Tag Archives: women

Why Brilliant Girls Tend to Favor Non-STEM Careers

Do girls avoid STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields because of ongoing, widespread discrimination? Or do girls with the skill sets that would give them entrance to STEM fields prefer fields that involve working with people over fields that involve working with things?

(A note on the correct use of language. Women are justifiably offended when people, especially a man, refers to them as “girls.” I do not do that in this essay. The title of this essay is based on the fact that, as described below, it is skills and interests that develop as girls that lead girls who only later become adult women down different paths that contribute to adult women being less likely to work in STEM).

The go-to explanation for the gender gap in STEM is bias.  Old fashioned sexism, “implicit” (or unconscious) sexism, “obstacles,” stereotypes, and the like.

There are many problems with such explanations, including but not restricted to:

  1. Much of the “evidence” cited in support of discrimination does not actually demonstrate discrimination.  For example, some gender gaps in funding and in graduate admissions have been conclusively shown to result, not from discrimination, but from the fact that women disproportionately apply in more competitive fields.
  2. Some of the “evidence” is correlational (e.g., correlating beliefs with some gap), and is interpreted as causal, without any evidence of causality.
  3. Those making “gaps (do, probably do, likely do) reflect discrimination occurring right now” arguments rarely consider the vast literature identifying alternative explanations for such gaps.  Instead, they tell “compelling narratives” based on historical evidence of discrimination, anecdotes, and cherry-picked studies that actually do demonstrate bias, and they argue (or imply by omission) that those, and only those, studies apply to understanding the gap in question (as if large bodies of literature contesting either the generalizability or even validity of those studies, or putting forward strong evidence for alternative explanations, simply do not exist).

The purpose of this blog entry is not to evaluate whether discrimination against women and girls “exists,” because it surely does under some conditions and in some contexts.  Instead, the purpose is to explore two questions: Is it possible that something other than discrimination is the main source of gender gaps in STEM? And is it possible that scientists cherry-pick evidence to support narratives of bias?

Gender Differences in Interests

Things versus people.  Su et al (2009) performed a meta-analysis of studies including a total of over 500,000 people examining gender differences in interests.  Despite claims that gender differences are typically “small” (Hyde, 2005), Su et al found a gigantic gender difference in interests.  Women preferred working with people, whereas men preferred working with things, a preference that is detectable within the first two days of birth and among our close species relatives, rhesus monkeys!  To be sure, these differences were not absolute.  Not every man prefers working with things and not every woman prefers working with people.  But the effect size was d= .93, and even if you are not familiar with effect sizes, this would make it one of the largest effects in social psychology; it is gigantic.

JUST math skills versus math and verbal skills.  This same issue of differing interests was approached in a different way by Wang, Eccles, and Kenny (2013). Disclosure: Eccles was my dissertation advisor and long-term collaborator; I am pretty sure she identifies as a feminist, has long been committed to combating barriers to women, and is one of the most objective, balanced social scientists I have ever had the pleasure to know.

In a national study of over 1,000 high school students, they found that:

  1. 70 percent more girls than boys had strong math and verbal skills;
  2. Boys were more than twice as likely as girls to have strong math skills but not strong verbal skills;
  3. People (regardless of whether they were male or female) who had only strong math skills as students were more likely to be working in STEM fields at age 33 than were other students;
  4. People (regardless of whether they were male or female) with strong math and verbal skills as students were less likely to be working in STEM fields at age 33 than were those with only strong math skills.

Here are their conclusions, in their own words:

“Results revealed that mathematically capable individuals who also had high verbal skills were less likely to pursue STEM careers than were individuals who had high math skills but moderate verbal skills. One notable finding was that the group with high math and high verbal ability included more females than males…

Our study provides evidence that it is not lack of ability that causes females to pursue non-STEM careers, but rather the greater likelihood that females with high math ability also have high verbal ability and thus can consider a wider range of occupations than their male peers with high math ability, who are more likely to have moderate verbal ability.”

To be clear, neither Wang et al nor I am arguing this is the only reason for the gap in STEM; and neither Wang et al nor I have argued that there are no biases against girls and women. Nonetheless, it is also worth noting that the words “bias,” “discrimination,” and “obstacle(s)” do not appear anywhere in their article.  “Sexism” also appears nowhere in their text, though it does appear in one of their references.

The Numbers

The Council of Graduate Schools puts out regular reports, such as this one, that includes the gender distribution in various fields.

Lo and behold, there is no “pervasive evidence of” a gender gap in graduate enrollments, though there is a gap in some STEM fields. Completely consistent with the work by Su et al and by Wang et al, in nearly all fields that are about people, not only is there no gap disadvantaging women, there are actually more women than men! (Healtheducation, social and behavioral sciences, public administration, arts and humanities, and even biological sciences).  The same report found that, overall, across all fields, the “gap” is in the “wrong” direction: 57 percent of enrollees in graduate programs are women.

Even if there is discrimination against women in these fields, it is not preventing women from entering those fields in droves. (Indeed, the logic of “gap = discrimination”—a logic I have repeatedly rejected but which runs rampant throughout the social sciences and general public—would have us believe there is widespread discrimination against men in most fields now).

Furthermore, this pattern is completely consistent with the idea that girls and women have different interests (Su et al) and skills (Wang et al) that lead them to prefer non-STEM careers.

There Is Bias!

Surely girls and women have, historically, been discriminated against in such fields.  But discrimination in 1950 or 1970 does not constitute evidence of ongoing discrimination.  Furthermore, the evidence that girls and women prefer non-STEM fields is not an argument to avoid combating sexist discrimination where it can still be found.  Nonetheless, the list of social science victim2 groups is so long, that, most likely, almost all of us have been the target of discrimination or hostility at some point in our lives, rendering the question of whether some groups are more victimized than others muddier than it seems.

However equivocal the evidence for “bias” in the present may be an explanation for the gender gap in STEM fields, there is ample evidence of bias. Scientific bias! Social scientists clearly “prefer” bias explanations over other, deeply important, scientifically rigorous, social developmental evidence, such as that offered by Su et al and Wang et al.  This table reveals just how extreme this bias is:

The key entry here is the citation counts in the far right.  The Moss-Racusin study is, by conventional standards, the weakest of the studies.  Its sample size is a fraction of that of the others.  It studies a relatively minor situation (hiring lab managers).  It was a single study (Su et al is a meta-analysis of scores of studies; Williams and Ceci reported five separate studies).  In contrast to Wang et al, it only studied an event at a single time point; it did not follow people’s career trajectories.

This does not make Moss-Racusin et al a “bad” study; it is merely weaker on virtually all important scientific grounds than the others.  This is not to argue that the other studies are “perfect,” either; all studies have imperfections.  But by conventional scientific standards, Su et al’s meta-analysis, the replications in Williams and Ceci, the longitudinal Wang et al study, and the far larger sample sizes in all three mean that, on most scientific methodological standards, they are superior to the Moss-Racusin et al study.

And yet, look at the citation counts.  Others are citing the Moss-Racusin et al study out the wazoo. Now, Wang et al and Williams and Ceci came out later, so probably the most useful column is the last.  Since 2015, the weaker Moss-Racusin study has been cited 50% more often than the other three combined!  That means there are probably more papers citing the Moss-Racusin et al study and completely ignoring the other three than there are papers citing even one of the other three! What kind of “science” are we, that so many “scientists” can get away with so systematically ignoring relevant data in our scientific journals?

(Again, this does not make the Moss-Racusin study “bad.” The bias here reflects a far broader field problem, it does not constitute a weakness in the paper itself).

And that, gentle reader, is a gigantic scientific bias.  It might even be beyond bias. Some might call it an “obsession” with discrimination and bias so severe that it is blinding many in our field to major findings regarding gender differences that contribute to preferences for different types of fields.

If this analysis has any validity, the societal push to equalize gender distributions may be deeply dysfunctional, because it can succeed only by having the perverse effect of pushing people into fields they do not prefer. Of course, on moral grounds, we want to ensure that all people have equal opportunities to enter any particular career.  But if there are bona fide gender differences in preferences and interests, equal opportunities may never translate into equal outcomes.

Reprinted from Psychology Today, courtesy of Lee Jussim.

Wendy Murphy Comes to the University of Virginia

The Office of Civil Rights’ mandated procedures for
investigating sexual assault are tilted heavily against the accused party. The
institution can
hire “neutral fact-finders” who produce the equivalent of a
grand jury presentment, deny the accused an advisor of his choice, add
witnesses that the accused student does not request, forbid the students from
cross-examining his witnesses, and judge the student according to a 50.00001
percent preponderance of evidence standard, an approach that mocks even the
pretense of due process.

It is remarkable, then, that one such accused student at
the University of Virginia was exonerated of the charges brought against him.
Unfortunately, what happened next was unsurprising.

The accuser hired an outside attorney–none other than controversial
victims’ rights lawyer Wendy Murphy–and filed a complaint with the Office of
Civil Rights. Murphy’s argument, as expressed to c-ville.com, comes close to
saying that a failure to convict amounts to an OCR violation. “The preponderance standard is simple,”
she told the newspaper. “When her accusations are deemed credible, and his
denials are not described with the same glowing terminology, she wins.” But
under the UVA system, the investigators (serving as the equivalent of a grand
jury) have the authority to deem an accuser’s claims “credible.”
For the
OCR even to consider such an absurd claim would be highly problematic.

The second disturbing element of this story comes from
the article itself. Penned by Graelyn Brashear, the article often appears as
little more than a press release for Murphy. Even though the accuser publicly
reiterated her allegations through a posting on Murphy’s facebook page–which
Brashear notes, was “widely
circulated among students,” c-ville.com kept her identity secret.

Nor does Brashear
inform her readers about what the UVA procedure actually entails. Beyond
referencing the shift toward a preponderance of evidence standard (which the
reporter comes close to celebrating, describing universities lacking the
standard as “holdout schools,” even as she notes concerns from FIRE and the
AAUP), Brashear doesn’t reveal that accused students can’t have an attorney
cross-examining witnesses, that the university considers the equivalent of a
grand jury or the police as “neutral,” or that the university is willing to
abandon even a circumscribed right to cross examine regarding some witness
statements. Given that most people outside the academy (indeed, most academics)
have little knowledge about the details of campus due process, it seems likely
that readers of Brashear’s article came away with the belief that the campus
judicial system resembles not the Kafka-like system envisioned by the OCR but
instead the Law and Order rules that
most citizens at least somewhat understand.

Most troubling, here’s how
Brashear described Murphy: “Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New
England School of Law and a frequent media commentator on issues of women’s
rights, has a reputation as a firebrand. ‘I’m an activist with my feet in the
courts,’ she said. Her battle cry is blunt: ‘The law is designed to facilitate
and perpetuate violence against women and children,’ she said.”

Virginia is a member of the ACC, and, of course, Murphy
has some experience with handling allegations of sexual assault at an ACC
school. In the Duke lacrosse case, the ubiquitous media commentator repeatedly
made false statements of fact about the case (nearly 20 of them in 2006 alone)
coupled with myriad unsubstantiated claims and bizarre interpretations of law.
These statements weren’t made in secret–and they received widespread attention,
including from the American Journalism
Review
.

Yet Brashear mentions none of this, and instead treats
Murphy as a wholly credible figure. Imagine, for instance, if the intro
paragraph had at least acknowledged that Murphy had a record of playing fast
and loose with the truth on claims of campus sexual assault: “Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the
New England School of Law and a frequent media commentator on issues of women’s
rights, has a reputation as a firebrand, although in at least one high-profile
campus matter, the Duke lacrosse case, she repeatedly misstated both factual
items and questions of law, always in such a way that favored the accuser in
that case.”

Such a portrayal, it seems,
isn’t what cville.com thinks its readers should receive.

Title IX: Not About Discrimination

Imagine
a hypothetical gourmet grocery store chain — let’s call it Wholly Wholesome
Foods — that serves haute cuisine specialties at sushi/deli/lunch counters only
in its stores located in upscale neighborhoods. Now imagine the long zealous
arm of federal, state, and local enforcers accusing WhoWhoFoo of discriminating
against inner city residents and forcing it to open its lunch counters in all
of its stores, even those located in areas where extensive and intensive
studies have shown there is no unsatisfied desire to pony up for counter
service for WhoWhoFoo’s fancy foods.

Anyone
who thinks my hypothetical is too far-fetched need look no farther than America’s
college campuses to confirm that it isn’t a hypothetical at all. It’s been
happening in real life (or the college campus version of real life) for years
in ongoing disputes over implementing Title IX’s
requirement
that “athletic programs are operated in a manner that is
free from discrimination on the basis of sex.” 

The
central, unresolved conundrum of Title IX, as with so many controversial civil
rights issues, is lack of consensus over the definition and meaning of the “discrimination”
from which these programs must be free. Do colleges discriminate against women
by not offering sports programs in which few women are interested? Does “equal
opportunity” require eliminating programs in which men are interested in order
to have an equal number of programs available to men and women?

A few days ago Inside Higher Ed
published yet another report
of Title IX supporters reacting in outrage to yet another new study
arguing that “it may be a mistake to base Title IX implementation on the
assumption that males and females have, or soon will have, generally equal
sports interest.” Title IX activists reply, in effect, so what? Thus Erin
Buzuvis, a law professor at Western New England University who runs the Title IX Blog,
wonders,


why
are we surprised, in a world where there’s still sex discrimination, that women’s
participation in sport is lower than men’s? Women have inferior opportunities
and they have to do so against the cultural grain…. It doesn’t say anything at
all about what interest levels would be there absent discrimination and absent
these strong cultural forces.

 

In
any event, claims Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a law professor at Florida Coastal
School of Law, colleges can remain in compliance “by demonstrating that the
interests and abilities have been fully accommodated by the present program and
there is no unmet demand (via student surveys and such).”

Hogshead-Makar’s
claim is at best disingenuous, since Title IX proponents always ferociously
attack any attempt to measure women’s interest in college sports offerings as,
in the words of a senior executive at the NCAA quoted
by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2007, “contrived to show that females
are not interested in participation.” Similarly, in a 2010 Inside Higher Ed article,
Marcia
Greenberger
, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law
Center, denounced interest surveys as “simply an underhanded way to weaken
Title IX and make it easy for schools that aren’t interested in providing equal
opportunity for women to skirt the law.”

That
Title IX activists aren’t actually opposing discrimination was nicely revealed
by Myles Brand, the late president of the NCAA. No survey, he said in the same
Inside Higher Ed article, could adequately measure women’s interest, “nor does
it encourage young women to participate.” If that’s what Title IX is about,
then the purpose of Title II‘s
requirement of equal, non-discriminatory access to public accommodations must
have been to encourage more blacks to sleep in hotels and buy ham sandwiches at
lunch counters.

Title
IX, in short, has nothing to do with ending discrimination. Like so much of
what passes for civil rights these days, it is all about promoting “equity,”
i.e., proportional representation in college sports, whether or not the
interests of men and women students is proportional.

Why Are There Still Preferences for Women?

Using federal statistics, Laura Norén has prepared a series of graphics showing gender distribution among recent recipients of undergraduate, M.A., and Ph.D./professional degrees. The charts are visually striking, especially since all three sets of charts show movement in an identical direction. According to Norén, by 2020, women are projected to earn 61 percent of all M.A. degrees and 58 percent of all B.A. degrees—figures far above the percentage of women in the total population. There’s no indication that this trend will reverse anytime soon.

The Norén chart reminded me of figures revealed in CUNY’s recent faculty “diversity” report. As I previously noted at Minding the Campus, the demographic breakdown of CUNY’s faculty (and there’s no reason to believe that CUNY’s figures differ from those at most major public institutions) has shown a similar progression.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of women increased from 42 to 47 percent of the all CUNY faculty. (The total had risen five percent in the previous decade, as well.) Because of the nature of tenure—only a small percentage of faculty positions come open every year—a five percent overall gain in a decade suggests disproportionate figures in hiring. And, indeed, that was the case—while the CUNY diversity report only broke down gender-hiring patterns for a couple of years in the decade, in 2005, the most recent year for which data was available, 55.5 percent of the new hires were women. If current patterns hold, women will be the majority of CUNY faculty in 2020 and be nearing the 60 percent mark by 2030.

There’s nothing necessarily troubling with these patterns in and of themselves. Undoubtedly the growing numbers of female students—and female faculty members—in part reflect the broader opening of higher education toward women that has occurred since the 1960s. And in a nation where women form 50.8 percent of the population, a fair-minded campus admissions and hiring process could easily yield majority-female enrollment or hires.

Yet these statistics do raise profound, and troubling questions about the nature of campus race/ethnicity/gender “diversity” programs. If women are the substantial majority of students at all levels, and increasingly emerge as the majority of faculty members, what possible rationale could exist for programs, of any type, that grant gender-based preferences to women? Regarding the student population, at least, and the faculty population in the near future, women are no longer an underrepresented minority. To my knowledge, however, no university anywhere in the country has modified either its admissions or its personnel policies to take into account statistics such as those graphed by Norén.

Take, for instance, the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies. The policies include such banalities as a requirement that “university publications relating to employment . . . include articles covering the University’s affirmative action programs, including progress reports and employment data on minorities and women. Pictures will include minorities and women.”

But other requirements are more direct. “Special attention will be given,” according the guidelines,“to extending and strengthening efforts to increase the number of women” in faculty positions. “Recruitment practices will focus on creating a feeling[emphasis added] conducive to attracting minorities and women.” And faculty search committees “will utilize methods which are most likely to result in the inclusion of qualified minorities and women in the applicant pool.” Such requirements might once have been needed. But in an academy in which women are moving toward majority status?

Despite all of these policies, moreover, the university preposterously maintains that “Applicants for employment are considered and placed without regard to . . . sex.” And with federal courts clearly in mind, the guidelines add that goals and timetables for hiring more women at Michigan “are not to be construed or used as a quota system.”

There’s nothing particularly unusual about Michigan’s policies, just as there was nothing unusual about CUNY’s faculty hiring data; such patterns are common throughout higher education. And there’s no reason to believe that any statistics will lead to these policies being repealed.

Norén’s chart unintentionally highlights a point made in several of the Fisher briefs: that it’s entirely possible that even outright quotas might lead to a fairer higher education system than our ever-shifting “goals and timetables,” which can easily be shielded from transparency.

“Diversity” and the Gender Gap in Economics

Both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education have articles this morning about a new survey of Economics PhDs that finds a dramatic gender gap on policy questions.  Among the findings, women economists are:

  • 20% more likely than men to disagree with the notion that the United States has too much government regulation;
  • 24% more likely than men to believe that the size of the U.S. government is either “too small” or “much too small”;
  • 41% more likely than men to favor a more progressive tax structure.

The Chronicle article is tendentiously titled “Gender Gap in Economics Shows Analyses Aren’t Objective,” but nothing in the article or the survey’s press release linked above supports that conclusion. Do “objective” analyses always agree? Did the 78 male and 65 female economists who responded to the survey receive similar training — for example, did they attend more or less marked-oriented Phd programs in the same numbers? As the Chronicle noted, the survey’s lead author, Ann Mari May, professor of economics at the University of Nebraska, is executive vice president and treasurer of the International Association for Feminist Economists. Is feminist economics objective, or is no economics objective?

According to Prof. May, the results “showed little gender disparity on matters of theory and methodology. But when you get to policy questions in economics,” she said, “then you’re sort of heading into an area where people might have different experiences that lead them to see different things in the data.”

Prof. May is not at all reticent about proclaiming her own conclusions about the lessons her research teaches.

Women accounted for about 35 percent of doctorates in economics awarded by U.S. universities in 2010, up from 27 percent in 2000, Ms. May said. “If we learned anything from this study,” she said, “it’s the importance of making sure that you have diverse viewpoints at the table when you’re debating these things amongst experts.”

That’s a pretty big “if.” If Prof. May is to be believed, for starters, a male might well see “different things” in her data. If it’s true that women economists are nearly 25% more likely than men to believe the size of the U.S. government is “too small” or “much too small,” for example, some would no doubt argue that there are far too many women economists.

If more women economists are needed “at the table” (what table is that, other than the voting booth?) when “these things” are being debated “amongst experts,” then surely economics departments should make concerted (though no doubt “holistic”) efforts to recruit and produce more women PhDs, no? But if “diverse viewpoints” are the goal, why rely on a weak proxy like gender? Why not just recruit and produce by viewpoint quota?

The question of whether or not we (whoever “we” are) need more women economists sitting around the proverbial table, like the question  of the proper size of the U.S. government or the degree of progressivity of the tax code, has no objectively (or should that be “objectively”?) correct answer, and it is nothing more than academic hubris to think that the views of scholarly “experts” who tend these fields deserve special deference on policy questions.

When the questions on the table address policy choices freighted with politics, values, ideology, rather than assigning seats to economists based on gender (or race or ethnicity) I would prefer to have no economists at all.

Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

virginia college.jpg

Why is it admirable to “target” women and minorities for some educational programs but a violation of federal civil right laws to “target” them in others?          

That’s the question that must be asked about a federal lawsuit filed by seven Mississippi women, five of them African-American, against for-profit Virginia College, a chain of 25 for-profit campuses in the Southeast.  All seven women used federal student loans at the college’s Jackson, Mississippi, campus to obtain degrees in such fields as medical assisting and phlebotomy. Their complaint against Virginia and its parent company, Educational Corp. of America, says those degrees are now worthless. It charges fraud and breach of contract along with other wrongdoing, and faults the college for pitching its advertising and recruitment to blacks and women.

Continue reading Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

Science Quotas for Women–A White House Goal

When college women study science, they tend to
gravitate toward biologyabout 58 percent of all bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral
degrees in biology
 go
to women
.
 In contrast, women earn some 17
percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science and just over
40
 percent
of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences and mathematics.
The likely
reason for this, found in the study The Mathematics of Sex” (2009) by Cornell
psychologists Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, is that women tend to be
 drawn to
“organic” fields involving people and living things, whereas men are
 more interested in
the objects and abstractions that are the focus of STEM
 majors. Aversion to
math plays a role too: a University of Bristol study finds
 that biologists tend
not to pay attention to scholarly articles in their field
 that are packed with
mathematical
 equations.

Yet the Obama administration sticks
closely to the hard-line feminist argument that 
the problem is bias: women are somehow being
denied access to STEM courses. On June 20 the White House announced that it would issue guidelines expanding the scope of Title
IX
 to cover science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Continue reading Science Quotas for Women–A White House Goal

Nora Ephron’s Commencement Talk at Wellesley, 1996

Nora Ephron.jpgPresident Walsh, trustees, faculty, friends, noble parents…and dear class of 1996, I am so proud of you. Thank you for asking me to speak to you today. I had a wonderful time trying to imagine who had been ahead of me on the list and had said no; I was positive you’d have to have gone to Martha Stewart first. And I meant to call her to see what she would have said, but I forgot. She would probably be up here telling you how to turn your lovely black robes into tents. I will try to be at least as helpful, if not quite as specific as that.

I’m very conscious of how easy it is to let people down on a day like
this, because I remember my own graduation from Wellesley very, very
well, I am sorry to say. The speaker was Santha Rama Rau who was a woman
writer, and I was going to be a woman writer. And in fact, I had spent
four years at Wellesley going to lectures by women writers hoping that I
would be the beneficiary of some terrific secret–which I never was.
And now here I was at graduation, under these very trees, absolutely
terrified. Something was over. Something safe and protected. And
something else was about to begin. I was heading off to New York and I
was sure that I would live there forever and never meet anyone and end
up dying one of those New York deaths where no one even notices you’re
missing until the smell drifts into the hallway weeks later. And I sat
here thinking, “OK, Santha, this is my last chance for a really terrific
secret, lay it on me,” and she spoke about the need to place friendship
over love of country, which I must tell you had never crossed my mind
one way or the other.

Continue reading Nora Ephron’s Commencement Talk at Wellesley, 1996

Yale Abandons All Pretense of Due Process

Yale and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights recently announced a settlement of a Title IX complaint brought by several Yale students alleging a “hostile environment” on the campus toward women. (The idea that any contemporary Ivy League campus is hostile to women is nothing short of preposterous.) The settlement’s terms included the following binding commitments from Yale:

Continue reading Yale Abandons All Pretense of Due Process

Affirmative Action, the Bishops and Women’s Colleges

Affirmative Action, the Bishops and Women's Colleges.jpgHere’s something to think about when debating the position of the Catholic bishops on religious liberty and contraception: all-women colleges are allowed under Federal law to discriminate against men in admissions, at least on the undergraduate level. Because they are private, these colleges are free under the law to design their mission (the education of women) and their undergraduate admissions system (no men) their own way.

Until the 1970s, Wellesley College, where I teach, had several graduate programs in the sciences (and in other fields before that).Then federal law dictated that graduate programs in both private and public institutions could not discriminate on the basis of sex. Rather than admit men into those formal degree programs, Wellesley dropped its graduate program. This may be a special case, but it suggests one of the most precious freedoms in a democratic and pluralistic society, namely, the right of private educational institutions to preserve a space for their own design about how to educate their central mission.

Continue reading Affirmative Action, the Bishops and Women’s Colleges

A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

kathleen_sebelius.jpgKathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is scheduled to speak Friday at a Georgetown University commencement event, setting off protests among Catholics and others who believe the Obamacare mandate violates religious liberty. So far, some 25,000 people have signed petitions asking for the invitation to be withdrawn. On campus, the reaction seems more tepid: only 9 of the 1500-plus faculty members and just 3 of the 55 resident Jesuits are known to have joined the protest.

For President Obama, the speech sets up a likely win-win outcome:
dispatching a nominal Catholic to a nominally Catholic university that
yearns to be secular (the question, “Is Georgetown still a Catholic
university?” has been asked since the mid-60s) either provokes an angry
response that would fit the “war against women” scenario, or a trifling
one demonstrating that the Catholic bishops have bluster, but few troops
behind them, even on a Jesuit campus.

Continue reading A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

The New VAWA–A Threat to College Students

Cross-posted from Open Market.

Provisions are being added to the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that could undermine due process on campus and in criminal cases, as civil liberties groups like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and civil libertarians like former ACLU board member Wendy Kaminer have noted. The changes are contained in a reauthorization of the Act that is likely to pass the Senate over objections from some Republican senators like Charles Grassley of Iowa, who has also objected to the lack of safeguards against fraud in the law and the misuse of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. (Even if the Senate’s reauthorization does not pass the House, programs set up by the 1994 law will continue to operate.)

Continue reading The New VAWA–A Threat to College Students

The White Male Shortage on Campus

animal-house.jpgSoviet ideologues were famous for adjusting Marxism to the zigs and zags of history, but they were pikers compared to today’s campus affirmative-action apparatchiks. The latest installment from university diversicrats is–ready for this–affirmative action for men, not black or Hispanic men, but white men (see here and here and especially here). Allan Bakke, come back, all is forgiven!

More is involved than the usual “fairness” via biological quota. The financial stakes are huge. Compared to women, white men disproportionally gravitate to wealth-generating fields–business, engineering and the sciences. This predilection will be no small matter in a few decades, and universities are justifiably nervous as the pool of future rich donors shrinks vis-a-vis those who majored in French literature.

What explains this male flight? Let me speculate a bit and offer a reason that dare not speak its name in today’s PC climate: universities are increasingly becoming feminized and many men, to use the anti-discrimination vocabulary, loathe a hostile working environment. In a word, males increasingly feel emasculated in today’s universities. Yes, being outnumbered by women may fuel certain male adolescent fantasies, but believe it or not, a young male who visits a school dominated by women will suddenly have second thoughts about predatory opportunities.

Feminization is most apparent in how schools now combat “boyish behavior.” The movie Animal House depicts this behavior perfectly–drunken frat parties, stupid pranks, clumsy intoxicated sexual aggression, coarse scatological language and countless other crude behaviors celebrating adolescent masculinity. It is not that these behaviors are condemned (and we can all agree that extreme versions deserve punishment). Rather, it is the form of the punishment that is anti-male. Miscreants are often social-worked, and for many young males, therapeutic punishment, complete with public confessions of dubious offenses, is a near-death experience. Imagine Bluto (the Animal House “hero” who famously said, “Grab a brew. Don’t cost nothing”) suffering the obligatory freshperson lectures given by a feminist counselor on non-alcoholic alternatives to beer and on the need for informed consent in all “intimate encounters, including same-sex ones.” Not even the mighty Bluto could survive being told that his manliness is merely socially constructed.

Support Services for Hetero Males?

Antagonism toward fraternities is the most visible outcropping of campus feminization. Recall the disastrous faculty-led imbroglio over the Duke Lacrosse team. What happened at Duke could probably happen almost anywhere given today’s faculty.

Further, add the abolition of male-dominated sports such as wrestling, while adding women’s teams, regardless of demand, in sports like rowing, to satisfy Title IX requirements. And don’t forget all the attention lavished on Women Studies Programs, everything from academic majors to expensive conferences and hefty speaker fees. And where are the support services for heterosexual males? Try putting Playboy in a college bookstore or decorating a dorm room with female pin-ups. These problems are almost inconceivable if the magazines in question were Out or the Advocate, two leading male homosexual magazines. Indeed, a student–let alone a Christian group–protesting gay magazines and homoerotic pin-ups would certainly risk being disciplined for impermissible hostility (and those complaining about Playboy may even benefit from this socially sanctioned outrage).

Underlying this public emasculation is a deeper, less visible faculty-led war on maleness that is currently concentrated in the humanities and social sciences but may well spread into the “hard” disciplines. (For the record, “feminine” and “masculine” here do not exactly correspond to biology. This is about psychology not anatomy. I know “male” female academics that drive their female colleagues crazy with their “male” mentality.)

Guys-Hanging-Out.jpgThis difference is about how to find truth. For males (and again keep in mind the non-overlap with biology), truth is discovered as follows. First, it is axiomatic that a single objective truth exists and this drives inquiry. Second, social niceties are subordinated to truth-seeking and uncivil, upsetting behaviors like sarcasm are therefore tolerable. Emotional feelings about what is right or wrong are irrelevant. Thomas Sowell once told me that he would never return to the classroom since he did not want to hear, “I feel….” Indeed, many males relish the verbal jousting and put-downs and these do not undermine personal friendship. Third, not all views are worth hearing and those wasting time will be forcefully and brusquely cut-off. Those able to marshal hard evidence prevail. In a nutshell, male truth-seeking is authoritarian.

By contrast, the feminine approach will stress social etiquette–woe to those who interrupts the speaker with, “there’s no hard evidence for that, so let’s move on.” And unlike a male-dominated discussion, everyone, regardless of background and expertise, is permitted to “share” their views and then is thanked for sharing. Consensus-building is central and those rejecting harmony will be castigated as disruptive. Personal relationship often shape discussions–one never disputes friends even if one sharply disagrees and being attacked, no matter how mild, can destroy a friendship. Needless to say, everybody taking a turn to speak can make for long, rambling meetings.

No Eyeball-Rolling–Niceness Counts

To make this concrete, consider a stereotypical male (a nerdy “John”) in a small liberal arts college enrolled in Economics 101 whose instructor (a knowledge facilitator, not a sage on stage) embodies the feminine approach. John wants to learn economics to become rich. The class begins with the instructor explaining that contemporary statistics-heavy economics is only one way of knowing, and this class will focus on alternatives to conventional knowledge. Moreover, there will be group projects to discover ways of making society more just by equalizing wealth and the group project will count for 50% of the final grade. The first two class periods are spent asking each student to explain what he or she hopes to learn plus their opinions on economic inequality. Nobody is criticized or told to stop talking, regardless of factual errors.

Matters go badly for John. The instructor repeatedly chides him for belittling the ideas of others by rolling his eyes and making facial expressions of disbelief. His insistence on finding a single best possible solution to an economic problem becomes repetitive to the point where the instructor suggests that he seek help at the school’s counseling center to manage his anger. John’s recourse to statistical data is interpreted as just showing off. By the third week is he no longer blurting out “What about trade-offs and opportunity costs?,” since nobody pays attention. He discovers that the Internet offers multiple sites explaining economics, he finds a nerdy on-line discussion group, stops attending class and eventually drops out.

Thanks to his Internet contacts, John joins a small start-up and three years later patents a program to detect lying on the Web. It is widely licensed and John is an instant multi-millionaire. Though rich as Croesus he never sends a nickel to his “alma mater.”

This depiction is, of course, an exaggeration but not by much. And this anti-male atmosphere will probably escalate as fewer and fewer males even apply. Meanwhile, those males who do attend and graduate will probably be ghettoized in such traditionally male fields as business, engineering and the sciences (and one wonders how long these majors will survive outside of major universities).

Reversing this pattern, assuming that gender equality is a problem requiring a solution, will be exceedingly difficult. The traditional affirmative solution of lower admission standards to achieve diversity is politically risky. What judge will rule that today’s complex diverse world economy requires students to learn how to interact with white males?

It is equally hard to imagine universities attracting more white males by making the campus more white-male friendly. Will Deans subsidize a fraternity as a “while-male theme house” or sponsor beer-blast toga parties to achieve a critical mass of white males to lessen their social isolation? (But Brandeis did make a faint attempt to attract more males: it gave free baseball caps to the first 500 males who applied.).

Make no mistake–the numbers are indisputable but the source of the problem is unspeakable. No university wants to admit that sex differences are real and often intractable. Men and women are not interchangeable and as many (but not all) women feel uncomfortable in an uber-macho setting, many males (but not all) similarly reject an environment dominated by female values.

The AAUW–More Manipulation by Survey

The American Association of University Women, the voice of hard-line campus feminism, published a survey today showing that 48 percent of American 7th to 12th graders were sexually harassed during the last school year, with 87 percent of those harassed suffering negative effects such as absenteeism, poor sleep and stomach aches. These are alarming numbers, but then, the AAUW specializes in quite high, quite alarming numbers, which are typically left unexamined by the journalists who report them.

Continue reading The AAUW–More Manipulation by Survey

The Chilly World of the Campus Male

male-college-students.jpgMales are keenly aware that when they go to college they are entering a hostile environment. Freshman orientation alone has had a distinctively anti-male cast for years: heavy emphasis on date rape, stalking, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual harassment amount to an unmistakable message that males are patriarchal oppressors and potential sex criminals. The lesson is quickly taught: only women are vulnerable, and men are the cause of their vulnerability. At one elite university, at least, the first thing a female freshman gets from the administration is a whistle to blow in the event that a rape-minded male accosts her. The freshman male is likely to acquire a new feeling about himself: he is the designated potential perpetrator until proven innocent.

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A Riposte

In his comment on my Sept. 19 essay, “The Feminist War Against Fraternities,” Duke Cheston has abandoned the argument he made in a Sept. 13 essay for the Pope Canter that college fraternities are incubators of rape–and hence should be abolished. Indeed, he quotes with approval from Heather Mac Donald’s “The Campus Rape Myth,” her 2008 article for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal in which she effectively demolished the assumption–dear to the hearts of feminists–that rape is widespread on college campuses in the first place. Mac Donald dug behind that oft-repeated Women’s Center statistic–that one out of every four college women becomes a rape or attempted-rape victim by the time she reaches age 25–and discovered that it was based on a single faulty study commissioned by Ms. magazine in 1987 whose lead researcher had simply concluded on her own that certain kinds of sexual encounters reported to her by her female informants constituted rape. Some 42 percent of those supposed victims went on to have sex again with their supposed assailants. It goes without saying, then, that there can’t be too many rapes committed by fraternity men–because there aren’t too many rapes (as defined in the criminal legal system) committed by college men, period.

Continue reading A Riposte

The Feminist War on Fraternities

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The Pope Center’s Duke Cheston has issued what is essentially a call for the abolition of college fraternities, adding a conservative battle cry to a war which hitherto has been largely waged by liberals: feminists, political correctness-besotted campus administrators, and, lately, the Obama administration’s Education Department. In an essay for the Pope Center’s website he wrote: “For the sake of students…colleges should find a way to drastically change fraternity culture–and soon–or get rid of them.” Cheston argues that fraternities, widely regarded as incubuators of binge drinking and–at least in the minds of some feminists (and, apparently Cheston himself)–a campus culture of rape. Citing an incident in which a college friend had shrugged off an alleged rape committed by one of the friend’s fraternity brothers, Cheston wrote: “joining a fraternity had encouraged my friend to think that rape wasn’t that bad.”

Cheston also links to an op-ed article I wrote in June for the Los Angeles Times in which I decried a “scorched-earth war against college fraternities” that I said threatened the freedom of speech and association, not just of members of Greek societies but of all college students. “Left out of Allen’s analysis, however,” Cheston wrote, “is the question of whether or not fraternities are a net positive influence on students.”

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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?

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.

Quarantining the PC Pathology

ant.jpgLet’s face it, our noble efforts to detoxify today’s PC-infected university have largely failed and the future looks bleak. This is not to say that the problem is incurable–though it is–but it calls for a solution different from the current approach.  Here’s how.

Begin by recognizing that all our proposed cures impose heavy burdens on foes. For example, demanding an ideologically balanced faculty means fewer positions for PC zealots to fill. Asking them to abandon anti-Americanism requires revising lectures and reading assignment, no small task for those working 24/7 for social justice. And the assignment may be beyond their intellectual abilities. Why should tenured radicals surrender life-time employment to prevent professorial abuses? In a nutshell, our side insists on painful reform from within, all of which have zero benefits to the PC crowd. Victory requires measures that appear as net benefits, not bitter medicine.

My solution arrived one day in a casual conversation with a fellow political scientist. He recounted that when his university initially proposed a separate Department of Women’s Studies, the faculty objected.  Resistance was futile, however, and the separate department came to pass. There was, however, a silver lining in the defeat–with all the department’s strident feminists exported to an autonomous homeland, intellectual life suddenly improved dramatically. No more silly quarrels about inserting gender into international relations, no more struggles over subtly-hidden, invisible sexism and so on. Civility and reason reigned.

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Conservatives Should Drop the Apology Demand

Some readers of Minding the Campus may have noticed the little fracas at University of Iowa between College Republicans and anthropology/women’s studies professor Ellen Lewin.  You can read about it in any of the many stories listed on this Google news page.

The details are simple.  UI College Republicans sent out a mass email, approved by the administration, inviting conservatives to “come out of the closet!” and join “Conservative Coming Out Week.”  Events will include an “Animal Rights Barbecue” and a “sick of being stressed” request for a doctor’s excuse to miss class (just as Wisconsin public employees did).

A little sophomoric, yes, and the parody of “coming out” was bound to rile a few of the “studies” professors, but the email comprised nothing beyond the usual undergraduate whimsy.  It had its effect, though.  Professor Lewin received the email and fired off a quick reply: “FUCK YOU REPUBLICANS.”  She signed her name, and it appeared above her position and address at Iowa, making her response not simply a private reply.

The email has circulated widely and been picked up as a news brief all over the country, from CBS to Fox News to the New York Daily News.  It has spice, certainly, and such a blunt case of vitriol nicely confirms what seems to many critics on the Right the prevailing attitude of the professors toward conservatives.

The publicity helps the College Republicans make the case of liberal bias, no doubt, but in their first reaction they made a mistake.  They took the customary route of demanding a public apology. (You can read all the relevant emails here.  The email request was made to the head of Lewin’s department, and it assumed a tone of indignation with references to Lewin’s “vulgarity,” her “Vile” and “Demonizing” statement, and her “aimless screams of attack.”

This is too much, and it mirrors the kind of delicate offense that goes with identity politics.  Lewin did offer an apology, and it contained precisely the contempt that goes with the grievance-oriented personality: “I apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities.”  No satisfaction there.  The College Republicans, and conservatives in general, would do better to eschew the injured-party role and instead laugh at such comments.  Publicize them, yes, and let Lewin and other hot-headed individuals reply again and again.  Use the replies as evidence of exactly the bigotry that you allege pervades the campus.  (Lewin’s further statements only made her position look worse.)  But don’t take an insult so seriously.  Don’t assume the thin-skinned role.  Other liberals who find such insults embarrassing or ridiculous will only appreciate you for shrugging them off.

The Yale Sex Harassment Controversy

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The academic gender wars are back in the news, with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announcing an investigation into a Title IX complaint against Yale University.  Sixteen current and former Yale students claim that the university discriminates against women by allowing a sexually hostile environment to flourish.  Is there really a problem with the sexual climate at Yale?  And if so, is it much more of a two-way street than the complainants allege?

An evaluation of the charges is complicated by the fact that the specifics have not been publicly released.  Some details, however, can be gleaned from the complainants’ statements as well as a Huffington Post article by Yale research fellow Claire Gordon, a former director of the Yale Women’s Center who declined to co-sign the complaint but summarized the draft.

Gordon paints a shocking picture of virulent misogyny: fraternity pledges shouting chants that celebrate rape and necrophilia; pledges from another frat chanting “Dick, dick, dick” outside the Women’s Center — so intimidating a female staffer that she had to go in through the back door — and having themselves photographed with a sign that reads “We love Yale sluts”;  an email circulated among athletes and fraternity members rating 53 female freshmen on how many beers a man would need to drink to have sex with them.  All this outrageous behavior, Gordon and the complainants assert, is treated as little more than boys-will-be-boys hijinks. 

Continue reading The Yale Sex Harassment Controversy

Why Can’t a Princeton Woman Be More Like a Princeton Man?

seal.jpgForty years after co-education came to Princeton, the campus has been in a tizzy because, Inside Higher Ed reported a few days ago, “female undergrads tend to eschew high-profile executive positions at the most prestigious student organizations in favor of less glamorous — but often equally labor-intensive — leadership roles.”

In the decades after Princeton went co-ed in 1969, women regularly rose to high-profile leadership positions in student government, student media, and the university’s venerable “eating clubs,” and won many coveted fellowships….

But since 2000, female students with leadership aspirations have shifted their energies to less exalted pursuits as leaders of service organizations, advocacy groups, residential councils, dance troupes, academic clubs, and a cappella choirs. Women still flock to The Daily Princetonian, the student government, and other longstanding extracurricular meccas…, but they have tended to land in positions —  both in those organizations and in more peripheral ones — where responsibility is high and visibility is low.

Continue reading Why Can’t a Princeton Woman Be More Like a Princeton Man?

Is This Natural Selection?

At about the same time as the release of MIT’s new study on the status of its women, which I discussed recently here, two more studies appeared on the anemic underrepresentation on higher education faculties of another marginalized group, political conservatives. Both studies, by Neil Gross, Ethan Fosse, and Jeremy Freese, conclude that “self-selection,” not bias, explains the greatly unrepresentative preponderance of liberals in academia: liberals choose to go to graduate school; conservatives don’t.

Since these studies are summarized in both Inside Higher Edand the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, has masterful, not to be missed analyses of these two studies in the Chronicle, hereand here, I will not go into the details. But two points are worth making, especially in relation to the new MIT study on the status of women.

First, it is revealingly noteworthy that most studies, like these, attribute the paucity of conservatives in academia to individual choices (more or less free depending on the study), while studies and reports on the “underrepresentation” of minorities and women tend to denigrate “choice” as an explanation, and often even as a relevant concept by putting the term in quotes. As I pointed out hereand here, in EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., a massive sex discrimination case, Alice Kessler Harris, a prominent women’s historian who served as an EEOC expert witness, “was so hostile to the idea that the system leaves women any room at all to choose that she insisted on placing the terms ‘choice’ and ‘women’s interests’ in quotes, and even went so far as to deny that women themselves choose their own major subjects in college or that women business owners choose the types of businesses they own.”

Continue reading Is This Natural Selection?