Dis-enlightenment

Lawrence Summers looked out at the august assembly of scholars gathered in a comfy Cambridge seminar room and began a 20 minute speech that may end his career. The former Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration and current president of Harvard had the temerity to advance the notion that there may be 'innate differences' between the sexes that might account for the fact that more advanced degrees in math and science are awarded to men.

Judging by the reaction, one would have thought he said women should no longer have the right to vote and they shouldn't go out in public without wearing a veil. M.I.T. biologist, Nancy Hopkins walked out on the speech, saying later that if she stayed she 'might have blacked out or thrown up.' A letter from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Standing Committee on Women criticized his remarks as 'impeding our current efforts to recruit top women scholars.' In his speech, Summers made reference to the fact that women with children are often unwilling or unable to work 80 hour weeks, emphasizing that their commitment to parenting may account for lower career performance than men. Moreover, he added that, although no one knew why, 'research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people attributed to socialization,' might actually have a biological basis, and that the issue needed further study.

Inasmuch as he was quoting scientific studies, rather than personal opinions, one would think he was in the right setting for such a thesis.

Nevertheless, since that speech, Summers has spent almost every waking hour defending himself against a tsunami of angry carping by a passel of academics, who, traditionally, (you should pardon the expression) would be more open to the free exchange of ideas. After all, the debate about nature versus nurture is not exactly a new concept.

Our institutions of higher learning are predicated on the premise that research and study will provide answers. However, it seems that we have moved into an era of dis—enlightenment: an era in which facts must be surrendered to an elitist army of politically correct absolutists.

Has our culture shifted so dramatically that we can no longer question patterns of behavior, entertain alternative hypotheses, or recognize self—evident truths? Should we live in abject fear of condemnation if we dare to utter a word that doesn't fit into this emerging totalitarian vocabulary? You see, it wasn't enough that Summers prefaced his remarks by explaining that childbearing and rearing might account for the differential career performance of women. According to the speech police of academia, he shouldn't have said anything that might make people think there are differences between the sexes.

In fact, the gagging of America has become an acceptable practice in virtually every arena where people and thoughts gather. Dr. Summers's comments are considered at best a faux pas, and, at worst, an example of chauvinistic sexism. Heaven help you if you dare ask a question about whether homosexuality is genetically programmed from birth, or a socially engineered sexual preference. Homophobe would probably be the mildest term used to label you for life.

We can all agree that freedom of speech has its limits, but what Dr. Summers said is not the equivalent of maliciously yelling fire in a crowded theater. Instead, it was a proposition, advanced more as an alternative explanation that needed further study, than as a challenge to the female intellect. Sadly, the knee—jerk reaction that so often accompanies inquiries into 21st Century norms will immediately shut down debate and reduce the inquirer to a bowl of quivering, sorry, obsequious jelly. The fact that the president of perhaps the most prestigious academic institution in the world has been forced to grovel at the feet of his critics in order to avoid a symbolic beheading and protect his continued employment is more than enough evidence that our educational standards are plummeting.

Once upon a time the most distinctive characteristic of learning was the cultivation of an inquiring mind. Not anymore! At least not if the inquiry is about one of the sacred cows grazing in the politically correct pasture. If Dr. Summers survives the public flogging of his thought processes he may keep his job while losing his credibility as a defender of free expression and research—based analysis. Furthermore, he will become another carcass picked clean by the radical vultures that hover over our classrooms, ready to pounce on anyone who dares to question the status quo. His meek, squirrelly acquiescence will be a lesson to all others that theories are more important than facts, and speaking truth to power can be a career—ending catastrophe.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City policy department. He is the editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. BobWeir777@aol.com

Lawrence Summers looked out at the august assembly of scholars gathered in a comfy Cambridge seminar room and began a 20 minute speech that may end his career. The former Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration and current president of Harvard had the temerity to advance the notion that there may be 'innate differences' between the sexes that might account for the fact that more advanced degrees in math and science are awarded to men.

Judging by the reaction, one would have thought he said women should no longer have the right to vote and they shouldn't go out in public without wearing a veil. M.I.T. biologist, Nancy Hopkins walked out on the speech, saying later that if she stayed she 'might have blacked out or thrown up.' A letter from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Standing Committee on Women criticized his remarks as 'impeding our current efforts to recruit top women scholars.' In his speech, Summers made reference to the fact that women with children are often unwilling or unable to work 80 hour weeks, emphasizing that their commitment to parenting may account for lower career performance than men. Moreover, he added that, although no one knew why, 'research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people attributed to socialization,' might actually have a biological basis, and that the issue needed further study.

Inasmuch as he was quoting scientific studies, rather than personal opinions, one would think he was in the right setting for such a thesis.

Nevertheless, since that speech, Summers has spent almost every waking hour defending himself against a tsunami of angry carping by a passel of academics, who, traditionally, (you should pardon the expression) would be more open to the free exchange of ideas. After all, the debate about nature versus nurture is not exactly a new concept.

Our institutions of higher learning are predicated on the premise that research and study will provide answers. However, it seems that we have moved into an era of dis—enlightenment: an era in which facts must be surrendered to an elitist army of politically correct absolutists.

Has our culture shifted so dramatically that we can no longer question patterns of behavior, entertain alternative hypotheses, or recognize self—evident truths? Should we live in abject fear of condemnation if we dare to utter a word that doesn't fit into this emerging totalitarian vocabulary? You see, it wasn't enough that Summers prefaced his remarks by explaining that childbearing and rearing might account for the differential career performance of women. According to the speech police of academia, he shouldn't have said anything that might make people think there are differences between the sexes.

In fact, the gagging of America has become an acceptable practice in virtually every arena where people and thoughts gather. Dr. Summers's comments are considered at best a faux pas, and, at worst, an example of chauvinistic sexism. Heaven help you if you dare ask a question about whether homosexuality is genetically programmed from birth, or a socially engineered sexual preference. Homophobe would probably be the mildest term used to label you for life.

We can all agree that freedom of speech has its limits, but what Dr. Summers said is not the equivalent of maliciously yelling fire in a crowded theater. Instead, it was a proposition, advanced more as an alternative explanation that needed further study, than as a challenge to the female intellect. Sadly, the knee—jerk reaction that so often accompanies inquiries into 21st Century norms will immediately shut down debate and reduce the inquirer to a bowl of quivering, sorry, obsequious jelly. The fact that the president of perhaps the most prestigious academic institution in the world has been forced to grovel at the feet of his critics in order to avoid a symbolic beheading and protect his continued employment is more than enough evidence that our educational standards are plummeting.

Once upon a time the most distinctive characteristic of learning was the cultivation of an inquiring mind. Not anymore! At least not if the inquiry is about one of the sacred cows grazing in the politically correct pasture. If Dr. Summers survives the public flogging of his thought processes he may keep his job while losing his credibility as a defender of free expression and research—based analysis. Furthermore, he will become another carcass picked clean by the radical vultures that hover over our classrooms, ready to pounce on anyone who dares to question the status quo. His meek, squirrelly acquiescence will be a lesson to all others that theories are more important than facts, and speaking truth to power can be a career—ending catastrophe.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City policy department. He is the editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. BobWeir777@aol.com