Ross Mackenzie

Talk about your PC. Talk about elitism and stereotypical behavior. Talk about what has happened - as Tom Wolfe does inter alia in his "I Am Charlotte Simmons" - to the spirit of open inquiry in the most thin-aired realms of the American academy. The case of Larry Summers versus the Harvard harridans has got it all.

Six weeks ago Harvard President Larry Summers - a former Secretary of the Treasury and not a conservative - gave a 7,000-word speech wherein he proposed "some questions asked and some attempts at provocation." The spirit of inquiry. At Harvard. What better, more paradigmatic place?

In citing the dramatic discrepancies between men (greatly more) and women (precious few) at the highest reaches of mathematics and the hard sciences, Summers offered three possible explanations: "intrinsic aptitude," discrimination against women, and the cultural trade-offs between family and work that (Summers' words) "a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make (in favor of math and science careers) than of married women."

To measure by the stereotypically hysterical reaction, you might have thought Summers had urged deporting every woman on the planet to Antarctica. Nearly all the attention has focused on his "intrinsic aptitude" thesis. One woman stormed out declaring, "This kind of bias makes me physically ill" - adding that if she had remained in the room she "would've either blacked out or thrown up."

And, oh, the dither. There have been meetings, committees, commissions, reports and the rawest sorts of rhetoric. There is talk of the need for higher levels of compassion, greater sensitivity to feelings, more counseling against hurt. Summers has apologized, humbled himself, prostrated himself 14 ways to Thursday. It's not that he has (a) caused the departure of a leading champion of African-American studies, (b) urged the return of ROTC to the Harvard campus, or (c) deplored the seeming anti-Semitism that demands Harvard divest itself of companies with interests in Israel.

It's not so much what Summers has said but how he has said it - his manner, his tone; not his beliefs but his behavior. So in one of his many apologies he has said, "I pledge to you that I will seek to listen more and more carefully and to temper my words and actions in ways that convey respect and help us work more harmoniously. . . . I am determined to set a different tone."

In all this, where is the veritas - the truth?

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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