Michigan’s President Coleman Advocates Sexist Hiring

In yet another example of an overheated — indeed, almost unhinged — response to the prospect of Michigan voters voting to outlaw discrimination on the basis of race or gender, University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman made one of the most extreme and unqualified defenses of gender-based hiring I’ve ever seen coming out of academia lately. (And that’s saying a lot.)

Coleman’s talk was devoted to predicting the various ways that the sky would fall on Michigan women if MCRI passes. Some of the items in her parade of horribles were obviously true, though not horrible: “Coleman said any gender-specific program administered by the state could be targeted if MCRI succeeds.” Well, yes. If you outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender, discrimination on basis of gender will indeed be “targeted.”

Some of what she worried about was simply wrong — that MCRI would prevent “outreach” programs to encourage women to enter non-traditional fields, or that it would bar support for activities that primarily involve women. As Chetly Zarko, MCRI spokesman, said, “MCRI allows programs that do not formally exclude men but attract women almost exclusively.”

Some of what she said was inexplicably odd: “that research is funded by the federal government and taxpayers’ dollars should not support a system that does not serve the entire population.” Well, yes, but how would barring discrimination prevent research dollars from serving “the entire population”?

Good question! Now note Coleman’s remarkable answer:

Coleman also argued that gender-specific policies in academia are necessary for the health of the American public. She noted that medical research conducted at the University must address the health concerns of both men and women. She held that women’s health issues could only be adequately addressed if women were actually conducting the research.

Note that this is not “one factor among many.” This is not “diversity.” This is undiluted sex-based job qualifications.

I wonder if Coleman thinks that only women can research and teach women’s history? That only women can research and teach women’s literature? But if that’s true, then it’s presumably also true that only men can research and teach about activities done by men, and, it would follow, “that [men’s] health issues could only be adequately addressed if [men] were actually conducting the research.”

Who selected this person to be president of a major American university?

ADDENDUM [15 March 12:45AM]

I wonder if Coleman’s reaoning and analytical abilities might be suffering from the same malady that led MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins to announce with great fanfare that she “would’ve either blacked out or thrown up” if she hadn’t walked out of Larry Summer’s talk when he suggested that it was worth investigating whether mathematical ability might not be evenly distributed between men and women.

Quick! Let’s get a (woman) doctor on the case! Maybe there’s some research by a (woman) psychologist or (woman) brain physiologist that could throw light on this mystery of why apparently sane and balanced women academics seem to lose their analytical equilibrium when confronted with views and values they dislike.

Say What? (34)

  1. mikem March 14, 2005 at 11:19 pm | | Reply

    That is incredible. I sent a comment to the linked article, which has to be approved by the ‘board’ before it is posted. I resisted the temptation to claim fainting and nausea spells in my post.

  2. Chetly Zarko March 15, 2005 at 12:54 am | | Reply

    To overcome a content filtering problem, I’m posting multiple responses to isolate the blocked word.

    Actually, John, the Coleman

  3. Chetly Zarko March 15, 2005 at 12:56 am | | Reply

    statements came at a “WORD MEANING THINGS THAT ORBIT EARTH conference” (three Michigan university campuses utilizing video connections)of most of the major Democratic female leaders in Michigan, sponsored directly by our opposition ballot question committee. This conference featured the paper labelled as a “study,” that you linked to earlier in the weekend.

    The Coleman quotes are priceless. I thought the quote about federal funding and “research benefitting EVERYONE” subtlely supports MCRI. As to the about women researchers being necessary for women’s health – absurd. More condescending though, was this priceless “women are weak” argument:

    Lansing Community College President Paula Cunningham said the scarcity of women in corporate boardrooms may be partly the fault of women themselves.

  4. Tim Gannon March 15, 2005 at 8:01 am | | Reply

    I wonder who would do the research that Larry Summers is looking for?

  5. Chetly Zarko March 15, 2005 at 2:36 pm | | Reply

    Tim, perhaps someone interested in destroying their career?

    I would note I disagree with Summers’ conclusion or theory, but I don’t see it as “out of bounds” and I believe good science and academia requires that such perspectives be explored, advocated, and researched until they are proven or disproven. We are witnessing a radical deconstruction of both traditional academic freedom (ironically, using a twisted version of “academic freedom,” as O’Connor cites in Grutter to justify her “deference”) and the entire scientific process. A very dangerous and Orwellian road that we are headed down.

  6. Tim Gannon March 15, 2005 at 3:45 pm | | Reply


    My point exactly. As an acedemic outsider, Why should such a study be a career breaker?

    And if so, Where is acedemic freedom and acedemic integrity?

  7. Michelle Dulak Thomson March 15, 2005 at 4:18 pm | | Reply

    What flummoxes me about this is that the thing that really needs attention is men’s health. I mean, we basically have two equal-sized cohorts with identical demographics at birth, one of which lives (on average) six or seven years longer than the other. And there are constant calls for greater attention in medical research to one of them, but oddly enough it isn’t the one with the shorter life expectancy. I find that very strange.

  8. Richard Nieporent March 15, 2005 at 5:19 pm | | Reply

    She held that women

  9. Dom March 15, 2005 at 6:32 pm | | Reply

    Michelle made an intersting point. But I’d like to add that the differences in Men’s and Women’s health is not always due to differences in medical research. (Although it’s a little strange that we have gynecology but not “andrology”). The biggest difference is that men are not overly concerned about health matters.

  10. Laura March 15, 2005 at 6:41 pm | | Reply

    Plus, we have more DNA.

    Michelle, it wasn’t so long ago that anything that affected a woman’s reproductive system was classified as “women’s complaint”, ’nuff said. I think it wasn’t until women actually started becoming doctors that all that was taken seriously.

    And regarding gynecology: remember that the take-an-aspirin-a-day study, which was done fairly recently in the scheme of things, was performed using only males, and no one saw anything wrong with that until the study was published and nurses, I believe, started asking questions. In case you wonder why that matters, there’s a school of thought that the reason the aspirin helps is that it causes microhemorhages in the stomach, so that there is a constant blood loss. Menstruating women do not need this, so the (non)benefit would be outweighed by the potential damage to the stomach. “Medicine” still sometimes means “men’s health”.

  11. Michelle Dulak Thomson March 15, 2005 at 6:59 pm | | Reply

    Dom, if men aren’t careful enough of their health we must do something about it! We must bombard them with advertisements about diseases they never knew existed, together with instructions to “ask your doctor about the little fuschia pill,” or whatever. Oh, wait . . .

    Laura, I take your point about male-only studies. I think the reason studies for a long time used only men is that researchers were justifiably concerned about teratogenic effects, especially post-Thalidomide. If you put fertile women in a study and whatever-you’re-testing turns out to be a teratogen, you’re in major trouble. This is why half the pharma disclaimers on those incessant ads include “don’t take this if you’re pregnant or may become pregnant.” They don’t know whether it’s unsafe for pregnant women, but they don’t dare risk finding out that it is.

  12. Richard Nieporent March 15, 2005 at 7:35 pm | | Reply

    I know this may be hard to believe, but many years ago I discovered for myself that woman were different from men. The ludicrous statement made by Mary Coleman is not that separate research should be done on women and men, but that it requires women to conduct the research.

  13. LTEC March 15, 2005 at 9:21 pm | | Reply

    What if almost all subjects in medical experiments were women? I’m sure feminists would have nothing to complain about then.

  14. Laura March 15, 2005 at 9:34 pm | | Reply

    Because it has been expressed to me in the comments of this blog that I am a feminist, I’ll take that up.

    I love my husband, father, brother, nephews, male friends. I don’t want their health to suffer. How about setting up medical studies so that they apply to all relevant groups of people, or at least be a little more specific in the conclusions that are drawn. It would be fine to do a take-one-aspirin-a-day study that was performed on males only, if the results were not automatically applied to women too.

  15. Richard Nieporent March 15, 2005 at 10:47 pm | | Reply

    Laura, please read my comment. This has nothing to do with feminism. It has to do with science. If men and women react differently to a drug then it makes sense to do separate studies. However, it does not make sense to only use women to do the research on women.

  16. The Education Wonks March 16, 2005 at 4:48 am | | Reply

    The Carnival Of Education: Week 6

    We are pleased to present the sixth edition of The Carnival Of Education. What we have done is assemble a variety of interesting and informative posts from around the EduSphere (and one or two from the Larger ‘Sphere) that have been submitted by vari…

  17. Tim Gannon March 16, 2005 at 8:54 am | | Reply

    Am I missing something?

    We should do medical studies using only only one sex because they may react differently to medication.

    However, we should not do studies on why the the sexes are different in their variation of acedemic success.

    OOPS, I now understand, andy differences that happen in the body do not occur in the mind.

  18. Laura March 16, 2005 at 9:54 am | | Reply

    Richard, I was responding to LTEC.

  19. Dom March 16, 2005 at 10:43 am | | Reply

    Concerning the aspirin study, that was male-only by design. Heart disease is a (mostly) male problem. Men get breast cancer too, but certainly there can be no complaints if a study is done on only women.

    In general, the reason for male-only studies is that women are difficult as a control group. Menstruation, the possibility of pregnancy, etc. Look at it this way — men are like white rats, women are from Venus.

    It really isn’t the case that the male establishment is controlling medical studies and tilting the benefits to their own gender. If there is a male medical establishment, then look at the picture … women live longer, they have specialists to treat their needs, etc. It is all market driven — women spend more on their health.


  20. pep March 16, 2005 at 12:12 pm | | Reply

    I’m curious. Does this mean that only blacks should do research on blacks, Asians on Asians, lefthanded Lithuanians on LHLs, etc.? Just what differences are required to qualify one for research apartheid?

  21. Claire March 16, 2005 at 1:18 pm | | Reply

    Actually, one of the main reasons that research is done preferentially on males is that male biology is relatively simple compared to female biology, and therefore there are fewer variables to account for when determining whether a medication or a treatment has an effect. Ask any endocrinologist: women’s hormonal systems are incredibly complex, and in contrast men’s are pretty straight forward. Therefore, the easy way out is to study men and extrapolate to women.

    Unfortunately, it means assuming that women are just men with some extra hormones and organs and stuff, and that is patently false.

    Let me ask a question that will illustrate this difference: Think of the last time that you were sick, with a virus or ‘flu, and tell me how long BEFORE you had any measurable symptoms like fever or chills did you FEEL/KNOW that you were getting sick?

    In answer, I bet the large majority of women can identify that they felt ‘off’ for several days before they actually became measurably ill.

    The large majority of men probably won’t understand the question.

    This is not a sexist remark, but one based in biology. Women’s biology seems to confer an ability to be just naturally aware of the condition of our bodies, while men’s biology allows them to be unaware of or to ignore physical and sensory input (probably a survival trait from evolutionary times). It’s not uncommon for a woman to seek out medical help in the early stages of an illness, only to be told that it’s ‘not that bad’ and to ‘come back if your symptoms get worse’. A lot of men, my darling husband included, have to be practically on death’s doorstep before realizing they are truly ill. Unfortunately, the medical profession still has a tendency to label women as ‘hysterical’. Is it any wonder that most of us only use medical doctors when we don’t have any other choice?

  22. Laura March 16, 2005 at 1:54 pm | | Reply

    Dom: “Concerning the aspirin study, that was male-only by design. Heart disease is a (mostly) male problem.” No.

    “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of women in the United States. Long thought of as primarily affecting men, we now know that CVD

  23. Anonymous March 16, 2005 at 1:55 pm | | Reply

    I had to leave out the paragraph about women being less likely to receive appropriate care within the first 24 hours of care following a heart attack and more likely to die in the hospital, due to the comment filter.

  24. Laura March 16, 2005 at 1:58 pm | | Reply

    That was me.

    Claire, when my husband got the flu this spring I had to drive him to the doctor’s office because when he finally broke down and admitted that he was sick enough to go (as in, sick enough for me to wear him down) he was too sick to drive. The doctor politely asked him why the H he waited so long. He had no answer.

  25. Stephen March 16, 2005 at 3:57 pm | | Reply

    Laura, the “medical research gender gap” is fictitious. Read Warren Farrell. In fact, I’d suggest you read Farrell at length. Most of the “facts” you’ve asserted are fabrications, and the fact that medical or research organizations issued those “facts” doesn’t make them any less fabricated. The medical (and legal) professions have been dominated by PC warriors for a long time.

    The research gap is a fabrication, just like the wage gap. Harvard is busily turning itself into a Flat Earth Society in the Summers flap, and you’re trying to tell me that we can trust professional organizations to tell the truth? The PC corruption and lying extends to the very top of the food chain in professional and medical organizations.

    Quoting those folks these days proves just about nothing.

  26. Stephen March 16, 2005 at 4:01 pm | | Reply

    Laura, here’s a link to a Farrell article:


    The research gap is just about as real as the Super Bowl domestic violence hoax.

  27. Dom March 16, 2005 at 4:44 pm | | Reply

    “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of women in the United States.”

    This may be true, but it tells us nothing about whether it is a mostly male or female illness. People often get these statistics mixed up, and I think it is done purposely. There is always a number one killer. When it is cured, whatever is number two will become number one. The fact is Heart Disease is a male problem, and it is quite appropriate for some (not all) studies to include only men.

    “Current statistics reveal significant differences between men and women in survival following a heart attack. For example, 42 percent of women who have heart attacks die within 1 year compared with 24 percent of men.”

    Because women with heart attacks are older. That shows yet again that women’s health is very well treated in the US. The comparison with the treatment afforded to men is misleading. The correct comparison would control for age of patient.

    “Experts estimate that one in two women will die of heart disease or stroke.” Impossible. Perhaps you mean that one of two women with heart disease will die of it as opposed to other complications.

    Any responsible study has shown that women’s health is a higher priority in the US than is men’s health, although men themselves are responsible for that.


  28. Laura March 16, 2005 at 9:07 pm | | Reply

    I just got through being thanked on another blog for the “postcard from bizarro world” because I disagreed that (1) Ronald Reagan sold the nerve gas to Hussein that he used to kill the Kurds, (2) UN inspectors always had access to Iraq, and (3) Osama is smirking somewhere because he won. Now I have it expressed to me that men do not get enough attention to their health problems and that if a woman dies of a heart attack she’s probably old anyway so what the hell. I’m going away with my child for a couple of days and I’m going to try to avoid all conversation with anybody but her and myself.

  29. Michelle Dulak Thomson March 16, 2005 at 10:00 pm | | Reply


    Sounds like your nerves are pretty frayed. All the same: men do die a lot earlier than women, on average, and that seems to me something that medical science ought to address. And that was the point of the post about heart attacks, as well: it isn’t that ” if a woman dies of a heart attack she’s probably old anyway so what the hell”; it’s that women who suffer first heart attacks and don’t die of them are generally older than men who suffer first heart attacks and don’t die of them. That means that they are potentially vulnerable to a lot of other illnesses that have nothing to do with heart disease. It also, obviously, means that they’ve lived longer on average than the men have without suffering a heart attack.

  30. Richard Nieporent March 16, 2005 at 11:17 pm | | Reply

    I am not sure how this conversation degenerated into accusations that women don

  31. Chetly Zarko March 17, 2005 at 5:20 am | | Reply

    Richard, the how is that was the very topic of the post and the direct implication of President of a major University (Mary Sue Coleman), and the direct accusation of a report by an arm of that university.

    You are correct though. Because men and women are part of families, no rationale man or women would want preferences for their gender since it would directly harm some other member of their family. Of course, single people would have less vested interest in opposing gender preference, but they still have brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. Gender preferences are an attack on the family and very structure of society, in many ways less understandable and more insidious than race preferences (of course, race preferences are more insidious given America’s particularly sad history with race).

  32. Dom March 17, 2005 at 10:39 am | | Reply

    Another point that Michelle may have left out: At a certain age, people simply don’t recover from bypass surgery. After all, it amounts to breaking your rib-cage. This affects women more than men, because (as Michelle pointed out), first heart-attacks for women occur later in life.

    The important point is that no one in the medical establishment has a vested interest in steering medical research away from a woman’s benefit — not men, not white men, not heterosexual white men, not Christian heterosexual white men …


  33. David Nieporent March 18, 2005 at 12:01 am | | Reply

    and that if a woman dies of a heart attack she’s probably old anyway so what the hell.

    Here’s the thing: everyone dies. Old people dying is not a public health problem to address; it’s natural. Whether they call it “heart disease” or “natural causes” doesn’t really matter. We should be researching things that kill young people (male or female), not things that kill old people. As it happens, more things kill male people younger.

  34. Laura March 19, 2005 at 5:41 pm | | Reply

    My nerves were frayed, but they’re better now.

    I tried to copy-and-paste a paragraph from the article I linked, but it wouldn’t pass the comment censor. The gist was that even though there are drug therapies that will help a woman who have just had a heart attack, most women don’t get them within 24 hours of going to the emergency room; it’s not known why that is, but it’s postulated that it is because (a) women’s heart attack symptoms are different from men’s, and ER personnel aren’t really aware of that fact, so the heart isn’t suspected early enough; and (b) everybody knows that it’s men who get heart attacks. I could go with women not surviving the attack because they’re older, except that they aren’t getting care.

    A young woman in my church spoke recently about her experiences with extreme fatigue in high school, whose doctor told her “female, depression, blah blah” and who thought she must be a crybaby and toughed it out for several months until she couldn’t anymore; whereupon it was learned that she had had a bacterial infection that had destroyed a heart valve, and because it had gone untreated for so long she had to have a heart transplant ASAP. She did get the transplant, but this will be a major medical issue for her to deal with the rest of her life. I know you all can probably tell me stories about men who have had their concerns brushed aside, but as a female and the mother of a teenaged female this hits home to me.

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