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Letter to the Faculty Regarding NBER Remarks

Dear Colleagues:

At the request of Professors Grosz, Hammonds, Skocpol, and others, I am making available a transcript of my remarks at the January 14 conference as well as the questions and answers that followed. Although I had intended them as informal and speculative, and was reluctant to reopen wounds, I want to be responsive to the concern expressed on Tuesday that our new task forces be in a position to move past the discussion of my remarks and move on with their important work. Links to the transcripts of my NBER remarks and my opening remarks at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting are attached at the bottom of this message.

As I said at our Tuesday meeting, if I could turn back the clock, I would have spoken differently on matters so complex. Though my NBER remarks were explicitly speculative, and noted that “I may be all wrong,” I should have left such speculation to those more expert in the relevant fields. I especially regret the backlash directed against individuals who have taken issue with aspects of what I said. In this University, people who disagree with me – or with anyone else – should and must feel free to say so. I know of no community as committed to free inquiry as this one, and no institution with a greater responsibility to uphold it.

As I now know better than I did a month ago, the matters I discussed at NBER are the subject of intense debate across a range of disciplines. Colleagues from these fields have taken time to educate me further. My January remarks substantially understated the impact of socialization and discrimination, including implicit attitudes – patterns of thought to which all of us are unconsciously subject. The issue of gender difference is far more complex than comes through in my comments, and my remarks about variability went beyond what the research has established. These are dynamic areas of inquiry, which will no doubt continue to engage scholars in the years ahead.

For now, if any good can come out of the recent controversy, I hope the intense attention on issues of gender can provide us with an opportunity to make concrete progress in the time ahead. It is vital that we aggressively implement policies that will encourage girls and women to pursue science at the highest levels, and that we welcome and support them in our faculty ranks.

Difficult as our most recent meeting was, I appreciate the honesty and recognize the intensity of the concerns expressed. This University faces a crucial set of opportunities and challenges, and I am committed to working together with this Faculty and the other Faculties to set and achieve common goals.


Larry Summers