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Summers's critics are wary, but more hopeful

There was a lot of chatter around Harvard last week about the recommendations unveiled Monday by two task forces on women and the concurrent announcement that president Larry Summers is committing at least $50 million to women's advancement over the next 10 years. It hasn't exactly convinced Summers's critics that he's a new man, and many are still waiting to see proof of his commitment -- that the new senior vice provost for diversity will be a well-respected person, that the myriad recommendations will actually be adopted, and that generous funding will come through. Many point out that $50 million is not really that much money over 10 years, especially since hiring scientists and setting up labs is very expensive. Still, some female Harvard scientists are more optimistic than they've been in awhile. Physicist Lisa Randall, who served on one of the task forces, said she has the sense that Summers really has learned about the discrimination that women face. ''I guess a sign of when you understand an issue is when you begin to think about it for yourself," said Randall, who chatted with Summers at the reception celebrating the task forces' work on Monday. ''Larry seemed to be coming up with things -- the task forces tried to attack big issues, but it was clear he'd also started thinking about smaller but important issues on how women get included or excluded as well. That seems to be a positive sign, that he was taking this on as an intellectual challenge and looking for ways to make it work."

HARVARD P.S.: When the Harvard task force on women in science and engineering wrote in its report that ''a lack of a supportive environment" was a particularly acute problem for women in certain departments, requiring ''urgent action," some readers wanted to know which departments were being referenced. One source on the task force, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the drafters had in mind chemistry at the graduate student level, molecular and cellular biology at the postdoctoral and junior faculty levels, and the two biology departments, as well as mathematics, at the level of senior faculty. (Math has no tenured female professors.)

UNSCRIPTED: If Emerson College administrators wanted the usual polite-but-drowsy platitudes at last week's commencement, they shouldn't have awarded an honorary doctorate to actor-comedian Denis Leary, a 1979 graduate. ''I didn't prepare a bunch of stuff to say to you guys, 'cause I know you want to get out of here and get drunk," Leary told graduates, who roared with appreciation. The Worcester native then debunked one of the season's fondest cliches, that life is short. ''In truth, life is really goddamned long, unless you're a firefighter, soldier, or cop," he said. ''You'll probably live to be 100, which is when you'll finally pay off your student loans." Honored for his community service as well as his career, Leary turned briefly serious to speak fondly of James Randall, the longtime Emerson professor who died this year.

LUCKY 13: There seems to be no stopping Boston College students from racking up Fulbright grants. This year, spokesman Jack Dunn said, 13 students have won the prestigious awards, sponsored by the US government, which send scholars to study around the globe. That's almost as many undergraduate winners as three years ago, when BC set a national record with 14 Fulbrights. More than 1,100 US students win grants each year.

PARADISE LOST: It's been a year since Evan Dobelle left the presidency of the University of Hawaii in a storm of controversy, but the University of Massachusetts graduate and onetime Pittsfield mayor continues to make headlines in Honolulu. As part of his $1.6 million settlement with the university, Dobelle, now the president of the Boston-based New England Board of Higher Education, is to be paid $250,000 for a two-year research project on the economic impact of higher education. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported this month that the chairwoman of the university's regents is concerned about the research because a recent update on its progress lacked substance. Dobelle, who beat out 140 other candidates to win the job at NEBHE, referred questions to his Honolulu lawyer, Rick Fried, who said the project is on track, adding that the criticism came from one person and was baseless. ''It's my understanding, in academia, that before you write, you do the research," he said.

MAKEOVER: Boston University's building boom culminated this month in the opening of two projects. One was an $83 million, 10-story, 187,000-square-foot life science and engineering building on the site of the former Nickelodeon cinema, designed to emphasize interdisciplinary research rather than department boundaries. The other was the $16 million Florence and Chafetz Hillel House, at 33,000 square feet, with three chapels for different branches of Judaism, a coffee bar, and a gallery.

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