There they go again. There’s a new report, this time from the National Academies, lamenting the “underrepresentation” of women in science and calling for “immediate, overarching reform and decisive action by university administrators, professional societies, government agencies, and Congress.”
I confess that what follows is based on reading only the press release accompanying the report and this article about it, not the report itself. (Life is short.) Also, we have been here before. In fact, before proceeding please take a look at these two earlier discussions (here and here), since I’m not repeating their contents.
Right under the “For Immediate Release” the press release linked above asserts in its headline:
Broad National Effort Urgently Needed To Maximize Potential of Women Scientists and Engineers in Academia
Perhaps anticipating my churlish question (“Why?”), the first paragraph states:
WASHINGTON — Women face barriers to hiring and promotion in research universities in many fields of science and engineering — a situation that deprives the United States of an important source of talent as the country faces increasingly stiff global competition in higher education, science and technology, and the marketplace, says a new report from the National Academies. Eliminating gender bias in universities requires immediate, overarching reform and decisive action by university administrators, professional societies, government agencies, and Congress.
“[T]he country faces increasingly stiff global competition in … the marketplace”? What on earth does this mean? Oh well, forget about it.
But perhaps it’s worth noting (again, for those of you who honored my request to read the two earlier posts) that “this situation” deprives the United States of talent only if the absence of talented women prevented by “barriers” from careers in academia means we have fewer talented scientists than we would have without those “barriers” or if the places they would have occupied are occupied by scientists less talented than they. In other words, are academic science departments understaffed, with vacant positions that would have been filled by women not blocked by “barriers” or, in the alternative, are they fully staffed but with some (many?) of their positions filled by men (presumably) who are less talented than the women who would have sat in their chairs but for the “barriers”?
Perhaps the full report answers this question, but the press release didn’t.
How do we know that women are “underrepresented” in academic science? How do you think?
Forty years ago, women made up only 3 percent of America’s scientific and technical workers, but by 2003 they accounted for nearly one-fifth. In addition, women have earned more than half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in science and engineering since 2000. However, their representation on university and college faculties fails to reflect these gains. Among science and engineering Ph.D.s, four times more men than women hold full-time faculty positions….
The “underrepresentation,” in short, is that the percentage of women “scientific and technical workers” is smaller than the percentage of women earning undergraduate science degrees, and among full time faculty members the percentage of women is smaller than the percentage who earn science Ph.Ds. Why is that? That is, why do some women who earn undergraduate degrees in scientific fields not become “scientific and technical workers,” and why do some women who earn Ph.Ds in science fields not wind up as full time faculty members? Perhaps the full report says. It clearly says quite a bit about the “barriers” (lack of respect, etc.) that keep or send women out of academia, but the press release at least doesn’t say where they go.
Could it be that many of them find more attractive jobs in business or industry? If so, is that so bad? If academia changed its ways as recommended here, to attract more women, would business and industry then have to restructure themselves and their “culture” to woo them back? If, for whatever reason, the number of women who choose to work in scientific fields is smaller than the number who are qualified to do so, should the various institutions in different segments of the economy who hire scientific workers engage in a bidding war to attract the ones who do? Why?
The press release does refer to a couple of studies that, presumably, point to one of the “barriers” keeping women out of academia.
In one survey of 1,000 university faculty members, for example, women were more likely than men to feel that colleagues devalued their research, that they had fewer opportunities to participate in collaborative projects, and that they were constantly under a microscope. In another study, exit interviews of female faculty who “voluntarily” left a large university indicated that one of their main reasons for leaving was colleagues’ lack of respect for them.
If a survey were to reveal that “[men] were more likely than [women] to feel that their departments placed a higher value on recruiting, hiring, and retaining people of the opposite sex from themselves,” would that reveal a problem that required a national effort to reverse? Just wondering.
Here’s a thought: if the very future of our country depends upon having more women “scientific and technical workers,” maybe the government should play a more active role in encouraging women scientists to work in science. Maybe, on the model of unemployment compensation being unavailable to workers who voluntarily (or even “voluntarily”) leave their jobs, women who have received student loans to study science should be forced to repay them at a slightly higher rate if they do not work in science. Maybe, on the model of medical students who receive grants in return for their commitment to spend a certain amount of time in public service such as on Indian reservations, etc., women graduate students in science should be given grants if they agree to spend, say, three years in the most notoriously undiverse science departments (I’m sure the National Academies maintain a list). You get the idea, and I’m sure various government agencies can come up with many more.
I’m sure the National Academies will not like the above ideas, but what do they think should be done?
The report offers a broad range of recommendations, including the following important steps. Trustees, university presidents, and provosts should provide clear leadership in changing the culture and structure of their institutions to recruit, retain, and promote more women — including minority women — into faculty and leadership positions. Specifically, university executives should require academic departments to show evidence of having conducted fair, broad, and aggressive talent searches before officials approve appointments. And departments should be held accountable for the equity of their search processes and outcomes, even if that means canceling a search or withholding a faculty position. The report also urges higher education organizations to consider forming a collaborative, self-monitoring body that would recommend standards for faculty recruitment, retention, and promotion; collect data; and track compliance across institutions.
Quotas? Why, heavens no! Except, note that departments should be held accountable (for their “compliance”) not only for the “equity” of their searches but also for the “outcomes.” In short, a department could have perfectly equitable search procedures, “conducted fair, broad, and aggressive talent searches,” but still be found out of “compliance” because of the “outcomes” of its efforts. But of course this is not to recommend quotas, because quotas don’t exist except in the figment of conservative imaginations.
Curiously, the committee report also calls on the federal government to more vigorous about enforcing anti-discrimination laws.
Federal enforcement agencies — including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); U.S. departments of Education, Justice, and Labor; and various federal civil rights offices — should provide technical assistance to help universities achieve diversity in their programs and employment, and encourage them to meet such goals. These agencies also should regularly conduct compliance reviews at higher education institutions to make sure that federal antidiscrimination laws are being upheld, the committee said. Discrimination complaints should be promptly and thoroughly investigated. Likewise, Congress should make sure that these laws are enforced, and routinely hold oversight hearings to investigate how well relevant laws are being upheld by the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, and Labor; EEOC; and science agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA.
I say curious, because so much of what the committee wants would seem to conflict with anti-discrimination law, especially (is this ironic, or what?) Title IX:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Because the concepts of discrimination and equal protection have, in my view, been drained of coherent content, this report is also revealingly inconsistent in at least one recommendation. It calls upon scholarly journals to
examine their processes for reviewing papers submitted for publication. To minimize any bias, they should consider keeping authors’ identities hidden until reviews have been completed.
But if keeping authors’ identities hidden minimizes bias, wouldn’t keeping the identities hidden of prospective graduate students, faculty appointments, postdoc applicants, and other job applicants also minimize bias in their selection? Why, then, does the committee recommend exactly the opposite? Remember, they demand not only that selection procedures be fair and equitable but also produce the desired, representative “outcomes.”
As with any report of this nature, some of it appears to be quite humorous. For example, the report urges universities to “examine evaluation practices, with the goal of focusing on the quality and impact of faculty contributions.” No doubt this recommendation will cause consternation in all those university science departments whose evaluation practices currently do not focus “on the quality and impact of faculty contributions.” That sound you hear is no doubt the loud, collective Smack! of the hands of department chairs across the nation hitting themselves on the head and exclaiming, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Here’s another comic bit:
In the past decade, several universities and agencies have taken steps to increase the participation of women on faculties and their numbers in leadership positions. But such efforts have not transformed the fields, the report says. Now is the time for widespread reform, the committee emphasized.
Reminds me of the retailer who lost money on every sale but decided to make up the loss by increasing sales.
In closing, let me list members of the National Academies committee who wrote this report and ask if you see anything odd about it:
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy
Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering
Donna E. Shalala1 (chair)
University of Miami
Alice M. Agogino,2
Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of California
MIT Workplace Center, and
Professor of Management
Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Robert J. Birgeneau,3
University of California
Ana Mari Cauce
Executive Vice Provost;
Earl R. Carlson Professor of Psychology; and
Professor of American Ethnic Studies
University of Washington
Catherine D. DeAngelis,1
Editor in Chief
Journal of the American Medical Association
Denice D. Denton (deceased)
University of California
Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences
Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and
Dean of Science
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor
Department of Plant Pathology
University of Wisconsin
Laurance S. Rockefeller Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Affairs
Princeton University, and
Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Richard M. and Patricia H. Noyes Professor
Department of Chemistry and Materials Science Institute
University of Oregon
Alice M. Rivlin
Economic Studies Program
Berkman Professor of Psychology, and
Mind, Brain, and Behavior Institute
Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Yale University School of Medicine
New Haven, Conn.
Florham Park, N.J.
Maria T. Zuber,3
E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics, and
Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1 Member, Institute of Medicine
2 Member, National Academy of Engineering
3 Member, National Academy of Sciences
Recall that this august committee has just called on “[f]ederal enforcement agencies” to “provide technical assistance to help universities achieve diversity in their programs and employment….” Given the make-up of this committee and its staff, it appears that the National Academies could also use some “technical assistance” to “achieve diversity.” This committee has all of the “diversity” it ostensibly recommends of, say, a committee on political diversity made up of all Democrats save for one person, a Socialist or member of the Green Party.
On the other hand, we have already learned with regard to race that “diversity” doesn’t mean diversity; it means more blacks. Since the National Academies committee obviously defines “diversity” to mean more women, this committee is almost 100% diverse. (The presence of the lone male, Robert Birgeneau, doesn’t really reduce the 100% “diversity” of this group since, as we’ve frequently seen [such as here, here, here, and here], he’s never met a race- or gender-based preference of which he disapproves.)
My wife, Helene, just read this post and raised an interesting question. Since the National Academies report argues that more women are needed in science in order to strengthen the competitve position of the United States against foreign competitors — because “the country faces increasingly stiff global competition in higher education, science and technology, and the marketplace” — she wonders whether foreign women who are in this country only temporarily should be counted toward “compliance” with the “goals” recommended by the committee. Insofar as it is necessary to displace some men to make room for more women, should American males be displaced to make room for foreign females?
Good question, I think.
UPDATE [3 October]
A reader points me to excellent critiques of this report, one by the distinguished economist Gary Becker and one by the distinguished federal judge and legal scholar Richard Posner on their joint blog.
I’m happy to say that Posner makes a few of the same points made here, especially about the composition of the panel. Neither of them has a higher opinion of the report than I expressed above (“heavy on beliefs and weak on carefully documented analysis,” wrote Becker), and to see why you should read all of both their discussions.
Becker did make a nice catch that I missed:
The summary of the Report says that it cannot be that women in academia, and sciences in particular, are now recipients of favoritism because affirmative action that selects candidates on the basis of race or sex is illegal.
I wonder if Gov. Granholm and the other women leaders in Michigan who are struggling so hard to retain preferences to women by defeating the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (discussed most recently here) would agree with the distinguished National Academy of Sciences panel that at present, even in the absence of MCRI, it is currently illegal for any affirmative action program to show “favoritism” based on race or sex.