Campus Scenes

Summers Is Over

Unlike their Salem predecessors, the witches of Cambridge are acting as both judge and jury.

By 2.22.05

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The frenzied reaction to Lawrence Summers' remarks about women in math and science exposes secular Harvard as more cultish and dogmatic than the religious college it replaced. Intellectuals who pat themselves on the back for appreciating Arthur Miller's play The Crucible are subjecting Summers to the crucible of political correctness, an admixture of ideological acids that burns through any intellectual who dares touch it.

Summers can't "lead" anymore, they say. What does this mean? It means that he's proven himself to be an unreliable high priest to their cultish claims, one of which is that no differences exist between the sexes. It means that he forgot that his principal job is to fortify the politically correct prejudices of his faculty. It means that fearlessly seeking the truth is the last quality Harvard's professors wish to see in their leader.

University presidents, it is assumed now, should operate like pandering pols, not scholars, and the moment they deviate from that expectation the infantile professors who form their constituency are entitled to eat them alive. Read the transcripts of Summers' remarks and what's striking about them is not that they are provocative but that they are essentially timid and innocuous. Even the most tentative bow to common sense in his speech was prefaced by a tone of apology, a pledge of more "diversity" drives, and hedges and qualifications of the I-wish-what-I'm-about-to-hypothesize-wasn't-true variety.

Yet even this minor, ginger step toward free inquiry is deemed terribly impolitic. And for this transgression, Summers has had to confess repeatedly to wrongs he didn't even commit. And no punishment short of expulsion from the Harvard presidency can repair the damage he didn't do.

The raw politics of it all would be scarcely believable were it not a farcical repeat of so much recent academic history. Time and again, the post-1960s university has chosen politics over truth, "equality" (which, let's face it, means hiring incompetents to teach illiterates) over academic excellence, and petulant professors over students seeking a real education.

Students always come last in these controversies. Whether they get a good education is irrelevant to tussling academics. In fact, faculty ideologues would prefer students not receive any deep, comprehensive knowledge from the curriculum as that makes them more difficult to manipulate.

To see how fundamentally uninterested they are in the academic welfare of students, look at the endless energy faculty ideologues spend on "diversity" demands, a blatantly political, not academic, goal. Does a student's grasp of math and science depend on the sex of the teacher? Can a student only compute after exposure to an equal number of male and female teachers? One might think so from their insistence on diversity. But obviously learning doesn't depend on the sex of the teacher; it depends on the knowledge of the teacher.

Consequently, a teaching staff can be largely male or largely female without any harm to students. If every female teaching candidate Harvard interviewed were like Marie Curie, Harvard could hire them all and have 100% female representation. Would that be "diverse"? No, but it would guarantee that Harvard students received brilliant instruction. Similarly, if every candidate were like Albert Einstein, Harvard could hire all male mathematicians and serve its students.

Nonstop calls for diversity are evidence of a politicized faculty that couldn't care less about students save as vessels for their politics. A high percentage of male mathematicians isn't an academic problem -- students won't learn less as a result -- it is just a political problem for ideologues who wish to bend reality to their will. This ideology isn't rational enough to be called religion; it is more like a cult. And since its claims aren't founded on reality but sheer willfulness and caprice, it can't persuade those who reject them by showing them that their evidence is wrong; it can only force them into agreement through political pressure and by banishing anyone who calls the superstitions into question.

Faculty ideologues are like crooked judges who end trials before all the evidence has been heard lest they not get the verdict they want. Lawrence Summers stands in the dock of such a show trial. The trial began in Cambridge, but Harvard's faculty should conclude it in Salem.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.