Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Physics, Engineering, and Title IX Quotas, Oh My!

The alarmist tone of John Tierney's column in today's New York Times, warning that university physics and engineering departments are about to be "Title Nined," conjures up an image of banished male scientists being consoled by ex-wrestlers as they all gaze longingly at the university campus from just outside the gates. Science is about to invoke the dreaded Q-word (as in Quota).

Indeed, government agencies that dispense federal funds are becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of sex discrimination by universities who receive research grants.
But this doesn't mean that NASA or the National Science Foundation, for example, are about start counting scientists by sex the way that athletics departments do. Because while all education programs are governed by Title IX, only athletics programs are subject to the regulatory interpretation that measures equality by statistical proportionality (as one option among several). And this is for good reason. Only athletic departments have been granted the special dispensation to satisfy Title IX's nondiscrimination mandate by employing a "separate but equal" framework. Because athletic departments practice segregation, which history teaches is usually discriminatory, they have to compensate by proving equality in other ways, one option being statistical proportionality.

Because academic departments are not segregated, we are not likely to see anything like a "quota" forcing talented men out of science (or trapping talented women in, as Tierney seems to suggest). Rather, the application of Title IX to physics and engineering departments will more likely resemble the application of other discrimination statutes like Title VII to gender-integrated workplaces. In those applications, the focus is not on statistical parity, but on the rooting out of intentional discrimination, pretext, and "neutral" practices that have a disparate negative effect women. One has to wonder if these are practices that those who raise the red-herring of quotas secretly favor?

[h/t to BC, HW, and WM for sending along the link]