March
21st 2011
Groundhog Day at M.I.T., and everywhere

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, students, women's history

UPDATED, later this morning

The New York Times reports on M.I.T.’s efforts to recruit, retain, and promote women faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering into leadership positions in the wake of its landmark study in 1999 revealing pervasive sex discrimination.  It’s good news–but M.I.T. is about where most American unis were about 20 years ago in their conclusions about the progress of women and the “new” issues that their success so far.  From the Times summary of the 2011 report:

In what the new study calls “stunning” progress, the number of female faculty members has nearly doubled in the School of Science since 1999 and in the School of Engineering since its original study was completed in 2002. More women are in critical decision-making positions at M.I.T. — there is a female president, and women who are deans and department heads. Inequities in salaries, resources, lab space and teaching loads have largely been eliminated.

“I thought things might get better, I thought people had good will, but I never dreamed we’d make this much progress in 10 years,” said Lorna J. Gibson, who led the Engineering School study.

Some of the problems noted in the report are brought on by progress: the university now struggles to accommodate two-career couples; a decade ago, women with tenure tended to be married only to their careers.

But the primary issue in the report is the perception that correcting bias means lowering standards for women. In fact, administrators say they have increased the number of women by broadening their searches. No one is hired without what Marc A. Kastner, the dean of the School of Science, called “off-scale” recommendations from at least 15 scholars outside M.I.T.

Among women on the science and engineering faculties, there are more than two dozen members of the National Academy of Sciences; four winners of the National Medal of Science; the recipient of the top international award in computer science; and the winners of a host of other fellowships and prizes.

“No one is getting tenure for diversity reasons, because the women themselves feel so strongly that the standards have to be maintained,” Professor Kastner said.

For many students and faculty–women included!–the mere presence of women and/or nonwhite scholars on a faculty in any meager number is prima facie evidence that “standards” are slipping. 

An array of prizes and professional accolades among female professors has provided a powerful rebuttal to critics who suggested after the earlier report that women simply lacked the aptitude for science — most infamously, Lawrence H. Summers, whose remarks set off his downfall as the president of Harvard.

But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

Maybe someone should clue in the male students:  U haz coeducation now?  Like, since 1870, apparently, and in more than token numbers since 1964, nearly fifty years ago.  I mean, maybe it would have been news a century ago to have “girl scholars” in the lab, but srsly, boys?  Get a grip and grow the frack up.  Women are nearly half the undergraduate student body and nearly 1/3 of the graduate students at M.I.T.  Speaking of “coeducation:”  I used to work with a man (surprisingly a guy about my age at the beginning of his career, not an older man at all) who persisted in calling our women students at that university “co-eds.”  Now, this is a university that had been “co-ed” since the 1920s and had more women than men students by that time, so it seemed more than a little stupid to call women “co-eds” in the 1990s.

It’s the persistence of this attitude–that women are the interlopers into the boys’ club–that continues to convince everyone that women students and faculty are the exception rather than the rule.  (And we know that in the case of both undergraduate and graduate students nationwide in the U.S., women students are the majority!)  How else to explain this comment from the President of M.I.T. at the time the original report was issued (again, from the Times story)?  “‘I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception,’ the university’s president, Charles M. Vest, wrote in the 1999 report. “’True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.’”  Why would anyone “believe” that unless women’s “perceptions” were always doubted or discounted?  How could this be “true” in any part unless women’s experiences and women’s work always means less and counts for less? 

Back to the Times story on the 2011 report:

Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor [Hazel L.] Sive said, “Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.”

This is something I’ve long wondered about–to what extent do “work/life” balance discussions perpetuate the notion that “balance” is women’s work?  I am happy to talk about my personal and professional life choices with students who ask, but I’m a bit uncomfortable with public fora like these in “co-ed” environments that feature only women faculty and are aimed at mostly women students.  It seems like these discussions end up exoticizing faculty women like an alien species. 

What do you think?

37 Comments »

37 Responses to “Groundhog Day at M.I.T., and everywhere”

  1. Perpetua on 21 Mar 2011 at 8:46 am #

    “No one is getting tenure for diversity reasons, because the women themselves feel so strongly that the standards have to be maintained,” Professor Kastner said.

    I love this quote because it demonstrates yet again either willful or unintentional ignorance about the reality of women’s experiences. In the same article where there is all this talk about how clearly standards are slipping because of the presence of the women, Kastner says oh but look the women – EVEN the women! – are insisting that standards remain! It makes me wonder what the reality is there. Are men and women judged by equal standards? Srsly? My guess would be that, like in almost every work place, women are judged using *higher* standards because they are perceived as being weaker, less intelligent, and less valuable.

    On the work-life balance – well that’s a complicated issue. Because on one hand, Prof. Sive is right and it’s creepy and weird to always talk to women as though they are the only participants in their family life. On the other hand, data shows again and again that women DO do most of the work of the household and especially child rearing. So I wouldn’t want to see a panel where a guy is sitting up there going – Yeah it’s so hard! I can only work 65 hours a week now that we have a baby! I’m such an involved dad, I even change diapers. Or whatever. So that’s a hard one for me, because it isn’t a “woman’s” issue. And yet it is. So I want there to be a way out of it being just a women’s issue, but also without obfuscating that it is in fact a women’s issue. Even if it’s not a women’s issue inside each particular family, it is as far as perception is concerned. This goes back to the idea of “slipping standards.” One of the way reasons why women are worth less than men in the workforce is because they (often) procreate and every body knows that makes them worse workers (whether they actually have kids or not – they are all “pre-pregnant” until of course they become witches). “Concessions” granted a working mother – like maternity leave – are viewed by many as illegitimate moves that “privilege” the mother through giving her some kind of break/ lower standards. Spousal accommodation can be seen that way as well, especially when the trailing spouse is the woman.

    (Side note on work-life balance: not only should this not be only a women’s issue, it’s not even a PARENT’S issue, and that’s a problem too. Many people have concerns/struggles with work-life who are not parents. Framing it this way is heteronormative and also in some ways marginalizes working mothers more because they can be perceived yet again as “getting things” that others don’t in an unfair way.)

  2. Historiann on 21 Mar 2011 at 8:56 am #

    Good points, Perpetua. I found the NYT summary of the report much more focused on heterosexual procreative women than the report itself, which included comments from women who aren’t mothers about their irritation that MIT assumes that all women are in touch with mothers’ issues, and that mothers’ issues are all women’s issues.

    I hear what you’re saying about not wanting to hear about a man bragging about kissing his children goodnight and getting cookies for that. My question is, why have these “work/life” or “balance” conversations in public at all? I don’t really care what someone’s kids had for dinner last night or just how messy their homes and offices must be. But inviting only women to comment on these issues, and inviting scrutiny of their personal and family lives, perpetuates this notion that women are “new” here in universities and that they’re weird, exotic, different, special, etc.

    Given the reality of the TT job market in all fields, I think we can take for granted that American university faculty work damn hard for tenure and beyond. I’ve asked some very successful women in my field about how they get it all done, and it’s clear that there are no Superwomen. Their homes are a mess and their kids eat a lot of Happy Meals and other carry-out food. I don’t see what conversations about their personal/family lives add other than yet another meeting or presentation to an already-busy schedule.

  3. squadratomagico on 21 Mar 2011 at 9:14 am #

    I suspect one reason why women are always the ones asked to commet on work/life balance is because, historically, it’s been women activists and feminist organizations who have been on the front lines in asking for family-friendly policies in the workplace. In hindsight, I this this has been a failure. Here comes a provocation:

    I am deeply ambivalent about the equation that has been made, increasingly since the mid-90s, between feminism and family-friendly policies. A brief sketch of some of my reasons include: the simplistic and reductive equation made between female biology and the inevitability of maternity; the heteronormativity of this ideal, which sets up a narrow standard that excludes queer, singles, and non-childed folk; the fact that “family friendly” really only means”child-friendly” (just try getting accommodations to alleviate other family stresses); and most importantly, the fact that wringing one’s hands about The Children has proven the single most effective wedge the right wing has ever discovered to divert women’s energy away from actual feminism.

    While I understand that pursuing greater flexibility for family obligations initially was embraced by feminists as a way of increasing opportunities for women in the workplace, at this point I believe it has begun to backfire. It has resulted in an increasingly retrograde climate of hysteria about The Children, has successfully reduced women to biological agents within large swaths of public discourse; and on the other hand, has pretty much failed at transforming the workplace or at achieving greater sharing of domestic duties between the sexes.

  4. Perpetua on 21 Mar 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Historiann, just to answer quickly – IMO the work-life balance conversations are happening in public because they directly impact people’s jobs and professional lives. Because we have so few structures in place in the US to help people function as human beings and workers, our “life” part often intrudes on our “work” part. (I mean godforbid you tell your colleagues you can’t go to that 5:30 meeting/talk because you have to put your children to bed.) I’ve never been to the kind of talk you (and the article) describe – it sounds like a complete waste of my busy time, indeed. But generally I feel like work-life conversations are important because we (workers, not just academics) need to make demands to our employers that we will be more productive and happier when the unsustainable system is made more sustainable (more flex time jobs, more on-site daycare, etc etc). For me it’s not about academia, but about the particular manifestation of capitalism in US. I just read an interesting blog post about the direct link between more flex time and happier people. I view the big problem with the work-life conversations that they focus exclusively on individuals and on what individuals do to make the “balance” work – whereas in reality it’s a structural problem/problem with employers rather than being about “making better choices” or whatever.

  5. Bardiac on 21 Mar 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Perpetua said it way better than I could have.

    We’ve given it enough time. Maybe it’s time to follow Gayle Rubin’s argument to the logical conclusion? (Not that I’m pro-violence or anything, just damned tired of constant sexism.)

  6. truffula on 21 Mar 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

    Indeed. I find this sort of attitude surprisingly common among my contemporaries (the early side of mid-career?) but it seems to vary from discipline to discipline. My friends in Biology, for example, have far more favorable and nuanced views of women in science than do the dudes in my own discipline. This may be a function of how I find friends or it may reflect the much larger proportion of women in Biology compared to my own discipline and the view the student has, when entering the field, of the gender landscape.

    I also find that my older peers are less likely than my contemporaries to think that women have an “unfair advantage” due to affirmative action, although they can simultaneously harbor some pretty unaware views of women’s issues and outright prejudices. Again, this probably reflects their life experiences. Women were never viewed by them as an external threat. Icky maybe, but not an external threat. Franz Boas, anti-racist patriarch of modern anthropology and mentor to a number of important female anthropologists at the dawn of the 20th century, nevertheless thought the way to improve the field was to get more young men to take it up (Rossiter, 1980, Isis, 71(3)).

    I have always thought that anti-woman attitudes expressed in terms of unfair advantage due to “quotas” are really about perceived economic threat.

  7. LadyProf on 21 Mar 2011 at 9:55 am #

    squadratomagico is right. On cynical days I go further and believe that the whole feminism = Family Friendly Policy shtick was invented to keep women in the academy down. Because other things being equal, who is the better person to hire: an uncompromised researcher, or someone who spends time and brainpower on laundry and diapers? And when you resolve to be sensitive to the ‘fact’ that Women Need Time for Diapers, you disparage all women, even those who never asked for child- or husband-nurturing accommodations.

    Not to mention the bitter divisiveness of the issue. Distract the ladies, keep ‘em sniping at one another. Pay no attention to the unjustly allotted Toyz for Boyz.

    And yeah, students still think that white female faculty and faculty of color are a little bit inferior and owe their jobs to the lowering of standards.

  8. thatsnothistory on 21 Mar 2011 at 9:59 am #

    I want to offer a counter example to the notion that the work/live balance issue is always percieved as a female issue. In my university (or at least the parts of it I’ve come in contact with), men are regularly involved in work/life balance discussions. In part, I think, because we have a higher teaching load than many schools (being far below the rarefied atmosphere of the MITs and Harvards of the world). All academics here struggle with finding time to “have a life,” regardless of either gender or seniority (which, in my experience, is usually a far more significant factor than gender). Another part is that we’re located in a small town, so everyone knows which men coach soccer teams and build sets for the local high school’s musicals, and we run into both male and female faculty with their kids all the time: at the supermarket, Target, the pharmacy, the farmers market, the swimming pool, local events, etc. Men’s roles in their families are visible here in ways that they generally aren’t in cities.

    Likewise, I think there’s more to the feminizing of academic work/life balance than its impact on women. Back when I adjuncted at an R1 wannabe urban school (not all that long ago), the only times men were involved in those conversations on campus were when they were asking the women about their lives. Off campus, in private contexts, junior faculty men readily admitted to struggling with the issue. The perception that family should not impinge on male work, and the pressure to appear to be succeeding, did those men a disservice. In the same way that our (or at least my) mothers’ generation had to appear to be superwomen who could do it all to have successful careers, male faculty at that school had to try to be supermen in order to not lose face in front of their colleagues but still be the kinds of involved, caring husbands and fathers they wanted to be.

  9. quixote on 21 Mar 2011 at 10:11 am #

    How to answer the affirmative action question? Srsly? I’d say it’s simple. You ask that dood whose pictures are on the money, who’s in the boardrooms, what’s the proportion of men to women at the highest levels of their college’s administration, ditto for full professors, etc., etc., etc.

    Then you say, “I think you’re the one who needs to explain what got you in besides affirmative action.” (And if you’re feeling mean, you could add, “Especially in view of your lack of critical thinking ability, as evidenced by that question.”)

    As for the work-life balance, indeed, it’s only a problem because the economy is predicated on an unpaid underclass who’s always there to pick up the pieces. Perpetua summed up how I feel about it though: “…it isn’t a “woman’s” issue. And yet it is. So I want there to be a way out of it being just a women’s issue, but also without obfuscating that it is in fact a women’s issue. Even if it’s not a women’s issue….” Word.

  10. truffula on 21 Mar 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Another thought. MIT is a special case. The university can afford to compete for any faculty it chooses and to pay the attention required to level the field within the institution. How likely is this to happen anywhere else? The privileged take care of their own. Perhaps what has changed is that this one elite group has decided to count women in.

  11. Feminist Avatar on 21 Mar 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I think the focus on the ‘family’ in the work/life balance discussion is really often a form of pronatalism in a modern context.

    But, I also think our willingness to discuss it reflects some inherent tensions within the modern economy. We have a culture that promotes conspicuous consumption and hobbies as central markers of identity, but also requires those that earn the money to allow them to purchase those identity markers to work long hours (limiting their ability to engage in that world). Modern consumer society continually reminds those of us who have the wealth that we don’t have the time to enjoy it -every time we see an advert we are reminded of what we are missing! Of course, it seems rather selfish to argue for time to PURCHASE, so instead we look to THE CHILDREN as a moral defence for our feelings.

    The sad reality is that this actually ignores the science, which shows repeatedly that working long hours is bad for health, well-being and most importantly productivity, and that most people who spend 12 hours in an office tend to achieve the same as those who spend 8 – because they are not tired and so more efficient, and they are also not trying to balance numerous other responsibilities during work time (pay bills, buy things, facebook). I also don’t think it is a surprise that facebook, blogs and other social networking are becoming increasingly popular as we work longer hours, because it helps us to integrate our leisure and work.

  12. Feminist Avatar on 21 Mar 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I also thought it was amusing that the NYT emphasised a ‘doubling’ of female faculty, rather than point out they now make up 19% of faculty. Wow! 19% = Equality then!!

  13. squadratomagico on 21 Mar 2011 at 10:25 am #

    The trouble with making work/family balance a women’s issue is that it capitulates, even before discussion begins, to the notion that “family” — e.g., childcare and more broadly, domesticity — is women’s business. That’s giving up 95% of the fight by accepting the inevitability of “traditional” gender roles.

  14. wini on 21 Mar 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Focusing on the academy:
    I am deeply ambivalent about the equation that has been made, increasingly since the mid-90s, between feminism and family-friendly policies. A brief sketch of some of my reasons include: the simplistic and reductive equation made between female biology and the inevitability of maternity;

    Yup

    the heteronormativity of this ideal, which sets up a narrow standard that excludes queer, singles, and non-childed folk;

    I think this is generation specific. In my (large) department we have: queer people (at least 2) with kids and single parents (at least 2). The first two of my peers from college who had (adopted) children were gay men. Indeed, the majority of my close gay/lesbian friends have or plan to have kids. I’m not saying it isn’t heteronormative, but your statement seems to be reinforcing this rather than challenging it.


    the fact that “family friendly” really only means”child-friendly” (just try getting accommodations to alleviate other family stresses)

    The same time I got a 1-year extension for child-rearing concerns, a colleague got it for health concerns, and another one got it for some sort of unspecified family stress. I bet the balance is towards parents, but I hope in a couple years this mainly means that there are less people with major health/family concerns than there are people who are parents. That would be great.

    and most importantly, the fact that wringing one’s hands about The Children has proven the single most effective wedge the right wing has ever discovered to divert women’s energy away from actual feminism.

    I can more or less go along with this.

  15. Retrochef on 21 Mar 2011 at 10:48 am #

    The proportion of female undergrads has been hovering around 50% for decades. I’m intrigued if there is a recent uptick in male students complaining about “unfair advantage,” unless it’s more of a selection effect — e.g., there are more female faculty, who are more attuned to gender issues, and so both reporting of and interest in such comments is getting more attention. When I was an undergrad there (1996-2000), I don’t recall it being a rampant problem. The general assumption was that if you could survive the stress, you deserved to be there, boobs or no.

    I like truffula’s point that MIT is very much a “special case” — having been at USC for a couple of years, they’ve got a much worse problem (in some departments/colleges) and much less interest and/or resources to invest in addressing the problem. Through the grapevine, I learned a recent engineering faculty search mandated a female or minority hire, and they did get a great professor (both in terms of research and teaching abilities); right there, they doubled the number of women in that department. (OMG, yay…?) But at the same time, a guy who graduated from the school decades ago, then recently lost his job, is able to just walk in and get his adviser to set him up as an instructor — the old boy’s network still works JUST FINE in most places.

  16. Historiann on 21 Mar 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks, everyone, for your great comments. I have felt too that conversations about “balance” (you know, for the girls) is a terrific way to create hierarchies among faculty in much the same way that medicine is now gendered, with women concentrated in primary care “nurturing” fields dominated by women and children patients, and men concentrated in surgical and other procedure-heavy sub-specialites. Of course, since most insurance companies pay fro procedures rather than time, surgical sub-specialties are where the money is.

    Retrochef’s comment gets at another issue the MIT report highlights both implicitly and explicitly, which is that *leadership matters*, and the reason MIT made as much progress as it did in the past 12 years is that people at the top decided to make sex equity an issue and to invest money and political capital into making it happen. The report emphasizes the importance of leadership, from the President’s Office on down to Department Chairs and senior faculty.

  17. Historiann on 21 Mar 2011 at 11:17 am #

    p.s. This is not to suggest that I’m against informal conversations about how to make an academic life work for people. In fact, I think I’ve hosted a lot of conversations about that very topic on this blog! I guess I’m just skeptical of the value of having those conversations under an institutional imprimatur. The people who are intimately involved in “balancing” the demands of work and home/family life don’t really need these discussions. (I think they’re dealt with more productively in in camera sessions as it were, and in conversations with colleagues and mentors.)

    I think institutions could pretty easily get away from gendered stereotypes of domestic labor if they just recognized that human beings don’t exist outside of human bodies, and that human bodies have traumatic events or contract disease or otherwise fail. Their employees have bodies, and they also may have responsibility for assisting other human bodies with their needs at different points in their careers. This is a more gender-neutral and parental-status neutral way of conceptualizing the need for sick and/or personal leave. We’re all going to need it, so it’s up to us to make sure that our institutions offer it equitably and fairly.

    (One of the things that has pi$$ed me off to no end is the fact that most people in U.S. universities don’t get parental leave, they get “sick leave.” OK, but women who give birth to their children aren’t treated as though they have experienced a medical trauma, rather, they’re frequently expected to keep on working through it all although they’re forced to take “sick leave” if they want any leave at all. And yet, I’ve never heard of a uni yet that required a cardiology or oncology or orthopedic patient to keep working through his “sick leave.”)

  18. Canuck Down South on 21 Mar 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    I have great fun telling my students at an (elite, private, very competitive, research-oriented, Midwestern) university that the admissions department deliberately gender-balances each incoming class, even though they actually get many more highly qualified applications from women. It always gives the freshmen a nice shock.

    One concern that I haven’t seen addressed at at formal or insitutional level (or even really in this thread) is that “family care” can and should involve elder care. I read recently that most people born after 1978 will spend more time taking care of their parents than their parents than their parents did taking care of them. Informally, I’ve already heard many graduate students (both male and female) in their mid-twenties start to worry about this: you can be single, childless, and yet still have many responsibilities for frail family members. Considering the job market, it’s pretty likely that you’ll be hired in a part of the country (or globe) far from wherever parents or other frail family members live. Is there any instituion in the US where “family” or “sick” leave is broad enough to include people other than an academic’s children or self? Or anywhere where it’s even being discussed as a possibility?

  19. thatsnothistory on 21 Mar 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Is there any instituion in the US where “family” or “sick” leave is broad enough to include people other than an academic’s children or self? Or anywhere where it’s even being discussed as a possibility?

    The Family and Medical Leave Act is one. Family is defined as:
    Family member means the employee’s spouse or same or opposite sex domestic partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sister, or brother. Family member also means individuals in the following relationships with the employee’s spouse or domestic partner: child, parent, or grandparent. It also includes those persons in a “step” relationship.

  20. Historiann on 21 Mar 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    I thought that’s what I was addressing in my comments about the costs of employing human bodies, Canuck. In any case, we’ve addressed this here before, and I think it was implied by Squadrato’s comment way upthread. When I write about faculty “hav[ing] responsibility for assisting other human bodies with their needs,” I absolutely mean that to be inclusive of elder care, not just care of one’s own children.

  21. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Mar 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    But the primary issue in the report is the perception that correcting bias means lowering standards for women. In fact, administrators say they have increased the number of women by broadening their searches. No one is hired without what Marc A. Kastner, the dean of the School of Science, called “off-scale” recommendations from at least 15 scholars outside M.I.T.

    Maybe Kastner is talking solely about hires into tenured positions, but there is no fucken way that they are getting 15+ recommendations of entry-level tenure-track hires. They are getting no more than three or four recommendations for applicants for assistant professor positions. (Not that this matters or has anything to do with the points of this post–all of which I agree with 100%. But this is WRONG and must be POINTED OUT!)

  22. Historiann on 21 Mar 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    I wondered about that, too. It seemed way excessive even for a tenure review, which in my field and college generally will yield sometimes up to 7 or 8 letters evaluating a candidate’s file.

    But, 15? Are there even enough qualified experts at suitably prestigious institutions to do that for MIT?

  23. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Mar 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    In the biomedical sciences, 15 is generally how many promotion/tenure letter requests are mailed out by my institution. For candidates who are well-known and well-respected, we typically receive all 15 back. How many we do get back is considered relevant by the committee. My institution would be considered a peer of MIT.

  24. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Mar 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    “My institution would be considered a peer of MIT.”

    I should have clarified: in the biosciences, not in the physical sciences or engineering.

  25. truffula on 21 Mar 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    15 recommendations

    I don’t know but it could be true. I know folks at similarly snooty institutions who had what seemed like pretty extreme requirements for promotion (more than a dozen letters, several different continents, quantitative ranking against a specific list of peers, etc.). If they expect to hire and promote only award-winners, the stakes are high. That said, the statement in the article An array of prizes and professional accolades among female professors has provided a powerful rebuttal to critics who suggested after the earlier report that women simply lacked the aptitude for science suggests to me that we are not talking about early career scientists.

  26. Hattie on 21 Mar 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    Canuck Down South: I am so glad that the men at your school continue to receive affirmative action for their gender. They must be far more valuable students than their female peers, so much so that they must be accomodated in spite of their inferior credentials.
    Isn’t there a law about this sort of thing? But I know of at least one other college that does this “gender balance” action without bothering to hide what they’re doing.
    How unfair to the women who would like to go to your college and yet are kept out because they are women and not men. Discrimination most rank is what this amounts to.

  27. Canuck Down South on 21 Mar 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    @Hattie: As far as I know, they neither hide nor advertise whatever systems they do have in place here. I don’t know a whole lot the admissions process for undergraduates (just what I’ve heard from senior faculty), though I do know it does the whole picking from all over the country plus x number of international students that seems to be common among selective American institutions. My impression is that the school has enough applicants that it can come up with an excuse to manipulate the incoming class however it wants to.

    I honestly don’t know what the legal situation is–I’m relatively new to this country, and still working out the intricacies of the American higher ed system–blogs like this one have been very informative for me on that front (thanks for the clarification of the Family and Medical Leave Act upthread!).

  28. Historiann on 21 Mar 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    FMLA is pretty weak tea compared to what families get in the Great White North. And yet, their cities haven’t come to riot and ruin, and their families aren’t any worse off than ours. How strange.

    The U.S. missed the boat on basic social welfare programs like socialized medicine and guaranteed paid parental leave, back when medical care was cheaper and more primitive than it is now. Now these are just accepted parts of the European and Canadian welfare states. Now I think it’s too late for anything like this to happen in the U.S. If it ever could have happened, that is (and I’m doubtful about that.)

    Americans are a hard and mean people. They prefer to praise the already rich and powerful and kick the poor and obscure. “It’s your misfortune, and none of my own,” we like to believe.

  29. wini on 22 Mar 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Dropping in quickly to say that when I interviewed at a school with affirmative action for (white) men they told me that their female students are overall much smarter than their male ones. And, one female faculty member ranted about the policy, she left that year.

  30. Shelley on 22 Mar 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Maybe because my writing is set in the last Great Depression, I have a fear that now that the job market is essentially and perhaps permanently more or less non-existent (lots of firing, minimal hiring)–that the corporations will rejoice because all the quality-of-life issues must now be shoved aside in service of I Need A Job.

  31. Daniel S. Goldberg on 22 Mar 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Just to elaborate on Historiann’s 9:17 pm comment (regarding work-health), there is extremely high quality social epidemiologic evidence linking occupation and health in pretty profound ways, beyond mere exposure to hazardous conditions.

    In some of the more civilized societies on the planet, the benefits afforded people and (yes) families are staggering by American standards, which come off as entirely Hobbesian in comparison. Generous leave time, wholly-funded day care for years, etc. (Yes, pro-natalist for sure, but in part this is a factor of the robust evidence showing that early development and intervention is absolutely critical for health over the lifespan, so in some sense there is justification in public health policy for “Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children”).

    The upshot is that the occupational climate of the U.S., including that of universities is deleterious to our health, and of course, the health consequences of these social pathologies are distributed highly unequally across the social gradient, disproportionately affecting the already marginalized and disadvantaged.

  32. Anonymous on 22 Mar 2011 at 9:20 am #

    I don’t think MIT is 20 years behind other american universities. What that article describes sounds very typical for many science departments, even at universities with female leadership in the upper administration.

    Later today, I have to schedule a work-life-balance discussion for my school and I just dread it. Students show up expecting the speaker to dole out the magical secret to making it all wonderful and easy. And instead the speaker describes how they managed – hard work, little sleep, trying to make the best of what is almost always a totally sucky unfair situation. Students then leave a little more disillusioned. Yuck, yuck, yuck and yuck.

  33. Anonymous on 22 Mar 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Informally, I’ve already heard many graduate students (both male and female) in their mid-twenties start to worry about this: you can be single, childless, and yet still have many responsibilities for frail family members.

    One thing that faculty at Ph.D.-granting institutions could do to (begin to) address this issue is to model for their graduate students– from day 1 of classes– how to speak professionally about one’s responsibilities to frail family members. We may occasionally snark about undergrads using their dying relatives as excuses for late assignments, but that snark doesn’t prepare grad students well for how (and when) to professionally take time off for equivalent situations.

    (More concretely: If you’re unlikely to get anything done anyway because of worrying about and/or caring for your terminally ill family member, when should you cancel class/find a substitute for the rest of the semester/tell your advisor/cancel that conference paper? How do you phrase the email?)

  34. Janice on 22 Mar 2011 at 9:52 am #

    The catch-22 of gender: if there aren’t as many women as men, it’s because women aren’t as good. If there are more women than men, it’s too easy or undesirable.

    I’m damned tired of hearing that woman are, by definition, less accomplished or deserving than any man. Those boys, bitching with the chips on their shoulder, about how undergraduate women have to justify their place in the classroom? They illustrate how little progress we’ve made in western society over the last hundred years in our essential attitudes toward gender equality.

  35. Lexia on 23 Mar 2011 at 7:15 am #

    Good lord! Is the NYT at it -again-?

    I remember when the original MIT study was published, the good writers at the NYT were stunned that any employer would admit to sex discrimination, no matter how strong the evidence. That article then finished with what amounted to general instructions on how any employer could easily avoid liability on the issue.

  36. Paul on 23 Mar 2011 at 7:22 am #

    Too late to join the conversation as usual, but I would just add that based on my own experience, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that many male students are convinced that many women students and teachers have been “let in” because of affirmative action. I used to believe this myself – it was widely believed among male friends and family members as well. The belief doesn’t seem to have declined much in the last 20 years. From what I can tell, belief that affirmative action is tilting the odds against you is very common among white men, and not just ultra-conservatives. It’s a good example of perception overcoming reality.

  37. Historiann on 23 Mar 2011 at 7:31 am #

    It’s never too late, Paul! Good to hear from you. (And Lexia–I know! I’m sure you can hardly believe it.)

    I hear this mostly w/r/t nonwhite scholars these days. (If colleagues or peers think that white women are all lucky duckies, no one shares that opinion any more with *me*, at least.) Most white people don’t think that standards have been lowered, but they persist in the belief that nonwhite scholars have all kinds of options that they’ll never have.

    Of course, many white scholars don’t think about what it might cost nonwhite scholars who move to small towns and rural areas that are overwhelmingly white. If they’re single/unpartnered, dating can be a challenge, and if they have a partner and/or children, they have to think about their children’s safety and well-being as very visible minorities in ways that white people don’t have to. As a Latino friend of mine from back in Winesburg, Ohio used to say: “I hope they don’t take [the controversial, some said demeaning Indian stereotype] Cheif Redskin’s face off of the football stadium. That would be one less brown face in this town!”