SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER….Harvard President Larry Summers has apparently put his foot in his mouth again, telling a conference last week that while there are lots of possible reasons women do less well than men in math and science careers, one of them might be related to hardwired genetic differences. I have my doubts about that, but I don’t feel like getting into a substantive discussion of the issue since my knowledge of the empirical evidence is probably about as shaky as Summers’s.
Several women who participated in the conference said yesterday that they had been surprised or outraged by Dr. Summers’s comments, and Denice D. Denton, the chancellor designate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, questioned Dr. Summers sharply during the conference, saying she needed to “speak truth to power.”
I would like to lead a crusade to forever ban the phrase “speaking truth to power,” especially in academic settings. It’s always uttered in tones that imply vast moral courage for doing so, and in Stalinist Russia that would have been true. In the 21st century American university system, however, most academics do nothing but speak truth to power, as loudly and as frequently as they can. Their punishment? Tenure, usually.
Of course, the fact that this was not a junior faculty member questioning Summers, but a fellow university president, makes it all the more ridiculous. Disagree all you want, folks, but let’s please not pose as the second coming of Nelson Mandela while doing it.