CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 22 -- A deeply divided Harvard University faculty spent two hours debating the tumultuous tenure of President Lawrence H. Summers on Tuesday, in a meeting on his controversial recent comments about women in the sciences and engineering.
By most accounts the session was significantly less rancorous than one a week ago, during which Summers was repeatedly pilloried for an earlier reference to differences of "intrinsic aptitude" between men and women.
Rachel Popkin was among protesters calling for action against Summers.
(Brian Snyder -- Reuters)
This time about half of the speakers defended the president, several professors said.
"I am committed to opening a new chapter in my work with you. To start, I pledge to listen more, and more carefully, and to temper my words and actions in ways that convey respect and help us work together," Summers said at the start of the meeting, according to a transcript of his remarks distributed by the university.
Summers, who normally chairs faculty meetings, designated a dean to serve in his place. Faculty meetings are off-limits to the news media, with the exception of the Harvard Crimson.
The newspaper reported on its Web site that about 500 faculty members attended, about four times as many as usual. It also said that the faculty rejected a proposal to form a three-member committee to mediate between the president and professors.
Although no call came for a vote of "no confidence," which some faculty members have suggested might occur at a future meeting, physics professor Daniel S. Fisher asked for Summers's resignation.
"For the good of Harvard, Lawrence Summers must resign, or the corporation, for the good of Harvard, must fire him," said Fisher, referring to Harvard's governing board, the Crimson reported. "We cannot wait for irreparable harm to come to Harvard."
Several professors, however, described the overall tenor of the meeting as amicable.
"There were still many people sharply critical of what he has said and done, but it was not as fiery as before," said sociology professor Orlando Patterson, who said he strongly objected to Summers's remarks about women, which were made Jan. 14 at a meeting of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Government professor Susan Pharr said she spoke in the meeting, which was extended 30 minutes to allow for more debate, about the damage caused by Summers's remarks to efforts to recruit and retain female scholars.
"Changing his ways will be very difficult," she said afterward. "I think people need to step back and digest what's been said before we know how this will all turn out."
Students on both sides of the issue that has rived the campus formed a cacophonous sidewalk gantlet as the professors made their way inside.
Several dozen students opposed to Summers gathered outside the school's Science Center to call for a symbolic "no confidence" vote. Some waved signs suggesting that Summers deserved an F-minus in women's studies. Another placard read simply: "Resign."
"He needs to go -- it may be unlikely, but it needs to happen," said Amee Chew, who graduated from Harvard last year. She led protesters on a march to the meeting, which was shifted from an administrative building on Harvard's undergraduate campus to a large lecture hall to accommodate the overflow crowd.
Liz Greene was among a smaller and quieter group of "Students for Summers" distributing literature to professors entering the building.
"People need to coach him a bit on how to be presidential, but I don't think we give up on him yet," the senior, 22, said.