05 Mar 2008

Equality Enforced With a Hammer

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Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (passed when liberal Republican Richard Nixon was president, just wait until you see what John McCain doesn’t veto) wound up being interpreted by the Department of Education as requiring colleges and universities to provide “athletic opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment,” i.e. a sexual quota.

Since there was inevitably less female participation in athletics, the only way the required “substantial proportionality” could be achieved was pouring money and recruiting effort into female sports while actively reducing male participation. Colleges consequently often, in deference to Title IX, deliberately eliminated lesser (non-profit center) male sports, such as wrestling, swimming, fencing, gymnastics, and volleyball.

Christina Hoff Summers explains that coercive egalitarianism’s new objective is the sciences.

The problem:

Math 55 is advertised in the Harvard catalog as “prob­ably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country.” It is leg­endary among high school math prodigies, who hear terrifying stories about it in their computer camps and at the Math Olympiads. Some go to Harvard just to have the opportunity to enroll in it. Its formal title is “Honors Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra,” but it is also known as “math boot camp” and “a cult.” The two-semester fresh­man course meets for three hours a week, but, as the catalog says, homework for the class takes between 24 and 60 hours a week.

Math 55 does not look like America. Each year as many as 50 students sign up, but at least half drop out within a few weeks. As one former student told The Crimson newspaper in 2006, “We had 51 students the first day, 31 students the second day, 24 for the next four days, 23 for two more weeks, and then 21 for the rest of the first semester.” Said another student, “I guess you can say it’s an episode of ‘Survivor’ with people voting themselves off.” The final class roster, according to The Crimson: “45 percent Jewish, 18 percent Asian, 100 percent male.”

Why do women avoid classes like Math 55? Why, in fact, are there so few women in the high echelons of academic math and in the physi­cal sciences?

Women now earn 57 percent of bachelors degrees and 59 percent of masters degrees. According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2006 was the fifth year in a row in which the majority of research Ph.D.’s awarded to U.S. citizens went to women. Women earn more Ph.D.’s than men in the humanities, social sciences, education, and life sciences. Women now serve as presidents of Harvard, MIT, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and other leading research universities. But elsewhere, the figures are different. Women comprise just 19 percent of tenure-track professors in math, 11 percent in physics, 10 percent in computer science, and 10 percent in electrical engineering. And the pipeline does not promise statistical parity any time soon: women are now earning 24 percent of the Ph.D.’s in the physical sciences—way up from the 4 percent of the 1960s, but still far behind the rate they are winning doctorates in other fields.

The solution:

“The change is glacial,” says Debra Rolison, a physical chemist at the Naval Research Laboratory.

Rolison, who describes herself as an “uppity woman,” has a solution. A popular anti–gender bias lecturer, she gives talks with titles like “Isn’t a Millennium of Affirmative Action for White Men Sufficient?” She wants to apply Title IX to science education. Title IX, the celebrated gender equity provision of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, has so far mainly been applied to college sports. But the measure is not limited to sports. It provides, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex…be denied the benefits of…any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” …

..in her enthusiasm for Title IX, Rolison is not alone.

On October 17, 2007, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology convened to learn why women are “underrepresented” in academic professorships of science and engineering and to consider what the federal government should do about it.

As a rule, women tend to gravitate to fields such as education, English, psychology, biol­ogy, and art history, while men are much more numerous in physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering. Why this is so is an interesting question—and the subject of a sub­stantial empirical literature. The research on gender and vocation is complex, vibrant, and full of reasonable disagreements; there is no single, simple answer.

There were, however, no disagreements at the congressional hearing. All five expert wit­nesses, and all five congressmen, Democrat and Republican, were in complete accord. They attributed the dearth of women in university science to a single cause: sexism. And there was no dispute about the solution. All agreed on the need for a revolutionary transformation of American science itself. “Ultimately,” said Kathie Olsen, deputy director of the National Science Foundation, “our goal is to transform, institution by institution, the entire culture of science and engineering in America, and to be inclusive of all—for the good of all.”

Representative Brian Baird, the Washington-state Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, looked at the witnesses and the crowd of more than 100 highly appreciative activists from groups like the American Association of University Women and the National Women’s Law Center and asked, “What kind of hammer should we use?”

From Jim Bass via The Barrister.


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