President of Harvard is urged to quit over 'sexism'

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The Independent US

Larry Summers, Harvard's outspoken president, is facing an unprecedented revolt by professors and teachers that could cost him his job at the helm of America's most venerable university.

Larry Summers, Harvard's outspoken president, is facing an unprecedented revolt by professors and teachers that could cost him his job at the helm of America's most venerable university.

The rumpus began last month when Mr Summers, a former treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, suggested at a closed-door meeting of economists that women might be less suited than men for careers in science and mathematics for biological reasons.

The unscripted remarks stunned academia - not to mention women's groups across the country, who accused him of blatant prejudice and sexism. The university has tried to make amends by setting up two special panels to help women members of staff. But to no avail. A stormy meeting on Tuesday produced a torrent of criticism of the president, amid repeated calls that Mr Summers make public the full text of his remarks.

Harvard had been "ridiculed as a centre of close-minded political correctness" thanks to the controversy, said Barbara Grosz, chairwoman of one of the panels, and among the 250 people present. Arthur Kleinman, chairman of the anthropology department, complained of how many professors were "dismayed, alienated and demoralised" by what had happened.

There was a "crisis of leadership" at the university, Dr Kleinman went on. "I have heard several outstanding colleagues say it is time to leave Harvard. I don't believe that, but I fear others do."

He urged Dr Summers to "think hard" about how he had taken Harvard to "this dangerous moment". Others spoke of a "climate of fear" on campus, created by the centralisation of power in the president's office.

A brilliant iconoclast to his admirers but an arrogant and graceless autocrat to his foes, the 50-year-old Dr Summers has been submerged in controversy since 2001, when he took the helm of Harvard - where in the early 1980s he had been tenured professor of economics, at the age of 28.

Within months, he was clashing publicly with Cornel West, the celebrated head of the African-American studies department, leading the luminary to depart to Harvard's great rival Princeton.

Never one to suffer fools gladly, he cast public doubt on the university's affirmative action programme, before complaining about "grade inflation" at the university, suggesting teachers were being excessively generous in marking students' work..

Dr Summers still has his defenders - among them Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature who, at Tuesday's meeting, accused women's groups of "bringing shame" on her profession. She called the gathering "a show trial to beat all show trials." Mr Summers was uncharacteristically contrite at the meeting. He apologised for his remarks, and agreed to consider making the text public.

It had been a "searing" afternoon, he said afterwards.

And another one is on the cards. So aggrieved were the assembled professors that they decided to meet again next Tuesday to again vent their concerns. It could lead to a formal vote of no confidence.

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