The Anti-Summers

The Anti-Summers
March 25, 2005

The dearth of women in science continues to capture the attention of Ivy presidents. But an address by Shirley M. Tilghman Thursday seems unlikely to lead to votes of no confidence.

In a speech at Columbia University, Tilghman offered her views on recruiting and retaining female scientists. Tilghman, a genomics expert who became Princeton's president in 2001, mixed data and research with her own experiences to make the case that discrimination lingers, that cultural factors discourage women in science, and that that there are many university policies -- such as the need for better day care -- that need to change for science to eliminate its gender gap.

In all of these respects, she differed from the speech by Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard's president, that set off months of criticism. He said that discrimination was not a major factor and he suggested that men may be more talented in science than women -- although he has since apologized for his remarks.

In a copy of her prepared text, Tilghman gave many examples of actual conditions that hinder talented women from advancing in science. For example, she cited a study she commissioned in 2001 of untenured faculty members in engineering and natural sciences at Princeton. She reported that 33 percent of women and 64 percent of men reported having strong mentoring support.

Tilghman also noted the support that comes (or doesn't) at home. One third of female scientists are unmarried, compared to 17 percent of men. And of married scientists, 10 percent of women and 40 percent of men have unemployed spouses.

Summers took a very different approach to examining the problem. Bowing to faculty demands, he posted a copy of his remarks on Harvard's Web site, but that transcript was recently removed. Fortunately, The Harvard Crimson's Web site still has a copy of the transcript, which allows for a comparison of the two presidents' talks:

Topic Summers Tilghman
Opening images White basketball players, Jewish farmer Successful female scientists
Mention of presidents' kids His daughters made their toy trucks into "daddy truck" and "baby truck." Drove her children around to get them to fall asleep and then read Sunday New York Times in the car.
Socialization "People naturally attribute things to socialization that are in fact not attributable to socialization." "Social psychologists have documented the disparate experience of men and women in male-dominated disciplines, particularly in those fields where there is a cultural assumption that women are less able. "
What universities should do "It would be very useful to know, with hard data, what the quality of marginal hires are when major diversity efforts are mounted."

"It's daycare, stupid."




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