The AAUP's Committee on Women Responds to Lawrence Summers

Academe, July/August 2005 | Go to article overview

The AAUP's Committee on Women Responds to Lawrence Summers


In January 2005, Harvard University president Lawrence Summers suggested at a scholarly meeting attended by many accomplished women scientists that innate differences between the genders may be one reason that fewer women than men pursue careers in science and mathematics. At its spring 2005 meeting, the AAUP's Committee on Women in the Academic Profession drafted the following response to his widely publicized comments.

The ongoing debate over Lawrence Summers's January 14 remarks indicates how fraught a topic gender equity in the academy-and specifically in the sciences-continues to be. The Association's Committee on Women in the Academic Profession would like to take this opportunity to respond. While we agree with Dr. Summers that women continue to be underrepresented in these fields, we disagree with his uninformed speculation about why this is the case. Our response is based on a number of recent studies, including a 2002 report of the National Science Foundation titled Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, and the work of University of California, Berkeley, researchers Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden on academic careers and family formation.

The research shows that although there has been an increase in the number of women who hold graduate degrees in science and engineering, there are still significant institutional barriers to success for women scientists, including insufficient lab space, salaries that lag behind those of male colleagues, and the difficulty of balancing work and family. In our assessment, these and other roadblocks, including gender bias and discrimination, are the primary reasons for the underrepresentation of women in the sciences and engineering. Summers misses the point that bias plays a part in decisions with respect to women faculty-continuing discrimination, continuing lack of academic support, and continuing insensitivity to work and family conflicts. …

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The AAUP's Committee on Women Responds to Lawrence Summers
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