BOSTON – Faculty members confronted Harvard president Lawrence Summers (search) at a tense meeting where some questioned whether he could still lead the university after recently suggesting innate differences help explain why more men than women excel in math and science.
Some professors said Tuesday that Summers had a responsibility to "clear the air" by releasing a transcript of the remarks he made to a small group of researchers Jan. 14.
Others in the gathering of about 250 faculty members spoke of a climate of fear in the university and a crisis of confidence in his presidency.
"Many of your faculty are dismayed and alienated and demoralized," Arthur Kleinman, chairman of the anthropology department, told Summers.
The meeting was closed to the media, except for the school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. Kleinman and others read their remarks or provided copies of their statements to other reporters.
Summers again apologized for the remarks and said he'd consider requests to release the transcript. He also expressed concern about the charges that he created a climate of fear and intimidation.
"This has been a searing afternoon for me," Summers said at the end of the meeting, the school newspaper reported.
A major theme of the meeting was that Summers' comments on women were a final straw for professors, who say Summers has insulted and ignored them and embarrassed the university with gaffes such as his spat with African-American studies professor Cornel West (search). West wound up leaving Harvard for Princeton.
Another faculty meeting was set for next Tuesday. History of science professor Everett Mendelsohn said that faculty members plan to discuss such options as holding a vote of no confidence in Summers, asking him to resign, or asking him to change the way he operates.
Some faculty members defended Summers. Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature, said "women's groups are bringing shame to the profession in which we are engaged. This is a show trial to beat all show trials."
Summers, an economist by training, served as secretary of the treasury in the Clinton administration and took over the Harvard presidency in 2001. His remarks on women in science and math were made at a private conference of the National Bureau of Economic Research (search).
He has said the comments were made "in the spirit of academic inquiry" and his goal was to underscore the need for further research.