Women have surpassed men in most areas of education, but men continue to be more numerous in fields like math, physics, and engineering. For more than a decade, feminist groups have been lobbying Congress to address the problem of gender “injustice” in the laboratory. Their efforts are finally bearing fruit. Federal agencies are now poised to begin aggressive gender-equity reviews of math, science, and engineering programs. Groups like the National Organization for Women must be celebrating — but American scientists should brace themselves for the destructive tsunami headed their way.
At a recent House hearing on “Women in Academic Science and Engineering” Congressman Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington State, asked a room full of activist women how best to bring American scientists into line: “What kind of hammer should we use?” The weapon of choice is the well-known federal anti-discrimination law “Title IX,” which prohibits sex discrimination in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX has never been rigorously applied to academic science. That is now about to change. In the past few months both the Department of Education and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have begun looking at candidates for Title IX-enforcement positions.
The feminist reformers acknowledge that few science departments are guilty of overt discrimination. They claim, however, that subtle, invisible “unconscious bias” is discouraging talented aspiring women. Therefore, the major focus of the equity movement is to transform the academic culture itself — to make it more attractive to women by rendering science less stressful, less competitive, and less time consuming. Debra Rolison, a senior research chemist at the Pentagon’s Naval Research Laboratory and a leader of the equity campaign, describes the typical university chemistry department as “brutal to people who want to do something besides chemistry around-the-clock.” MIT biologist and equity-activist Nancy Hopkins says that contemporary science “is a system where winning is everything, and women find it repulsive.” Kathie Olsen, deputy director of the National Science Foundation, draws the revolutionary conclusion, “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.” To this end, the National Science Foundation has launched a multi-million dollar grant program, called ADVANCE, devoted to “institutional transformation” through gender-sensitivity workshops, interactive theater and the like. ADVANCE is well named: it is the advance guard, softening up the hard sciences for the coming of Title IX enforcement.
Although Title IX has contributed to the progress of women’s athletics, it has done serious harm to men’s sports. Over the years, judges, federal officials, and college administrators have interpreted it to mean that women are entitled to “statistical proportionality.” That is to say, if a college’s student body is 60 percent female, then 60 percent of the athletes should be female — even if far fewer women than men are interested in playing sports at that college. But many athletic directors have been unable to attract the same proportions of women as men. So, to avoid government harassment, loss of funding, and lawsuits, educational institutions have eliminated men’s teams — in effect, reducing men’s participation to the level of women’s interest. That kind of regulatory calibration — call it reductio ad feminem — would wreak havoc in fields that drive the economy such as math, physics, and computer science.