/ July 15, 2008

Title IX Quietly Studies the Sciences

This week the New York Times reports a growing demand from members of Congress and women’s organizations to enforce Title IX, guaranteeing parity between the genders in education, to science departments in the country’s universities. Congressional requests have driven NASA, DOE and the National Science Foundation to conduct investigations at America’s top schools for science to determine whether the low numbers of women in certain physical sciences can be attributed to sex discrimination. If non-compliance with Title IX is found, some universities may implement quotas to ensure that more women enter these fields.

However, critics of the government’s new strategy abound, arguing that women may prefer to go into other fields, and that an assumption of discrimination actually disparages the free choice of women to enter any field they please. The statistics do reflect that while a high proportion of women are pursuing degrees and careers in science, they are largely absent from physics and engineering. However, the Times cites a study of gifted math students, in which psychologists found that talented women felt pressured by their teachers to pursue the sciences as “torch bearers” for other girls. Another study concludes that the differentiation in academic interests between girls and boys occurs long before their college years. According to these researchers, women’s actual preferences (ie, more interest in working with people) may be more to blame for the disparity in science departments than any anti-female bias.

Critics of the Title IX investigations cringe thinking about the loss of male talent that could result from university quota systems, and even female scientists decry the move, arguing that it fosters an assumption that women need the extra boost to make it in the field. But, Congress pushes on, and analysts claim that eventually, Title IX will reign supreme in the sciences.

Source: The New York Times

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