Some Plan Boycott of Summers Talk at Tufts

February 27, 2007

Some professors at Tufts University are calling for a boycott and protest of a lecture there next month by Lawrence H. Summers, who left the presidency of Harvard University last year following a long debate over his comments about women and science.

“Having Larry Summers here is like a slap in the face,” said Gary Goldstein, a professor in the physics and astronomy department.  “I see him being invited here as a lack of awareness about how that affects our campus environment.”

Lawrence S. Bacow, the Tufts president, invited Summers to give the Richard E. Snyder Lecture, which was endowed to enhance the intellectual climate on campus outside of the classroom. Past speakers in the series have included Salman Rushdie, Tim Berners-Lee and Shelby Steele. Summers plans to talk about “Rethinking Undergraduate Education.”

Summers is away on business, according to his secretary, and did not respond to an e-mail message seeking his comment about the criticism from some at Tufts.

“The issues that have made him a national news item have to do with his attitudes toward women and the African American society,” said Goldstein. “The attitudes toward race and diversity can be a troublesome one.” (While Summers hit his greatest controversy with comments about women and science, for which he apologized, he also clashed with some members of the university's black studies program and was seen as critical of multiculturalism.)

John McDonald, a music professor, recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Tufts Daily encouraging professors to boycott the lecture -- and minimize its impact -- by reserving tickets but not attending.

That prompted Matthew Knowles, a computer science major, to write a reply in which he called that proposal “juvenile.”

“The idea of buying tickets and then not attending is not only foolish but it also excludes those who may wish to see the event,” wrote Knowles. “To deny anybody the opportunity to attend is unfair and unjust.”

That prompted McDonald to modify his proposal and to instead urge students and professors to congregate elsewhere during the lecture.

James Glaser, dean of undergraduate education at Tufts, runs the lecture series and said of Summers: "His topic of conversation is not related to the things he is controversial for. I think people will want to have a chance of seeing him in action.”

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