Sunday, August 31, 2008

How Pervasive is Discrimination in Higher Ed?

Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers on the issue of female under-representation in tenured positions in science and engineering at top universities and research institutions at NBER's Conference on Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce in 2005:

If it was really the case that everybody was discriminating, there would be very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating, because of what it would mean for the pool that was available.

And there are certainly examples of institutions that have focused on increasing their diversity to their substantial benefit, but if there was really a pervasive pattern of discrimination that was leaving an extraordinary number of high-quality potential candidates behind, one suspects that in the highly competitive academic marketplace, there would be more examples of institutions that succeeded substantially by working to fill the gap.

And I think one sees relatively little evidence of that. So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.


At 8/31/2008 9:44 AM, Blogger Dave Narby said...

This argument would make sense, except that many of the "best" universities no longer rely on tuition (or even endowments) to keep the doors open.

At 8/31/2008 11:35 AM, Anonymous QT said...


Your link is not working.

You can post a link using HTML.

Summers presents a very logical argument. I don't really understand how funding invalidates his argument. Could you elaborate?

At 8/31/2008 2:35 PM, Blogger Dave Narby said...

You'll have to cut and paste the link, I don't have the patience to figure out Blogger's HTML rules. : p

Or Google 'Yale plans to spend more of its $22.5 billion endowment'

But to clarify -

My thesis is that competition only works if you need to compete for funds from students paying tuition.

Yale and many, many other big, elite universities don't have to compete, they have enough money to give full tuition to all their students, pay for their housing, books, and board, give raises to all the staff, and still have enough money via conservative investments to grow to meet expenses, AND increase the principle.

So they don't need tuition money.

Perhaps the tax status of these entities should be re-examined...

At 8/31/2008 5:24 PM, Blogger Dr. T said...

The question was how much discrimination exists in the selection of university faculty. My experience is that there is little discrimination (based on gender or race) in the sciences. The humanities (sociology, history, literature, etc.) often have reverse discrimination with women and blacks receiving preference over white males. Since white males have no advocate groups, no one is bothered by this type of discrimination.

Dr. Summers is a brilliant man who hoped that the false issue of discrimination against women in science and engineering programs could be discussed and put to rest. His hopes were destroyed by a vicious, illogical, and almost frantic campaign by so-called women's rights groups. They want this to be a social and political issue, not a logical and scientific issue, and they won. After all, when has logic, reason, and science won against illogical positions held by vocal interest groups?

At 8/31/2008 7:15 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"His hopes were destroyed by a vicious, illogical, and almost frantic campaign by so-called women's rights groups. They want this to be a social and political issue, not a logical and scientific issue, and they won...

Nobody won dr. t but I know what you mean and I don't disagree with it one iota...

By kicking logic and common sense the the curb the witches rights group not only hurt themselves and there supposed cause (what was that cause again?) but they also laid a road block for the women who might have followed them into the same career paths...

At 9/01/2008 1:32 PM, Blogger bob said...

Either summers is knows the data concerning IQ and is pretending he doesn't or he's willfully ignorant of it ... I don't know which makes him less qualified to spout off on this topic


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