Tag Archives: science

Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

Rick Scott.jpg

In the first couple weeks of any survey course in the
principles of economics, students are taught that prices are determined by the
interactions of consumers (demand) and producers (supply). Prices for many
things, such as oil, or of common stocks, constantly change with the frequent
shifts in the willingness of consumers and producers to buy or sell the good or
service in question.

Yet the price of college–tuition fees–seems to be
determined differently. For starters, tuition fees change but once a year, not
constantly. Universities are like restaurants, with “menus” giving prices for a
variety of different offerings, with the menu changing once a year.  For many schools, however, the listed price
is not what economists call an “equilibrium” price–a price equating quantity
demanded with quantity supplied. Rather, thousands are turned away at the
listed price at selective admission universities.  Also, massive price discrimination exists, so
many customers–often a majority–pay less than the stated or sticker price.

Amidst all of this, schools typically charge students the
same regardless of their major. A committee advising Florida Governor Rick
Scott has recommended a move to differential pricing–majors would pay
differing amounts. The goal is partly to entice students into the STEM
disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) on grounds that our
future would be enhanced by having more scientists relative to, say, English
majors or anthropologists. By making STEM tuition fees lower, we will encourage
enrollment expansion in those fields. Ohio University’s Board of Trustees
recently considered (but did not yet adopt) a multiple-price approach, and
other schools are doing so. 

Continue reading Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

How the Colleges Skew U.S. History

American history has been radically transformed on our campuses. Traditional topics are now not only marginalized but “re-visioned” to become more compatible with the dominant race/class/gender paradigm.

In two posts last fall, I took a look at U.S. history offerings at Bowdoin College. The liberal arts college, one of the nation’s finest, long enjoyed a reputation as a training ground of Maine politicians, at both the state and federal level. The staffing of its History Department suggests that the college has abandoned that mission, with the intent to exclude significant portions of the American past. (Two of the department’s five Americanists specialize in U.S. environmental history; the department’s only non-environmental 20th century U.S. historian has a Ph.D. in the history of science.)

The department’s own U.S. offerings featured a heavy course emphasis on Western U.S. history, including a history of California, seemingly odd choices for a school in Maine but a subfield that heavily stresses such
trendy themes as environmental degradation, exploitation of Native Americans, and discrimination against Hispanics and Asians. In the previous semester, the department’s token “traditional” course topic, a class on the Cold War, was taught by the school’s historian of science and featured heavy use of film.

What about the situation at a larger–and more nationally renowned–History Department? To find out, I turned to the fall 2012 offerings at UCLA.

The department’s webpage excitedly announces three new course clusters in which undergraduates can specialize. Two of the topics raise eyebrows: “Gender, Sexuality, Women” (tailored to those, apparently, for whom the department’s more general race/class/gender approach isn’t enough) and “History in Practice,” which seems to invite politicization. “This cluster,” the
department indicates, “aims to provide an organizational footing for the
Department’s commitment to applying history in the service of the larger
community.” The third new cluster is oral history.

At the class level, this semester the UCLA department website lists 16 courses in U.S. history since 1789. No courses deal with the Early Republic or the early 19th century. The only coverage of the Civil War comes in the form of small portions of thematic courses dealing either with race or gender (Slavery: Narrative, Novel, and Film, History of Women in the U.S., 1860-1980).It offers no classes on U.S. military history or U.S. constitutional history. The only standard survey comes in the class dealing with the New Deal, World War II, and the immediate postwar period.

Look what the department emphasizes. A quarter of the classes deal with race. Another two courses focus on ethnicity–including Asian-American cuisine; another two focus on gender. Fifteen or twenty years ago, students might encounter these courses in an ethnic studies department, not a history department at one of the nation’s leading public universities.

Consider, moreover, what students receive from two of the few UCLA courses whose topics, at first glance, appear to be “traditional.” One course, on social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, is hopelessly slanted toward the left. We might expect some treatment of significant right-wing social movements, including the grassroots conservative activists profiled in Rick
Perlstein’s Before the Storm; the conservative women mobilized by Phyllis Schlafly to oppose the ERA; the pro-life activists mobilized by Roe; and perhaps most broadly, the emergence of a powerful grassroots movement of
conservative Christians who played a critical role in American society for the
next three decades.  But these are not covered. Whom does the course profile? African-Americans, Mexican Americans,  Native Americans, “At Large Advocates,” and “Radical Women and Gay Women.”

Continue reading How the Colleges Skew U.S. History

Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’


ongoing controversy over University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus is a
textbook example of how a legitimate scholarly dispute can turn into a
political witch-hunt. Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at Texas’s
flagship campus in Austin, published a peer-reviewed paper in June in the
journal Social Science Research concluding that the adult children of
parents in same-sex relationships fare worse in a number of ways–alcoholism,
depression, drug use, and so forth–than the adult children of parents in
stable heterosexual marriages. Other sociologists have contested both
Regnerus’s findings and his methodology. But instead of challenging the results
of Regnerus’s research via normal scholarly channels–reviews, other scholarly
papers, or conference panels–Regnerus’s opponents have sought to delegitimize
him both personally and as a professional academic. They have attacked his
editors at Social Science Research, and they have goaded the UT-Austin
administration into investigating him for scientific misconduct. They have
fought their battle not in the journals but in the pages and web-pages of Mother
and the Huffington Post. Regnerus, a Catholic convert, has
even been aligned with the Catholic traditionalist group Opus Dei that is every
progressive’s favorite faith-based werewolf. Shades of The Da Vinci Code!

Continue reading Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

The Hunt for Conservative and Liberal Genes




Based on “new findings involving behavioral genetics,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education,
a growing clump of contemporary social scientists agrees with Gilbert
and Sullivan that both liberals and conservatives (but especially
conservatives) are the product of nature, although they seem to find
nature’s production of conservatives more tragic than comic.

Swimming upstream against the strong current of conventional campus
wisdom holding that just about everything controversial –race, sexual
preference, IQ, gender identity and even gender itself — is “socially
constructed,” these behavioral geneticists believe that political
differences are not caused primarily by conflicting ideologies or moral
visions but instead are deeply rooted in the psyche and even the genes.
As one of these scholars put it, “The differences between political left
and right are now being recognized as ‘very deep and psychological,
such that they connect with very basic personality tendencies that don’t
really have anything in particular to do with politics.'” One estimate
“showed that as much as 40 percent of a person’s political orientation
can be explained by genes.”

Continue reading The Hunt for Conservative and Liberal Genes

More Depressing News from Duke

For insight into
the corruption of the modern academy, look no further than Heather MacDonald’s extraordinary article on the
recent controversy at Duke. Two Duke professors, Peter
Arcidiacono and Ken Spenner,
and a graduate student, Esteban Aucejo, produced a paper showing that
African-American students at Duke disproportionately migrate from science and
engineering majors to less challenging majors in the humanities. (Now that the
Supreme Court has granted cert to the Fisher
case, evidence that racial preferences in admissions harms even those who
receive the preferential slots will likely be receiving much more attention.)
The reaction was sadly predictable: outraged “activist” students rallied around
identity politics; race-baiting faculty members displayed their indifference to
the truth; and cowardly administrators seemed terrified of being labeled a
racist. Also unsurprising was the fact that none of these critics challenged
the accuracy of the data that the paper presented.

Continue reading More Depressing News from Duke

What’s Going on Behind the Curtain? Climategate 2.0 and Scientific Integrity

Cross-posted from National Association of Scholars.

Climategate, both 1 and 2, are textbook cases of gross
lapses in professional ethics and scientific malfeasance.  To understand
why, one must first understand what science is and how it is supposed to
operate. Science is the noble pursuit of knowledge through observation, testing
and experimentation.  Scientists attempt to explain, describe and/or
predict the implications of phenomena through the use of the scientific

Continue reading What’s Going on Behind the Curtain? Climategate 2.0 and Scientific Integrity

Harvard Faculty 1, Free Speech 0

Subramanian Swamy .jpgThe Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has done it again. This is the group that effectively drove former Harvard president Lawrence Summers out of office over a 2005 remark of his about possible differences between the sexes that didn’t sit well with hard-line feminists on the Harvard faculty. The FAS voted its “lack of confidence” in Summers’s leadership, and he tendered his resignation in 2006. Last week the FAS maneuvered another forced departure on political grounds. It voted to eliminate two Harvard Summer School courses taught by Subramanian Swamy, a former economics professor at Harvard who now lives in India but who has regularly traveled to Cambridge to teach in the university’s summer school.

Continue reading Harvard Faculty 1, Free Speech 0

About All Those STEM Dropouts…

science_lab_students.jpgThe New York Times proclaimed recently that science educators and others are vitally concerned that high dropout rates of students studying math, science, and engineering (the “STEM” disciplines) will imperil our nation’s technological leadership. There is a shortage of people in these fields, it is argued, and efforts to increase numbers are thwarted by dropout rates that run from 40 to as high as 60 percent (for those originally pre-med majors).

I want to make two points. First, the high dropout rates are not only far from surprising; indeed, they should be expected, and we should rejoice that someone in higher education is trying to maintain standards of academic excellence. Second, for well over half of a century, STEM advocates have cried “shortages of key personnel” and “crisis” when none really existed, showing a lamentable lack of scientific objectivity and intellectual honesty in the process. I fear this may be happening again.

Continue reading About All Those STEM Dropouts…

Another Weird STEM Study

Writing here over a year ago in The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity, I noted that “Sometimes it seems as though the most heavily researched, richly funded area of American science today involves studies of why there aren’t more women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and efforts to induce, recruit, and retain more of them.”

Now, Inside Higher Ed reports in Why They Chose STEM, Microsoft and Harris Interactive, a polling company, have added to the pile by surveying 500 STEM-studying undergraduates across the country about when and why they decided to study STEM. Unsurprisingly, there were no surprises.

The new study largely reinforces what was already known: that good teaching and preparation are key to attracting and keeping students’ interest, said Jane Broom, director of community affairs at Microsoft. “We as a country have to find the political will and make the hard decisions to actually implement what research is telling us,” she said.

Continue reading Another Weird STEM Study

Romance Hinders Women in STEM Courses?

Another day, another bunch of dollars thrown at studies lamenting “the gender gap in science and technology fields.” The most recent comes from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.

From its Executive Summary:

Our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

Continue reading Romance Hinders Women in STEM Courses?

Bothersome News from Overseas

Two noteworthy overseas higher-ed items recently crossed my desk. The first came from Britain, where the coalition government has decided to rework the nation’s science instructional standards. Among the proposed changes: eliminating the requirement that science classes “challenge injustice.” Education Secretary Michael Gove argued that such “irrelevant material” contributes “nothing to helping students deepen their stock of knowledge.”

While it’s not clear why science students should need to learn about challenging injustice, Gove’s move nonetheless attracted criticism on the grounds that it would diminish quality by making science instruction less topically relevant. The chief executive of the Association for Science Education, which describes itself as a “dynamic community of teachers, technicians, and other professionals supporting science education and is the largest subject association in the UK,” said that she “wouldn’t want to lose from the national curriculum . . . the idea that science is developing all the time and that it impinges on our lives.”

If this debate sounds familiar, it should–the inclusion of ideologically charged but pedagogically irrelevant requirements was at the heart of the “dispositions” controversy, when NCATE, a national accrediting organization, proposed requiring that all education programs individually assess whether prospective public schoolteachers had a disposition to “promote social justice.”

Meanwhile, from Australia comes news of a survey claiming that one in six female university students had been raped while in school. The finding is reported without any skepticism, even though buried within the article is the following sentence: “Rarely were the assaults investigated, with only two percent of women taking the matter to police, mostly because they thought it was not serious enough to report.” [emphasis added] Why an average reader should assume that something “not serious enough to report” constituted rape the article doesn’t explore.

It’s not surprising that victims’ rights groups–or most college and university humanities departments–accept such surveys as gospel. Yet for the media–or, much worse, a U.S. administration–to do so is appalling. Assume, for the sake of argument, that an equal number of these alleged sexual assaults occur each year. So, if one in five women is raped in college (which, as Cathy Young pointed out in her recent MTC column, was a claim in the recent OCR letter), that would mean 5 percent of the nation’s college women are raped annually, or around 2.5 percent of all college students are victims of this violent crime each year.

Compare that number to the percentage of citizens subjected to all violent crimes (not just sexual assault) in three of the highest-crime cities in the country, St. Louis (.21 percent), Memphis (.18 percent), and Detroit (.20 percent). The figures cited come from 2009.

Does anyone really believe that the typical college campus–whether in the United States or in Australia–has many times more violent crimes annually than does Detroit or St. Louis? Yet surveys such as the Australian one, or the offering in the OCR letter, are frequently reported by the media without even a hint of skepticism. But if the surveys are true, then clearly we need massive increases in the police presence on college campuses. Somehow, I doubt that the typical humanities department would welcome that result.

New Attempt To Reduce STEM “Diversity” In Industry

Inside Higher Ed reports that a workshop at the University of Washington is attempting to reduce the number of women who work in STEM fields in industry. Neither the IHE article nor the organizers of the workshop put it quite that way, of course, but that nevertheless is clearly the workshop’s purpose. “The organizers of the On-Ramps into Academia workshop taking place Monday and today [May 16 and 17] at the University of Washington,” the article states, are “encouraging and coaching talented and accomplished women to leave their positions in private industry and return to campus.”

On-Ramps into Academia “strives to increase the participation and advancement of women faculty in science and engineering.” Nothing wrong with that (except when it involves preferential treatment in funding, admitting, hiring, promoting, etc., based on sex), but the diversiphiles who permeate higher education, the foundations, and scientific organizations never seem to recognize that “diversity” is zero-sum game. If Harvard gets more blacks or Hispanics, Yale and the state universities get fewer. A woman who decides to pursue a career in chemistry by definition decides not to become a physician or a tax attorney. There’s no way around this zero-sumness: Women who leave industry to go back to academia … leave industry.

“The effort at Washington is notable,” IHE reports,

because it seeks to woo back scientists who may, in turn, serve as role models for younger women about to consider their career options. Some experts on women in science have warned that industry has been attracting talented women away from academe. Many of these women may have left the academic track because of a lack of opportunity, or because they wanted to avoid the insecurity of tenure-seeking while starting a family.

Warning! Warning! Industry woos women! Heads up, academic STEM women! Be on the lookout for corporate raiders offering your women graduates (whom you have so carefully nurtured to be just like you) better working conditions and, who knows? maybe even more money.

Perhaps women students do need “role models” of the same sex to teach them, but aren’t women scientists and engineers who succeed in industry also role models? Would the nation really be better off if there were fewer of them? What sort of role model would they be if they left in droves to return to the academic nest?

In the bad old days one of the common arguments against hiring women is that they would quit their jobs to raise a family. Encouraging them to quit their jobs to return to campus hardly seems like progress.

Another Report on MIT’s Female Faculty by Its Female Faculty

The latest MIT report on the status of its faculty women– earlier ones appeared in 1999 and 2002–finds impressive progress and “an overwhelmingly positive view of MIT,” but the key word in the seemingly endless stream of reports on women in STEM fields, “marginalization,” inevitably pops up as well, this time in reaction to “the incorrect perception that standards of hiring and promotion are lower for women.” These faulty perceptions, the report says, “can erode the confidence of women faculty.”

At the time of the 1999 report, the new report states, “President Vest remarked to some of us that it would be relatively easy to fix resource inequities that arise from marginalization, but more difficult to prevent the marginalization that occurred as women advanced in their careers. This comment turned out to be prescient,” as evidenced by several statements from MIT women that were included and discussed. Typical was the following:

“Undergraduate women ask me how they should deal with their male classmates who tell them that they only got into MIT because of affirmative action.” This comment prompted some women to note that when they win an award or other recognition it is not uncommon for a colleague on the selection committee to say, “it was long overdue that the award be given to a woman,” indicating that gender was a significant factor in the selection. These kinds of statements deprive the awardee of the satisfaction of knowing that it was purely because of respect for her accomplishments that she got the award.

Continue reading Another Report on MIT’s Female Faculty by Its Female Faculty

Do Female Students Need ‘Stereotype Inoculation’?


Are you a female STEM student (or wannabe STEM student) suffering from a stereotype infection? Then, according to new research recently described in Inside Higher Ed (“Inoculation Against Stereotype”), you should take a course from a female instructor to inoculate yourself.

The research, based on a study at U Mass Amherst by Nilanjana Dasgupta, associate professor of psychology  and some graduate students there,
found notable benefits for female students (and for male students as well, though to a lesser degree) to being taught by women — and may point to strategies that would keep more women in STEM fields. The idea behind the research is that certain strategies “inoculate” female students against the sense that they don’t belong or are not likely to succeed in math and science courses.
…. Dasgupta said that the evidence suggests that women who are exposed to women doing math and science successfully end up with “stereotype inoculation” in which they gain confidence. The obvious solution from the new research — which Dasgupta said wasn’t realistic — would be to have only women teach introductory STEM courses.

Continue reading Do Female Students Need ‘Stereotype Inoculation’?

A Footnote to the Anthropology Debate

As noted in my December 1 essay here, Rigoberta’s Revenge, the American Anthropological Association stuck a stick in a hornet’s nest with its recent decision to remove the word “science” from its long range planning document.
Stung by the resulting swarm of criticism, the AAA’s four officer’s have now issued a statement claiming the entire brouhaha is a tempest in a teapot, “amped up by blog headline editors” who have blown a simple editorial change out of all proportion. The critics, in short, simply didn’t understand. When the AAA’s Executive Board “specified, concretized, and enlarged its operational roadmap for investing the Association’s resources towards a sustainable future” (where is the academic prose police when you need it?), it had no intention of restructuring the epistemological foundations of the field.
In my essay I quoted “the amusement” of one the critics at what he called

the irony that a set of cultural anthropologists did not anticipate the power of naming and referencing a particular cultural construction. They did not recognize that the word “science” might be loaded, or come with particular associations? Then why go through the exercise of deleting it?

The AAA’s leaders seem to have taken at least that criticism seriously. “We believe,” their statement says,

that the source of the problem speaks to the power of symbols: we replaced the term “science” in the preface of this planning document by a more specific (and inclusive) list of research domains, while explicitly acknowledging that the Association’s central focus is to promote the production, circulation, and application of anthropological research findings.

Excuse me for interjecting a term often associated with science, but the truth here still seems elusive. Assuming for the sake of argument that “the term ‘science'” is the symbol at issue, was its shaman-like power somehow ignored by the anthropologists on the Executive Board when they unceremoniously tossed it overboard? Or could these anthropologists possibly be contrasting symbols with reality (oops, another hegemonic, western, scientific term)? If so, then what they are saying is that the Executive Board’s critics, also anthropologists, leapt to the erroneous conclusion that a minor editorial decision — deleting what after all is only a word — was symbolic of an attack on science itself.
Perhaps the inability to get to the bottom of this intricate, highly charged tribal controversy reveals the limits of anthropology as a discipline, whether scientific or cultural.

Berkeley’s Genetic Mistake

Freshmen in the University of California Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science will be asked to take part in a novel program designed, it is said, to stimulate discussion of personalized medicine. That kind of medicine–hailed by many in health care as potentially revolutionary–focuses on genetic screening to determine an individual’s susceptibility to various diseases and other medical conditions. The students will be asked to provide a sample of cells from their inner cheek, and those cells will be analyzed for three genes, each bearing on possibly beneficial changes in what they eat and drink.
Organizers of the projects, scientists working on genetics, think that this project will be more stimulating to students than old-fashioned reading, a commonplace for incoming freshmen in the past. I doubt it, and in fact it has the potential for some ethical mischief.
On the surface it looks innocuous enough: the program is voluntary, the information is kept private, the ethics review committee approved it, and it will be followed by lectures and panels on personalized medicine. But the history of screening for genetic diseases and individual genetic variations has been beset with problems, medical and psychological.

Continue reading Berkeley’s Genetic Mistake

Woman’s Work

This piece appeared originally in the June 2010 issue of Liberty
Women can’t get any satisfaction these days. Yet another report, this by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), asks why there are so few women in the STEM professions. (For those outside the education community, this acronym refers to the prestigious disciplines of “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”) The putative exclusion of women from STEM fields is a hot topic in higher education; there is even talk of instituting programs such as the federal law known as Title IX, which expanded college sports to encompass more women.
There are no shades of Larry Summers in the AAUW report. It skirts the possibility that something inherent in women, either their brains or the lifestyle they value, leads them to choose other fields. Instead, the report is all about self-esteem and overcoming bias and low expectations. The chapter on “Beliefs about Intelligence” does not discuss research on intelligence per se, but rather how to overcome the “mindset” that one’s intelligence is not as high as it should be.
Yet, as Susan Pinker commented on the Minding the Campus website in April, women are well-represented in science-related disciplines, at least at the university level. She lists “biology, medicine, dentistry, econology, pharmacology, neuroscience, or veterinary science” as “science programs that were mostly male 40 years ago but are now dominated by women on every university campus.” In fact, AAUW’s colorful charts reveal plainly that more women receive bachelor’s degrees in biology and the biological sciences than do men.
Furthermore, there’s something sinister about this report – or at least it’s out of date: STEM jobs are not all that attractive. The Ohio University economist Richard Vedder suggests that the pressure to push people (of either sex) into STEM smacks of scandal – a retread of the post-Sputnik pressures of the late 1950s, with less justification . STEM fields are not that highly paid (which would be a sign of great demand), he says and “it is not uncommon for science graduates to have trouble getting a job in their field.” Nor does the Bureau of Labor Statistics expect the number of jobs in these fields to grow substantially (in percentage terms, yes, but not in absolute numbers.)
Exactly why STEM has fallen out of favor Vedder doesn’t say. Others, however, have pointed to the international outsourcing of such jobs and to the changing nature of technology, which now automates procedures that previously required highly skilled technicians.
Why don’t we just let women do what they want to do? If that means avoiding some academic fields because they like others better or because they envision a life that is more compatible with being a mother, let them. Isn’t freedom what “women’s liberation” was all about?.

More “Diversity” STEM-Selling

A few weeks ago I discussed The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity, noting that every month or so (or so it seems) a new report appears pointing with alarm to the “underrepresentation” of women or blacks or Hispanics or Aleuts (or usually all of the above) in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, math and outlining STEM-“diversity” steps that must be taken in order to save the nation from destruction by competition in the “new global economy” with those more diverse than we (like the Japanese?).
I’ve written about these reports here, here, and here. I’m venturing down this well-trod path yet again because — you guessed it! — there’s yet another call for increasing diversity, this one from the high-powered duo of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities. “Navigating A Complex Landscape To Foster Greater Faculty and Student Diversity in Higher Education” claims to be “a first-of-its-kind” handbook offering “in-depth, cross-referenced legal resources to help promote effective diversity programs for science faculty and students,” explaining how U.S. universities can “draw more women and underrepresented minorities into science fields to boost economic and security goals—while minimizing any unreasonable legal risks.”
Like all the reports I discussed earlier, this one attempts to answer the question, “Why Is Diversity Important To Science?” (a section of the press release announcing the publication of the handbook), by … repeating the assertion that diversity is important to science.

Continue reading More “Diversity” STEM-Selling

Diversity, Science Faculties, and Circular Reasoning

According to a short news item in Inside Higher Ed today, “The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities have issued a new handbook with detailed legal resources to help colleges recruit and retain faculty members and students in science fields. The handbook notes legal challenges to some forms of affirmative action, but suggests that many practices that promote diversity are on solid legal ground.”
I criticized bean-counting for science faculties in a recent essay for “Minding the Campus”, pointing out both the legal objections and the lack of a policy justification for race-conscious hiring. I’m heartened that the handbook, which will be released later this week, apparently takes the legal issues seriously and may even warn schools away from the worst abuses. But what about the policy justification for striving toward “diversity” in the first place? Well, here’s what the press release for the handbook says, with my comments in brackets:

Continue reading Diversity, Science Faculties, and Circular Reasoning

On Women, STEM and Hidden Bias

If only Carole Carrier and her peers felt more aggrieved, the new report released by the American Association of University Women on women in science would make more sense. On the day the AAUW report was released, Carrier, a 34 year-old mechanical engineer who works part-time, was walking down the street in early spring with her 20 month old son, Luke, and her mother, Anita. They were on their way to see the spring flower display in the municipal greenhouse when we all stopped for a neighborly chat. “I’ve never experienced bias,” said Carrier, her pale eyes registering surprise when I described the gist of the report. Standing on the sidewalk, I summarized its main points: that women avoid going into STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) because hidden cultural signals have persuaded them that women don’t have what it takes to succeed in those fields. The few women who do buck these stereotypes then tend to abandon their career plans due to implicit gender biases and university science programs that make women feel unwelcome. Hence, a ratio of women in physical science and math that won’t budge past 20 percent, and the title of the report,”Why So Few?”
But Carrier, like many female engineers and scientists I’ve spoken to over the past five years, was frankly puzzled about why anyone might see her as a victim. All along she has felt her choices were entirely her own. She always liked math and was encouraged by her parents, especially her father, who also likes numbers, to study Pure and Applied Science. Then she went into a Forestry program, but she switched out of that because “it was too touchy-feely. It was like, is this environment good for squirrels? I needed to go into something where there’s a right answer.” So she transferred into agricultural engineering, and told me she enjoyed it immensely—the university program, as well as the work that came afterwards. So, what about the AAUW’s conclusion that women avoid studying engineering because role models are scarce, and university programs are hostile to women? “Hostile environment? Not at all. We had excellent professors. Many female professors, too.” There were also many other young women in the program, she said, because students could specialize in food or water treatment and most of the women planned to work in the developing world. Not Carole. “From university I went to work at a cement company because of my love of heavy machinery. They have their own open pit mine, and it was fantastic! I loved every minute of it. I loved the work, and the people there. We worked extremely well together. I started out as a mechanical engineer working on reliability issues, then worked on production, then on machinery output.” The company was good at staff development, offering courses and the opportunity to advance, she added, and she “mixed well” with employees, and was well-liked, especially on the shop floor, where she considered other employees’ real life expertise as instructive as her academic training. She even had an octengenarian male mentor. Hers seemed like an unequivocally happy story, so thin on the ground these days.

Continue reading On Women, STEM and Hidden Bias

The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity

Sometimes it seems as though the most heavily researched, richly funded area of American science today involves studies of why there aren’t more women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and efforts to induce, recruit, and retain more of them.
In her article for Minding the Campus, Susan Pinker deftly punctures the omissions and evasions of the most recent such study, the AAUW’s “Why So Few?”, pointing out how that study’s predictable bogeymen of “stereotyping” and “unconscious bias” denigrate the choices many women freely make.
There is nothing new about this attempt (dare one call it patronizing?) to deny and denigrate women’s choices. A generation ago, for example, in its spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to hold Sears, Roebuck responsible for the “underrepresentation” of women in such jobs as installing home heating and cooling systems, (EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck and Co. 628 F. Supp. 1264 (1986), 839 F.2d 302 (1988)), the EEOC submitted testimony from an expert witness (Alice Kessler Harris, a prominent women’s historian) that discrimination was the only possible explanation for such “underrepresentation” because “where opportunity has existed, women have never failed to take the job offered…. Failure to find women in so-called non-traditional jobs can thus only be interpreted as a consequence of employers’ discrimination.”

Continue reading The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity

Identity Politics Beyond Reason

The headline in the East Bay Express a few weeks back probably didn’t surprise people in California, bracing as they have been for funding shortfalls in government services, including education: “Berkeley High May Cut Out Science Labs”. The first few words of the story delivered the distressing news that the School Governance Council had decided “to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them.”
The science labs under review take place before and after school, allowing science teachers in regular periods to devote more time to academic instruction. All students in science classes have to take one of the labs, while AP students take two of them. The results have been impressive. According to this Los Angeles Times story, “In the last school year, 82% of Berkeley’s AP chemistry students passed the rigorous exam, which gives college credit for high school work. The national passing rate is 55.2%. The school’s AP biology and physics students are even more successful.”
Another Golden State fiscal casualty? Not this time. If people read on, they learned the actual reason for the decision, for the Council didn’t plan to kill science labs because of budget problems. They did so because not enough black and Latino students were enrolled in them. Because of a wide achievement gap, a parent representative on the Council explained, “the science labs were largely classes for white students.” As a result, the members of the Council, a body made up of parents, teachers, and students charged with redesigning the very “structure” of the school, voted nearly unanimously to shut down the labs and redirect resources to “struggling students.” The labs are, indeed, open to those low-performing students, but according to this article from the San Francisco Chronicle, they “don’t always attend the extra labs—and ultimately fail the class.” (Curiously, the Chronicle story doesn’ mention a word about the racial achievement gap, while the LA Times highlights the racial side of the story.)

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Another Bad Idea: ”Diversifying” Science Faculties

Should universities weigh race and ethnicity in deciding whom to hire for their science departments?
The American Association for the Advancement of Science thinks so, according to a recent National Journal article. “Science and engineering should look like the rest of the population,” says AAAS’s Daryl Chubin, and if hiring decisions don’t yield the right numbers, “somebody needs to pull the plug and say this has not been an open and fair search.”
Taking steps to ensure that the best possible individuals apply and are hired is fine—indeed, that’s precisely what the whole process should be about. Casting your recruiting net far and wide is a good idea, as is reassessing your recruiting policies to make sure that you are not overlooking good sources of candidates. Reevaluating selection criteria from time to time is, likewise, unobjectionable; if some criteria are weighed too heavily or not heavily enough, with the result that the best individuals are not selected, then that needs to be fixed. And, of course, everyone involved in the selection process, from beginning to end, needs to be told that the best individuals, regardless of skin color or national origin, are to be picked.
But it’s clear that nondiscrimination is exactly what AAAS does not have in mind. The National Journal article says that it wants to “allocate additional slots to U.S. racial and ethnic minorities” and to protect universities from “likely lawsuits by groups seeking color-blind admissions policies.” As the quotes above suggest, it is demanding that schools get their numbers right. It wants quotas, it wants race and ethnicity to be weighed when hiring decisions are made.

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Why Do Humanities Profs Complain?

Spend some time among humanities researchers and it won’t be long before you hear complaints about lack of support. They grumble that while the sciences have countless sources and billions of dollars pouring into their labs and clinics and field work, the humanities have NEH, a smattering of foundations giving fellowships, a handful of humanities centers on campuses around the country, some post-docs that give a year of salary . . . It’s a scramble to get a course reduction, pay for travel to archives, attend a conference to share recent findings, and just clear a few weeks to do nothing but read and write. The money just isn’t there, they say.

What they forget is that every tenured and tenure-track faculty member at a research university is paid every month out of regular salary and benefits to do the very research they claim is unsupported. At schools that emphasize teaching over research, or don’t count research at all, regular teachers have to manage three or four courses per semester. At schools that require research, the teaching duty drops to two courses per semester. Universities expect professors to fill the hours it takes to run those lost one or two courses precisely to research inquiries.

And they pay them accordingly. The customary formula for the humanities at research institutions is one-third, one-third, one-third. In an average week of 40 hours of labor, professors devote 13+ hours to teaching, 13+ hours to administrative service (committee work, writing letters of recommendation, reviewing job candidates, etc.), and 13+ hours to research. On that model, one-third of a professor’s salary and benefits support research. If a professor makes $60,000 a year in gross salary and another $15,000 in benefits, then the university pays $25,000 a year to subsidize research.

If we translate that into the research product, if that $60K-per-year professor spends four years researching and writing a book on the novel, the university paid $100,000 to see it through. This doesn’t include the cost of producing the book once it leaves the professor’s hands–a press editing, publishing, distributing, and marketing the book, plus academic libraries purchasing the book (library purchases make up around 70 percent of unit sales of books in literary studies).

That amounts to a pretty strong network of support for one branch of humanities scholarship.