NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 18, 2008

Until recently, the impact of Title IX, the law forbidding sexual discrimination in education, has been limited mostly to sports.  But now, under pressure from Congress, some federal agencies have quietly picked a new target: science, says the New York Times.

The National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Energy have set up programs to look for sexual discrimination at universities receiving federal grants.  Some critics fear that the process could lead to a quota system that could seriously hurt scientific research and do more harm than good for women.

In this debate, neither side doubts that women can excel in all fields of science, says the Times.  In fact, their growing presence in former male bastions of science is a chief argument against the need for federal intervention:

  • Women now constitute about half of medical students, 60 percent of biology majors and 70 percent of psychology Ph.D.s.
  • They earn the majority of doctorates in both the life sciences and the social sciences, although they remain a minority in the physical sciences and engineering.
  • The annual share of doctorates in physics held by women has tripled in recent decades.

The reviews so far haven't led to any requirements for gender balance in science departments, says the Times.  But Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has written extensively about gender wars in academia, predicts that lawyers will work gradually, as they did in sports, to require numerical parity.

Colleges already practice affirmative action for women in science, but now they'll be so intimidated by the Title IX legal hammer that they may institute quota systems, says Dr. Sommers.  It will be devastating to American science if every male-dominated field has to be calibrated to women's level of interest, she adds.

Source: John Tierney, "A New Frontier for Title IX: Science," New York Times, July 15, 2008.

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