In my 41 years at Harvard, I have never experienced a president more open to debate, disagreement, and dialog than Larry Summers. It is utter nonsense for professors to claim that they are held hostage to fear. Summers welcomes debate and controversy more than any president I have ever served under. Professors who are afraid to challenge him are guilty of cowardice. In any event, there is no shortage of open, even eager, critics. This is not about a presidentially imposed atmosphere of intimidation, it’s about substantive disagreement with Summers’ views. I, too, disagree with his views about innate differences between the genders. But what if he were to turn out to be right? Every factual issue, every scientific claim subject to proof or disproof, must be open to debate at a great university. This sounds like the trial of Galileo, including the pressure on Summers to apologize and to renounce his views.
The fault is not with Larry Summers, who encourages disagreement with his views. It is with those who seek to stifle debate in the name of political correctness. This is truly a time of crisis for Harvard. The crisis is over whether a politically correct straightjacket will be placed over the thinking of everybody in this institution by one segment of the faculty. The last thing wanted by many of those who are pushing for Summers’ resignation is diversity of viewpoint; they want people who agree with them. This would be a much duller institution if its president had to march in lock step with a majority of the faculty. Harvard has never been a more exciting, interesting and diverse university, thanks in part to having a controversial president who is willing to speak his mind.