APS News


Readers React to Using Title IX for Women in Science

Debra Rolison's idea [APS News Back Page, May 2003] of using Title IX to alter the gender balance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments is sheer lunacy. Rolison conveniently neglects one of the major side-effects of Title IX on college sports-the reduction in programs available to men.

Perhaps Rolison feels that in lieu of hiring more women, STEM departments should simply reduce the number of men. Social engineering does not work. Or is my complaint invalid simply because of my gender?
Andrew Resnick
Cleveland, OH

Debra Rolison's essay on using Title IX to discriminate against men in science and engineering is both outrageous and offensive. Title IX sounds innocuous enough at first glance and, if you read only the excerpt used by Rolison, would seem to be gender neutral. But feminist groups and activist courts have interpreted the fine print of Title IX to imply a quota system.

One would think that we would have seen enough failures in social engineering based on quotas and "diversity" initiatives over the last 30 years to last a lifetime but Rolison seems not to have had enough. I have experienced these firsthand as my son was denied opportunities in high school sports because he would have upset the quota balance. I have seen several instances in the corporate world where female employees were promoted over more capable male employees in the name of diversity, and subsequently failed because of inadequate experience and ability. And many competent women dislike anti-male discrimination because, while their advancement may be based entirely on merit, their peers always suspect gender favoritism.

Simply quoting statistics that there are more men employed in science and engineering and suggesting that this indicates a hiring bias is ludicrous. The same logic would say that high school wrestling teams are composed mostly of boys because the coach wouldn't let many girls join the team.

Rolison would do students a great disservice if her ideas were to be implemented. Students want the best teachers and the best researchers available and they don't care whether they are men, women, white or otherwise. Merit should be the only consideration for hiring and promotion, and gender and skin color should never influence the decisions.

Rolison apparently does consider skin color an important factor as she laments the employment of "lily- white" males. This sort of bigoted terminology has no more place in this Society than would the term "pitch-black" female (my apologies in advance).

Rolison would be well advised to alter her approach from "revolution" and "coercion" against the males that she seems to detest so much to an effort to convince young women to join the science and engineering ranks. Her efforts to legislate and litigate her political views onto others do no one any good. And she owes us "lily-white" males a sincere apology.
Kenneth E. Stephenson
Ridgefield, CT

I fully agree with Debra Rolinson's viewpoint that time has come to use Title IX like federal legislation to bring more qualified women in STEM departments. I would suggest considering either a redirected reward structure or so called "coercion" to encourage the shift in hiring practices across all academic institutions.

Let me also suggest that while it is critical to take concrete measures to bring gender balance in STEM departments, we should continue to underscore the hiring of ethnically diverse faculty as well.

Although, there are well defined laws against discrimination on the basis of color, age, gender, race etc., what truly goes on in hiring practices is far from being the truth in which racial, ethnic and/or gender bias continues to be used.
Vijendra (VJ) Agarwal
Staten Island, NY

Debra Rolison's article suggests invocation of Title IX in order to equalize the number of academic positions open to women. I do not object to her laudable goal, i.e., to give women an equal opportunity to engage in research or other activities within the field of physics, but I do object to the method by which she hopes to do this.

I am currently a PhD student, but before entering graduate school I taught high school in Florida. In that state, and indeed across the country, schools are forced to comply with Title IX by having equally sized and funded sports team for both female and male students.

This sounds good, of course. The problem is that equal numbers of male and female students do not try out for sports. So, because schools cannot get enough female athletes, those schools are forced to down-size the sports programs for males.

If one invokes Title IX to address the predominance of males in professional physics positions, a similar thing would happen if the number of women qualified and applying for such positions did not sharply increase.

Title IX is a Pandora's Box; once opened, the results of having opened it cannot be sealed away. Invocation of a legal excuse to cut funding and downsize programs is the last thing we as physicists, whether male or female, need.
Wallace Callen
Amherst, MA

Too bad that the pseudoscientific and racist term "white," wrongly used to describe a kind of human being, has appeared in an APS publication. This is especially true given the rainbow of nationalities and ethnicities represented in American physics.

The logically flawed and incoherently presented article, "Can Title IX Do for Women in Science and Engineering What It Has Done for Women in Sports?" by Debra R. Rolison in May 2003 APS News makes the case against, not for, quotas. If a quota system is instituted to populate the field with people whose minds work this way, it will be the end of physics.
Howard Weisberg
Pacific Palisades, CA

Can Title IX do for women in science and engineering what it did for women in sports? Of course it can! All that needs to be done is to follow the examples of collegiate sports, and mimic how they work.

Take chemistry, for example. Let's compare it to the basketball. Most colleges and universities field two basketball teams, one for men and the other for women. All of the men's teams have male head coaches, while many of the women's teams are coached by women, and when coached by men the teams have women as assistant coaches. These are two separate programs. The women students don't compete with the men, either on court, or for scholarships.

We can do something similar for chemistry. We can set up a chemistry department for men, and a separate department for women. The faculty for the women's department will start out with all of the women now on the combined faculty of chemistry, with the goal that as the women's department expands, women will fill faculty slots in that department. Eventually, the faculty in the women's department will be all, or nearly all, women, and they will compete with each other for faculty promotions and other perks independent of the faculty in the men's Chemistry department, and independent of the faculty in any other department at the university.

OK, I agree that the idea doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it's an example of how Title IX might be interpreted as it has been for sports.

The problem is that Title IX cannot dictate how to accommodate the male-to-female differences, especially in male-to-female competition, which is the major factor in the problems that Debra Rolison wants to fix,. Neither (1) demolition, (2) redirection, nor (3) coercion can be justified on any basis by a reading of Title IX. All Title IX can do is to specify equal opportunity for, and benefits of, programs or activities at least partly supported by federal funding.

I suggest that the concept of the "glass ceiling" at every level that women have been (granted, slowly) breaking has come about as men have worked with female colleagues, much more so than even a generation ago, and male-to-female competition is changing to male-to-female cooperation on joint efforts. As younger men themselves fill positions of responsibility, so will the women who have already proven their capabilities to those men. Does this mean that women will always continue to lag behind, at least a little bit, in, e.g., faculty promotions? Yes, probably so, at least until we elect a woman as president of the United States.
J.K. Dickens
Oak Ridge, TN

ROLISON replies: I agree with Agarwal that STEM departments need to widen their focus when hiring faculty: talented female and minority scholars should be sought out and recruited?and the departmental environment should be one in which they would be willing to create a career (D.R. Rolison, in Women in the Chemical Workforce, National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 2000, Ch. 6). To do any less is to weaken the future effectiveness of the US S&T enterprise.

Surprising that Resnick, Stephenson, Callen, and Dickens have not yet noticed that the business of the US government is social engineering. Would they care to renounce at tax time the mortgage deduction for homeowners or bid farewell to the National Science Foundation?established thanks to an act of Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes."?examples both of social engineering in service to specific national goals.

More surprising still is their belief that the S&T enterprise operates as an absolute meritocracy (and yes, I know what the lip-service sloganeering says we do; I'm referring to what we actually do).

One expects scientists to be better natural philosophers than that. And if schools and universities are cutting men's wrestling teams rather than confronting the real issue (the quasi-professional status of men's collegiate football and basketball), that is neither the fault of the women who want access to athletic opportunities nor Title IX for making it possible that they get them.

My thanks to Resnick, Stephenson, Callen, and Dickens for reinforcing my arguments.
Debra Rolison
Arlington, VA

Ed. Note: The letter by Weisberg arrived too late for Rolison's response.

Mideast Poses Tough Questions

I agree with Joel Lebowitz, who writes in the April Back Page, "An American Physicist Visits Birzeit University", that "the scientific perspective" places extra responsibility on scientists to use their knowledge and influence towards bridging gaps between peoples." But by failing to contend with the reality of the Mideast and to distinguish between fact and fancy, this article avoids tough questions and dispenses with rigorous analysis.

The article posits that Palestinians are bereft of opportunities to collaborate and lays out the case of Palestinian physicists against their Israeli counterparts in this regard as it calls upon the international scientific community to step into the breach.

The article tells of Palestinian skepticism of the Israeli academic community sincerity in expressing its eagerness to collaborate because "there are very few Arabs on the science faculties of Israeli universities." To check this, I called Yossi Klafter at Tel Aviv University and Oded Agam at the Hebrew University. They indicated that there are few Arab applicants' with the number being zero in most years. However, they agreed that though Israel does not have an affirmative action program in faculty hiring, they have not heard of a candidate being disadvantaged in the hiring process by his Arab heritage, but rather have witnessed this being taken as a positive factor. They saw it as a promising sign, that the numbers of Arab students at their universities were approaching their proportion in the population in the geographic region from which their respective universities draw their students.

It should be noted that the complaint by some Palestinians scientists that they are shy to push the envelope by interacting with Israeli scientists because they discriminate against Arabs must ring hollow to anyone who has participated in struggles for civil rights.

In that arena, progress is made by confronting and overcoming discrimination wherever it occurs, not by speculation regarding the motives of one's adversary. By the same token, the view put forth "that the settlements would make a viable Palestinian state impossible," is just part of the headlong scramble towards victimhood.

The article notes that Palestinians are not willing to cooperate with Israeli scientists, their nearest scientific neighbors, "for both security and political reasons," and then goes on to recount the hardships imposed by Israel upon Palestinians in response to the current intifada.

But the operative political and security considerations are played out on a very different plane. For a Palestinian physicist to cooperate with his Israeli counterpart would be a form of de facto recognition of Israel and would be more likely to expose him to danger from fellow Palestinians, who have not escaped the influence of an educational system that demonizes Israelis, than from Israelis.

But mistrust can be overcome by a process of engagement. The focus of help for Palestinian scientists should therefore not be to leapfrog over Israel, but to engage Palestinians and Israelis and scientists from other countries in joint scientific meetings and activities.

Such an effort has been undertaken in the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) project, to be hosted by Jordan and to operate under the auspices of UNESCO. The excellent record of Palestinian and Israeli physicians working together in many Israeli hospitals is another model of engagement for the common good. This has contributed to an increase in life expectancy for Palestinians living in the areas captured by Israel in 1967 from 48 to 72 years between 1968 and 2000.

In conclusion, the problem is not that Palestinians collaborate less than other scientists at comparable institutions, nor that there is purposeful refusal by Israeli scientists to cooperate with them, but that they are not at liberty to interact with Israeli scientists. Curiously, this stance mirrors that of Arab governments who have historically refused to negotiate with Israel. If there is to be peace, and if Palestinian science is to thrive, interaction with Israelis cannot be sidestepped but should be encouraged at every turn.
Azriel Genack
New York, NY

I commend Joel Lebowitz for taking his time to visit Birzeit University. It takes willpower and a great deal of courage to make this trip during this difficult time, so it is to his great credit that he went there to see things for himself and to listen, and also to try and bridge the gap.

Since Birzeit University is besieged and isolated, and does not enjoy the backing of a recognized country behind it, Palestinian scientists working there face a great deal more difficulty than their counterparts from other universities in the third world or in Israel.

It is therefore heartening to learn that there are people who do care and are willing to reach out. It is also important that we do talk. As a Palestinian scientist working in the USA, I meet many more Israelis here than I do back at home, at least outside of their army uniform. I find it important to take these opportunities to talk, and we usually have good conversations.

My thanks also to APS for publishing Lebowitz's page-long report on his visit.
Dr. Rami A. Kishek
College Park, MD

FitzGerald's Observation Preceded Tesla's

The May 2003 issue, "This Month in Physics History" describes the amazing career of Nikola Tesla and rightly credits him as the father of the world's predominant distribution of electric power via high-tension lines with alternating current. It also credits him with the discovery of terrestrial stationary waves.

The belief that Tesla was the first to envision the Earth as an electromagnetic resonator and presage the very low frequency modes of the Earth-ionosphere cavity (now known as Schumann resonances) has been furthered by myself and others. Recently I have learned better.

Tesla's relevant patent application is dated 1905. In a remarkable paper presented to the British Association in 1893, George F. FitzGerald first observes that the idea of the Earth as a conducting body surrounded by nonconductor is not correct.

He then suggests that the upper regions of our atmosphere are probably fairly good conductors. He models the situation as a conducting sphere surrounded by a concentric conducting spherical shell, which he identifies with the region of the aurora borealis. Presciently, FitzGerald even mentions thunderstorms, the primary source of Schumann resonance signals, as a source of excitation.

What is it about our history that slights Irishmen and Danes?
J. D. Jackson

PhD Students Should Learn Management Skills

In The Back Page article in APS News, May 2003, Debra R. Rolinson writes that universities need to "stop demanding so much of STEM faculty." I feel very strongly that we need to demand the skills she dismisses and more. Professors need to be managers, mentors, financial planners, and creative leaders. They require strong communication and interpersonal skills, in addition to their scientific vision.

Faculty members are, after all, managing a research enterprise and various employees. They need to be capable leaders for their advisees and for the sake of their research.

Management skills are never taught to PhD students, but they should be. My main complaint about my graduate experience is that managerial and interpersonal communication skills are often lacking in faculty members. In fact, many professors never learn to interact properly with their advisees, making graduate life difficult for students.

Introducing a management or interpersonal communication course to graduate curriculums could help solve this problem. The acquisition of necessary leadership skills could vastly improve the academic experience for both graduate students and faculty.
Rebecca Webber
Evanston, IL


In Physics News in 2002 [APS News, February 2003] under the headline "Laser-driven Jets of Carbon and Fluorine" on p. 8, the size of a secondary target was given as 100mm instead of 100 microns. APS News regrets the error.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette