Disinviting Larry

Larry Summers is an extremely smart guy who said some extremely stupid things about women and science at a conference. For this and many other reasons (mostly “other,” but it’s a messy story), he lost the confidence of Harvard’s faculty and eventually resigned. And good riddance; for all of his talents and all the good he did for Harvard, he caused more harm by antagonizing people and generally playing the autocrat when the office of university president calls for something more subtle.

Which doesn’t mean that he should be banned in perpetuity from giving talks to university audiences. A recent invitation from the University of California Regents has been rescinded after a group of UC faculty circulated a petition demanding that Summers be disinvited. Whether or not you had any sympathy for what Summers said at the NBER conference (I certainly don’t), he is a serious academic, and should be accorded the usual protections for saying what he thinks. Bitch PhD is wondering about the situation, and here’s the comment I left at her blog:

I think the disinvitation was a bad idea, on substantive grounds as well as for the bad image it projects.

For one thing, the proposition that innate differences play a large role in determining the distribution of genders (and races) throughout academia is certainly controversial — it’s not just a matter of scholarly vs. otherwise. There are smart and well-informed people who believe that innate differences are the most important thing suppressing the number of women in science; Stephen Pinker is an obvious example. I personally think those people are crazy and wrong, but won’t deny that they are smart and well-informed.

Second and more importantly, it’s just wrong to think of Summers as symbolizing prejudice. Although there are smart and well-informed prejudiced people per above, Summers was certainly not well-informed when he made his comments at the NBER conference. He has since apologized profusely and allocated millions of dollars toward making things better. It all may be perfectly insincere, but when there are plenty of actual sexists out there who are willing to defend such positions even when they are well-informed, it seems like a mistake to hold that the only possible role Larry Summers can play is buffoonish sexist. He does have other things on his CV.

Finally, I haven’t seen any evidence that Summers was actually invited to talk about gender or science or anything like that. If he were, that would be evidence of rank stupidity (of which the Regents are of course well-known masters).

Among the “image” problems alluded to above, stuff likes this makes it possible for conservatives to beat the drum of leftist intolerance of other people’s views. Ironically, the incident comes on the same week of a much more serious violation of academic freedom: UC Irvine’s withdrawal of a the offer of the job of Dean at its brand new law school, to Duke constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky. That act, which has apparently been reversed so that Chemerinsky can in fact be the Dean, resulted from right-wing pressure against a professor who they thought was too liberal. Becoming the Dean is a noticeably bigger deal than giving a dinner-time talk to the UC Regents. Nevertheless, the Summers flap has given conservatives the chance to argue that “the primary challenge facing academic freedom in American universities” is “the rise of an academic far-left establishment that seeks to use universities as a base for political activism, and is perfectly willing to violate accepted standards of academic freedom to achieve that goal.” And they’ve taken it!

Well, if we go around disinviting speakers because we disagree with their views, we deserve what we get. In the wake of Summers’s original speech, there was much heat, but also a good deal of light — data and arguments were produced that showed to any reasonable person that women interested in science face extraordinary amounts of discrimination at all steps of the process. Let’s stick with the “data and arguments” approach.

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97 Responses to Disinviting Larry

  1. Arun says:

    Chris Crawford wrote:

    Everybody and everything, to some extent, constrains my freedom.

    I call bullshit on this! If you’re saying “reality is a constraint on my freedom”, presumably because reality doesn’t permit me to invoke Harry Potter spells, then your idea of freedom itself is badly flawed. If you mean something else, then that “everybody and everything” is poorly expressed, and you need to say what you really mean.

  2. Belizean says:

    Ignoring the reality, and just squawking that support for affirmative action relies on implicit racism, is deeply dishonest, whether intentionally or not. If you want to be a non-hack, you should stop imputing beliefs to people that they don’t have.

    You should read John Skrentny’s The Ironies of Affirmative Action, unless you prefer not to let facts get in the way of your name-calling.

    Here’s another thought. You take a gander at Affirmative Action Around the World by Thomas Sowell, then point out where I’ve engaged in “name-calling”, so that I can promptly apologize for the feelings that I’ve hurt with my “deeply dishonest”, “hack”-like insensitivity.

    I do believe that, on average, blacks in the U.S. face disadvantages that whites do not. It’s a phenomenon known as “racism,” which has been recognized by many people.

    Racism exists. Its deleterious effects, however, have for many years been negligible in comparison to those of other common forms of discrimination. To repeat what I have in an earlier post adduced: there is far greater discrimination against, for example, the short, the fat, the ugly, the old, the stupid, and the bald than there is against those of us who are black. Yet no one clamors for affirmative action for these groups despite their under-representation in the population of university students and among those with the most desirable occupations. Surely, it is reasonable to consider the most obvious explanation: the prevalence among advocates of affirmative action of the view that racial minorities, despite experiencing lesser discrimination than the aforementioned categories of disadvantaged whites, require greater protection. If this is not an implicit assumption of inferiority, what is?

    [Thought Experiment 1: You’re a guy going to a night club to pick up a woman. Which of the following would in general least impair your effectiveness: being short, fat, ugly, old, stupid, bald, or black?
    Thought Experiment 2: You’re going to a job interview. Same question.
    Thought Experiment 3: You’re Republican candidate Mitt Romney. If you could switch from being Mormon to being black, how many points would you gain in the polls?]

  3. Arun says:

    She is barred from attending soccer games, lest she be corrupted by the sight of bare male legs.

    And men are barred from attending women’s soccer games.

    Not to defend the practices, but merely to point out …

  4. Elliot says:

    Belzian wrote:

    ‘This is precisely the phenomenon to which President Bush refers, when he talks about the “soft bigotry of low expectations”.’

    In a discussion predicated on at least an appearance of intellectual honesty, you simply can’t quote George Bush. His monstrous lies have cost America more than it would take to fund all the programs, I outlined in #49, not to mention the incalculable death and suffering they have engendered.


  5. Ike Solem says:

    Let’s dispel a few myths here: the UC system is definitely not the ‘hotbed of radical leftism’ that some posters claim it is. Perhaps that was true in the 60s, but in case you haven’t been paying attention since then, that is no longer the case. Neither is it the home of right-wing conservatism.

    The UC is, however, the center of the effort to bring corporate interests inside the academic system. The UC Regents are absolutely obssessed with patents and control of patents to the exclusion of just about everything else. Look at the statistics – the UC generates more patents than any other academic system – 5,226 was the most recent count. They patent everything, and they fight in the courts for exclusive control of patents on a regular basis.

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with generating patents. The question really is the UC patent policy and the expansion of UC ‘public-private partnerships’ that give a small number of corporate interests exclusive control over those patents. This, by the way, is the central problem with the UC Berkely-BP “Biofuels partnership”. BP can afford to do their own research, after all.

    What’s more troubling is the fact that the corporate ‘invasion’ of the UC system threatens the traditional free and open exchange of ideas as ‘protection of confidential trade secrets’ becomes the norm. This is really evident in the ‘applied sciences’ – pharmacology, engineering, etc. There really is an ongoing effort to convert the entire UC system into little more than a corporate research park, and it has very little to do with lefty-righty politics.

    As far as Larry Summers, the problem here is that he has been a major supporter of these exclusive corporate policies, that are also championed by the UC Regents as a means of generating revenue. His idiotic comments are really kind of irrelevant. His signing of the infamous 1991 Lant Pritchett memo (which claimed that dumping toxic waste in Third World countries is an ‘economic and moral imperative’) is probably a better example of his viewpoint. There’s also the case of the Harvard economist Andrei Schleifer, who reportedly used his role in advising Russia on privatization in the 90s to line his own pockets, and who was defended by Summers.

    The fact is, there are better choices for a UC Regents dinner speaker. I’d suggest Joseph Stiglitz, previous Chief Economist at the World Bank and a far more impressive academic than Summers.

  6. Chanda says:

    Hi Sean,

    I agree with you, in theory, about freedom of speech and about how to tackle people who use it to express oppressive ideas, like racism, sexism etc.

    But I’ve also seen what this means in practice. It means that people who are racist get away with being racist and excusing it as part of academic debate. A good example of this is Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who blamed integration of Black students at Harvard for grade inflation and essentially got away with it with no repercussions. This is a place where we might differ: I value freedom of speech, but not to the point of allowing racists to continue to be leaders in a community without having to pay for the discrimination they practice and/or encourage.

    I’m not sure whether I think Mansfield should have been fired or what should have happened, but if Alan Dershowitz can keep Norman Finkelstein from getting tenure at DePaul because he is critical of Israel, you’d think there’d be some repercussion for someone who makes openly discriminatory comments to people who are actually on one’s campus.

    I question any interpretation of our fundamental rights that allows people to violate other people’s dignity. In the case of Larry Summers, he violated the dignity of women in science to be sure, but what he said about exporting dirty industries to poor countries wasn’t just about dignity, it was people’s lives he was playing with.

    I’m not sure that there’s a meaningful discussion to be had with such a man, and in this particular case, the best way to send a message of non-acceptance was to tell him to take his stuff elsewhere, particularly since he is guaranteed to find another podium. He is not being absolutely censored — a community is just setting some standards, which in my opinion is quite reasonable.


    ps: Thanks Ike for following up on what I was saying about the mess that is happening at UC. It is probably obvious that the future of UC feels very personal to me. As a native Californian who couldn’t afford to go there as an undergrad thanks to policy changes in the last decade, I feel responsible for what happens next.

  7. Lucy says:

    Horray for Ike~! (and Chanda)

  8. Sean says:

    Chanda, I agree that what happened to Finkelstein was ridiculous. But that’s why it’s important to fight bad ideas with good ideas, rather than trying to prevent people from talking. I put protecting people’s dignity much lower on the hierarchy of rights a society should protect than freedom of speech, so there we do differ.

    Belizean, it must be fascinating to live in a world where you think Mitt Romney’s poll numbers would skyrocket if only he were black. But given the stranglehold that African-Americans have had on national electoral politics, who can argue?

  9. Chanda says:

    By the way, Belizean, I would totally second the expansion of affirmative action programs to include white people from low-income backgrounds.

    And Sam, I think you missed my point about affirmative action. I was pointing out (indirectly) that your comments re: the left using UC as a staging ground were not at all supported by the political reality of the University of California or California in general. It has been a long time since the left had any major power in the UC. And it is arguable that whatever influence they had was always strictly managed.

    Case in point (and speaking of trying to shut up your opposition):
    UC Santa Cruz was explicitly designed so that students wouldn’t have one place to congregate, in effect preventing students from organizing themselves the way they had at Berkeley. Even in the 60s, UC administration was thinking about how to curtail so-called leftist activism in their university. It’s only recently that a “student center of campus” has been built, and it took a lot of effort to make that happen.

    I’m proud to say that campus activists have made extremely effective use of the area. :)

  10. Chanda says:


    I think this is an extremely good policy when applied to most things. But when it comes to racism, for example, don’t we have to draw the line at some point? Otherwise, arguably, we regularly violate the rights of teachers who are not allowed to call their Black students “niggers” in the classroom or their gay students “faggots” (although unfortunately people do get away with that one because we still live in a society that has made strides but for the most part accomodates homophobia in everyday life.). Having experienced the former and the female equivalent of the latter, I can tell you that turning the other cheek helps get through the moment, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem.

    A particularly relevant example of how these things play out is Jena, Louisiana. The exact argument that is being made in defense of the white students who hung the noose was that they were just expressing themselves. In fact, the town librarian claimed in a Democracy Now interview that she had no idea what kind of symbolism that the noose had, but that the town was not racist. Implicit in her response was a sensibility that they should have been able to do/say what they wanted without any sort of official reaction. Personally, I think the repercussions should have been worse, but at least there were some.

    I guess I am wondering how you envision the difference. Was it right for those students to be punished for hanging a noose? Should the students have been suspended for expressing an opinion (albeit visually)? If so, then why isn’t it okay to disinvite Larry for being similarly disgusting?

    Besides the potential jail life-long sentences of the Jena 6, one of the most tragic parts of the Jena story is how unashamed so many people in that community are of the actions of the noose-hanging youths. By merely slapping them on the wrist, the town sent a message to the wider world and the members of the Jena 6 about the state of race relations in the US. The Jena 6, some of whom were star students who had never been in trouble, reacted with violence (albeit, non-deadly, making charges against them outrageous). They realized that the larger Jena community was not going to stand up against the blatant racism of nooses in the school yard in any serious way, so they took matters into their own hands. When communities choose not to uphold standards that protect the dignity of all their members, things quickly get messy.

    It’s easy to want to stay in the zone of “respectful academic debate,” but that is a luxury that is only available to some of us. Moreover, it is a luxury that sometimes helps people to avoid confronting the reality that the conversation isn’t just a theoretical one, but is a real one with real, painful repercussions.

    This is partly what got Finkelstein into trouble. He refused to avoid the dark side of Holocaust discourse and confronted it head on by talking about Israel and Palestine in a way that recognized the experience of Palestinians. Yet there is a clear distinction between what happened to Summers and what happened to Finkelstein. Finkelstein is critical of Israel and Holocaust memorializers, yes, but he cannot be accused of promoting overtly discriminatory attitudes or actions. He speaks as the child of Holocaust survivors, an experience he writes about in painful and genuine terms. It is in recognition of his own family’s experience of oppression that he speaks out against the oppression of others. There’s a fundamental asymmetry between the radical opinions of Larry Summers and Norm Finkelstein in this respect — one shows a complete disregard for the lives of some, and while the other insists on a profound regard for the lives of all.

    (I understand that other Jews besides myself might dispute that point, but I think anyone has to admit that if he is to be pushed out, then it is for not supporting Israel, not for encouraging violence or discrimination toward anyone.)

    So in essence, that is where I draw the line. Hateful ideas and their proponents simply do not garner the same protections that others do. The rights of the would-be oppressor have to be balanced against the rights of the would-be oppressed, regardless of who started out in what role. On the other hand, I agree that in the case of people like Larry Summers, the community reaction shouldn’t be legislated, which is where something like a petition comes into play.

    It’s also good for discussions like this to happen to ensure that people are forced to reckon with what really drives their reaction and their opinions. :)

  11. Chuck Tinker says:

    I think what Summers and Mansfield said could be confidently shown to be true. What we are calling racist and sexist is an example of the pressure put on individuals who say things that are “socially unacceptable” true or not. There is so much today that is “socially unacceptable” though true, especially if said about anyone other than white males. It seems that any garbage can be freely spoken against white males without fear. You can add abortion and homosexuality to the many sacred cows where telling the truth may soon be considered a hate crime. What kind of future can a society expect where the President of what most of us consider to be one of our greatest universities is fired for telling the truth about the average woman? Punishing individuals for saying things we don’t like will never change the realities of the truth they report, but it will make it much harder to find the truth and fix the problems.

  12. Sean says:

    Chanda — I think you have to draw a distinction between being insulting/threatening on the one hand, and discussing ideas that someone doesn’t agree with on the other. It’s not an absolutely clear distinction, but honestly, I think it’s pretty clear. Larry Summers was never advocating violence against anyone, nor was he using epithets to degrade anyone. If someone wants to advance an idea, there should be a strong presumption in favor of allowing them to do so, no matter how wrong or unsavory those ideas may be. I might not agree with someone who wants to say that the Earth is flat, or the Holocaust never happened, or women are mentally inferior, or we should use handicapped children for medical experimentation, or the U.S. should be a Christian nation. And I would not invite them to speak to my own group at dinner. But I’ll certainly defend their right to say such things, and allow other groups to decide to invite them.

    Comparisons to teachers insulting their students are quite far afield — the Regents did actually invite the guy, after all. Larry Summers had every right to say what he said at the NBER conference, or in the memo. And other people had every right to disagree, and say why he was wrong. And they had every right to try to remove him as President of Harvard — that’s an administrative position, not a professorial one. If they had tried to get him kicked off the faculty, I would have been strongly against it. A university is under no obligation to hire someone with crackpot ideas; but once they’re hired, academic freedom kicks in.

    The whole point of freedom of speech is that it protects unpopular ideas. And thank goodness, otherwise we could be thrown in jail for disrespecting the Flag or some such nonsense. One person’s insult is another person’s provocative suggestion. And they should all be protected. If you don’t agree with them, explain why not — it will be a more effective rhetorical strategy anyway. Not every situation falls under the rubric of academic debate, but the ones we’re talking about here certainly do.

  13. Elliot says:

    When we studied the 1st amendment in Law school the distinction was that speech (however unpleasant) was generally protected but you could not shout “fire” in a crowded theater. An impassioned political speech imploring followers to rise up and throw off their yokes of oppression is where things get grey. If a riot ensues, it’s not protected speech. But if people are inspired to act, and subsequently do???

    I think the case of Finkelstein is very unfortunate and I would have expected our mostly politically correct senators from Illinois Durbin and Obama to speak out. But it is another sign of the inordinate power of the American/Israeli lobby that they did not say a word. Which ironically was Finkelstein’s point all along.


  14. Chanda says:


    I think my point about Jena was that an insult can send things in a violent direction, especially insults that are related to violent histories. Jena is the perfect example of how it is not really possible to say that a teacher insulting his students is completely different from expressing an opinion. There is a violent historical context for what happened in Jena, even though initially there was no overt threat of violence. This would certainly be the case in a memo advocating the export of dirty industry’s to post-colonial third world nations. (and I am willing to be broad in my definition here — poisoning people’s air and water seems fairly violent to me.)

    Can you imagine something more insulting? And coming from the Chief Economist of the World Bank, can you imagine something more dangerous other than George Bush “discovering” WMDs there? Sure Larry has a right to say whatever he wants, but that doesn’t mean my tax dollars have to pay for his platform. Let Brigham Young or some other conservative stronghold invite him.

    I guess I wonder why a long memo is more acceptable than saying what it can be reduced to “they’re poor, so their lives are worth less.” Because he makes an argument for it, it thereby becomes acceptable? What if a teacher did the same while insulting her students? All she needs to do is look up some of the KKK literature or various other pieces of work that were used to justify slavery. There’s always a lengthy argument that can be made to support pretty much any point, including why an insult is a statement of truth (as Chuck told us). It sounds like your distinction is about how insulting you find the comment and whether the person attempted to back up what they said. Am I wrong?

    I guess this also raises the question of whether classism is just as unacceptable as racism, to which I guess most would answer a resounding no. This is probably why poor whites get left out of affirmative action — many seem to agree that if being poor is your “only” problem, then there’s nothing seriously wrong with the picture. But at the end of the day, Summers’ World Bank memo was not just about poor people, it was about people of colour — it was a deeply racist suggestion that is far worse than a teacher using a nasty word in the classroom. I’ll take that teacher over Larry Summers any day.

    As for the legal component, Elliot, correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t there laws about hate speech in various places? I realize that there is a lot of disagreement in the legal community about hate speech and whether there should be legislation about it, but technically it exists, no? So this means that limits are set on what people can and cannot say that go beyond yelling “fire!” in a public theatre.

    Here in Canada, they have fairly serious human rights laws that deal with “mere” insults, which I unfortunately have had a need to learn about. A few months ago I came to understand that when a member of my institute made derogatory comments about Black people, the institute was obligated to deal with it. In fact, all employers are responsible for ensuring their employees have proper anti-discrimination training, and they are legally responsible for incidents that occur in the work place and/or among their employees. If I am not wrong, there are similar laws in the US (which thankfully, and ironically, I never needed to learn about).

    Someone might argue that we need such laws for the workplace so that people can work more efficiently. But that’s a sad argument. The real reason should be (and isn’t) that it’s a matter of human rights, that I have a fundamental right to live a life free of such comments. It’s unfortunate that my rights are protected, for the most part, for economic reasons. (This brings to mind the white professor who wrote me while I was editing my CV blog entry and asked why I was not emphasizing the human rights aspect of integrating science. I realized it was because based on conversations and reading and the NSF rhetoric, I didn’t think anyone would listen as well to a moral argument as they would to one that stood on the economics of ideas.)

    I also agree that censorship gets dangerous quite easily (like, what’s with Canada censoring porn?!? And I will burn that flag if I feel like it.), but I’ve been thinking about freedom of speech and how it is used to infringe on other people’s rights ever since I wrote a paper about it at Harvard (haha) my sophomore year. I don’t think it’s as simple as people like to make it seem. One of the reasons we all love words so much is because they are so profoundly powerful, which means we should think carefully about the ways in which we get defensive about people’s rights to use them.


  15. Chanda says:

    Ah, one more thing:

    If you don’t agree with them, explain why not — it will be a more effective rhetorical strategy anyway. Not every situation falls under the rubric of academic debate, but the ones we’re talking about here certainly do.

    I don’t like it when discussions about human rights remain in the realm of rhetoric. That is sort of my point about Larry Summers’ memo. When people’s lives are at stake, the matters are no longer purely rhetorical, and we need to have a care. One of the tragedies of academia is how many people seem to forget that their work has real life impact. A machine that makes people’s skin feel like it’s on fire is not just a marvel of science, it’s a weapon that will torture. A study on the economic impact of exporting dirty industries isn’t just a doctoral thesis, but a study that may be used to destroy lives and ecosystems. It’s easy to climb the ivory tower and drop things, whilst forgetting that they might land on the people below.

    In other words, I could care less about having the better rhetorical strategy. I care more about having the better strategy that will support and protect the people at the bottom. Winning in the realm of rhetoric doesn’t matter if the people I am working with and for don’t win in real life.

    Maybe you’re too idealistic, Sean! Or I’m too pessimistic: I don’t think winning the rhetorical debate translates into real changes. I don’t think you can argue racists out of being racist: the best we can hope for is to prevent them from having the power to implement their ideas. This is exactly what happened in the 60s scared of chaos in the streets, Congress finally started giving Blacks their rights. As time has gone on, this has translated (in some ways) to a less racist society. It didn’t happen because Blacks successfully peeled the racism away right then and there.

    Rhetoric can only take you so far.

  16. Aaron Bergman says:

    As for the legal component, Elliot, correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t there laws about hate speech in various places?

    No, there aren’t, at least in the US. There have been various speech codes at institutions, but any government hate speech laws are unconstitutional. (There are hate crimes laws, and a “fighting words” exception to the first amendment, but those are different things.)

    I have a fundamental right to live a life free of such comments.

    No, you don’t.

    And not that it matters, but you might want to google the Larry Summers Memo a bit, too. There appears to be some controversy about it.

  17. Sean says:

    I don’t think there is any way to draw the line between “reasonable discourse we should protect” and “inflammatory epithets we should stifle” such that burning the flag is on the protected side, and suggesting that innate ability has something to do with the representation of women in science is on the stifled side. Which is why I think both should be protected.

    Chanda, you keep bringing up other contexts which are not analogous. The specific incident we are talking about here is an academic setting, and the entire discussion is about rhetorical strategy. The petition to disinvite Summers was nothing other than a rhetorical strategy, and it was a really bad one.

    You don’t need to remind us that words have real-world consequences, I think we all know that. But there should be a place where people speaking in good faith can entertain any ideas they like, and the response will be other ideas, not a muzzle. And academia is exactly that place.

  18. Elliot says:

    U. S. History 101 Refresher

    First Amendment

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


    I would rather live in a world where aryan nation websites that call Jews and Blacks the “mud races” are considered protected free speech, than one where Cornell West is muzzled.

    You can’t have it both ways.


  19. Count Iblis says:

    A good example is Germany where they have tough laws on Holocaust denial etc. These laws don’t work. There are a large number of Neo-Nazis there do not trust the government because they ban free speech on this issue and they are then inclined to distrust official documents and accept conspiracy theories.

  20. Sam Gralla says:

    I’ve only skimmed the latest arguments here, but Chanda, one thing I can say is that you most definitely do *not* have the right to live your life free of comments which suggest that the dearth of women in science may be partially accounted for by innate differences in interest and/or aptitude. It might be nice if it were obvious enough from life that this suggestion is ridiculous, but given that it most certainly is not, the “data and arguments” approach of Sean is the way to go.

  21. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    One of the dangers political opponents face when allowing their adversary a public forum is said adversary’s potential to come across as something other than a raving lunatic. Imagine the consternation it might cause, say, at Columbia, if Ahmadinejad managed to win over crowds with balanced, cogent arguments and a thoughtful, statesmanly demeanor.

    Today we learned from the Iranian President that the best solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to put the matter of Israel’s existence to a trans-Palestinian popular vote. We also learned that the Iranian authorities do not persecute gays as a policy, because, after all, Iran lacks gays.

    Take THAT Columbia!

  22. Count Iblis says:

    Being gay is not recognized as a biologically determined fact in Iran (unlike e.g. transsexuality, see here ), rather it is seen as a matter of choice, which is considered to be criminal.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that the US is in a good position to lecture Iran on these matters, given all the fuss about gay marriage, persecution of teens having consensual sex, etc. etc.

  23. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    OK, I’ll see your Larry Craig and raise you some presidential Holocaust denial.

    Not trying to impugn all of Iran here, just pointing out that the liabilities of free speech can sometimes be self-correcting, especially when the speaker is free to reveal himself to be either a sociopathic liar or a deluded twit. Or both.

    Getting back to the main topic, people who wish to stifle folks like Larry Summers might consider that the guy clearly was his own worst enemy, and the consequences of being himself in “public” served as an excellent proxy for bringing him down, when those in the know know it was intramural politics that made his position untenable.

  24. daisy rose says:

    It is hard to argue with a know saying – Keep your friends close but your enemies closer –

    I like to draw my own conclusions – AND- i like to be surprised –

  25. Neil B. says:

    I note that “the left” is often rightly accused of stifling speech, but look at the mostly conservative push to stop Ahmadinejad from talking at Columbia, NYC sites etc. (They look worse now because of their posturing about how awful the left is, and their own beliefs in freedom etc.) As Nat Hentoff points out, non-centrist factions on all sides like to suppress speech.

  26. d says:

    Not only is there almost no coverage in the corporate media of black violent crimes against white people, but in high profile cases they proffer the black criminals as ‘real victims’.

    To illustrate the sickening bias, imagine if the facts were reversed – if a gang of six white kids led by someone with four previous convictions for violent-crime had attacked a lone black student, kicking and stomping him into unconsciousness. As far as the corporate media are concerned, they would be interviewing the black victim on every TV talk show across the land, discussing his fear, his pain, his suffering. They would be interviewing his crying relatives and friends. They would not be voicing any fear that the white attackers would be treated too harshly, or even that they would be treated at all.

    No one knows who hung up those nooses, but clearly ‘white racists’ lost out the most from it.

  27. Count Iblis says:

    d, there are many cases where people have not been held accountable for beating persons to death, see e.g. here:

    There are scores of Coleman-like deaths each year in the nation’s prison system. Many of them are official murders which is exactly what I think Kevin Coleman’s death was. These deaths rarely garner media attention. Coleman’s death would have gone completely unnoticed had my wife not called the Associated Press. That media attention at least forced Wade officials to explain, or cover up, what happened.

    I agree with Bobby Sneed. No one should face death like Coleman faced it. His death would be “murder” in any society – except in prisons, military torture chambers, and renegade police interrogations.

    There are situations in prison when force, both lethal and non-lethal, are necessary to control inmates. But a mentally disturbed inmate who refuses to put on a jumpsuit should not be hit with three 50,000-volt electrical charges, stomped and kicked into unconsciousness, and then strapped in a restraint chair.

    That is murder. These crimes are committed routinely in the world of prison – and there is no official accountability for them. No one was, or ever will be, held accountable for Kevin Coleman’s murder.

  28. Chanda says:


    But you didn’t answer my question! I’m pretty sure anyone who went to school in the US is fairly (or at least vaguely) familiar with the essence of the 1st Amendment. But since you are someone with a legal education (I believe?) then you should be able to enlighten us about the details that only someone with a legal training would know.

    But maybe I a misunderstanding what you were trying to communicate. Are you saying that because of the way the first amendment has been interpreted, there are no hate speech laws anywhere in the US? What about laws that bar discrimination in the workplace? For some reason I was under the impression that if a woman’s male boss (or vice versa) says something overtly sexist, the victim has legal recourse in many places? Wouldn’t such an issue fall under the purview of hate speech/1st amendment rights?


  29. Chanda says:

    I’ve only skimmed the latest arguments here, but Chanda, one thing I can say is that you most definitely do *not* have the right to live your life free of comments which suggest that the dearth of women in science may be partially accounted for by innate differences in interest and/or aptitude.

    Sam, I am sorry if I said something that caused a misunderstanding, but I wasn’t suggesting that I have a right to live my life free of hearing such comments. I’m not going to sue AP or Larry Summers because I had to hear his ridiculous comments.

    On the other hand, if my supervisor said something like that to me, I’m glad that Canadian law would stand behind me if I wanted to make it clear to him that such comments do not belong in my immediate environment. In other words, I have a right to a harassment-free workplace. (This is, of course, a very theoretical supervisor! When it comes to issues of discrimination, Lee has been a great source of wisdom and support for me.)


  30. Aaron Bergman says:

    Are you saying that because of the way the first amendment has been interpreted, there are no hate speech laws anywhere in the US?


    or some reason I was under the impression that if a woman’s male boss (or vice versa) says something overtly sexist, the victim has legal recourse in many places?

    It’s not that simple. The issue is what’s called a hostile work environment. The quote is something like:

    “severe or pervasive” enough to
    create a “hostile or abusive work environment”
    based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or, in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation, political affiliation, citizenship status, marital status, or personal appearance,
    for the plaintiff and for a reasonable person.

    Generally, as I understand it, a single instance in not a sufficient cause of action. And, yes, the tension between the first amendment and harassment law is significant.

    There are similar but not precisely analgous issues in hate crimes laws.

  31. Elliot says:


    There are no “hate speech” laws in the U. S. If there were they would be struck down immediately as unconstitutional under the 1st amendment.

    Anti-Harassment laws are constitutionally derived from 14th amendment “equal protection” clause, which interestingly is the clause that simultaneously supports/opposes affirmative action.

    The anti-harrasment/hostile environment protections are designed to protect people from harrassment in their place of work or educational institution.

    I think to try to distill this down. If people act in a way that makes you uncomfortable on an ongoing basis in your school/workplace or other place where you cannot freely choose to leave without consequence, the law will protect you against that behavior. If on the other hand someone “peacefully” makes any type of derogatory speech however offensive or horrifying and you have the choice to ignore it, their actions are protected.

    It is a delicate balancing act to be sure but back to the topic of this thread, nobody is forcing anyone to listen to a Larry Summers speech.

    If, to pose a hypothetical, when he was president of Harvard, he continually did/said things that made it uncomfortable to be a student there based on gender/race/age whatever, he could be held liable.

    Hopefully this clarifies the legal aspects.



  32. Belizean says:

    Belizean, it must be fascinating to live in a world where you think Mitt Romney’s poll numbers would skyrocket if only he were black. But given the stranglehold that African-Americans have had on national electoral politics, who can argue?


    Sorry the delay in my response (grant-writing deadline crunch).

    You seem to have willfully missed the point of my thought experiment, so I will state it explicitly:

    There is vastly more anti-Mormonism in the Republican party than there is anti-Black racism.

    I further believe that most Republicans regard Blackness in a candidate a plus. Until Condoleeza Rice acted to quash it, there was a vigorous and growing “Draft Condi” movement within the party.

  33. Sean says:

    I didn’t miss your point, I was just making fun of it.

  34. Elliot says:

    The “Draft Condi” activity shows just how out of touch the GOP is. She is probably the worst SOS I can remember. Of course that would fit with the WPE (worst president ever)

    Can you point to one “diplomatic success” during her tenure?

    It’s not hard to indentify the failures.


  35. Belizean says:


    Your observation (that Condi leaves much to be desired as a candidate) bolsters my point.


    I can’t blame you. What else can you do once you’ve run out of tenable counter arguments?

  36. Elliot says:


    From a political perspective, Condi Rice is a white man.


  37. Count Iblis says:

    And Clinton is sometimes called the first Black president

  38. Belizean says:


    That’s a bit like saying that from a social perspective, Barny Frank is a woman. So what?

    Your statement is irrelevant to the point: anti-Black racism is negligible in the Republican party. This is in contradistinction to the Left, where Blacks, women, and members of other historically oppressed groups are herded like children into metaphorical reservations, where well-meaning liberals guard them even from potentially offensive speech by, for example, dis-inviting Larry.

    Count Iblis,

    Only by idiots.

  39. Elliot says:


    Now who is insulting the intelligence of blacks. If the overwhelming majority (approx 90%) support Democrats are they simply stupid not to see what a land of opportunity the GOP will afford them.


  40. Elliot says:

    Tonight’s News: The 4 top GOP candidates for President all decided to skip a debate at a black university moderated by Tavis Smiley. That behavior speaks volumes about what the GOP “really” thinks about the black voter.


  41. Jud says:

    Elliott wrote: “If on the other hand someone ‘peacefully’ makes any type of derogatory speech however offensive or horrifying and you have the choice to ignore it, their actions are protected.”

    Sorry, Elliott, I think you make some good points, but you’re quite wrong on the law – derogatory or offensive speech is clearly sufficient to create an illegally hostile work environment.

    And Aaron, it is also not correct that a single instance is insufficient. I’m sure you can imagine examples of single instances of derogatory or offensive “expression” (remember, this is not limited to speech, and includes forms such as cartoons, signs, photos, etc.) so odious as to permanently handicap an employee’s work performance or intimidate him/her, which would meet legal criteria for a hostile work environment.

  42. Aaron Bergman says:

    it is also not correct that a single instance is insufficient.

    I said “generally”. Single incident cases do exist as I understand it, but there is a requirement that said incident has to be extraordinarily “severe”. In the cases I’ve seen, such incidents often involve physical contact.

    Quid pro quo harrassment is a different case, however, I believe.

  43. Elliot says:


    Perhaps I was unclear. When I said “you have the choice to ignore it” I meant that to explicitly exclude you workplace or educational institution where you do not have that choice. The first sentence of the paragraph refers to workplace/educational institution where you can be held accountable. I think we are in agreement on what is/is not protected speech. Workplace actions are different.


  44. Alden Turnipseed says:

    Affirmative action is part of Political Correctness. It is a disease of ideology and it is a deadly serious business. It is Marxism translated from economic terms into cultural terms and in this case it has infested our academic institutions.

    It is a totalitarian ideology. It peppers our universities and colleges with “victims” and has managed to create social constructs and turned them into degree conferring legitimacy. This is where truth is suppressed since the realities that are under consideration contradict the reality of history. Political Correctness is living the life of a lie. Thus this ideology is creating a totalitarian state.

    Thus with admissions and other administrative areas, affirmative action is an exercise in the system of expropriation. It is theft. The methods used are deconstructionist in that they remove all meaning and insert desired meanings.

    Affirmative action is part of an official state ideology enforced against the people. This is terrorism. The terrorism of Political Correctness. It seeks to destroy freedom and culture.

  45. Arun says:

    What Ahmedinejad said at Columbia through the commentary of Col P. Lang:


    It was quite a performance. If this were a presidential debate, I would judge him the winner based on rhetorical skill and coolness under fire.

  46. Pingback: blank pages » Blog Archive » “crazy and wrong” but “smart and well-informed”

  47. This reminds me of Richard Herrnstein affair — in 1971 he published an article about heritability of IQ in Atlantic Monthly. As a result he was called a racist, and could no longer lecture on his specialty — learning in pigeons, because of chanting mobs.