July 9, 2012

Science Quotas for Women--A White House Goal

When college women study science, they tend to gravitate toward biology--about 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.

Extending Title IX from sports to math and science majors has been a longtime goal of the Obama White House. Longstanding Education Department rules interpreting Title IX have essentially set up a gender-based quota system. Back in 1972, when Congress passed Title IX, only 43 percent of those enrolled in degree-granting institutions were women; now, women make up 57 percent of college and university students. Furthermore, many, perhaps most, women have little interest in the team sports that draw many men into college athletics. So colleges have struggled to maintain Education Department-imposed gender parity in athletics, typically by reclassifying such female activities as yoga or cheerleading as "sports," or by eliminating varsity sports programs for men such as wrestling, fencing, and diving.

But lately, and especially under the Obama administration, the Education Department has been inserting Title IX aggressively into other aspects of college life. One of them is sexual misconduct, typified by the department's new rule demanding that colleges lower the standard of proof required to prove sexual assault in a campus disciplinary proceeding. And now the department has been asked to intervene in what is supposed to be a problem: that more women than men choose to major in the humanities--or biology--rather than in the math-intensive STEM fields. Yet the administration's view that bias reduces women's entry into STEM fields has little scholarly support. A task force from the National Academy of Sciences investigated 500 university science departments and concluded that men and women overall "enjoyed comparable opportunities," and that female candidates for jobs at major research universities actually had a slight edge over their male competitors.

Nonetheless, there is now an entire ideological industry that treats the gender imbalance in the hard sciences as a sexist disease that can be cured by a combination of re-education and coercion. Over the past decade, as Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, the National Science Foundation has spent $135 million on gender-equity-promotion projects. The science money went to pay for, among other things, a staging of "The Vagina Monologues," the development of a game called Gender Bias Bingo, and workshops featuring skits in which male scientists mistreat their female colleagues, the New York Times's John Tierney noted. In 2010 Congress considered--but mercifully did not pass--a bill that would have paved the way for even more of those skits by using federal funds to establish "workshops to enhance gender equity" in academic science.

In early 2009 a newly inaugurated President Obama wrote a letter to the American Association of University Women and other advocacy groups arguing that Title IX could be used to make "similar striking advances" for women in science and engineering as it had in sports--via "necessary attention and enforcement." According to Manhattan Institute fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth, one federal agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has produced a manual, "Title IX and STEM," that recommends that every university hire a full-time "Gender Equity Specialist" with a staff that would monitor science departments and labs for bias. The manual also recommends that universities fund departments based on gender and other "diversity" representation. Expect the rules likely to be issued by the Education Department under White House prodding to be similar--with the penalty for noncompliance to be the loss of federal funds.

The use of Title IX to force universities to restructure their curricula and alter the composition of their hard-science and engineering departments in order to achieve a supposed gender equity that matches neither the aptitudes nor the interests of many women isn't just heavy-handed and totalitarian. As study after study indicates, it's bad science as well. 


Comments (4)

John Galt:

Of course, they're going to work tirelessly to reduce the percentage of women in biology, too?

Right? Right?


Right, so if 58% of biology majors are women, can we expect to see this limited to 50%, to guarantee men equal access? No? I thought not.

In any case, quota systems undermine the very groups they are supposed to help. In order to enforce a quota, one reduces the qualifications required of the supported groups. The result: the entire group is regarded with distrust within the profession. Justified discrimination, because one *knows* the group is, on average, less qualified.

Put simply: Quota systems are counterproductive.


As a trained PhD scientist I look at this and throw up my hands. With no due process if they are charged with "sexual harassment" and quotas cutting them away from science classes, I wonder what I would say to my sons about college (if I had any). I have two daughters. I have told them to take advantage of what they can get in this environment, but to be fair and be prepared for a backlash down the road.

Eric Fowler:

There are certain college majors that are overwhelmingly female, for example Women's Studies (whatever that is - don't get me started) and Romance Languages. Women are a majority of college students overall. Are they going to work for "gender equity" in the French department, too?


Post a comment

Leave comments here. Unless they are vicious or obscene, they will be printed.


Published by the Manhattan Institute
The Manhattan Insitute's Center for the American University.