Macquarie University dean apologises for 'ill-judged' comments on International Women's Day

Prof Magnus Nydén’s remarks on biological differences between men and women are to be investigated by the university

The executive dean of science and engineering at Macquarie University has apologised for making “ill-judged” comments about the biological differences between men and women at an International Women’s Day event.

The vice-chancellor of the university, Prof Bruce Dowton, told staff in an email on Tuesday that he would be investigating the comments in a “fact-finding independent exercise to establish what transpired at the faculty event”.

The executive dean, Prof Magnus Nydén, has “unequivocally” apologised to staff. He said the comments were poorly communicated and did not reflect his personal views.

In an email to members of the faculty on Monday evening, he said: “I honestly can’t believe the way that I raised these issues today – on a day like this when the full focus should have been on celebrating women’s success in Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths].

“I am absolutely supportive of women’s careers in Stem and am dedicated to removing systemic barriers in this faculty that limit the opportunities of talented and capable people, whatever their gender.”

The vice-chancellor, in his email, said Nydén’s comments had been “regarding theories about the biological differences between men and women and how this translates into suitability for certain types of work”.

In his apology, Nydén said that those beliefs were “very dangerous” and he did not believe them, but had intended to “expose” them – and regretted doing so.

He told staff in his email: “I understand my question and comments earlier today at the IWD event around biological differences in males and females have upset many people. I am deeply sorry that this has occurred, and in fact, I can’t believe that I could have made such ill-judged remarks. I want to unequivocally apologize for what I said.

“It is not what I meant to communicate at all. In the last few weeks I have been exposed to some social media debates, including some extremist views about biological differences between men and women which I believe to be very dangerous.

“My remarks were aimed at exposing such views and generating discussion. I now realise that instead, these remarks were understandably interpreted as being things I believe in. Nothing could be further from the case.”

The executive dean apologised for the way he had raised the issues and said he was “dedicated to promoting and supporting women in leadership roles, not only in general, but especially in Stem.”

In his email to staff, sent on Tuesday afternoon, Dowton said that Nydén had “shared with me the events of yesterday at the faculty’s International Women’s Day event”.

“I take very seriously my role leading Macquarie University and as chief steward of our gender equity strategy,” the vice-chancellor wrote. “Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to look into this matter more closely. I have initiated a fact-finding exercise to establish what transpired at the faculty event. This will be conducted as a matter of priority in the coming days.”

A spokeswoman for Macquarie University said: “We acknowledge that Prof Nydén has unequivocally apologised for these misrepresenting comments and clarified his position as a dedicated advocate for women, especially in Stem.”

She said the university was “strongly committed to building an equitable and inclusive organisational culture and to addressing structural barriers to gender equity”.


Naaman Zhou

The GuardianTramp

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