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Letter from Harvard Graduate Council (HGC) to Larry Summers Regarding NBER Remarks

Dear President Summers,

The Harvard Graduate Council (HGC), the university-wide student government of the eleven graduate and professional schools of Harvard University, would like to share with you its position on your recent comments regarding women in leadership positions in science and technology. As representatives of the more than 10,000 graduate students at Harvard University, we take umbrage at your suggestion that difference in innate ability may be the cause of women’s under-representation in science and technology.

Furthermore, in light of the fact that only four of the thirty-two faculty members who attained tenure last year at Harvard University were women, we implore you to take steps to correct this disparity immediately.

As former MIT President Charles Vest noted in an important 1998 study entitled Women Faculty in Science, “I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.” What is critically important for Harvard University to recognize, and for you as President to take the lead on, is that this discrimination needs to be addressed aggressively through actions not just words. This is a long path along which our university has only begun to walk.

While we are deeply concerned about the status of women at Harvard University, we applaud your commitment to “assuring that Harvard plays a leadership role in accelerating the advancement of women in science,” as stated in your recent letter. We are pleased that you are determined to “reduce barriers to the advancement of women in science,” yet we would like to see such action extended to all fields of study at Harvard. The steady decline in tenured female faculty at Harvard is unacceptable, and HGC supports any action designed to reverse this trend.

The Harvard Graduate Council was elected to address issues of common concern to graduate students across Harvard University, and to collect and voice these concerns to the university administration. The HGC, therefore, invites you to sponsor a seminar series to engage Harvard graduate students, faculty, and administration in conversations about the status of women at Harvard University-both in the sciences and in the university at large.

The Harvard Graduate Council would like to thank you in advance for your prompt attention to our concerns, and we look forward to developing a positive and productive working relationship with you and your office.

Sincerely,

Harvard Graduate Council

March 7, 2005
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