February 18, 2005

everybody's favorite asshat

Sadly, today we have two people nominated to be everybody's favorite asshat: Larry Summers and John Negroponte. So.

Larry Summers finally released the transcript of his speech about women in science and engineering. A lot of other people, like Bitch, Ph.D. and I'm sure some other academics I can't track down yet, are writing about it with far more personal knowledge of women's situation in academia than I have. So I'm going to confine myself to this: the president of Harvard University can never not be the president of Harvard University, at least in public. If he wanted to kind of shoot the shit about women and science, he should have gotten some people who knew about it together and had a private conversation, like you do; if he wanted to give a speech to people who have invested an enormous amount of time in studying exactly what he's talking about he should have done his goddamn homework and thought about the implications for the university he's supposedly responsible for. Context is absolutely relevant: his bullshit "provocations" are going to make women feel less welcome at Harvard and give the distinct impression that he doesn't give a shit about the fact that fewer women have been offered tenure every year that he's been president. He should no more "just try to think about and offer some hypotheses" on this than Bush should "just try to think about and offer some hypotheses" on the potential benefits of invading Iran while he's addressing Congress.

Also, Summers forgot not only his role, but his audience. There were people in that room (like Nancy Hopkinson) who had spent an enormous amount of time and energy studying this problem, and his remarks ignored all of the work and study they'd done. If much of your audience knows more about this problem than you do, either from personal experience or from academic research, you should probably pick a different topic, or at the very least do your research beforehand so that you're not demonstrating a total ignorance of stuff they know and have published. I mean seriously. This is the president of Harvard University?

John Negroponte. Now I'm sure we'll get honest intelligence with not terribly brutal methods. I seriously am not sure I can think of a worse person for this job. This part of the post is going to be updated later with some kind of actual information. For now, I'm going to go bang my head against a brick wall, because it feels better than reading the newspaper.

1. http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=505218, via http://slate.msn.com/id/2112799/.

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