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Opening Remarks at the February 15 FAS Faculty Meeting

Cambridge, Mass.

Before we move to questions, I want to say a few words about the aftermath of the January 14th NBER Conference. I went to the conference with good intentions. The issues of how we encourage women in science and academia are very important to me. I had hoped to stimulate research, debate, and progress toward solutions. I certainly did succeed in sparking debate, but not the one I had intended. As I tried to express in my letter to the community, I deeply regret having sent a signal of discouragement to people in this room and beyond who have worked very hard for many years to advance the progress of women in science and throughout academic life. I deserve much of the criticism that has come my way, but the university, I think, does not. I made a serious mistake in speaking in the way I did, especially given my role as President. I have, from this difficult experience, learned how much I still have to learn.

From what I have said, you will know, that if I could turn back the clock, I would have said and done things very differently. But if any good can come out of these difficulties, perhaps the intense attention on issues of gender can provide us with an opportunity to face some crucial issues more rapidly than might otherwise have been the case. For it is essential that universities provide a fully welcoming environment for women at every stage of their careers. We need to draw, always, on the widest possible pool of talent in building our faculty, student body, and staff.

All of the many stories that I have heard from members of this faculty and many others in the last few weeks have an underlying and obvious, if sometimes hidden, fact: that universities like ours were originally designed by men and for men. And that reality shapes everything from the way career paths in academic life are conceived, to assumptions about effectiveness in teaching and mentoring, to concepts of excellence. We can make our university a better place for both women and men by rethinking our assumptions in these areas and many more. As we announced earlier, with the advice of the recently appointed task forces and drawing on experiences at other universities, we will establish a senior university position whose charge will include gender issues. Relying on the task forces, at the university level, we will take concrete steps, beginning immediately, to address issues of recruiting, career development, mentoring, and research support. There is a need both for rapid action and for continuing attention over the long-term. I might add that I am fully in support of the six steps that Dean Kirby just spoke about, which I believe have the potential to contribute greatly to the strength of this faculty.

I am very grateful to Professors Faust, Hammonds, and Grosz for their leadership roles and to all of those who are taking time from their demanding schedules to contribute to the work of the task forces.

Finally, let me say that this is a faculty with an unmatched capacity to bring intelligence, thoughtfulness, creativity and leadership to bear on complex and difficult challenges. I am very much aware that our progress in advancing women and in every other sphere depends on collegiality, on a sense of shared enterprise, on a commitment to listening as well as speaking, and on everyone’s feeling able and encouraged to speak candidly about matters of concern. I recognize my own special responsibility for working to create such an environment, and I will do my best to do my part to make sure that here too, we make real progress. I hope we can move forward with the sense that this is a moment, not just to regroup and rebuild trust and not just to reaffirm our commitment to an important goal, but to move forcefully to assure that Harvard is at the forefront in advancing the progress of women in science and in academic life.