At least that's what you'd think if you didn't read anything besides the Chronicle of Higher Education or its online counterpart, Inside Higher Education. I've long lost count of the articles both of them regularly run about female college and university faculty members, who gripe endlessly about job circumstances lots of other folks would envy.
Today's New York Times features John Tierney's followup to his piece last week about attempts to legislate "gender equity," which he concludes will never work: a mixture of innate biological factors and individual career choices, rather than a "glass ceiling" or deliberate discrminination account for the statistical disparities between men and women in fields such as physics or mechanical engineering. Tierney cites a solid body of research to bolster his conclusion - including the stellar work of our friend Christina Sommers - but the comments thread indicates that, where this subject is concerned, ideology still reigns supreme for many others. The gap can be explained by "gender bias," case closed. Unfortunately, Congress seems to be listening to the ideologues at the moment.
John Tierney has an interesting piece in today's New York Times about the ongoing controversy over what an "equitable" proportion of female faculty in scientific fields such as physics, aeronautics or engineering might be. His title - "Daring to Discuss Women in Science" - indicates how politically radioactive that subject continues to be, although perhaps we can take heart from the fact that it's appearing in the Times. Given the ubiquitous presumption that male/female statistical disparities are attributable to entrenched "bias," Tierney asks whether the "gender equity" legislation just passed by the House of Representatives would be amenable to at least considering some pretty solid evidence that other factors may be at work as well. Echoing the seminal work of Christina Sommers which we noted here last week, he observes that in any case, we're talking about a relatively small number of people, since most of us, male or female, aren't especially talented in the hard sciences, and tend to fall in the middle of most statistical measurements. A small number of men, however, score both much lower AND much higher than the comparable number of women in mathematically oriented scientific fields such as those noted above. If this is true, then perhaps we cannot continue to assume that social factors alone account for differences in the ratios between men and women. In any case, it's striking that male/female disparities are much more pronounced in a number of other fields, such as English Literature, psychology, veterinary science and special education, but aren't attracting the solicitude of Congress or "gender equity" activists on campus. Go figure. Be that as it may, it's fine with us if you want to discuss "women in science" at this page, so feel free to let us know what you think. We won't try to prevent you from getting tenure or seek to have you sacked from your job as a college president.
As the House of Representatives approaches a vote on the America Competes Reathorization Act, our long-time friend Christina Sommers takes note of an obscure section tucked deeply within the bill which could have major consequences for academic searches in the sciences or engineering. On the face of it, the act seems like a good thing, intended to maintain an American competitive advantage in the burgeoning global economy. But take a look, Sommers tells us, at that unheralded little section the, "Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Science and Engineering Amendment." If that provision becomes law as seems likely, Sommers argues, we can expect to see an explosion of "gender bias" and "gender equity" workshops intended to redress the "underutilization" of women in aeronautics, physics and mathematics, under the aggressive leadership, no less, of the White House Office of Science and Technology. "Gender Equity" in the sciences, of course, has long been chief among the perpetual discontents of academic feminists, a remaining citadel of entrenched sexism and male domination. Now, it seems, they are about to add substantial federal clout to their arsenal.
Carol Iannone, the Editor-at-Large of our journal Academic Questions, writes in:
Recently I just happened upon the DVDs of Yes, Minister, an absolutely superb British comedy series from the 1980s about a Cabinet Minister and his canny civil servant undersecretary. Each episode is funny and amazingly intelligent and well written, satirizing some aspect of British government bureaucracy and its darkly comical failure to fulfill the public's needs. One episode concerned higher education, with lots of amusing details about the way it works in Britain. (Oxford seems to be the alma mater of the greater part of the senior civil service, although not necessarily of the elected officials.) One of the Oxford colleges is running out of money because the government has withdrawn the allowance for foreign students, a considerable 4000 pounds. When asked why they don't take more British students, the dons express disdain at the mere 500 pounds that British natives get for attendance at Oxford. This reminded me that an interested friend informed me not long ago that American community colleges take foreign students. He pointed out how irregular that is. When you think about it, there is nothing in the stated aims and mission of the community college network, not to mention in the meaning of the word "community," that should entail accepting foreign students. Could it also have something to do with the money, as in Yes, Minister? Government money? Or the money paid straight out by the foreign students themselves, or perhaps by their governments?
"Get ready for Gender-Neutral Housing, but Don't Poster about It" reads a headline at Bwog, the blog of the Blue and White, a student magazine at Columbia University. Winfield Myers's ironic commentary on this and other mutation of regulations on campuses concludes:
Some conservatives lament the disappearance of in loco parentis or a benevolent paternalism from the post-1960s American campus. In fact, both are strong as ever, but grossly misplaced. From odious speech codes to pc in the classroom to the confused new rules at Columbia, proof abounds that today’s administrators exert as much coercive power over their charges as their predecessors. But unlike those old fogies of yesteryear, contemporary bureaucrats enforce a morality based on a gnostic conception of human nature and creation. As is often the case with academic “reforms,” the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community will be the losers.