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Time to yank the tax money

By Wendy McElroy
web posted July 29, 2002

It is not legal for universities to use tax money to discriminate on the basis of sex in employment or educational opportunities.

Yet the University of Maryland, a state school, is taking almost a million federal dollars from the National Science Foundation to create educational and employment opportunities exclusively for women.

The program is called RISE -- Research Internships in Science and Engineering -- by which a group of all-female faculty is mentoring all-female teams of students in university research activities. No male students need apply for the $3,000 tax-funded stipends that each female "RISE scholar" will receive for her training, which began June 2 and finishes July 26. No male faculty need apply for whatever tax-funded fees are proffered to RISE mentors.

This denial of educational and employment opportunity based on sex is not only against the government's affirmative action policies, it also violates the University of Maryland's own stated policy.

The University's "Policy on Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity" states: "The University of Maryland System is actively committed to providing equal educational and employment opportunity in all of its institutions and programs. All policies, programs, and activities of the University System are and shall be in conformity with all pertinent federal and state laws on non-discrimination regarding race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, and handicap ..."

It is also against the stated gender policy of the NSF. The FAQ (frequently asked questions) for NSF's "Program for Gender Equity" clearly permits projects that show bias toward females. Question No. 1 under the section Gender Equity Issues reads, "Projects can be proposed and conducted by organizations which serve girls primarily, can actively recruit girls, and can study girls as their focus."

But the FAQ states immediately thereafter that males cannot be excluded from such projects. "Programs serving girls do not have to make an effort to include boys; they can't categorically exclude them. ... Although the design of the project/activity/study can be exclusively focused on girls, the participation may not be exclusive."

Why, then, did the NSF award an estimated $899,814 to the RISE project that is described in NSF's Award Abstract -- #0120786 as a research venture with "all-female research teams, mentoring by female faculty members and advanced female students ... to perform significant mentoring and teaching of undergraduate women?"

RISE describes itself as a "demonstration program" that "has the potential to bring some of the advantages of an all-female learning environment, epitomized by women's colleges, into more mainstream higher education." In short, RISE is being tested at the University of Maryland in the hope of spreading the program throughout the university system.

The violation of governmental law and of both NSF and university policy is justified on the grounds that women are under-represented in engineering and hard science classes. The implication is that women suffer from discrimination in these areas.

Two questions arise: Is it true; and, does it matter?

To answer the latter question first -- according to the agencies' policies, it should not matter. The policies prohibiting the exclusion of males do not say, "except in furtherance of a good cause." They prohibit it ... period.

Is the justification true? Perhaps. But given how hypersensitive universities have become to the mere appearance of anti-female bias, I suspect the problem is isolated to specific campuses.

Persuasive voices, such as behavioral scientist Patricia Hausman, are skeptical about the evidence supporting accusations of anti-female bias. In a report issued by the Independent Woman's Forum, Hausman offered an in-depth critique of a report by the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology (CAWMSET). The report alleged that females in science, engineering and technology faced systemic barriers such as the inability to obtain academic guidance.

Hausman accused the report of advancing "an ideological treatment rather than a legitimate assessment of women's progress" in those areas.

How? In at least three ways. Hausman claimed the report is biased because:

-- CAWMSET was created by Congress in 1998 in response to a "barrage of feminist reports with dubious data." For CAWMSET the existence of artificial barriers is a given.

-- The report demeans women by portraying them as victims, not as "accomplished individuals who have made great strides in many scientific fields."

-- The report ignores "the wide success of women in the life sciences, and fails to recognize the large numbers of women in professional fields such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary, optometry, and podiatry."

In short, biased researchers used a presentation of selected data to support sweeping claims, without providing context. The degree to which the data was selected may be judged by one fact: The 10,000 women who yearly receive degrees in the life science professions did not show up in CAWMSET's figures on women who earn science degrees.

Even if it could be shown that artificial barriers to females actually exist, this "fact" would be secondary to the fact that the NSF and the University of Maryland have no business and no legal right to exclude males from the educational and employment benefits provided by tax dollars.

Why are they doing so? I asked Hausman that question. She answered: "All male, bad. All female, good. PC feminism is so simple."

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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