Wednesday, February 23, 2005

PROTEST! My speech from yesterday/Speech in full

Yesterday's demo was great...we are already getting a lot of recognition which is wonderful. I gave an edited version of this speech, but here is the whole thing.

It would appear that, like a lot of people, Mr. Larry Summers has a dream. Although we may speculate as to the true contents of such a dream, from his comments we can as he is wont to do “observe” that despite his reticence in releasing the transcript of his comments and despite his eventual apologies as to the pickle he has placed women faculty members in, his stated aim was to provoke, to incite others to challenge his claims within the confines of an “objectivity”, an “empirical” process that he himelf would define. This is a mental landscape wherein a history of systematic discrimination can be and has been righted as much as it can be by applying the medicament of 25 years of women’s passage to the halls of academe, albeit often through the back entrance. We might say that we are here then, to begin the process of realizing this stated aim of his, of revealing other sides of the argument on the reasons for women’s lack of tenure at Harvard that are markedly absent from Summers’ consideration. Indeed if this is his aim, President Summers should rejoice in his own demise. I am also here to challenge the arguments in terms of quality that are presented within these remarks because the scientific field they represent is far from complete, a fact of which I feel it is paramount that the population of Harvard be reminded.

I am not a scientist. Nor am I an expert in the field of gender studies by any means, but like President Summers before me I will not let this hinder me. It may well be the remit of the president of Harvard to discuss tenure and diversity as Mr. Summers’ did not “feel” like doing on the 14th of January, but one may well ask his qualifications for making statements that run the gamut from the sociological and the psychological to the biological. His defense in his comments at that time and beyond is one of his speaking unofficially, as a private individual. As I said I too am speaking about something I am no expert in, but the differences between the two positions-his and mine-are many: I can simply represent myself, which is what I am doing: I am affiliated with no political party or organization whatever, I receive no salary linked to my saying this, not saying it, or how I say it. Mr Summers claims to be speaking in an unofficial capacity in these remarks are really rather extraordinary: after serving in the Clinton administration, his claimed ignorance to the impact of his speech within the setting of a conference on diversity must strike us as disingenuous, especially when taken together with his aim of provocation. Mr. Summer’s “non-normative” (i.e. anecdotal) “hypotheses” on causes of declined tenure for women display a number of errors, flaws which no doubt if present in the work of a Harvard student would result in round and justified criticism. Mr. Summer’s asks throughout whether he might be wrong; the answer to such a question would in my opinion be that he certainly is not right. This has nothing to do with the opinions he represents therein per say, and everything to do with the misuse of authority to promulgate ideas UNFOUNDED or at the very least, QUESTIONABLE as FACTin the guise of a level of informality that for the President of an institution like Harvard cannot exist within the confines of any academic conference. We should carefully examine the assumptions that lie at the heart of Larry Summers’ comments because they are his and because they are NOT his alone: he speaks of his ability to simply act as an observer cooly unimplicated in judgement or social process, the significance of which he speaks of fairly derisively, unhindered by subjectivity and reliant upon a body of “ clear” and “empirical” scientific data. Summers’ views are symptomatic of a socio-biological trend in academia, not least at Harvard which, despite its potentially racist and sexist uses must be allowed to exist, but must not however be allowed to exist uncontested, or be presented as existing uncontested. Such a presentation abuses pedagogical privilege to hegemonic ends.
In a rhetorical flourish Summers’ speaks about “one”, the ostensibly neutral observer, and the simple truth of the data he cites, and at the same time bemoans the “fetishization” of objectivity. It is interesting too that while he downplays the role of discrimination and socialization significantly, what he views as his most convincing argument for the lack of women with tenure, the absence of desire to work the magical “80 hour week”, would, by many people be thought of as social. We must ask then, if such a desire is separate from social factors, the lack of childcare and equal sharing of family responsibilities, what in Mr. Summers view would account for this. Throughout his argument Larry Summers defines a fairly broad dichotomy between the nurture that for example has him buy toy trucks for hi twin girls, and the nature that in his view WILL OUT, the transformation from truck to “daddy truck”. If the lack of willingness to participate in what he calls “high powered” jobs, a conclusion in itself highly questionable, is not social than what is it? If women are naturally predisposed to want to take on the lion’s share of domestic and family duties, what would be the merit in providing them with greater opportunities?
The “revolution” in “behavioral genetics” that Mr. Summers has apparently been witness to is controversial, questionable and inconclusive, and certainly does not tell us without doubt that a great many trends that were thought to be impacted by societal factors are in fact biologically determined as he claims, and most certainly in those cases that Mr/. Summers discusses the outcome is far from clear. The same style of data that he presents, the use of standard deviation hypotheses that emphasise the greater number of exceptional men (as opposed to women) has been used in diverse publications (such a the Bell Curve”) to justify racism and sexism, and is inherently flawed since it asks no questions as to why this data should appear as it does, and whether as the work of Fausto Sterling, Koeske and other scientists have shown, the question and the questioner have an impact upon this. This data presume absolute objectivity. On this score Mr. Summers’ lack of academic rigor must again be remarked upon. Whether he agrees with other views of the state of the sexual landscape or not, such convincing alternative views, concise and cutting analyses do exist, and the field is by no means whatever mapped, charted or concluded; for every article on the innate lack of scientific ability that girls display there is one that debunks it, for every Wilson & Wilson study there is a piece by Anne Fausto Sterling.

Summers claims to be saying something new, to be challenging the status quo and what to him is a foregone and natural human predisposition to locate the source of discrepencies within the social sphere. It may be interesting to examine Mr. Summer’ comment against the following quote. ”there did not appear to be any social prejudice againt women engaging in scientific work….it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that there is an innate sexual disqualification”
James McKeen Cattell, “American Men of Science” 1903

• Mr. Summers’ comment is about excusing himself by redrawing the field, limiting the discourse that can be used against him carefully, but even within these confines, he is sorely lacking, for reasons of disingenuousness and incompetence I commit my vote of no confidence.


Florence said...

God! Such a wonderful and strong piece! I wish I could have been there and watch you doing the speech!

SiRen65 said...

Flo' you're a doll...I wasn't very good on tuesday, better to read it than to hear it...I was so cold and tired by the time I made the speech, which was somewhat edited, that I didn;t do a great job, although I did get some laughs. But thanks. I am glad you enjoyed it.