All posts by John Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

Women Favored 2-to-1 In STEM Hiring

Most readers of the higher education press likely believe that women are underrepresented in STEM field because of sexist stereotypes, “unwelcoming” attitudes and practices, and either implicit or outright bias.

But the work of two Cornell psychologists, Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams, co-directors of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, has upset this apple cart of conventional wisdom. In a number of peer-reviewed articles, papers, and op-eds, they have presented the findings of their research showing, as they put it in a New York Times op-ed last year, “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist,” summarizing their recent research published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. That research, they wrote,

reveals that the experiences of young and mid career women in math-intensive fields are, for the most part, similar to those of their male counterparts: They are more likely to receive hiring offers, are paid roughly the same (in 14 of 16 comparisons across the eight fields), are generally tenured and promoted at the same rate (except in economics), remain in their fields at roughly the same rate, have their grants funded and articles accepted as often and are about as satisfied with their jobs. Articles published by women are cited as often as those by men. In sum, with a few exceptions, the world of academic science in math-based fields today reflects gender fairness, rather than gender bias.

Last spring they published a blockbuster article in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track.” Williams and Ceci constructed elaborate, detailed resumes for three fictional applicants for an assistant professorship in biology, engineering, psychology, and engineering: an extremely highly qualified woman, an equally extremely highly qualified man, and a slightly less qualified man. They then wrote a job application for each, including extensive quotes from recommendations, search committee evaluations, publications, and biographical information. These “applications” were submitted to 873 tenure-track faculty members (including a roughly equal number of men and women) from 371 universities around the country.

“The results,” Science magazine reports, “run counter to widely held perceptions and suggest that this is a good time for women to be pursuing academic careers….  A woman applying for a tenure-track faculty position in STEM … at a U.S. university is twice as likely to be hired as an equally qualified man, if both candidates are highly qualified, according to a new study.” A second article in Science, “Women have a hiring advantage in the scientific stratosphere,” emphasized that “In every field but economics, where the data indicated no gender preference, the respondents strongly preferred the purportedly female candidates.”

These dramatic findings were also widely reported in the popular press. A long article in the Washington Post, for example, “Study finds, surprisingly, that women are favored for jobs in STEM,” noted that “women are no longer at a disadvantage when applying for tenure-track positions in university science departments. In fact, the bias has now flipped: Female candidates are now twice as likely to be chosen as equally qualified men.” According to altmetrics, which tracks mentions of science publications in social media, this study received one of the highest number of mentions of anything published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

These findings — especially the implication that “the bias has now flipped” (not Ceci’s and Williams’s conclusion, as we shall see) — had the effect of poking a hornet’s nest with a stick, unleashing a swarm of stinging, vituperative attacks. “We’ve had such amazing attacks. They really, really hate us,” Williams told Science Careers by phone. “The outpouring of vitriol,” she continued, shows “that there are a lot of people who don’t want to acknowledge the data. It’s not like they’re willing to acknowledge it and discuss it…. They try to say that we had an agenda or that the entire method at its root was completely flawed.”

One example: according to Alex Madva, a visiting professor of philosophy at Cal Poly Pomona whose field is the philosophy of psychology, “a 2:1 preference for women over men in STEM hires just doesn’t seem to pass the smell test.” (Quoted on Feminist Philosophers, which discussed other somewhat more substantive criticisms. (See the hashtag #GaslightingDuo for more.)

Another telling example: In “Eye of the Beholder,” Inside Higher Ed reports an interesting controversy over research suggesting that gender bias colors evaluations of evidence purporting to show gender bias. Jessi Smith, a professor of psychology at Montana State University, co-authored a paper, based primarily on a faculty sample from Montana State, that found that men were less likely than women to believe evidence demonstrating gender bias, and women were less likely than men to believe evidence of the absence of bias. That study was criticized by Williams and Ceci for, among other reasons, being based on too small and unrepresentative a sample and thus overstating bias. Professor Smith’s striking reply:  “What is worse — understating a bias that exists which results in keeping people from fully participating in STEM or overstating a bias that exists which results in real transformation and resources to correct a past injustice?”

The correct answer, for anyone but a partisan ideologue, is that identical errors are equally bad whatever their political effect.

In a lengthy online appendix to their study, Williams and Ceci have responded vigorously and persuasively to critics who continue to maintain that “anti-woman hiring bias as an important part of the reason for the underrepresentation of women in the academy.” One line of criticism, however, seems to have stung: the claim, as Williams put it in Part 4 of her remarkable five-part response to critics on Huffington Post, that they have a hidden agenda, “secretly machinating to overturn affirmative action.” And she quoted one example: “Ceci and Williams are beloved of right-wing columnists. We need to approach their work with skepticism, as commentators have largely done.” (See “Women Scientists’ Academic-Hiring Advantage Is Unwelcome News for Some,” Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Indeed, Ceci and Williams appear to have been so concerned that “right-wing columnists” like me would approve of what could be taken to be their demonstration of “reverse discrimination” — that women’s hiring advantage includes hiring less qualified women over more qualified men — and their implicit criticism of affirmative action that they have just published a follow-up study in an attempt to refute that implication.

In “Women have substantial advantage in STEM faculty hiring, except when competing against more-accomplished men,” published October 20 in Frontiers in Psychology, Williams and Ceci acknowledged that their previous study “raise[ed] the specter that faculty may prefer women over even more-qualified men, a claim made recently.” In the new study, undertaken to evaluate that claim,

158 faculty ranked two men and one woman for a tenure-track-assistant professorship, and 94 faculty ranked two women and one man. In the former condition, the female applicant was slightly weaker than her two male competitors, although still strong; in the other condition the male applicant was slightly weaker than his two female competitors, although still strong. Faculty of both genders and in all fields preferred the more-qualified men over the slightly-less-qualified women, and they also preferred the stronger women over the slightly-less-qualified man. This suggests that preference for women among identically-qualified applicants found in experimental studies and in audits does not extend to women whose credentials are even slightly weaker than male counterparts.

These results, Williams and Ceci conclude with satisfaction, “should help dispel concerns that affirmative hiring practices result in inferior women being hired over superior men.” They see themselves, in short, as defenders, not critics, of affirmative action. “Some men,” Ceci and Williams note on Huffington Post, “do not welcome what they perceive to be reverse discrimination,” but they themselves are perfectly happy with the rather extreme preferences revealed by hiring women 2:1 over equally qualified men, refusing to see that preference as “reverse discrimination.”

However, the affirmative action they defend — practices that “give a preference to hiring a woman over an identically-qualified man” — is virtually non-existent in the real world. Their critics, who endorse hiring practices that “tilt the odds toward hiring a woman who may be slightly less accomplished but who is still rated very highly” and who argue that “extremely well-qualified female candidates should be given preference over males rated a notch higher,” have an understanding of how affirmative action does and should operate that is much closer to the academic mainstream.

In addition to defending affirmative action (as they but few others understand it), Williams and Ceci also lean over backwards to emphasize their concern about the “underrepresentation” of women in math-intensive fields (mentioned 15 times in the online appendix cited earlier). They insist that they “do not believe women’s underrepresentation in math-based science fields will disappear on its own.” And their analysis of why this “underrepresentation” matters is also entirely conventional. “Our country desperately needs more talented people in [STEM] fields,” they wrote in “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist,” their New York Times op-ed quoted above, and “recruiting more women could address this issue.”

More talent, of course, is better than less, but is there really such a dire shortage of STEM talent, or even of women in STEM? As Ceci and Williams noted in a 2014 study quoted in Science, “one 13-year study of ‘a large state university’ found that 2-to-1 female advantage resulted in the hiring of 4.28% of female applicants as opposed to 2.03% of males.”

Indeed, that Science article continues,

“Given the vast oversupply of Ph.D.s, faculty hiring has ‘been a buyer’s market for years,’ Ceci says. A search he recently chaired, for example, attracted 267 applicants, and ‘any of 30 or more would have been outstanding.’ ‘Every search yields several dozen applicants who are all extraordinary, and you don’t even know how to choose among them they’re so good,’ Williams adds.

Concern about the “under representation” of women in STEM fields, in short, seems driven much more by an ideological devotion to proportional representation than by any actual dearth of scientific, even female scientific, talent.

Admissions Stacked Against Asians–It’s OK with the Feds

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has dismissed the longstanding discrimination complaints of Asian Americans, giving Ivy League and other institutions a green light to continue chromatically contouring the results of their “holistic” admissions processes so that applicants who are black or brown or red consistently are admitted with lower academic scores than applicants who are yellow or white. Word of the decision came in a 20-page September 9 letter to Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber.

Although Princeton readily conceded, “It does sometimes consider the race and national origin of applicants for admission,” the OCR concluded that it had not engaged in “patently unconstitutional” racial balancing.

As Roger Clegg has pointed out, the OCR did not deny that Princeton engaged in racial balancing or racial discrimination. It just red that these racial practices are not illegal under  the Grutter vs. Bollinger ruling.

Does Grutter Apply?

What is interesting here is not OCR’s conclusion (when has any Obama administration agency or ally ever concluded that any organization has ever discriminated against Asians or whites?), but that it reached its conclusion without even considering, much less rebutting, the vast breadth and depth of evidence presented by the complainants revealing differential treatment.

For example, as I discussed here, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who supports affirmative action, found in his 2009 book that black applicants to selective universities receive “a 450-point ‘boost’ compared to otherwise similarly qualified Asian applicants.” In an earlier article, Espenshade and a colleague demonstrated that if affirmative action were eliminated across the nation, “Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class” now taken by African-American and Hispanic students.

A Tower of Evidence

A Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission, cited a study of the University of Michigan  by the Center for Equal Opportunity that found “among applicants with a 1240 SAT score and 3.2 grade point average in 2005, the university admitted 10% of Asian-Americans, 14% of whites, 88% of Hispanics and 92% of blacks.” Much more of this sort of evidence showing that Asians have much higher admission hurdles in the Ivy League than other applicants can be found here, here, and here

How, you must wonder, did OCR refute or respond to all this evidence that to be admitted to the Ivies and other selective institutions Asians must have higher grades and test scores than members of other groups? Easy. It did not. Instead, it concluded that Asians had not been subject to discrimination by accepting Princeton’s argument that a few Asians were admitted with lower academic credentials than some rejected non-Asians:

  • “The University … reported, and OCR’s file review confirmed, that less than stellar grades or test scores do not mean that an applicant is automatically foreclosed from admission. OCR in its file review found examples of applicants who did not have the highest quantifiable qualifications, such as grades and test scores, who were nonetheless admitted by the University based on other qualities and the overall strength of their applications. Some of these applicants were Asian.”
  • “The University reported to OCR that the University ‘frequently accepted to the Class of 2010 applicants from Asian backgrounds with grades and test scores lower than rejected non-Asian applicants.’”
  • “The University gave OCR specific examples of Asian American applicants for the Class of 2010 whose grades and SAT scores were not near the top of the range usually seen by the University’s admissions officers, but who nonetheless were offered admission.”
  • “As the University told OCR, regarding the Class of 2010, the University “denied admission to literally hundreds of non-Asian applicants for the Class of 2010 who were valedictorians, and over three-thousand non-Asian applicants with a 4.0 GPA. These non-Asian applicants were not admitted despite the fact that many Asian students who did not have these academic credentials were admitted.”
  • “OCR found no evidence of the University giving an automatic ‘plus’ for identifying as a particular race or national origin; nor did OCR find evidence of applicants given an automatic ‘minus’ for belonging to a particular race or national origin.”
  • “OCR also found no evidence of the University using a fixed formula to weigh an applicant’s race or national origin.”

“In sum,” OCR concluded, “OCR found that the University treated each applicant as an individual, without making an applicant’s race or national origin a defining characteristic. Accordingly, OCR found no evidence of the different treatment of Asian applicants.”

Not Discrimination Because…

In short, OCR concluded that Princeton does not discriminate because

  • Asian applicants are not “automatically foreclosed from admission.”
  • A few Asians are admitted with lower academic credentials than many rejected non-Asians are. [It would be interesting to know how many, if any, blacks or Hispanics were rejected with higher grades and test scores than some Asians who were admitted].
  • The “plusses” awarded to blacks and Hispanics, and the “minuses” in effect awarded to Asians and whites, were not “automatic.”
  • However the University may have prevented the admission of too many Asians, it did not “impose a fixed number or percentage which must be attained, or which cannot be exceeded.”

Unexpected Effects

Since this conclusion comes from an administration notorious for seeing disparate impact discrimination anywhere and everywhere racial outcomes are even ever so mildly disproportionate, calling it hypocritical hardly seems to do it justice. Maybe we need a new word, such as hyper hypocritical. In fact, this OCR ruling is so bad, that it may well have some very good effects. Here are two:

  1. It will buttress the defense of other organizations accused by this administration (or, heaven forbid, similar future administrations) of discrimination. Following OCR’s analysis, for example, a school district accused of racially disparate discipline rates need produce in its defense evidence of only a few occasions when whites or Asians were disciplined for behavior for which blacks were not punished. Ditto for racial profiling by police.
  1. It should persuade Justice Kennedy that Grutter needs to be revisited when the Court considers the return of Fisher v. University of Texas next term. OCR insisted repeatedly that Princeton’s treatment of Asian applicants was legal under Grutter, which was mentioned or quoted 47 times in its 20-page ruling and cited in 27 of its 49 footnotes. I don’t think that conclusion is correct, but every selective institution in the country that subjects Asians to differential treatment (probably all of them except for Caltech) thinks so, as do their enablers in the Obama administration and four Justices of the Supreme Court. If Justice Kennedy believes Grutter allows — or even that it allows so many to believe it allows — the Ivies and others to treat Asians the way Princeton does, he may well conclude that it should be overruled or significantly modified.

One last point deserves attention, among other reasons because it also is involved in the Fisher v. University of Texas case that the Supremes will revisit this fall: how do institutions that strive for racial and ethnic diversity define race and ethnicity?

Need to Be Culturally Aware

“OCR’s review of more than 1,000 application files for the Class of 2010 showed that sometimes the race or national origin of an applicant garnered positive attention (as indicated by comments made by admissions staff on the reader cards),” OCR noted in its Princeton letter; “sometimes it did not.” In OCR’s view, the fact that Princeton did now always award “plus” points for race or ethnicity, or not enough to guarantee admission, means it was not engaged in racial discrimination. In fact, it means its discrimination was egregious, since it attempted to admit only members of racial and ethnic groups who were “culturally aware” of their identity. That is, only “true” blacks and Hispanics need apply.

OCR is so oblivious to this offensive insult that it even provides evidence of it in its letter. Consider the following revealing passage:

For example, for an applicant attending high school in the U.S., admissions staff commented that “Polish heritage is neat but not a hook”; and based on other information in the record, the applicant was not offered admission. On the other hand, admissions staff noted that for a Mexican applicant attending high school in the U.S., the individual was a “cultural add as well”; and based on other information in the record, the applicant was waitlisted…. However, for another applicant of Hispanic national origin also attending high school in the U.S., admissions staff wrote that there was “No cultural flavor” in the application; and based on other information in the record, the applicant was not even waitlisted. For another applicant who was waitlisted, admissions staff wrote that the applicant was a “true American Native . . . One to do.”

Being Polish Doesn’t Count

One would love for Princeton to explain why Polish heritage isn’t “a hook” (are there too many Poles at Princeton?), what its tastes are in Mexican “cultural flavor,” and how it can tell a “true American Native” from a presumably counterfeit one (like Elizabeth Warren, perhaps). What all of this determining the true from the false identity on the basis of “cultural awareness” amounts to the same thing Rush Limbaugh parodies with his reference to the NAACP as in fact the NAACLP, the National Association for the Advancement of Liberal Colored People and that liberals used in opposing President Bush’s nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Court of Appeals because, as I discussed here and here, “Estrada isn’t Hispanic enough to represent Hispanic interests on the bench.”

Like Princeton, in its original Supreme Court brief in Fisher the University of Texas also asserted, “No automatic advantage or value is assigned to race …, and race is considered ‘in conjunction with an applicant’s demonstrated sense of cultural awareness.” As I pointed out at the time in National Review, Texas does not “explain how admissions officials determine whether applicants have demonstrated a ‘sense of cultural awareness.’”

The current Fisher amicus brief for the Cato Institute makes the same point:

In deposition testimony submitted at the summary-judgment stage, the only thing the University’s admissions representatives would say regarding the way the University uses race is that they value a “sense of cultural awareness.” …. That distinctive phrase — “cultural awareness” — appears a dozen times in the testimony of the University’s admissions consultant, …  as well as repeatedly in the testimony of the University’s associate director of admissions, who is responsible for admissions policy. In fact, it is the only evidence the district court was able to muster when it sought to describe how the University actually uses race in evaluating applications. No other evidence supports any connection between the University’s use of race in holistic review and its avowed diversity goal

OCR’s, Princeton’s, and Texas’s argument to the contrary notwithstanding, the fact that being black or brown is insufficient to gain “plus points” does not mean race or ethnicity is not very important On the contrary, it means that institutions claim the right not only to distribute benefits on the basis of race and ethnicity but also to limit those benefits to those who conform to the “cultural flavors” approved by their admissions offices.

Almost Two-thirds of Psychological Studies Are Wrong

Einstein, as everyone knows, famously defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Science is the mirror image of insanity (which is not to say there are no mad scientists). It expects — indeed, requires — the same results when scientists do the same experiments or calculations over and over. Thus, according to an important and widely noticed study just published in Science, “Estimating The Reproducibility Of Psychological Science,” there is a real question whether much of the allegedly scientific research published in learned journals of psychology actually qualifies as science.

The Reproducibility Project, coordinated by University of Virginia psychology professor Brian Nosek, executive director of the Center for Open Science, involved a team of 270 psychologists from around the world who attempted to replicate the findings of 100 articles published in 2008 selected from three leading psychology journals: Psychological Science, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

A substantial majority of the studies studied, it turned out, were not reproducible, leading to “a clear conclusion” (as stated in the Science report): “A large portion of replications produced weaker evidence for the original findings despite using materials provided by the original authors, review in advance for methodological fidelity, and high statistical power to detect the original effect sizes.”

Humorously Understated

“Weaker evidence for the original findings” is a polite, statistically precise but obfuscatory way of saying that the conclusions of those studies could not be confirmed. Reviewing these results, the New York Times declared in an article with an almost humorously understated title that “Many Psychology Findings Not As Strong As Claimed, Study Says.” The actual Times article was considerably more dramatic than its title suggests, noting for example that “Strictly on the basis of significance — a statistical measure of how likely it is that a result did not occur by chance — 35 of the studies held up, and 62 did not. (Three were excluded because their significance was not clear.) The overall ‘effect size,’ a measure of the strength of a finding, dropped by about half across all of the studies.”

The fact that the Reproducibility Project found that the findings of nearly two-thirds of the studies its researchers examined could not be reproduced is proving to be a substantial embarrassment in the field of psychology, and those associated with the review project are making a great effort to soften the impact of their striking results. “The eye-opening results don’t necessarily mean that those original findings were incorrect or that the scientific process is flawed,” the Smithsonian Magazine insisted.

When one study finds an effect that a second study can’t replicate, there are several possible reasons, says co-author Cody Christopherson of Southern Oregon University. Study A’s result may be false, or Study B’s results may be false—or there may be some subtle differences in the way the two studies were conducted that impacted the results.

“This project is not evidence that anything is broken. Rather, it’s an example of science doing what science does,” says Christopherson. “It’s impossible to be wrong in a final sense in science. You have to be temporarily wrong, perhaps many times, before you are ever right.”

Well, sure, but how reassuring is it to be told that about two-thirds of the presumably peer-reviewed psychological research published in leading journals is wrong … but only “temporarily”?

The original studies were virtually (probably literally) all based on experiments that the reproducers tried to reproduce, and thus a substantial amount of both the originals and the reproducers’ studies was devoted to statistical analysis of significance, reliability, etc. That is no doubt as it should be, and to its credit the Reproducibility Project and the Center for Open Science have made all of their own research available online. Perhaps in the future another reproducibility with even more resources and researchers will check the work of this one.

Odd Research Design

If there is such an effort in the future, I think it would be in order to consider a dimension that so far as I can tell was not attempted here — moving beyond an analysis of the statistical fit between research methodology and conclusions to a more qualitative consideration of the research design, significance, and even good sense. Several of the studies I looked at would have fallen short on those grounds even if their conclusions had been found to be statistically valid.

Consider, for example, K.R. Morrison and D.T. Miller, “Distinguishing between silent and vocal minorities,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94 (2008): 871-882, whose results were confirmed, here, for the Reproducibility Project by Prof. Matt Motyl of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Morrison and Miller set out to test the entirely reasonable hypothesis that people will be more willing to express their opinions to an audience they think supportive than one they think would be critical. To test this hypothesis they

compared the proportions of bumper stickers [counted in the parking lots of 3 Target department stores] expressing liberal or conservative opinions in a county that voted for a more liberal candidate or a more conservative candidate in the 2004 US Presidential Election. Specifically, they hypothesized that liberals in the liberal county would be more likely to express their opinions than conservatives in the liberal county, and conservatives in the conservative county would be more

likely to express their opinions than liberals in the conservative county.

Surprise! There were more Democratic bumper stickers in the Democratic county and more Republican bumper stickers in the Republican county. But do these findings really confirm the hypothesis? Can’t they be as readily explained by the fact that Democratic counties have more Democrats and Republican counties more Republicans? Or perhaps the political parties were more organized and had more to spend on bumper stickers in counties where they were strong. And do we know the demographic/political breakdown of Target shoppers? Thus the fact that these findings were replicated by this method hardly makes them more significant.

I also looked at two studies by Stanford’s Claude Steele and co-authors purporting to test his ubiquitous “stereotype threat” theory. In “The Space Between Us: Stereotype Threat and Distance in Interracial Contexts,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94 (2008): 91-107, the authors “use stereotype threat theory as a model” to test a prediction that whites would physically distance themselves from blacks in a conversation where the whites feared being stereotyped as racists. In a sense the theory, assumed to have been established by Steele’s earlier work, was used to test itself. Elaborate scenarios were established, and the authors found to their relief and satisfaction that the target white males sat closer to the black confederates when the conversation was about “love and relationships” than when the subject was “racial profiling,” unless the latter were described as a “learning experience.”

The attempt to replicate this study “was unable to attain statistical significance.” It did confirm that when the subject was racial profiling whites sat farther from blacks but was unable to attribute that to any perceived “stereotype threat” fear of being regarded as racist because the distance was largely unaffected by the “learning experience” variable. “Perhaps the prominence of racial profiling in the media, such as Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, has made people, regardless of ethnicity, more apprehensive to discuss the topic and subsequently distance themselves more during conversation,” the replication author suggested. The replication, however, did not even attempt to evaluate the authors’ conclusion that the “social distance” they found confirmed their view that “one’s concern with appearing prejudiced might have the ironic and unintended consequence of causing racial harms,” that “there may be ‘racism without racists.’” Thus there is reason to doubt whether those conclusions would be warranted even if the replication had been able “to attain statistical significance.”

In another study, “Social Identity Contingencies: How Diversity Cues Signal Threat or Safety for African Americans in Mainstream Institutions,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94 (2008): 615-630, Steele et al. claim to have demonstrated that “people at risk of devaluation based on group membership are attuned to cues that signal social identity contingencies — judgments, stereotypes, opportunities, restrictions, and treatments that are tied to one’s social identity.”

In English: blacks are attuned to cues that they might be devalued because they are black. One of the most prominent threatening cues identified by Steele and his co-authors was “colorblindness,” which can be seen as “a means to ignore or invalidate the challenges that come with stigmatized group identities. Interpreted in this way, a colorblind diversity philosophy is diagnostic of marginalization, and we expect this cue to activate threatening social identity contingencies.”

The analysis of this study “did not replicate the original finding that fairness cues create more trust for Black but not White participants in an environment with low-minority representation.” It did not, however, attempt to evaluate the accuracy of reasonableness of the “cue” that a company’s colorblind policy can be seen as a threat to marginalize its black employees. But even if that and the study’s other findings were confirmed, however, the original study  would probably provide more convincing evidence of the pervasive political correctness in the Bay Area, where the participants were selected, than the persuasiveness of Steele’s “stereotype threat” theory.

Methodological replication, in short, is important … but it is not all-important. Studies like these three, for example, would be unconvincing even if their findings were confirmed.

Shaky Studies on Women and STEM

Readers of the higher education press and literature may be forgiven for supposing that there is more research on why there are not more women in STEM fields than there is actual research in the STEM fields themselves. The latest addition to this growing pile of studies appeared a few months ago in Science, and now Science has just published a new study refuting the earlier one.

In the earlier study, “Expectations of Brilliance Underlie Gender Distributions Across Academic Disciplines,” Sarah-Jane Leslie, a philosophy professor at Princeton, and several co-authors surveyed more than 1800 academics across 30 disciplines — graduate students, postdocs, junior and senior faculty — to determine the extent of their agreement with such statements as, “Being a top scholar of [your field] requires a special aptitude that just can’t be taught” and whether “men are more often suited than women to do high-level work in [your field.]”

Fields that believe innate brilliance is essential to high success, such as physics and philosophy, have a significantly smaller proportion of women than fields that don’t, such as Psychology and Molecular Biology.

Shunning Women?

This study caused a big stir. It was deemed so important that it was accompanied in Science by an introductory article explaining its findings and significance, “Gender Inequality in Science,” by Prof. Andrew Penner, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine. Admiring summaries and discussions can also be found at the National Science Foundation, in a long piece from the Princeton news service, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Science Mag, and Scientific American, just to name a few. Reuters was typical: “fields that cherish sheer genius shun women.”

Leslie et al. conclude that “women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success” and this underrepresentation occurs “because women are stereotyped as not possessing such talent.” The authors hedge their bets, however, about the actual causal mechanism at work. They note, for example, “The practitioners of disciplines that emphasize raw aptitude may … exhibit biases” against women, but on the other hand “[t]he emphasis on raw aptitude may activate the negative stereotypes in women’s own minds [leading them to] internalize the stereotypes [and] decide that these fields are not for them.”

The Role of Brilliance

The study is cagey, in short, in glossing over the border between facts and stereotypes, and its significance. On one hand, they insist that the “pervasive cultural associations” linking men more than women with raw talent are stereotypes that do not reflect reality. On the other, they ask, are women “less likely to have the natural brilliance that some fields believe is required for top-level success?” and answer: “our assessment of the literature is that the case has not been made.”

It also appears that the authors doubt that high levels of success depend on native brilliance even in those fields that claim it does. Lead author Sarah-Jane Leslie, for example, told a Princeton interviewer that “in her own field of philosophy in the 1980s, philosophers would sometimes speak of ‘the beam’ — the idea that some lucky individuals were born with a metaphorical beam of light coming from their foreheads, which they could shine on any subject matter they chose, thereby illuminating it without prior study.” But “the fact is,” she added, “that any of us who are successful in our fields only got there through incredible amounts of hard work and dedication.”

If it is a “fact” that highly successful women even in fields that claim to require brilliance “only” succeeded through hard work, then the practitioners of those fields — significantly, they find, both women and men — are somehow mistaken about what their fields require.

A Smoking Analogy

Grappling unsuccessfully with this caginess, Prof. Andrew Penner, writing in Science’s article introducing and explaining the brilliance study, concludes, “It is likely impossible to disentangle the effects of societal bias and individual preferences, because people’s understanding of gender differences shape their preferences.” That conclusion, however, is a non-sequitur. The fact that an individual preference may be affected by — even to some degree the result of — social bias does not mean it does not exist as an individual preference. (See my “The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity for an extreme example of the belief that stereotypes rob women of free will altogether.)

Leslie et al., in short, do not resolve the central questions their study raises: Do certain fields actually reward brilliance more than hard work; are there in fact fewer brilliant women available and interested in joining those fields?

Now comes a new study that throws considerable light on those questions. In a “Technical Comment” recently published in Science, Prof. Donna Ginther, an economist at the University of Kansas, and Prof. Shulamit Kahn of the Questrom School of Business, Boston University, reexamined the data and analysis of the Leslie et al. study “and found that “[f]emale representation was associated with the field’s math-intensive content — especially relative to the field’s verbal content — and, controlling for this, faculty beliefs about innate ability were irrelevant.”

Math-Intensive Fields

What Ginther and Kahn found, in short, is that it was not “expectations of brilliance” that predicted the representation of women in various fields “but mathematical ability, especially relative to verbal ability…. While field-specific ability beliefs were negatively correlated with the percentage of female Ph.D.s in a field, this correlation is likely explained by women being less likely than men to study these math-intensive fields.”

Ginther’s and Kahn’s argument was anticipated and developed even beyond theirs by psychiatrist Scott Alexander in a brilliant long entry on his widely read Slate Codex blog, “Perceptions of Required Ability Act As A Proxy For Actual Required Ability In Explaining The Gender Gap.” His criticism of Leslie et al. is even more devastating:

Imagine a study with the following methodology. You survey a bunch of people to get their perceptions of who is a smoker (“97% of his close friends agree Bob smokes.”) Then you correlate those numbers with who gets lung cancer. Your statistics program lights up like a Christmas tree with a bunch of super-strong correlations. You conclude, “Perception of being a smoker causes lung cancer,” and make up a theory about how negative stereotypes of smokers cause stress which depresses the immune system. The media reports that as “Smoking Doesn’t Cause Cancer, Stereotypes Do.”

This is the basic principle behind Leslie et al.

Like Ginther and Kahn, who did not cite his work, Alexander disaggregated the quantitative from the verbal GRE scores and found that the correlation between quantitative GRE score and percent of women in a discipline to be “among the strongest correlations I have ever seen in social science data. It is much larger than Leslie et al’s correlation with perceived innate ability. Alexander’s piece, and in fact his entire blog, should be required reading.

Change the Message?

Gintner and Kahn also make the seemingly required bow to stereotypes, concluding that “it is the stereotypical beliefs of the teachers and parents of younger children that become part of the self-fulfilling belief systems of the children themselves from a very early age” that prevent young women from choosing to pursue math, and thus they that “the message” delivered to young women needs to be changed.

Certainly Leslie et al. blow that horn with enthusiasm, and their message, sadly, need not even be accurate. “Is natural brilliance truly more important to success in some fields than others?” they ask.

The data presented here are silent on this question. However, even if a field’s beliefs about the importance of brilliance were to some extent true, they may still discourage participation among members of groups that are currently stereotyped as not having this sort of brilliance. As a result, fields that wished to increase their diversity may nonetheless need to adjust their achievement messages.

Well, of course! If brilliance really is required, that would certainly tend to discourage interest on the part of people who do not think of themselves as brilliant, “stereotyped” or not. But is that a justification to “adjust the message” to downplay the importance of brilliance in those fields where the belief in its importance is accurate?

Several years ago I sent a piece I’d written, “Wanted: More WIS (Women in Science),” to my daughter, Jessie, a talented young research physicist who was then a fifth-year graduate student at Caltech (she finished her Ph.D. work just before her 23rd birthday). In the piece I quoted Prof. Barbara Bogue of Penn State , the co-founder of the Society of Women Engineers, who “warned against ‘negative role models’ who give the impression that they are overly obsessed with their work and drive people away by making the field seem too demanding.”

Jessie replied that she particularly liked the Bogue quote — “Because of course we wouldn’t want anyone giving an honest impression of the field.”

‘Diversity’ Anger at UCLA

If there were a Heisman Trophy for the most articulate angry black undergraduate, Sy Stokes, a recent UCLA graduate, would surely have won.

Subject of a fawning, sprawling 3200-word profile by Eric Hoover in the Chronicle of Higher Education (“A Young Man of Words” — access may require subscription), Stokes made a name for himself in a video, “The Black Bruins,” attacking UCLA as a “racist corporation,” a “place of privilege, callous to the challenges” black men face. “So with all my brothers’ hopes and dreams that this university has tried to ruin,” he cries poetically, “How the hell am I supposed to be proud to call myself a Bruin?”

“The Black Bruin” went viral, which “has been viewed almost 2.3 million times,” and made Mr. Stokes a star. Youlanda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment management,” the Chronicle writes, “took to Mr. Stokes. She invited him to a College Board conference where he spoke to a standing-room-only audience. When he started applying for jobs, she wrote him a letter of recommendation.”

Sy Stokes
Sy Stokes

By now Mr. Stokes should be used to being regarded as a rising black voice. A year and a half ago he was also the subject of Scott Jaschik’s equally adoring profile in Inside Higher Ed, “To Be a Black Man at UCLA.” Given this repeated treatment of Mr. Stokes as today’s emblematic — and hence to be embraced — angry young black man, as virtually a young James Baldwin in waiting, I think it is worth looking more closely at the “diversity” that he both demands and represents. There are more than a few ironies.

  • According to the Chronicle, Stokes is “the son of a black father and a Chinese mother.” Thus he could have as accurately identified himself as “Asian,” but if he had done so he might well have not been admitted to UCLA — despite the fact that it is not allowed to take race into account — and would certainly have had a much harder time getting accepted to any selective university not obligated to be colorblind.
  • There is at least some evidence that he arrived at UCLA with a chip on his shoulder. Consider this sad, revealing anecdote reported by the Chronicle:

Mr. Stokes had first tasted racial tension at 14…. One day a girl from another high school invited him to her homecoming dance. Cool, he thought.

On the big night, he wore a Yankees cap, T-shirt, and Nike basketball shoes. As soon as he got to the school, he felt uncomfortable. Nobody was dressed like him, and just about everyone was white. For the first time in his life, he thought about how his skin was darker than others’. “People stared at me like crazy,” he says. “Whatever I did, I had eyes on me.” Standing on the crowded dance floor, he felt alone.

  • Less star-struck observers might think the above was not so clearly racial tension. Moreover, there is also evidence that Mr. Stokes himself is not so enamored of “diversity.” According to the Chronicle, his dance experience was simply one example, continued at UCLA, of “years of feeling unwelcome among peers who didn’t look like him, who came from different kinds of neighborhoods.” Wait. Isn’t exposing students to peers “who don’t look like” them, who come from “different kinds of neighborhoods,” the very essence of the “diversity” that educrats at UCLA and other selective institutions insist is the sine qua non of an effective education?
  • Perhaps Mr. Stokes was angry because he realized that the “diversity” preached and practiced by UCLA was not intended for people like himself. On the contrary, its rationale and purpose was and is to enable “peers who didn’t look like him” to benefit from being exposed to the “difference” he represents. Indeed, concerned as he was with racial exploitation, he might well have been aware of the unwittingly revealing defense of “diversity” then University of California Chancellor Robert Birgenau offered to the San Francisco Chronicle in February of his freshman year: “We no longer can live in our own world surrounded by people who are just like us.” One need not be a deconstructionist, as I argued here, to figure out who “we” and the “people who are just like us” are, and in fact discerning minorities have realized that they are merely the instruments used to provide “diversity” to others, not its beneficiaries.

There is a final irony fueling Stokes’ anger, an anger usually expressed in the language of underrepresentation — “Of men at UCLA,” he told Inside Higher Ed, “black males make up 3.3 percent; of the 2,418 entering male students this year, 48 were black,” etc. He claimed it was “‘a big cop out’ for UCLA to blame its low number on the ban on consideration of race.” As for what he wants, he insisted “We are not asking for a handout. We are asking for a level playing field.”

“Level playing field,” of course is never defined. I have defined it, here, as “[t]he political, social, and economic terrain that will ensure that two or more teams with different levels of ability, experience, equipment, interest, attitude, coaching, etc. always achieve equal scores and win the same number of games,” but I do not think that’s what Stokes has in mind. I think he means “admit more blacks.” But insofar as the goal of admitting more “underrepresented” minorities is so that colleges can “mirror the community,” demographic statistics do not support Stokes’ demand.

“Blacks were 3.8% of the freshmen who entered UCLA” in the fall of 2013, I noted here in discussing Stokes’ video. “According to the latest census data, blacks are 6.6% of the population of California. Thus, by whatever calculus ‘underrepresented’ and ‘level’ are determined, whites are left holding a considerably shorter end of the stick than blacks: they are 73.5% of the population of California but only 27.1% of UCLA undergraduates.”

The only practical way for UCLA to have a higher proportion of students who look like Stokes’ father is to impose a rather strict quota on the admission of students who look like his mother. As of Fall Quarter 2014 Asians were 33.5% of UCLA undergraduates but only 14.1% of California’s population.

What’s American About American History?

On June 2 a group of 55 scholars released an Open Letter criticizing the College Board’s newly revised “Course and Exam Description, Including the Curriculum Framework” for Advanced Placement in United States History.

On June 3 Daniel Henninger began his Wall Street Journalcolumn by asking, “Would a second Clinton presidency continue and expand Barack Obama’s revision of the American system of government that existed from 1789 until 2009?”

The gravamen of the scholarly critics’ gripe is that courses scrupulously designed according to the new standards of Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) would do little or nothing to equip students to grapple coherently with Henninger’s question, or others like it.  They regard the new standard, in short, as too political — not in the sense of attempting to inculcate the wrong answers but rather in avoiding too many important questions.

“The new framework,” they write, “is organized around such abstractions as ‘identity,’ ‘peopling,’ ‘work, exchange, and technology,’ and ‘human geography’ while downplaying essential subjects, such as the sources, meaning, and development of America’s ideals and political institutions, notably the Constitution.”

The cause and effect of such an approach is that orthodox (which is to say, most) American historians today worship at the altar of the Holy Trinity of Race, Class, and Gender. The “new framework,” as a result, “is so populated with examples of American history as the conflict between social groups, and so inattentive to the sources of national unity and cohesion, that it is hard to see how students will gain any coherent idea of what those sources might be.”

Part of the problem here is the absence of a consensus on purpose, on who should know what, a problem that is more severe in history than in, say, calculus or biology where interpretation is less important. The new framework largely avoids this question by downplaying substantive knowledge and emphasizing “historical thinking skills” — “the ability to describe, analyze, evaluate, and construct models that historians use.”

Indeed, “historical thinking skills” occurs 57 times in the new framework document. The purpose of the AP U.S. History course, it states, is “to apprentice students to the practice of history by explicitly stressing the development of historical thinking skills while learning about the past.”

It is not at all clear, however, that training apprentice historians should be the goal of even college history courses, much less even advanced high school courses.

“Thinking like a historian” is, of course, important … for historians, but it is much less important in the intellectual arsenal of an informed citizen.

Why STEM ‘Diversity’? Just Because

Most reports, studies, proposals, etc., calling for more “diversity” — whether of faculties, students, coaches, whatever — either fail to provide any justification for the discrimination necessary to increase it or fall flat, sometimes fatuously, when they do attempt to provide a justification.

In reviewing a typical one, for example, MIT’s Report on The Initiative For Faculty Race And Diversity, I quoted from its various rationales and concluded, “In other words, ‘diversity’ is ‘core’ to MIT’s excellence because it is ‘intrinsic,’ because ‘one must … be inclusive,’ because it is ‘key,’ and because insufficient diversification would ‘constrain ourselves and limit our success.’ In other words, well, just because.”

That criticism, however, cannot be leveled against “Minority Ph.D.‘s Find Career Success in STEM,” an argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education for more STEM diversity by Frances M. Leslie (not Francis, as given in the Chronicle), which offers a commendably concrete and specific justification for producing more minority STEM graduates. Professor Leslie — dean of the Graduate Division and a professor of pharma­cology, and of anatomy and neurobiology, in the School of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine — is clearly a person of many talents, but her commendably concrete justification for producing more minority STEM Ph.D.’s suggests she could be equally successful as a stand-up comic or satire writer for The Onion.

“First of all,” she notes the “disparity” of minorities receiving “only 7.25 percent of doctorate degrees” in STEM fields, “far below their 30 percent representation in the general population.” This “disparity” matters, she claims, because the “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that recipients of Ph.D.s and professional degrees have the lowest unemployment rate and highest full-time earnings in the country.” Then comes her justification for striving to make STEM Ph.D.’s demographically representative, a justification that is refreshingly free of “diversity” cant and camouflage:

So the dearth of underrepresented minorities with Ph.D.’s in STEM not only represents a substantial financial inequity but also reduces their potential impact on the nation’s economic strength.

Given these findings, it seems clear that universities should make a substantial effort to support underrepresented minority students in STEM graduate education.

STEM diversity, in short, is good not only for the diverse, who are enabled to make more money, but because of the positive impact their arguably higher earnings in STEM than in the occupations they would otherwise be pursuing has on the GNP.

In fact, even this slim reed of an argument is not persuasive. The fact that STEM Ph.D.’s may have the lowest unemployment and highest earnings does not mean that individuals who could have become STEM Ph.D.’s but did not would predictably make less money in other fields.

No wonder most arguments for “diversity” tend to avoid trying to specify its benefits.





Is Affirmative Action “Microaggressive”?

For those searching frantically for discrimination on campus, the newest culprits are “microaggressions,” described by Heather Mac Donald in “The Microaggression Farce” as affronts or insults minorities find racist but are so small they are “invisible to the naked eye.” Now, according to a May 5 article at Inside Higher Ed, “more than half of students of color who responded to a survey at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said they have experienced stereotyping, according to a new report from the university’s Racial Microaggressions Project.”

That study, the Chronicle of Higher Educationreports, found that 51% of the survey respondents claim “they had been victims of racial stereotypes in the classroom” and 39% “reported feeling uncomfortable on campus because of their race.”

It will surprise defenders but not critics of affirmative action to find extensive evidence in the University of Illinois’s report, Racial Microaggressions, that one of the worst microaggressors is … affirmative action.

A few examples:

  • “Assuming that an African American student was admitted to a predominantly or traditionally white institution simply because of Affirmative Action rather than merit is another example of a racial microinsult.”
  • Quote from “a multiracial female”: I was sitting in the library and I overheard other white students discussing admissions and laughing about how the only reason stupid Mexicans could get into this school was due to Affirmative Action. As a student of color, I found it extremely offensive to invalidate the hard work and intelligence of students because of their race. It also made me sad that this view seemed to have been readily accepted by all of the other people in the group, implying that racism is entrenched in many of the students that attend this school.
  • “… students of color reported experiencing racial microaggressions in discussion topics about Affirmative Action” Example given: “One white female student in the discussion inferred that certain stereotypes are true.”

The problem, of course, is that the belief that many minority students would not have been admitted but for their race or ethnicity is, in fact, true at selective universities. Thus one of the reports recommendations — “To have a more informed student body, disseminate accurate information about how, or if, Affirmative Action plays a role in admitting students of color” — is quite ironic. Transparency about the role of race in admissions is one of the leading demands of the critics of affirmative action. If the authors of this report mean what they say here, they should demand that the University of Illinois release data revealing the test scores of applicants and admits by race.

The University of Illinois is not the only institution to jump on the “microaggression” bandwagon. A recent long article summarizing the findings of a similar study by the Voices of Diversity Project at Harvard also found that affirmative action is one of the worst “microaggression” offenders:

  • minority students are blamed for taking longer to graduate “on the grounds that this must be due to their intellectual inferiority and/or their having been admitted under affirmative action programs with allegedly lower standards”;
  • “There is a widespread belief that members of some racial/ethnic minority groups were admitted through affirmative action and thus (through a misunderstanding of affirmative action) are less intelligent than white students…. Students of color’s awareness of the belief, in combination with the effects of stereotype threat, internalized racism, or both, can seriously impede their education.”
  • “the participants who said that someone had suggested outright that they had been admitted only because of affirmative action also constitute a sizeable minority of our interviewees.”
  • La Toya, a black woman, is quoted: “The ways that people look at me, things that teachers say, you know, make me feel like I don’t… people would just kind of flat-out say…that black people got here ‘cause of affirmative action…[and] don’t deserve to be here. …the general campus is mostly white, and…I don’t fit in there.”
  • “Douglas, who is African-American, worries that, because there are so few students of color in his area of study, ‘there may be affirmative action notions applied to us.’”

The “affirmative action notions,” of course, are that many black students would not have been admitted but for their race. Since that is true at virtually all selective universities (though possibly less true at the very most selective such as Harvard), does the belief that it is true qualify as a microaggression

Whether or not the belief that blacks receive preferential treatment via affirmative action constitutes microagression, it is certainly not limited to university campuses, or to white/conservative/racist critics. Yesterday talking head Michelle Bernard observed on MSNBC that neurosurgeon and new Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson “probably went to Yale and University of Michigan for medical school because of affirmative action.” Someone should report her and host Chris Matthews to the microaggression police.

“Diversity” Is Now Required At UCLA

After rejecting several previous proposals over the past several years, the UCLA faculty has finally succumbed to politically correct pressure from above (Eugene Block, the Chancellor, and other administrators) and below (“progressive” students) and voted to impose a four-unit “diversity” course requirement on all undergraduates. Ironically, the felt necessity for this new course requirement reveals the hollowness of the ubiquitous claims for the effects of diversity on students and on campus culture in general.

By any measure of diversity — both reasonable ones emphasizing a variety of values and experiences and the one actually employed in higher education, limited to race, ethnicity, and increasingly sex and “gender expression” — UCLA is virtually (and virtuously) boiling over with diversity.  But, according to the militant course mandaters, the fact of diversity is not enough. It has failed to teach the right lessons. Those lessons must be affirmatively, vigorously, actually taught — especially to the students who need them most, those who would not voluntarily take an approved (more on that later) diversity-teaching class. “In order to maximize student preparedness for our global society,” states the UCLA Diversity Initiative Committee’s Proposed Diversity Requirement, “we must enhance student awareness, understanding, and acceptance or at least tolerance of difference through socializing experiences and through our pedagogy.” [Emphasis added]

The idea that “we” — the faculty, probably the least diverse group in the country based on values, ideology, religion, etc. — should or even can inculcate “tolerance of difference” through classes (including STEM classes!) is risible. However, tolerance and appreciation of “difference” must be taught, the mandaters insist, because of another manifest failure of university “diversity” in practice — students are still overflowing with prejudice. Because of the failure of diversity’s “socializing experiences” alone, one of the justifications for the new course requirement and one of its four goals stated in the Proposed Diversity Requirement is “to reduce prejudice on campus with regard to difference.”

As Allyson Bach, a “Campus Celebrity” student leader of the pro-requirement effort, explained in a letter to the Daily Bruin, “Fostering student understanding of the histories and narratives of underrepresented communities at UCLA requires more from the university’s curricula. If students are not encouraged in the classroom to further explore critical issues of a global society, then it unfortunately is not surprising that intolerance and bigotry exist on our campus.”

By “encouraged” Ms. Bach of course means “required,” and in a revealing example of progressive logic she goes on to argue that the fact that some students and alumni disagree with her proves that she’s right. That “negativity” about the new requirement, she asserts, “demonstrate the flaws of our undergraduate education if students graduate UCLA with such viewpoints.”

Her emphasis on requiring understanding of “underrepresented communities” indicates that the requirement’s purpose is more political than pedagogical, an indication confirmed by an Expanded Synopsis’s endorsement of pure attitude and behavior modification. It approvingly cites studies that claim a diversity course requirement has “a positive impact on an individual’s racial and ethnic attitudes, pluralistic orientation, openness to diverse viewpoints, citizenship, critical consciousness, social agency, cognitive skills and tendencies, and moral development.” This is “diversity” as pure didacticism.

Students who themselves are usually described as “diverse” are clearly thought to be less in need of this beneficial attitude and behavior modification than others. As the Proposed Diversity Requirement states, “Although the UCLA student body is highly heterogeneous, comprising individuals from varied backgrounds, characteristics, and cultures, many come from more homogenous environments and have little familiarity with those from other histories, traditions, and experiences.”

There can be no doubt that the universe of the un-diverse in need of improved “racial and ethnic attitudes,” a more “pluralistic orientation,” more openness to “diverse viewpoints,” a higher “critical consciousness,” and even more active “social agency” is largely white. All but universally unacknowledged, however, is that whites at UCLA are not only not a majority; they are exactly as “underrepresented” as blacks. According to the most recent UCLA data, 4.4% of the freshmen admitted in 2014 are black, and according to the most recent census data blacks make up 6.6% of California’s population. According to that same data, whites were 26% of admits, but whites, “not Hispanic or Latino,” are 39% of California’s population. Blacks and whites, in short, are equally “underrepresented”: 4.4 is 67% of 6.6; 26 is 67% of 39. (Asians were 42.3% of admits and 14.1% of California’s population.)

The mandaters, of course, rarely admit that their real goal is attitude and behavior modification of whites. The loftier justification, as the Proposed Diversity Requirement states in its first sentence, is the belief that “a modern university must provide its students with the ability to understand the perspectives of others whose views, backgrounds, and experiences may differ from their own.” This rationale was repeated like a mantra. When he wasn’t handing Hillary a $300,000 check for speaking, for example, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said repeatedly, as quoted here, that “one of my longstanding priorities and demonstrates our strong commitment to expose undergraduates to views and backgrounds other than their own.”

This “exposure to difference” rationale, however, if taken seriously, reveals the utter impossibility of implementing the requirement in a coherent manner. The proposal entails a new bureaucracy of apparatchiks — “an Undergraduate Council (UgC)-appointed Diversity Requirement Committee (DRC)” [described here and here] — to approve courses that satisfy the new requirement. But there are no corresponding rules regulating who may take which courses, i.e., limiting students to diversity credit for a course in which they in fact study those who are “different.” (Except perhaps for whites, who many would like to see required to take the course on “Understanding Whiteness”).

Unless and until UCLA creates a mechanism to bar diversity credit to blacks who take black history, Asian American women who take a course on Asian American women, gays who take an introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies, etc. (examples taken from example courses listed in Appendix B here), the “exposure to difference” rationale will remain exposed as a sham.


Higher education and its comfortable inhabitants on campus have long been hotbeds of support for Obama and Obamacare. Now, along with business and labor, i.e., the other inhabitants of what passes for the real world, they are about to become victims of one of its high “Cadillac” tax on generous health plans.

In 2009 President Obama gave assurances that he did not want any tax on health insurance plans he considered wasteful or too generous to affect average Americans. In one of his now famous talks broadcast on CNN, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, “one of the men who helped draft the legislation, [explains] that is not only precisely what will happen — but that was the intention of the tax.”

Politico notes that “a mix of business groups and labor unions” are arm in arm — and up in arms — fighting to kill this tax. Unnoted in the article is that higher education also will be hit especially hard. The dramatic impact of the “Cadillac” tax on higher education has been noticed before, such as on this site (“Obamacare Hits Adjuncts Hard”) and Megan McArdle’s delicious putdown, “Whining Harvard Professors Discover Obamacare.”

Now, as the scheduled 2018 implementation of the tax gets closer and more and more colleges begin to adjust their health plans to deal with it, awareness of the impending pain is beginning to spread. In New Jersey, four of the state’s 11 public colleges and universities have dropped student health insurance, and three of Washington State’s 6 public institutions have done so as well.

A few more examples of tax-induced changes:

  • University of Virginia: “Major changes are coming to the University of Virginia health plan. With U.VA facing rising health care costs, spiking expenses of high-dollar claims and looming fees and taxes connected with federal health reform….”
  • University of Minnesota: “One of the state’s largest employers is proposing to scale back its employee health plans to avoid a massive tax penalty under the new federal health care law.”
  • Ohio University: “Ohio University employees might see their health care deductibles double and premiums rise because of a provision of the Affordable Care Act that taxes so-called “Cadillac” health plans, officials have said.”

In a mailing sent to “Dear Colleagues” last month, Ohio University provided a detailed explanation of the need for its changes:

The university’s health care costs are projected to increase by as much as 8% per year, or $4 to $5 million annually, for the next several years. Additionally, in 2018, the ACA will begin taxing high cost Cadillac health plans where health plan costs exceed $10,200 per year for individuals or $27,500 per year for families. As currently structured, the university’s PPO health plans are on pace to exceed these levels, and subject Ohio University to the Cadillac plan tax.

As more and more colleges and universities cut their benefits in order to make their health plans “sustainable,” I suspect the new campus fetish of “sustainability” will take a serious hit.


Thomas Bender, NYU professor of history and the humanities, laments that historians have “lost their public.” Economics, he notes, “has an audience in corporate and government circles; sociology and psychology have important roles in the social services. But historians generally have not had a similar targeted audience, except in schools. They have aspired to reach a general public, to explain the past and its relationship to the present and, perhaps, the future. While once we were successful in doing that, for a long time we have been digging ourselves into a hole.”

Bender’s explanation is in that professional history has become too sophisticated for the general reader, that “as historians eschewed biography, narrative style, and large topics, our writing also became analytic: an explanation of the nature of the sources, methodology (often quantitative), and particular findings. We began to imagine not a general reader but fellow specialists at our elbow.”

Although Bender is no doubt correct, I think the hole historians have dug is both wider and deeper than the “victims of their own success” explanation (at writing more and more sophisticated but fragmented, esoteric studies). When the public encounters historians these days, it is all too often in the form of politically correct scolds  — in Op Eds, petitions, legal briefs — offering their scholarship as ammunition to progressives (and only progressives) in various cultural and partisan skirmishes.

Avenging Angels?

A classic (but not unique) example of the historian as progressive scold, or “avenging angel,” was provided in testimony to House Judiciary Committee in 1998 in which Princeton’s Sean Wilentz accused any Representatives who voted in favor of President Clinton’s impeachment of being “zealots and fanatics” and threatening “history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness.” Wilentz is now a frequent contributor to the New York Times and pontificator on CNN and MSNBC.

Over 400 historians signed a petition against impeachment organized by Wilentz, but one who did not was Columbia’s Eric Foner. “I thought the impeachment of Clinton was absurd,” Foner commented years later in a conversation with law students and faculty, “but I refused to sign it [because] I am against this whole idea that originalism is how you decide whether the guy should be impeached or not, and moreover I notice that most of the people who signed this are not constitutional scholars.” Foner added an important observation that, as we shall see below, will come back to bite him, “The attempt to use history to answer political questions can often lead you to be skating on very thin ice.”

If using history to pronounce winners (and denounce losers) in contemporary political controversies really is “skating on very thin ice,” then a substantial number of practicing American historians, including many prominent one, are both cold and all wet. In the recent past large numbers of them have signed legal briefs, to cite a few examples, supporting abortion rights, supporting gun control, opposing laws prohibiting homosexual sex, supporting gay marriage, arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 allows claims for retaliation and prohibits discrimination private parties as well as government, and, perhaps most remarkably, arguing that the 14th Amendment bars state constitutional amendments that require colorblind equal treatment.

Inimical to Historians’ Values

In addition to filing legal briefs and serving as expert witnesses in politically charged litigation, historians have also circulated innumerable petitions and passed resolutions at their professional meetings, always taking the progressive side in political controversies. One opposed the legal views of a Bush administration official; another opposed the nomination of a federal judge. And as I discussed in Historical Chutzpah and Historical Chutzpah II, over 1200 historians signed petitions opposing the Iraq war, claiming attention based on their identity as historians (very loosely defined) even though a substantial number of them were in fields of history totally unrelated to war, peace, or even American history.

In a similar vein, the American Historical Association passed “an unprecedented resolution” signed by over 150 historians (one of whom was NYU’s Thomas Bender) condemning “United States Government Practices Inimical to the Values of the Historical Profession.” These practices “during the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror” included such heinous activities as “condemning as ‘revisionism’ the search for truth about pre-war intelligence” and “reclassifying previously unclassified government documents,” which violated the AHA’s “principles of free speech, open debate of foreign policy, and open access to government records in furthering the work of the historical profession.” Curiously, so far I have seen no petition or resolution from historians condemning Hillary Clinton’s decision to conduct all of her electronic communications as Secretary of State on her own private server, deciding on her own what information to preserve and what to destroy.

Correct Answer: Reagan Was Bellicose

Even in the area where Prof. Bender acknowledges historians do have a “targeted audience,” the schools, historians are frequently encountered more as progressive advocates than independent professionals. Every ten years, it seems, historians, the Washington Post reported in 2010, “speak out against proposed Texas textbook changes” (“Textbooks A Texas Dentist Could Love.” the New York Times chimed in). More recently, former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Lynne Cheney has published a blistering article in the Wall Street Journal, “The End of History, Part II, criticizing the ideological bias of revisions to the College Board’s Advanced Placement in United States History (APUSH) standards. Example: the correct answer to a question on how to interpret President Reagan’s famous remark at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1987 — ”If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” — is that it represented an example of America’s “increased assertiveness and bellicosity.”

In short, whatever the richness of modern historical scholarship, when historians go public these days — in court, on OpEd pages, on TV — they are all too often seen, correctly, as high priests delivering The Word from what NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt has called “a ‘tribal-moral community’ united by sacred values’ that hinder research and damage their credibility.” Economists and law professors and many social scientists are contentiously divided over what public policies should flow from a correct understanding of their fields, but for whatever reason the public voice of American historians is depressingly monotonous, the history lessons it would have us learn increasingly indistinguishable from the editorial pages of the New York Times, the talking heads of CNN and MSNBC, and the positions of the Democratic party.

A ‘Gentle Mob’ Pushes UVA to the Irrational

Loaded questions — “Have you stopped beating your wife?” — are usually objectionable, but in the case of new rules the University of Virginia just adopted in response to a fraudulent article in Rolling Stone describing a gang rape that did not happen on a night the accused fraternity did not have a party, it is entirely fitting and proper to ask whether the University has stopped victimizing its students in fraternities and sororities. Sadly, the answer is No.

The Virginia Cavalier.
The Virginia Cavalier.

Readers will recall that even as the Rolling Stone article was unraveling University President Teresa Sullivan, with a Cavalier disregard for due process, cancelled all social events at fraternities and sororities until January 9. This was guilt by association with a vengeance, since by then it had become increasingly clear that the alleged crime had not occurred.

The rape scare at Virginia and campuses across the country is reminiscent of the “red scares” of the last century. Yes, there are are real rapes, just as there were real reds, Continue reading A ‘Gentle Mob’ Pushes UVA to the Irrational

The “Teacher’s Pet Syndrome” Comes to Our Colleges

Inside Higher Ed has yet another sob story about yet another report — this one from Harvard’s Voices of Diversity project — lamenting that “[w]omen and students of color continue to encounter psychologically damaging racism and sexism on college campuses, creating a climate where students struggle to graduate and are unsure who to turn to for help.”

Affirmative action, the report argues, is not enough. “[O]ne cannot assume that increases in numbers of students of color have been accompanied by adequate changes in what has been called the ‘chilly climate’ for students of color and for women in undergraduate populations at predominantly white institutions.”

The study, based on information Continue reading The “Teacher’s Pet Syndrome” Comes to Our Colleges

Women, Minorities More Likely to Flee Academic STEM Careers

Inside Higher Edreports on yet another hand wringing study of the difficulty of “diversifying” (that is, employing more women and certain minorities) in academic STEM fields. This time, however, the obstacle or barrier is at the end, not the beginning, of the pipeline: women and minorities themselves choose to abandon STEM careers in academic research institutions even after they receive their PhDs.

At the point of Ph.D. completion, after controlling for factors such as research productivity, mentoring, confidence, and so forth (all factors that could affect career choices) women and members of under-represented minority groups are 36 to 55 percent less likely than white and Asian men to report high interest in faculty careers at research-intensive universities. Furthermore, under-represented minority women are nearly twice as likely as all other groups to report high interest in careers outside of research.

One can, almost, sympathize with the would-be diversifiers: what’s the point, they might allow themselves to think (but never admit), of giving diversity-justified preferential admissions, hiring, etc., if the preferred wind up saying “no thanks” and move into other fields?

Indeed, since academia is not the only area of American life trying mightily to attract underrepresented groups, is the fact that women and minority STEM PhDs disproportionately do not choose to pursue “academic careers at research-intensive universities” necessarily a problem that needs to be solved? “The article seems to assume that competing for an academic position is most desirable outcome for a well-qualified female and/or minority biomedical scientist,” as one commenter pointed out. “But considering the postdoc rat race, the ratio of new Ph.D. biomedical scientists to open tenure track slots, the demanding schedule, and the mediocre salary, is such an assumption justified?”

Finally, it is worth noting that these findings raise serious questions about one of the most ubiquitous justifications for preferential treatment of women and minorities — that we now live in a “global world” (where did we formerly live?) and that in order to succeed in global competition we must attract more women, blacks, and Hispanics to the STEM fields. Set aside for a moment whether that claim is actually true. Even if to some degree it is, who is more likely to make a bigger contribution to our global STEM competitive efforts, woman or minority applicants or Asian or white men who are “36 to 55 percent” more likely to stay in the field?

I do not propose discriminating against women and minorities — such discrimination would be wrong and is and should be illegal — but it would be foolish to pretend that such discrimination is always irrational or based on bias and that equal treatment is always cost free.

Should We Erase the “Gender Gap” in Grades?

Has Stanford Law stopped discriminating? I realize this is a loaded question, but it is inescapably prompted by research, published in the Journal of Legal Studies, that suggests “ways to close the gender gap in law schools.”

Stanford law professors Mark Kelman and Daniel Ho examined 15,689 grades assigned by 91 instructors to 1,897 Stanford law students from 2001 to 2012. From 2001-2008 they found a clear gender gap. It was small, 0.05 GPA points, but, they claim, significant: “an increase in GPA from 3.6 to 3.65 is associated with a 7 percent increase in the probability of securing a federal appellate clerkship, they noted.” The gender gap disappeared in 2008, when the school adopted an “honors and pass” grading system, and after 2009, when a very small mandatory class involving more student interaction and participation was introduced, “the gender gap actually reversed.”

As Professor Kelman stated to Stanford News, his and Professor Ho’s research “refutes a common assumption that performance is predetermined by ‘fixed’ student traits” and tends to confirm his “more optimistic view … that much of the inequality we observe in the world is mutable and that the structures that we sometimes take for granted may work to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others.”

Continue reading Should We Erase the “Gender Gap” in Grades?

Stanford & USA Today Attack the “Tech Diversity Gap”

As part of its ongoing series on “Inequity In Silicon Valley,” USA TODAY published a long and questionable article Monday, “How To Close The Tech Diversity Gap,” reporting on a conference at the Stanford Law School the paper co-sponsored with Stanford last week.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was much in evidence, both in spirit and in body (he was mentioned 10 times in the article). Indeed, even Jackson’s biographer, a Stanford lecturer, was there, declaring that “bringing these people together to talk about these issues is historic.” And according to USA TODAY’s rather breathless report, “the USA TODAY/Stanford Diversity in Tech summit meeting … with Jesse Jackson and executives from Google and Facebook was nothing less than a breakthrough on an issue that has vexed the nation since slavery was abolished.”

Continue reading Stanford & USA Today Attack the “Tech Diversity Gap”

Diversity–The Vague, Ever-Expanding Cloud

Doubling down on its ever expanding commitment to “diversity,” the University of Virginia Board of Visitors has just created a new standing “Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.” The new committee’s first meeting, held on September 12, considered the results of a study on the wages of female faculty,

The study, by Economics Professor Sarah Turner, found that “the average salary of female faculty members at the University of Virginia is about 2.7 percent less than the average salary of a male faculty member.” Although her study took into account “the different roles of field of specialization, rank and years at the University in determining compensation,” Prof. Turner admitted that it “[u]nfortunately … fails to compare productivity across different fields of study.”

Comparing female and male faculty salaries without considering productivity is about as useful as comparing the wages of any groups of workers without considering the number of hours worked. More fundamentally, however, what does “the average salary of female faculty members” have to do with “diversity”? Depending on the cause of any significant differential, it may have something to do with discrimination, but what is its relevance to “diversity”?

The subject matter of this first meeting, in short, unintentionally but devastatingly reveals the vague, formless indeterminacy of the “diversity” that the committee is charged to promote. Despite this confusion the creation of the new committee was accompanied by all the familiar choruses from the “diversity” hymnal that has become the current catechism of campus political correctness.

Let’s look closely at some of the verses.

  • First the name, Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

As practiced by universities, “diversity” means admitting and hiring individuals who would not have been admitted or hired had their race or ethnicity not been taken into account. That inescapably means others were not admitted or hired — in effect, they were excluded — because of their race or ethnicity.

  • “Diversity” was defined in a statement accompanying the creation of the new committee: “race and ethnicity, age, gender, disability status, sexual orientation, religious and national origin, socioeconomic status and other aspects of individual experience and identity.”

The problem with this definition is not the definition itself; it is the fact that the definition bears no relationship whatsoever to “diversity” as actually practiced by the University (discussed most recently here),  which is limited to preferential treatment based on race and ethnicity. For example, UVa has a large and active Office of African American Affairs headed by a Dean and staffed by an associate and assistant deans, but there is no equivalent Dean of Jewish Students or Poor Students or Disabled Students, and no admission preferences are extended to them. Indeed, I suspect the University is so uninterested in any category other than race/ethnicity that it collects no information about the other areas of “diversity” that it claims to honor and has no idea of how many Methodists or Muslims or Missouri Synod Lutherans it has in attendance.

  • It was left to University Rector (head of the Board of Visitors) George Martin to utter the paean to “diversity” that is at once the most ubiquitous — show me a defense of “diversity” anywhere that doesn’t repeat it —and most barren of substantive content: “In this global economy, diversity is not a goal, it is a reality. Our students will compete in a global economy and we will better equip them to do so if they have a more diverse experience at the University.”

Insofar as any university’s goal is to help the United States compete “in the global economy,” however, it should admit the brightest, most potentially successful students it could find. Today that almost certain would mean admitting far more Asians than current quasi-quotas allow. Of course helping the United States need not be any university’s overriding goal, but in any event it is not at all clear how admitting more blacks and Hispanics than would be admitted without “diversity” preferences provides much help to the other students to compete in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, etc.

Finally, when UVa graduates, when any U.S. graduates, find themselves competing in and with Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa they are going to encounter a vast amount of the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and other religious bias, and hostility to gays, etc., that is now virtually extinct on American campuses. I would not suggest that universities encourage or even tolerate these biases simply because, as Rector Martin says,”in this global economy” they are “a reality,” but it is delusional to think that the hothouse care, concern, and sensitivity now all but universally bestowed upon members of politically correct groups on campus prepares them and their non-preferred peers for anything other than a rude awakening once they dip their toes into today’s “global economy.”

UVA Needs More Transparency on Affirmative Action

The University of Virginia is boasting again about how well it does by its black students. This is an annual event and some of the boasting has merit. As the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education pointed out last June, U.Va. “consistently posts the highest black student graduation rate of any state-operated university in the country.”

The University is touting findings that “the percentage of black students with at least a 3.0 grade-point average at U.Va. rose from 37.4 percent in 2009 to 51.9 percent in 2014. In addition, 30.2 percent of students who identified as ‘black’ in the class of 2012 graduated with high honors (above a 3.4 GPA), far above the 17.3 percent rate five years earlier.”

Continue reading UVA Needs More Transparency on Affirmative Action

Another Study Fails to Justify Affirmative Action

There’s nothing wrong with the first sentence of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s new report, “Affirmative Action and Human Capital Development,” which defines affirmative action as “the practice of granting preferential treatment to under-represented (UR) demographic groups,” but it’s down hill from there. The descent begins in the second sentence, which states that “It was first mandated by the Kennedy Administration in the 1950s….”

Of course there was no Kennedy Administration in the 1950s, and the affirmative action required by Executive Order 11925 — issued by President Kennedy March 6, 1961— not only did not mandate but actually prohibited preferential treatment by requiring government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin” [emphasis added].

Continue reading Another Study Fails to Justify Affirmative Action

Chinese Students, Please Apply!

When my daughter Jessie was applying to graduate school, I asked one of my tennis buddies with a PhD from Caltech whether he thought Caltech would give Jessie any preference since there are so few women in physics.

He replied cautiously that his impression was that Caltech had remained pretty steadfastly meritocratic, so she was unlikely to receive a thumb on the scale because of her sex. But, he added, “but she may get some preference because she’s not Chinese.”

Now it appears that the failure to be born in China might actually be an obstacle to admission. This seems so at the flagship University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign. Inside Higher Edreports that this year Illinois recruited “about 600 freshmen (around 10 percent of the class) from China. As recently as 2006, Illinois was enrolling only about 20 new undergraduates from China. This year, Illinois held three orientation sessions for Chinese students while they were still in China.”

One of the most common justifications for “diversity”-based preferences is that the demands of global competition require us to promote “diversity” to prepare us for this intense competition. Perhaps, but what exactly is our interest in preparing competitors like the Chinese to compete with us?

Back in 2006 I discussed one of the seemingly unending reports lamenting the “underrepresentation” of women in science whose press announcement from the National Academies began with the inevitable and  “global competition” rationale for what I called Fighting Gender Bias In Science … With Gender Bias In Science:

WASHINGTON — Women face barriers to hiring and promotion in research universities in many fields of science and engineering — a situation that deprives the United States of an important source of talent as the country faces increasingly stiff global competition in higher education, science and technology, and the marketplace, says a new report from the National Academies.

A question I asked then bears repeating: should foreign women who are in this country only temporarily … be counted toward “compliance” with the “goals” recommended by the Academies? Insofar as it is necessary to displace some men to make room for more women, should American males be displaced to make room for foreign females? And why should both American males and females be displaced to make room for our future Chinese competitors?

UC Berkeley And UCLA Law Schools: Scofflaws?

For anyone still in doubt, a deeply statistical analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research— complete with “Epanechinikov kernels” and “Silverman bandwidths” — of the effect of banning racial preferences in admission to the the UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall) and UCLA law schools demonstrates that eliminating racial preference reduces the numbers of previously preferred minorities admitted, at least to the degree that the preferences were in fact eliminated. (The study, “Affirmative Action Bans and Black Admission Outcomes: Selection-Corrected Estimates From UC Law Schools,” can be found here, free for some and $5 for others; the abstract here; and short discussions by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed here and here. )

Most academic readers of the study, by Danny Yagan, an assistant professor of economics at UC Berkeley, will probably be impressed by the sharp reduction found in minority admissions. Others of us, however, will marvel at what the analysis reveals of how successful those two law schools have been at evading the ban. As Yagan puts it in a phrase that is either quite droll or, more likely, an example of the often euphemistic awkwardness that characterizes much social science writing, “affirmative action ban avoidance is far from complete.”

Specifically, Yagan finds that the ban on racial preferences “reduced the black admission rate from 61% to 31%” at the two schools, but “black admission rates would have fallen to 8% (not just 31%) had all races been subjected to observed pre-ban white admission standards based on LSAT, GPA, and inferred strength.” Even after the “ban,” in short, Yagan finds that the two law schools “used unobserved black-correlates … to admit blacks at a 63 percentage point higher rate than observably similar whites.”

Yagan concludes that the primary cause of the reduced admission rate for the previously preferred minorities was that “the black share of the applicant pool permanently declined by half,” and thus “the post-ban recovery in black admission rates” — raising to 31% what with racially neutral standards based on credentials would have been 8% — resulted from the two schools “learning to sustain most of [their] pre-ban black admission advantages.” Although it was clearly not his intent, Yagan’s study provides strong support for the conclusions reached by UCLA Professor Tim Groseclose in his book, Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA as well as the conclusion of Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor in Mismatch that outright bans will simply lead to cheating, a problem I discussed in The Cheating Defense Of Affirmative Action.

Continue reading UC Berkeley And UCLA Law Schools: Scofflaws?

In Texas, No Fatal Bullet for “Diversity”

Most of the sturm and drang about discrimination for the past week or two has involved bitter disputes over recent Supreme Court decisions (Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College) that spared a few Christians from being thrown into the lion’s den of Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. Now comes a rude reminder that the “Diversity” Vampire is still alive and kicking because the Court has so far refused to fire a silver bullet through its heart.

In June 2013 a 7-1 majority of the Court rejected the lower courts’ endorsement of the University of Texas’s preferential admissions policy, sending the case back down to the Fifth Circuit with instructions to apply “strict scrutiny” to the University’s claims. Both supporters and critics of race preferences were divided over whether Fisher left the preference glass half full or half empty — a number of good arguments for both views can be found on Scotusblog, here.

Yesterday (July 15) a Fifth Circuit panel, by a bitterly contested 2-1 vote, tipped the balance, at least temporarily, toward the preference pushers. Perhaps only temporarily, because Abigail Fisher and her lawyers have already indicated they will appeal, although it is not clear yet whether they will seek review by the entire Fifth Circuit en banc or go directly back to the Supreme Court. What critics of racial favoritism hope will be only a pothole or detour on the road to colorblind equality is unfortunate, but its acceptance of the University of Texas’s discrimination against Asians, whites, and indeed members of any unpreferred racial or ethnic groups should not be forgotten when we return, as we no doubt will, and soon, to today’s hot topic of how to treat the troublesome Christians.

Continue reading In Texas, No Fatal Bullet for “Diversity”

Hobby Lobby’s Impact on Colleges

As everyone knows by now, the Supreme Court has just held in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (discussed here) that requiring the owners of a closely held family business to provide employees abortifacients that violated their sincerely held religious beliefs was barred by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (passed virtually unanimously by a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed by a Democratic president in 1993). That act provides that substantial burdens can be placed on religion only when a no less burdensome method of achieving a compelling governmental purpose is available.

This rather unremarkable result has been greeted by the left’s customary hysteria, most of it featuring renewed chanting of the “War on Women!” mantra characterized by a deep misunderstanding of corporations, both profit and non-profit. Largely unappreciated amid all this sound and fury over whether corporations are “persons,” however, lie some serious threats to an important segment of higher education, religiously affiliated colleges and universities. These threats have been imminent ever since Obama came to office (for discussions of those threats see “IS ANOTHER FUROR OVER RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMING?” and “OBAMA’S END RUN AROUND ENDA”), but now they are much more clear and present. According to the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty there are 27 institutions of higher learning currently involved in litigation against the HHS mandate. (A list of the institutions and all other pending cases is here.)

The core of Justice Ginsburg’s dissent is her heated denial that “a corporation qualifies as a ‘person’ capable of exercising religion.” She obviously means for-profit corporations, since many churches and religious organizations that exercise religion are corporations, and it is this Manichean dualism between types of corporations — a dualism that goes far beyond their different treatment by the tax laws — that has been most wildly cheered by the left.

Continue reading Hobby Lobby’s Impact on Colleges

Hobby Lobby: Religion Unhobbled?

In March 2007 Barack Obama bragged, as he has on other occasions, that “I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution.” Of course, many much more prominent and prolific Obama-supporting law professors (easy, since Obama published nothing on the subject) do not “respect the Constitution” — see, for example, the University of Texas’s Sanford Levinson in the New York Times, “Our Imbecilic Constitution” — but whatever subjective respect President Obama  may feel is not detectable in the arguments his administration has made in the Supreme Court.

Those arguments have been rejected unanimously twelve times since January 2012 on “a wide range of issues,” Prof. Ilya Somin points out, “including freedom of religion, property rights, executive power, and the Fourth Amendment.” Even a unanimous Court can be wrong, Somin adds, but “when the president’s position in multiple major constitutional cases cannot secure even one vote on an ideologically and methodologically diverse Court that includes two of his own appointees, it is likely there is something wrong with the administration’s constitutional worldview.”

Today’s 5-4 decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not unanimous, but it was yet another striking rejection of the Obama administration’s overreaching aggrandizement of executive power. The majority opinion by Justice Alito emphasized the limits on what the Court held, noting that the decision “concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

Others, on both left and right, disagree. Justice Ginsburg begins her long, alarmed, some would say alarmist dissent by asserting, directly contrary to the majority’s assurances, that “[i]n a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” From the other side of the spectrum Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice believes Justice Ginsburg is right. He calls it “a game-changing decision,” adding that its “groundbreaking nature makes it a landmark victory for religious liberty and freedom of conscience that will have a major impact for decades to come.”

Time, as usual, will tell, and in fact may be telling already. After asking whether the new religious exemption goes “far enough” and noting that its accommodation of the religious views of business owners may itself need “an added accommodation to make it acceptable to them, and to make the birth control mandate legal,” Lyle Denniston points out that immediately after Monday’s decision the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked all enforcement of the mandate against a non-profit Alabama Catholic TV network.

Having just succumbed to one cliché (“time will tell”), please indulge me in one more: the Hobby Lobby landscape is populated by so many thick and fascinating trees, any one of which merits extended attention, that it is difficult to see the forest. A few examples (the dissenters, of course, disagree with the holdings given in parentheses below, except the first one):

Continue reading Hobby Lobby: Religion Unhobbled?

Is “Tolerance” The New “Diversity”?

The politically correct speech enforcers at the Patent and Trademark office have just voted, for the second time, to cancel several Washington Redskins trademarks that contain the term “Redskins” because Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act “prohibits registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.” (The first such decision, in 1999, was overturned on appeal.)

A strong argument can be made that this provision of the Lanham Act itself clearly violates the First Amendment. As UCLA professor and Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh has just argued, trademark registration “should be seen as a form of ‘limited public forum,’ in which the government may impose content-based limits but not viewpoint-based ones. An exclusion of marks that disparage groups while allowing marks that praise those groups strikes me as viewpoint discrimination.”

Courts, however, have yet to adopt this interpretation, making it unclear what implications, if any, the Redskins decision will have on several universities. Stanford abandoned its “Indians” symbol in 1972, but Florida State still maintains its “Seminoles” trademark as does the University of Utah on “Utes,” “Runnin Utes,” “Lady Utes,” as well as the “Circle and Feather” around the letter U. In addition, let us not fail to notice Notre Dame, which has registered trademarks for “Irish,” ”Fighting Irish,” and “Fightin Irish.” Surely there must be some Hibernians somewhere who regard the combative little leprechaun that is one of the protected images as “disparaging.”

Fox News believes that Florida State’s Seminoles and Utah’s Utes may be safe from the speech police because their uses “have been endorsed by the tribes,” but I am not so sure. Utah’s “Circle and Feather,” for example, is not tribe-specific. And can one really believe that the officious Patent and Trademark office that yanked “Redskins” would tell other Native Americans that they have no standing to feel disparaged simply because they themselves are not members of the Seminole or Ute tribes?

Continue reading Is “Tolerance” The New “Diversity”?