Christina Hoff Sommers has a fabulous piece in the March/April issue of The American magazine about the push to apply Title IX on science education.  The reasoning is: women still make up a small percentage of students and professors in scientific fields; Title IX in the athletic realm has been a tremendous success; so applying Title IX to science education will solve the perceived problem.  As Sommers shows, there’s a lot wrong in there.

Let’s start with my personal pet peeve, the notion that Title IX in the athletic realm has been all positive:

While Title IX has been effective in promoting women’s participation in sports, it has also caused serious damage, in part because it has led to the adoption of a quota system. Over the years, judges, Department of Education officials, and college administrators have interpreted Title IX to mean that women are entitled to “statistical proportionality.” That is to say, if a college’s student body is 60 percent female, then 60 percent of the athletes should be female-even if far fewer women than men are interested in playing sports at that college. But many athletic directors have been unable to attract the same proportion of women as men. To avoid government harassment, loss of fund­ing, and lawsuits, they have simply eliminated men’s teams. Although there are many factors affecting the evolution of men’s and women’s college sports, there is no question that Title IX has led to men’s participation being calibrated to the level of women’s interest. That kind of cal­ibration could devastate academic science.

So where did this push for Title IX in the sciences come from?

The idea of “title-nining” academic science was proposed by Debra Rolison in 2000. She has promoted Title IX as an “implacable hammer” guaranteed to get the attention of recalcitrant faculty. Prompted by Rolison and a growing chorus of activists, the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space held a 2002 hearing on “Title IX and Science.” Later, in 2005, former subcommittee chairmen Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator George Allen (R-VA) held a joint press conference with feminist leaders. Wyden declared, “Title IX in math and science is the right way to start.” Allen seconded, “We cannot afford to cut out half our population-the female population.” The Title IX reviews have already begun.

Title IX aside, the key question on this issue should be why are there so few women in the high echelons of academic math and in the physical sciences?  The rhetoric and programs (think bias workshops and equity initiatives) surrounding the issue suggest the answer is clear: sexism.  But Sommers claims the issue might have less to do with sexism and more to do with innate differences between the sexes:

In a recent survey of faculty atti­tudes on social issues, sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University asked 1,417 professors what accounts for the relative scarcity of female pro­fessors in math, science, and engineering. Just 1 percent of respondents attributed the scarcity to women’s lack of ability, 24 percent to sexist discrimination, and 74 percent to differences in what characteristically interests men and women.

Many experts who study male/female dif­ferences provide strong support for that 74 percent majority. Readers can go to books like David Geary’s Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences (1998); Steven Pinker’sThe Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), and Simon The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain (2003), for arguments suggest­ing that biology plays a distinctive-but not exclusive-role in career choices.

Sommers admits that much of the research connecting biological differences to career choices is not decisive.  But the reserach is serious and credible and if we really care about the evidence of the situation, this is an area that deserves serious attention.

The whole article is available here.  There is a lot of great information in there — I highly recommend reading the article in its entirety.

IWF Flashback: I covered the Oct. 17th hearing that Sommers mentions in her article here.  And more IWF Title IX commentary is available here.