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Back to September Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 284 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS SEPTEMBER 2009

Higher Education: Bias Against Women? Or Against Men?
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A new congressionally-mandated study, Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty, concludes that women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are afforded career opportunities comparable with their male peers at major research universities. The findings for the six disciplines examined varied, but mathematics hiring data are representative: During 2004 and 2005, women made up about 20% of tenure-eligible applicants, but constituted 28% of those interviewed and 32% of those offered positions.

These data contradict claims made in a 2006 report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, which complained of a "pervasive gender bias." Based upon that report, Congress has authorized millions for anti-bias programs and instructed the Department of Education to review college science programs against Title IX gender equity standards.

Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, incited much criticism in 2005 when he suggested the dearth of female STEM faculty might be due to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end." A 2009 study by Stephen Ceci, Wendy Williams and Susan Barnett of Cornell University notes that while the gap between female and male median scores has narrowed in recent years on math and science portions of college-entrance exams, males continue to outscore females at the extremely proficient range.

However, even women who are highly skilled in mathematics don't tend to prefer STEM careers, and leave them twice as often as men do. The report suggests women are underrepresented due less to institutional bias and more because women are more likely to identify themselves as "home-centered" rather than "careerist" in orientation. Also, women's "career preferences tilt toward . . . medicine, teaching, law, and veterinary medicine, over engineering and physics."

Meanwhile, college graduates from all degree levels are now disproportionately female. In 2009, universities conferred degrees to 148 women for every 100 men, and the Department of Education expects the disparity to widen in the coming years. "If there is a crisis in the academy that merits a congressional investigation, it is not that women Ph.D.s are being shortchanged in math and science hiring and tenure committees, for that is not true. It is that men are quickly becoming the second sex in American education," said Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men.


 
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