Coming Soon: Probable Anti-Male Caps in Math and Science

Back to September 2012 Ed Reporter

Coming Soon:

Probable Anti-Male Caps in Math and Science

Feminists intent on limiting opportunities for men and boys have long abused Title IX when it comes to school athletics. Now we can expect the same assault against men who are interested in math and science.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires that schools and colleges receiving federal funding not discriminate “on the basis of sex.” The law is traditionally associated with school sports programs, where radical feminists have used it to forcefully eliminate hundreds of men’s sports teams in the name of “proportionality.”

The White House has announced a new set of policies that would step up enforcement of Title IX, explicitly applying the rule to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Title IX has always applied to all federally funded education programs, but the Department of Education’s new enforcement efforts will “develop consistent and consolidated technical assistance” on Title IX in STEM.

Just as enforcement of Title IX has meant gender quotas on school sports teams, increased enforcement in STEM education will likely lead to artificial enrollment caps aimed at keeping men out of math and science classes. “Title IX isn’t just about sports,” President Obama wrote in Newsweek earlier this year. It’s also about “addressing inequality in math and science education” and “a much broader range of fields, including engineering and technology. I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it.”

“To Obama, gender disparities are only bad when they disfavor women,” wrote the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Hans Bader. “Under his strange idea of equality, equality means men losing out to women. . . . The result could be a substantial reduction in the number of scientists graduating from America’s colleges and universities.”

Fewer women major in subjects like science and engineering because they choose to study other things, not because anyone discriminates against them. Charlotte Allen of Minding the Campus noted in a July blog post:

When college women study science, they tend to gravitate toward biology – about 58 percent of all bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in biology go to women. In contrast, women earn some 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science and just over 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences and mathematics. The likely reason for this . . . is that women tend to be drawn to “organic” fields involving people and living things, whereas men are more interested in the objects and abstractions that are the focus of STEM majors.

Yet the Obama administration sticks closely to the hard-line feminist argument that the problem is bias: women are somehow being denied access to STEM courses.

These new policies come at a time when women frequently outnumber men in classes of all subjects. 25 percent fewer men than women now graduate from college. Title IX was passed to correct a much smaller gender disparity in the days when 17 percent fewer women attended than men. So many more women than men now attend college that the Richmond-Times Dispatch asked in March whether colleges ought to begin considering affirmative action for men:

In every other academic realm, the existence of a statistical disparity . . . is taken as definitive proof of gender discrimination. . . . We look forward to a robust debate on how institutions of higher learning can correct the discriminatory circumstances that are leading them to graduate nearly three women for every two men.

“The fact that engineering departments are filled mostly with men does not mean they discriminate against women,” notes Bader, “anymore than the fact that English departments are filled mostly with women proves that English departments discriminate against men. . . . Deep down, the Obama administration knows this, since it is planning to impose its gender-proportionality rules only on STEM fields . . . not other fields that have similarly large gender disparities in the opposite direction.”

Charlotte Allen pointed out that applying gender quotas to STEM is not merely bad policy:

The use of Title IX to force universities to restructure their curricula and alter the composition of their hard-science and engineering departments in order to achieve a supposed gender equity that matches neither the aptitudes nor the interests of many women isn’t just heavy-handed and totalitarian. As study after study indicates, it’s bad science as well.

The Washington Post’s Christina Hoff Sommers warned in 2009 that the sciences would become radical feminism’s next favorite target:

The idea of imposing Title IX on the sciences began gaining momentum around 2002. Then, women were already earning nearly 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and at least half of the Ph.D.s in the humanities, social sciences, life sciences and education. Meanwhile, men retained majorities in fields such as physics, computer science and engineering. Badly in need of an advocacy cause just as women were beginning to outnumber men on college campuses, well-funded academic women’s groups alerted their followers that American science education was “hostile” to women. Soon there were conferences, retreats, summits, a massive “Left Out, Left Behind” letter-writing campaign, dozens of studies and a series of congressional hearings.

The Department of Education says that it has “not expanded the jurisdiction of Title IX, nor has the department issued new Title IX regulations or guidance regarding the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM),” but has instead created a new multi-agency initiative “to develop consistent and consolidated technical assistance” on Title IX as it relates to STEM:

The goal of this coordinated multi-agency collaboration is to reduce the burden on schools and institutions, who may benefit from common guidance about their Title IX responsibilities and way to improve access and outreach to women and girls in STEM fields. There is no truth to claims that the Department plans to impose STEM quotas or caps.

But, as the Heritage Foundation noted:

The heart of the matter remains the same: Title IX has a track record of measuring “opportunity” in athletics on the basis of whether participation is proportional to enrollment. This shifts the focus from equality of opportunity to equality of results, substituting policymakers’ desired outcomes for students’ own preferences. . . . Will this new collaboration result in quotas, substituting policymakers’ predetermined outcomes for the preferences of students, and diminished opportunities for men in STEM fields? If implementation of Title IX in the intercollegiate athletics context is a reliable indicator, there is strong evidence that it might.

Legal precedents have made it very difficult for school sports teams to comply with Title IX without imposing gender quotas, and it’s unlikely that STEM education will be different. Bader explains:

The first way (and only permanent way) to comply is to adopt a quota that artificially caps male participation. The second and third ways, which are only short-term fixes, involve continuous expansion of participation by, or satisfaction of all desire to compete by, the “underrepresented” sex. In a world of finite resources, these latter two ways can only work for a short period of time. In light of this fact, courts have rejected lawsuits by men’s teams cut by colleges to achieve proportionality (that is, quotas), concluding that such quotas are required by Title IX, which thus overrides any rights the men’s teams might otherwise enjoy.

Bader, who used to work in the Office for Civil Rights, which administers Title IX, believes that gender caps are just as unwise as they are unconstitutional: “I think that it would be a grave mistake to apply its standards, which were designed for allocating resources among all-male and all-female sports teams, to the very different context of math and science classes, which are coed.” Math and science classes, he noted, “are open to all students, regardless of gender, and are supposed to be gender-blind, not gender-specific or gender-based.” Applying gender quotas to STEM classes “is simply unconstitutional.”