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Alorie Gilbert

Staff Writer, CNET

A controversial speech by the president of Harvard University questioning women’s abilities to excel in science and engineering continues to reverberate in the halls of academia.

A group of 100 women graduate students and faculty members at Yale University delivered a petition on Tuesday to Yale President Richard Levin, demanding that he publicly condemn the remarks of his Harvard counterpart, Lawrence Summers.

Levin has been silent on the issue since Summers delivered his comments last month at a conference on diversity in science. Summers offered several theories as to why fewer women reach top-level posts in math and science than men, suggesting that family demands and “intrinsic aptitude” play a bigger role than culture and discrimination.

The petition calls for Levin to not only criticize Summers, but to improve opportunities for women on the Yale campus.

“We believe that you have missed an opportunity as an academic leader in this country to not only express your commitment to seeing more female tenured faculty here at Yale, but also to implement policies that would make Yale a leader in the promotion of women and a model for other universities nationwide,” the petition states.

Yale’s graduate employees and student organization organized the petition, which also calls for new women-friendly policies, including more flexible tenure policies and affordable child care and health care for students.

A Yale spokesperson said Levin is unlikely to comment directly on Summers’ speech and defended Levin’s position on diversity at Yale.

“President Richard Levin, throughout his tenure, has made it a top priority to increase the number of women and minorities represented on the faculty,” the representative said in a statement. “In fact, over the past decade, Yale has more than doubled the number of female faculty.”

Yet the Levin petition argued that Yale could do better. In 2002, women represented only 5 percent of Yale’s tenured faculty in the physical sciences and only 18 percent of tenured faculty in the biological sciences, the petition states.

It’s a touchy subject made more puzzling by the fact that fewer women are pursuing computing and engineering careers than ever. Data from the National Science Foundation shows that the female share of bachelor’s degrees in computer science dropped from 37 percent in 1985 to 28 percent in 2001. And while women comprised 33 percent of information technology professionals in 1990, that figure was down to 26 percent in 2002, according to NSF.