrete steps, beginning immediately, to address issues of recruiting, career development, mentoring, and research support. [....]