‘If there’s one word that sums up everything that’s gone wrong since the war, it’s ‘workshop,’” quipped a character in a 1978 Kingsley Amis novel. What would Amis make of “STEMinars” — a term sometimes used by gender activists to describe their workshops on how to overcome bias in the science, technology, engineering, and math professions?
This Friday, as it happens, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. The overarching goal of the $85 billion act is to maintain the nation’s competitive edge in the global economy, and many of the included programs are uncontroversial: basic research funding for agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and support for programs that foster excellence in math and science education, for example.
However, the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Amendment unanimously but quietly passed the House Science Committee on April 28. Buried deep in the act, where few can see, this little provision compels our leading academic engineers, mathematicians, information technologists, and physicists to attend equity STEMinars, and these STEMinars will not help America compete. In fact, these STEMinars have the capacity to undermine the meritocratic culture that enables America’s success in science.
The “Fulfilling Potential” amendment directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to organize gender-bias-awareness workshops and specifies that “attitudinal surveys [be] conducted on workshop participants before and after the workshops. . . . Activities shall include research presentations, and interactive discussions or other activities that increase the awareness of gender bias.” Most members of Congress, despite their personal reservations about such workshops, know that to vote against such an amendment would trigger the wrath of the gender-bias juggernaut — an army of activists, scholars, and lawyers. (The former Harvard president Lawrence Summers is only its most famous victim.) These days, politicians and college presidents find it easier just to say yes to the gender lobby. What could be wrong with that? Let’s start with the interactive discussions.
Once the Reauthorization Act becomes law, the anti-bias “interactive theater” experiment developed at the University of Michigan will flourish. Deans and chairpersons of engineering, math, and computer-science programs will be able to demonstrate their bona fides where women are concerned (and protect their funding) by requiring faculty to watch a series of skits where insensitive, overbearing men ride roughshod over hapless but obviously intellectually superior female colleagues. The plays were inspired by a 1974 manifesto by Brazilian radical Augusto Boal in his book Theatre of the Oppressed. The federal government will not only sponsor these plays, but also provide the means to administer attitudinal surveys to measure how effectively they have altered the consciousness of the scientists in the audience.
“Gender Bias Bingo” is another initiative that will thrive once the amendment becomes law. With a $300,000 National Science Foundation “ADVANCE” grant, activist-lawyer Joan Williams and her team at the Hastings School of Law developed a website for academics called “The Gender Bias Learning Project.” The centerpiece is a bingo game. To win, a scholar submits three harrowing stories about how she or someone she knows was demeaned by clueless colleagues. According to Professor Williams, “the site is fun and funky, but it is based on science.” In fact, it is based on discredited 1970s feminist ideology and a tendentious collection of readings. “It’s better to be a bitch than a doormat,” says Williams to viewers. But why be either? And why should taxpayers be supporting a divisive and irrational program?