The tempest in academia's teapot over Harvard President Lawrence Summers's remarks about possible reasons for the lack of women in math- and science-oriented fields could lead to a faculty vote of "no confidence" in him next month. But if this uproar is the catalyst for such action, that would be too bad.
Higher education remains one of the last bastions of pure intellectual study - a place where ideas can and should be explored without fear of retribution. Moreover, Mr. Summers has since apologized multiple times for what he said last month regarding a proposed difference in "intrinsic aptitude" between men and women.
Now that the 7,000-word transcript of Summers's comments has been released, it's easy to see that his remarks have, in some instances, been taken out of context, possibly to suit various political agendas. At the beginning of his talk he says he even asked his host whether he wanted "provocative" remarks, rather than a discussion of the university's policies. And Summers later posits that he might even be wrong on his theses.
In context, his comments certainly seem less than incendiary. But a closer look at what Summers did say on the topic "Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce" can help readers decide for themselves (see: www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2005/nber.html).
At the very least, Summers has helped reinvigorate a much-needed discussion. Think of the column inches already devoted to just how and why fewer women than men succeed in math- and science-related careers. That conversation unfortunately had largely fallen stagnant or been left to task forces to address. That Summers offered no creative solutions on the subject may have helped amplify the current furor.
Society will hopefully someday see, appreciate, reward, and foster individual capability - without regard to gender. Until then, may more individuals inspire the public and the press to debate topics as worthy as this.