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Crimson Harvard

From Brian Todd

Wolf Blitzer Reports
Harvard University

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One Harvard insider says Lawrence Summers will "challenge you on anything." Now, the tables are turned on the university's contentious president.

"He is generating a significant controversy within the university, and a lot of tension. And I don't know if that's necessarily good for the university as a whole," says one student.

First came his remarks at an economic conference last month.

The topic: Why women aren't better-represented in science and engineering positions at top universities.

According to the transcript, Summers said, "There are issues of intrinsic aptitude ... I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong."

That, by itself, didn't amuse many women on campus.

"It's hard enough to figure out how to live your life and work as a woman and have a family and those kind of things without him putting another barrier in the way," says one.

But during the same speech, Summers also said, "The data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking ... That white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture."

The remarks were kept under wraps for about a month. But word got around, students and faculty became irate and Summers released the text after a contentious faculty meeting this week.

"It got ugly," says Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker. "People used this as an occasion to vent a large number of grievances."

Some of those grievances have circulated around Summers since his arrival in the fall of 2001.

His spokesperson did not return CNN's calls.

But a Harvard official and a student -- who both asked not to be named -- tell CNN Summers has been a polarizing figure. The former treasury secretary is assertive and abrupt, they say, alienating faculty members and pushing hard for change in an Ivy League climate not always receptive to it.

Others say that's just what Harvard needs.

"Even if he does occasionally hurt people's feelings -- he occasionally hurts my feelings -- but I'm a big boy. I can get over it. I can argue back. We really need somebody to question the way a university is run," Pinker says.

Summers posted a letter on his Web site Thursday, expressing regrets for the remarks he made about women. That same day the Harvard Corp., which hired him and can fire him, posted a letter of support for Summers.

But we can expect more fallout next Tuesday, when another large faculty meeting will be held. As one insider says, "Larry's not known for soft edges."

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