I stand by what I said

By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  February 23, 2006

My welcoming “off-the-record” talk at the National Bureau of Economic Research, in early 2005, drew the greatest criticism. I spoke about the frustrating scarcity of women in academic math, engineering, and science programs, and posited, among other possibilities, that the under-representation might in some measure be the result of innate differences between men and women. I suggested as well other possible obstacles to women’s success in academic science, including the lack of adequate child-care facilities and the dearth of accommodations to interruptions in the tenure track. I conceded as well that gender discrimination doubtless played some role. To my dismay, only my comment on innate gender differences drew audience and faculty attention; indeed, a woman scientist from neighboring MIT complained to a newspaper reporter that she had to leave the room lest she faint or throw up listening to me. The problem of women’s under-representation in science will not be solved by burying our heads in the quicksand of ideologically dictated gender-discrimination theory. With all due regard for the overly sensitive digestive tracts of my critics, I stand by what I said.

This was about more than whether I speculated in an area in which I am not a recognized expert. It was about whether the modern American academy is any longer a safe haven for true diversity of thought and opinion, and whether some subjects are so toxic to a subsection of the academic left that they are taboo. We extol the virtues of diversity in a wide variety of programs — including mandatory freshman orientation and “sensitivity training” programs that come perilously close to being exercises in thought-reform — but we penalize diversity of knowledge and opinion. I was not immune to these forces, as exhibited in my shameful attempt to buy off my critics with a $50 million bribe for a laundry list of senseless initiatives compiled by two women’s task forces that will do little more than further expand an already bloated administrative structure. I hereby declare that initiative dissolved. The un-spent money will go to endow a much-needed and long-overdue chair in academic freedom at Harvard Law School.

To reaffirm — or perhaps to restore — essential academic freedom and the spirit of free inquiry on this campus, I will pursue the following initiatives vigorously. I am abolishing at every school within this university all disciplinary codes that limit free speech in the name of sensitivity. All codes outlawing “harassment” shall be interpreted so as to apply only to acts constituting harassment in the legal sense, not to speech that, if uttered on the city streets of Cambridge would be constitutionally protected. The university’s curriculum will feature critical thinking and knowledge attainment, not political indoctrination. All efforts to force students to accept the politically palatable notions of the day, including sensitivity training and censorship in the name of propriety, shall cease. Since the university will be getting out of the business of converting its students’ hearts and minds to accept the political views of a hard-core faction of the arts-and-sciences faculty, I will be cutting the student-life administration by 50 percent, which seems to be the approximate portion of that administration engaged in indoctrination and moral training in loco parentis. Grade inflation will end; students will have to work and study hard in order to enhance their self-esteem. While I will not interfere with any faculty member’s freedom to teach, I will insist that Harvard students, during their four years here, receive something more than political indoctrination.

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