President Ruth Simmons spurred a national controversy over spring break when she told a conference on women in the sciences that “innate differences” between the sexes make men “total idiots.”
“Let’s face it: Men are dumb,” Simmons told the National Association for Women in Science and Engineering at its annual spring luncheon. “Am I right, girlfriends?”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Clancy Hopkins said he felt physically ill while listening to Simmons and said he and several others left the room midway through her speech. But a worker at the restaurant at which the luncheon was held, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was something bad in the pasta primavera.
Speaking to a primarily female audience, Simmons laid out “three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities” between men and women. They included the “toilet-seat-leaving-up” hypothesis, the “sit-on-the-couch-drinking-beer” hypothesis and the “my-penis-my-penis-my-penis” hypothesis.
“And despite all this, they think they’re better than us,” Simmons said of the not-quite-as-fair sex. “In truth, we women should be the ones saying, ‘Bitch, make me a sandwich!’ “
Though many in the national media have since characterized Simmons’ speech as insensitive toward men, some who attended the luncheon said Simmons’ remarks have been taken out of context.
“These were unprepared, off-the-cuff comments that weren’t intended to be quoted,” said Brenda Allen, associate provost and director of institutional diversity. “Frankly, I thought President Simmons examined all sides of the issue and eloquently drew attention to a concern that’s been under the radar for too long – that men are dumbasses.”
But quotes from Simmons’ speech quickly found their way onto the front pages of many newspapers across the nation, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Providence Journal. NBC’s “Today” show devoted a half hour to the controversy, and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh denounced Simmons.
Many critics focused on Simmons’ example of young boys playing with toy trucks. “I gave two trucks, one bigger and one smaller, to some two-year-old boys,” Simmons said in her speech. “One of the boys swallowed the smaller truck. The other didn’t even know what it was.”
Once Simmons’ remarks gained national prominence, several Brown professors called for a complete transcript of the speech, but Simmons refused.
Others called for her resignation.
“I do not appreciate the president’s suggestion that men are some sort of second-class citizens,” said Associate Professor of Philosophy Bernard Reginster. “What, am I some piece of eye candy to be ogled at the front of the lecture hall? President Simmons should resign for such a insinuation.”
A number of voting members of the faculty called for a special faculty meeting to be held today, ahead of tomorrow’s regularly scheduled faculty meeting.
Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine, secretary of the faculty, said he had received 57 motions for a vote on “lack of confidence” in Simmons’ leadership.
Though Simmons now faces the most severe challenge to her presidency in her four-year tenure, some observers said she may have wanted the controversy.
“Some people have been quoted as saying ‘any publicity is good publicity,’ ” said Professor of Political Science Darrell West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy.
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