Volume 245 Number 3 July 1996
Symposium on Minorities and Women In Physics: Current Status and Issues
This panel and audience discussion was held at the APS March meeting in St. Louis, MO and was organized and moderated by Julia Thompson, University of Pittsburgh.
In the last 30 years the participation of women in physics has increased from 3% to 15% of PhD's, while the participation of minorities in physics has remained essentially level with Hispanics and African Americans each constituting about 1% of physics PhD's. These participation rates are low compared to the proportions of women and of minorities in the general population. Why are these groups still underrepresented in physics?
Recent striking gains among minority students in academic communities as different as Baltimore and El Paso and ranging from elementary schools to graduate schools may be changing the picture. The common emerging thread in the various scattered success stories seems to be insistence on rigorously high expectations and preparation levels such as those in the NSF Urban Systemic Initiatives (USI) and Comprehensive Regional Centers for Minorities (CRCM), coupled with practical and emotional support for those with high aspirations.
The panel session included discussions of questions such as:
---Will these trends solidify and change the terms of our discussions over the next several years?
---What can physicists learn from these trends and how can they contribute to make these changes more lasting?
---Particularly in the present climate, when we are urging trained physics students to consider jobs outside of physics, is it responsible or desirable to encourage fuller participation of minorities in physics?
---What part has or should be played by programs designated as "affirmative action"? What "affirmative action" programs have been in place long before the last decades? What do we mean by "affirmative action"?
---What do we as a society (in physics and in our larger society) stand to gain from fuller inclusion of minorities?
---What are some possible strategies for advancing toward that goal?
Each panelist was invited to submit a brief summary of their comments during the session. These summaries and a summary of the NSF statistics presented at the beginning of the session are included below.
II. NSF Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technical (SMET) Programs for Enhanced Minority Participation, and Some Successes
The NSF funds several programs aiming for systemic and comprehensive strategies for, institutional reform, student enrichment, teacher development, parental development, and community support, with the long range goals to improve technical education and increase minority participation in scientific and technical areas.
The common characteristics of successful programs seem to be personal involvement of role models and teachers with students, and reaching a critical mass so that minorities see SMET achievement as expected, and find support groups are close at hand for both academic and non-academic problems.
Some examples are: 1. Comprehensive Partnership for Minority Student Achievement (P.I., School District Superintendent). This is a K-12 program. Successful sites show increased student enrollment and achievement rates in SMET courses and test scores. Approximately 319,000 students are involved in these programs. Examples: Prince George's Co., MD, enrollment went from 3458 to 6012 in second year of program, test scores increased by 10%; Chattanooga, TN, enrollment increased by 70% in two years, 73% completion rate in math and science.
2. Alliances for Minority Participation program. Baccalaureate students, aimed toward increasing SMET participation through to the PhD level. More than 14,000 students have received baccalaureate degrees, and 140,000 students are participating. Alliances made between high achieving universities with colleges, community colleges, and businesses. Projected doubling of minority SMET graduates within the 5 years of the programs.
3. Urban Systemic Initiative. A K-12 program. Only cities with large poverty populations are eligible. Significant SMET enrollment increases and test score improvements seen. Examples: New York City, 1 million students, 56 thousand teachers, 1000 schools. Regents science enrollment and pass rates doubled, overall pass rates of African- Americans matched the overall population, and the pass rate for Hispanics became twice that of overall population. All students are expected to take 3 years of math and 3 years of science. Dallas, 145,000 students, 200 schools. Math gains above expectations in 6 of 8 grades. Detroit, math gains average 7 percentile points.
4. Program for Women and Girls. Grade school through graduate school. Visiting professorships (375); faculty awards, more than 80% of recipients promoted to full professor.
5. Minority Research Centers of Excellence. Eight centers: Hampton
University, Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Meharry Medical
College, Alabama A&M University, City College of New York, Puerto Rico at
Mayaguez, Texas at El Paso. These centers are making focused research
impacts in their specialized fields.
Luther S. Williams,
III. Presentation and Discussion of Criticisms of Affirmative Action Programs
Several recent, well-publicized events confirm that there is a disturbing increase in open criticism of affirmative action. The most dramatic scaling back of affirmative action in American higher education occurred when the University of California Board of Regents voted to end racial preferences in hiring and contracting by January 1996 and in admissions by the following January. More recently, the Arizona Board of Regents ordered the state's three public universities to determine if affirmative action was still necessary to ensure diversity on campus. President Clinton just last week "jettisons program for minority contractors" as reported in the New York Times . Last May the Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling that the University of Maryland's Banneker minority scholarship program was unconstitutional.
This continuing questioning of affirmative action ranges from whether it has proved to be effective, to the ethics of giving preferential treatment on the basis of race and sex, to the morality of urging women and minorities into fields with a grim job market. I have been asked by the organizer of our session to present and discuss these arguments against affirmative action.
Certain affirmative action activities are not contended and can be disposed of before addressing those in dispute. First, most of the people who criticize affirmative action do not direct their objections to programs aimed at making the playing field level. Such programs vary in scope and goals. For example, recognizing the importance of informal mentoring and the subtle effects of cultural conditioning, special efforts can be undertaken to make the climate less "chilly" for women and minorities. The American Physical Society recently issued a report, "Improving the Climate for Women in Physics Departments", funded by the NSF and authored by Millie Dresslehaus (MIT), Judy Franz (the APS), and Bunny Clark (Ohio State University), which presented the results of site visits to various physics departments and some excellent recommendations to make male dominated departments more hospitable to women students. Many institutions have initiated programs inviting female junior high school students to visit science departments to counteract a culture which still says women should not consider science as a career. There are programs for minorities (for example, summer research experience programs for students from historically black colleges, or enrichment programs for students from inner city high schools) aimed at leveling the playing field for students whose backgrounds compromise their chances for success in academia.
Most people who argue against affirmative action are not directing their arguments against such programs, although there are exceptions. There are some who believe that women should not enter the field of physics but only take care of their children. This point was presented in the letter by Gordon Freeman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Alberta in the January issue of Physics and Society which stated: "The APS should take pro-society action, and recommend that there be only one income per family. The APS should advertise the fact that two-parent, single-income families are the most stable and beneficial type of family for society." He uses this to argue against efforts to increase the number of women physicists. Perhaps even more distressing, there are people who believe that African Americans and/or women can never be successful at a subject as complex and sophisticated as physics and that their innate talents lie, for instance, in music and dance. Based on this, they argue that it is a waste of money to try to level the playing field. The vast majority of physicists are appalled at these extreme views and support affirmative action efforts aimed at making the playing field level.
However, some affirmative action endeavors are viewed as leveling the playing field by one group and unfair and discriminatory by others. If a chemistry department has a substantial number of majors who are women but no women faculty, many would say women faculty are needed to provide role models for these students and extra efforts to recruit women and preference given to them when making an appointment are justified. Similarly, if there are only a handful of African-American faculty, "target of opportunity" appointments would be advocated on the basis that an African-American student is educationally disadvantaged at the institution if he or she never has a class taught by an African-American. On the other hand, some would say this results in discrimination based on race and sex. Thus while most level playing field programs are viewed as fair by all, there are some for which there can be disagreement.
One argument against affirmative action is accepted by those who support it - or more precisely, they maintain that this is not a goal of affirmative action. The argument is often made that affirmative a ction means hiring unqualified people just because they are a member of a minority group. A quota for each minority group is set, and then even if applicants from that group are unqualified they are hired to fill the quota. However, reasonable people who support affirmative action do not support putting unqualified applicants in any position. There may be differences of opinion about what determines qualification for a position. For instance, when appointing a teacher for an inner city classroom, ability to interact with the children would mean a minority teacher is preferable. However, under no circumstances would it be to the benefit of the children to be taught physics by someone who does not know physics just because he or she is a member of a minority group. Those who support affirmative action want to set goals, but these are not quotas. They do not meet goals by hiring unqualified people.
This is somewhat related to another criticism of affirmative action. The claim is that affirmative action produces a feeling of inferiority in minority men and in women of all races and creates a negative stereotype in the minds of white males because affirmative action is perceived as a program which gives preference to those who are less qualified. As the recent report (Feb. 1996) of the American Council on Education "Making the Case for Affirmative Action in Higher Education" points out, these statements have been repeated over and over until they have assumed the semblance of fact. While both sides can give anecdotal evidence, there have been no systematic studies to examine this claim. Furthermore most women and minorities have experienced attitudes predating and unrelated to affirmative action which have helped to set the stage for feelings of inferiority. The additional assertion that affirmative action creates negative stereotypes implies that negative stereotypes did not exist before affirmative action. And finally, the report notes that it is never argued that a stigma is felt by children of alumni who are often given preference in admissions, nor is it claimed that any negative stereotyping results.
One argument against affirmative action is more difficult to refute. The claim is made that when race and/or sex is included as one of the criteria used to determine the outcome of a decision (such as admission into a university, award of financial aid, hiring of a faculty member) then it is discrimination based on sex and/or race. In an article in the September 15, 1995 Chronicle of Higher Education, Dinesh D'Souza in commenting on the action of the California Board of Regents states: "It is simply untruthful for institutions to assert in their catalogues and other literature that their policies are aimed at outlawing bias based on race, sex, or national origin. They are practicing discrimination against individuals for the purpose of admitting members of minority groups who do not present the same level of academic credentials as white or Asian American applicants do." D'Souza goes on: "One can hardly maintain that preferential policies strictly serve the goals of social justice. Take the case of Asian Americans. Members of this minority group have experienced both de facto and de jure discrimination, and they have played no part in any of the historical crimes that affirmative action was designed to remedy. In fairness, why should the burden of preferential policies be placed on historically innocent parties." D'Souza further argues that merit has now come under fierce attack. He defends the SAT tests from charges of bias and urges greater reliance on grades. Thus the argument is that affirmative action discriminates on the basis of race and against individuals in order to produce equality for the group. One argument against this is that our educational institutions have traditionally given preference to other groups, for instance, to alumni children, athletes, etc. However, two wrongs do not make a right. A stronger argument in the case of the admission process is that institutions do not discriminate, but rather that other factors besides grades and SAT scores are used. The purpose is to admit students who will succeed, and a variety of predictors are used. Race is taken into account because applicants or their families may have suffered from discrimination which has resulted in an impoverished educational environment. Thus the potential of an ethnic minority member may be greater than is apparent using standard criteria. In admitting a woman into graduate school from an institution where the research environment might have been less welcoming for women than for men, a committee might consider her lack of a glowing letter from a research advisor less damaging than its absence from the dossier of a young man.
In hiring faculty the claim can also be made that institutions discriminate against white males when preference is given to a woman or when a "target of opportunity" position is found for a minority. However faculty are hired to create a group which meets the needs of students or conducts research in hot fields; i.e., faculty are hired to further the mission of the college or university. People trained in certain fields may feel discrimination as, for instance, when a department which is too heavily theoretical restricts a search to experimentalists. A department which educates a large number of women may try to find a woman in its next search and favor female candidates. An African- American may be identified and the dean persuaded to add a budget line for this person. Using hiring openings to influence the direction of an institution or department is a usual practice. In considering the extent to which a person will add to the diversity of a department, search committees and university administrators recognize the extra effectiveness of a diverse faculty with broad connections and experiences in both educational and research endeavors.
One type of preference is more troubling. Some scholarship programs have been restricted only to minority students to attract undergraduates with exceptional academic qualifications. The Banneker program at the University of Maryland appeared to be such a program. The students admitted to such programs come from upper middle class families whose parents can pay their tuition. Also, if they do not go to one institution they will be eagerly accepted elsewhere. Everyone is competing for this small group of students. Of course, universities compete for other students. However, these scholarships or fellowships are only awarded to persons of a particular race. What is the rationale? It does not best address the needs of those minority students most disadvantaged by past racism. It does not educate students who otherwise would not obtain an education. Prominent black spokesmen like Shelby Steel, the writer, and Ward Connerly, a member of the University of California Board of Regents, ask just such questions and claim that affirmative action does nothing to alleviate one of the worst problems in black America, the state of the poor ghettos. Instead, their argument goes, its beneficiaries are economically advantaged African Americans. ("Taking Affirmative Action Apart" by Nicholas Lemann, New York Times Magazine, June 11, 1996) However, universities engage in such programs because they are committed to diversity. As the principal institutions in which America's future citizenry, professionals, leaders, and role models are and will be educated, each university believes it must have on its campus minority students who will be future faculty, industrial, and political leaders, and who also will be perceived by all students as smart and talented. In this way past discrimination can be eradicated by changing the climate on a campus and thus educating all students to the benefits of diversity.
Finally, there is a new argument. The number of jobs in academic physics or physics research is limited and will probably not increase substantially. Because of these concerns, the physics community is cutting down on the production of Ph.D.'s, which has grown in recent years. In this atmosphere how can attempts to increase the participation of women and minorities be justified? Certainly all aspiring physicists should be informed about the realities of the job market. Moreover, many physicists find that their training will equip them for a variety of other problem-solving jobs. The recent APS/AATP report, "Physics Graduate Education for Diverse Career Options," edited by Judy R. Franz, recommends that the education of physicists be broadened to prepare students for a variety of jobs. The students who should be encouraged to go into physics are those who love its explanations of our world and want to expand them or transmit them to others, and who are creative enough to find ways of supporting themselves with the skills gained from their physics education. Among this group there are women and minorities as well as white (and Asian) males.
Elizabeth Urey Baranger
IV. Equity Vs. Excellence: A False Dichotomy In Science And Society
The first commitment of a scientist ought to be to using logical and rational effort to comprehend objective reality without regard to one's emotions or prejudices. Those of us who have had the privilege of a scientific career and love the doing of science are hard pressed not to accept this as one of the paradigms in our view of life. Recently, as an African American, I have often been asked about my attitudes and opinions regarding affirmative action and diversity in scientific, engineering, and technical fields. In response to this, I have spent some effort thinking about these matters.
Before I address the former issue, I wish to propose some reasons as to why the issue of diversity is of such paramount importance in complex endeavors like science. These reasons are themselves based on experience with the natural world. It is almost universally accepted that diversity is of great importance in biological realms. The genetic diversity of an organism or group of organisms is almost always found to enhance long-term prospects for survival. A diverse genetic pool is the reserve from which biological systems draw in order to adapt to changing environments. Diversity is often associated with enhanced levels of vigor and performance. The recent upswing in the world's food production for humans to some degree depends on the creation of new botanical adaptations that have greater yields.
'The rock-and-roll effect'
I argue by analogy that these same types of effects can be seen in the more complicated area of human endeavors. In particular, there is what I like to call the "rock- and-roll effect," which corresponds to the second of the two points discussed previously in relation to the importance of diversity. I take the name from one of the most identifiably American contributions to world culture (although some disagree over rock- and-roll's cultural value). Independent of how one might feel about this type of music, it is one of the main prisms through which this country is viewed around the world. It is also one of the most forceful avenues by which this country is brought to the attention of young people the world over. Many youth are first attracted to our music and later become interested in our democratic values and traditions.
This music (like that other new American contribution, jazz) is a derivative of two older forms. It was (and is) the result of a dialogue between practitioners of African musical forms and European musical forms. The medium for this dialogue was the creative activity of artists as they composed new songs, taking elements from both older forms and in the process creating new forms. The diversity of the discussants increases the chances for the enfolding of older forms. This process can be seen time and again in the natural world from botany to the evolution of species. I argue that this "natural law of the efficacy of diversity" likely holds in the realms of human creativity.
Diversity of ideas
If this is an acceptable argument to answer the question of why diversity is important, then we must confront the circumstances that are most likely to foster diversity in the marketplace of ideas. The fact is that it has been part of our national customs, laws, and traditions particularly to discriminate against African Americans. This is not a unique circumstance; we could also make this statement about women and other groups. While our nation has made progress in eliminating the legal basis of the systematic denial of constitutional rights, the accumulated result of this pattern of behavior is that it accords inherent and unfair advantages to some by virtue of gender, race, or other circumstance not related to merit.
Yet, the effort of doing science particularly makes one aware that it is the individual from whom basic progress is derived. Ideas come to people, not to committees or groups. The mind is really only an attribute of the individual. Thus, in science one must eschew the concept of group entitlements while simultaneously working to achieve the greatest possible diversity. Diversity is derived from being different! We must promote equity because that provides our field with the greatest possible opportunity to draw individuals who can bring that vitally important, distinct set of perceptions and abilities to the scientific effort.
An example from history
In the United States we tend to be very short-sighted from the perspective of history. Edward Alexander Bouchet stands as a example. He was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1852. He entered Yale College in 1870, graduated with his B.A. in 1874, and two years later obtained his Ph.D. in physics. He was the first African American to receive this degree in any subject, his being among the first 20 Ph.D.'s awarded in physics to members of any race in the United States. He was also the first African American member of Phi Beta Kappa. Bouchet was never permitted to pursue a scientific career despite--given the facts of the time and place of his accomplishments--his rather obvious individual merit.
I think that most people would accept that affirmative action means that an individual is accorded some advantage or preference owing to an attribute of gender, race, or other circumstance not related to the performance of a job. By this definition, any individuals with whom Bouchet might have been in competition for the opportunity to pursue a scientific career certainly were the beneficiaries of a traditional program of affirmative action.
This nation desperately needs to use all the means at its disposal to achieve the highest level of performance in the increasingly international competition in science and technology. Diversity in both nature and other fields of human endeavor has shown to lend itself to increased level of performance. Is it not prudent to at least be open to this possibility in the pursuit of excellence in scientific, engineering, and technological achievement?
So when answering the question of what I believe about affirmative action, I answer that it, or something very similar, has a definite role to play if this nation is ever to get beyond the issue of race and to the more central issues of the content of individuals' hearts and minds. It is paradoxical, and somewhat like the theory of quantum chromodynamics (QCD, the theory underlying the dynamics of quarks and hadrons), that color must play an important role in reaching a colorless standard of fair competition based on merit.
It is my belief that affirmative action should never be used to reward the less-qualified over the more so. Instead, if two individuals are both seen to be qualified, then affirmative action should play a role in a decision that has a wider societal importance! However, the relevance and appropriateness of the qualifications and the methods used to assess those must be scrupulously proven to be free of the traditional American biases against minorities and women. It is my opinion that the African American community is well able to acquit itself in any fair competition and with good achievement. This is regularly done already in many fields in which the standard of success is not at the whim of subjective interpretation.
One of the most difficult questions that this nation has yet to successfully address is how to use fair access of individuals competing for resources to provide redress for the denial of rights undertaken against a group. Our society has not, is not now, and is unlikely to be truly color- (and gender-) blind in the foreseeable future. Affirmative action is (or was) an attempt to counteract a basic unfairness that we have all inherited and to offer the possibility of fostering increased diversity across a broad range of human endeavors in this nation. In the present round of assaults on affirmative action, one of the first purported intellectual arguments in opposition was provided in part by physicist and Nobel laureate William Shockley. There is a direct lineage from today's "Bell Curve" back to the work of Shockley and his collaborators.
And yet despite all of the controversy raised by the work of the "Shockleyites," there is a voice that spoke out clearly in opposition. This voice belonged to another physicist and Nobel Laureate, Albert Einstein. I quote in part an excerpt from his writings (A. Einstein, Out of My Later Years, New York Philosophical Library, 1950).
"In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbles himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of a few, cannot undermine this healthy self- confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one's fellow-man. There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the 'Whites' toward their fellow- citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity only by speaking out."
"Many a sincere person will answer me: 'Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intel ligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.' I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force, and in the white man's quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition." "What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias."
"I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause."
So, from the view of a scientist and particularly from that of a physicist, there is a rather stark choice in setting one's beliefs and behaviors on these issues. We can choose to believe and behave in accord with the ideas of William Shockley or those of Albert Einstein.
S. James Gates, Jr.
The author is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, College Park and is the president of the National Society of Black Physicists through April, 1996. This article was previously published in The Scientist, Vol:9, #14, pg.12 , July 10, 1995; Copyright, The Scientist, Inc.
V. Gender Issues in Physics
Let me say at the outset that I will primarily discuss the issue of women in physics, rather than minority groups. This is not because I am not interested in the minority issue, but because I have had so little experience with minorities in physics that I just don't have anything useful to say about it.
The subject of women in physics is certainly not something that I thought much about during my education or early in my research career. I think that there were three seeds of my current interest.
The first developed when I started to work with graduate students in the 70's and 80's. I found that working with excellent students was a marvelous way of doing physics, and this got me involved with graduate admissions. I was also lucky enough to have a series of really outstanding women students.
The second occurred when I got tenure and started going to senior faculty meetings at Harvard. I was appalled by the old-boys-club atmosphere that oozed from these gatherings, and I began to feel that an invasion of dragons was needed to shake up the country club.
The third happened when I became department chair, and started looking into some of the statistics that pour into the department office. Most of these were not broken down by gender, but there was one that piqued my curiosity. Our women concentrators were doing significantly less well in their physics courses than the men, and significantly better in their courses outside the department. This worried me, so I enlisted the help of our Office of Instructional Research and Evaluations and got other data broken down by gender. I discovered that on the average our women majors, even the ones we had selected for, and who stuck it out and got a physics degree, were very unhappy with the department. This struck me as an intolerable situation.
In a few minute introduction, I can't say much about any of these things. But I will try to list some ideas about each very briefly, in case people want to pursue them in the discussion.
Graduate students and graduate admissions: Three things stand out: (1) I had to learn how to work with women graduate students; (2) having a significant number of women in the graduate school class makes a big difference; and (3) the GRE subject test discriminates against women.
(1) - Graduate school is hard for everyone. My experience is that women students tend to be at least outwardly less sure of themselves, which often poses communication problems. At first, I was very bad at dealing with this -- the student's diffidence made it hard for me to communicate as well. I got much better with practice.
(2) - Early on in my tenure on the graduate admissions committee, we had a fortunate fluctuation --- we ended up with a very small graduate class with a relatively large percentage of extraordinarily smart and interesting women. What impressed me was that this graduate class developed a personality of its own. There was something different about the class as a whole. I am not sure that this had anything to do with the high percentage of women in the class. There were many interesting characters of both sexes. But I think that my experience in getting to know this class and watching these extraordinary young people develop as physicists helped to change my vision of the process of physics education. Since then, I have been very conscious of the need to have some diversity in the graduate class.
(3) - It was easy to understand why it was hard to get a high percentage of women in the graduate class. A lot of women got eliminated because they didn't do well on the GRE Physics Subject Test. But even more striking was that when I got to know the women who had done OK and gotten admitted, I very often discovered they were far more talented than I would have guessed based on their score. I was particularly confident of this assessment for my own graduate students - the GRE scores of the women were much lower than those of equally competent men. When I asked a women who was one of the most talented students who ever worked with me about this, she told me that the exams were too "nerdy'' to be taken seriously by intelligent women. I'm not sure what that says about men. This is a situation where some intelligent affirmative action simply must be applied.
Women faculty: I am pleased to say that we now have two terrific tenured women on our faculty, both promoted from junior faculty positions. I played some part in both appointments. The first, to Melissa Franklin, occurred while I was chair, and I spent much time and energy shepherding the appointment through endless faculty meetings and through Harvard's Byzantine Ad Hoc Committee system. A chair that cares really helps. The second woman, Mara Prentiss, was promoted soon after I passed on the key to the chair's office to the next victim. In this case, while I was chair, I think that I was some help as a mentor. I did my best to protect Mara from getting sucked into too much committee work, I helped negotiate for lab space and secretarial help for her. And I gave a lot of advice (some of which I hope was useful). I also made some mistakes that I had to try to recover from. When she first arrived, I assigned her to teach a big lecture course that didn't match her skills very well. My intentions were good, but it just didn't work, so she had some poor teaching evaluations on her record. Fortunately, Mara was spectacularly good at other kinds of teaching, particularly getting undergraduates involved in research. So we were able to make the case that her teaching was good in spite of my initial mistake.
Promoting women to senior faculty uses up the outstanding women on the junior faculty, and I was less successful in attracting new women junior faculty while I was chair. Let me tell you a couple of stories about the first junior faculty search that was run entirely by the chair's office (in particular, not by an individual research group). I won't divulge what subfield it was.
Following the suggestion of a friend who was acting Dean of Affirmative Action, my search letter, specifically asked for a list of top women and minority candidates in the field, even if they were not at the same level as the candidates the writer was recommending. The letter went out to over 100 active workers in the subfield, but not one of the respondents (including the women) even acknowledged this request. I am not certain whether this shows the respondents' bias or their inability to read letters, or whether the strategy was simply not a good one.
While we did interview a couple of women, they were clearly a notch below the men, and in my final letter describing the search to the Dean, I wrote the following:
In general, I am not quite sure what ``affirmative action'' means in a situation in which the minimum job requirement is to be the best candidate. The way I interpret it for myself is this. There is clearly some uncertainty in judging candidates for a junior faculty position. We should do our best to be aware of all the sources of uncertainly. Then if there is any non-negligible chance that a minority candidate will be as successful as the top white males, we should go for the minority. Alas, by the end of this search there seemed to be no such possibility, and the appointment of a woman would have gone beyond affirmative action to tokenism. We will simply have to try again next time. In spite of my frustration, I feel that the search worked better with the chairman's office involved from the beginning and I will encourage the next chairman to continue this policy in future searches.
Women physics majors: I don't really have time to say much about this. I spent a lot of time, while I was chair, talking to the women and trying to understand their problems. I learned a lot, and I really enjoyed getting to know the women undergraduates better. I believe that all the attention that I focused on the issue helped, at least temporarily, to improve the climate. I am concerned that structural problems remain. We are still shoe- horning women into a program that works well for men but not for women and then trying to deal with the inevitable problems that arise. We still don't have enough positive ideas, though there are a few small things that seem to work, such as strenuous efforts to help the students form study group, and assigning women to advisors who will really try to get to know them as people.
My conclusion is that encouraging more participation by women is physics is important, but you have to be real optimist and keep trying even though most of the time you are going to fail. Things really are getting better, but always more slowly than we would like.
VI. Common Sense: An Alternative to Affirmative Action?
As one of the five members who founded the APS Committee on Minorities, I note that discussions on the disparity in the representation of minorities in the nation's physics community are well into their third decade. The events that have transpired over the last nearly 25 years have convinced me that only a pragmatic approach has any hopes of removing the disparity. Not surprisingly, but true to their professional training and dedication, physicists-and scientists in general-invoke logic to derive solutions to this representation disparity issue. In the logic process, scientists typically examine relevant statistics and propose solutions that in their minds if followed would comfortably eliminate the disparity. Many of these solutions have a root in personal introspection, i.e., applying oneself and working diligently will lead to success. In truth, such an approach is inappropriate to solving problems of socioeconomic origin rooted in the "informal organization". However, the logical approach is intellectually satisfying, far as it might be from the pragmatic one called for.
My reservations regarding discussions of affirmative action are that by and large they serve as a distraction from constructive dialogue. I feel this dialogue is not only necessary but mandated by the substantial lack of progress over the 25 year period. The discussions tend to place minorities and women in a defensive position. The focus is usually on "deficit research", i.e. discussions on what factors are responsible for minorities and women being seemingly unable to master subjects in science and mathematics. The focus is never shifted to assess how the science community is not responding on how it can best deal with the issue. For example, the discussions don't include highlighting those scientists and mentors that have a strong dedication to do more than their share or on the universities which are responding to minimize the disparity. The situation is not improved by political rhetoric which understandably- whether one agrees with their changing position or not-caters to prevailing moods of the public. As a case in point, twelve years ago Senator Robert Dole and Governor Pete Wilson, then a U.S. Senator, were in favor of affirmative action, but today they are not. I would also note that in the beginning the subject category was equal employment opportunity. It then became affirmative action and now the topic falls under the category of diversity. It appears that a label is good for one decade. Much time and energy has been spent on discussing the philosophical basis for affirmative action instead of proposing answers dictated by the 25 year experience.
I wish to avoid a discussion of affirmative action in its traditional sense as the discussion tends to discourage effective corrections. In general, the APS audience has relatively insufficient understanding of, or involvement with, implementation of affirmative action efforts. The numbers tell the story. As a result, physicists do not seem to grasp the reasons why all scientists should be concerned about the relatively low level of participation of women and minorities in physics nor how any one scientist can assist effect a solution. I might add that finding a solution is urgent now and the urgency will only intensify with the passage of time. I believe a measure of this urgency can be documented and it would involve contrasting the productive effect that an equitable representation of minorities and women in science would have with the negative effect of an increased representation disparity.
Principally because of the above, I decided to title this presentation, "Common Sense: An Alternative to Affirmative Action?" A discussion of Affirmative Action before a group of scientists with emphasis on "statistics" to illustrate current status is not the message I would hope to convey. Statistics, as it concerns minorities, isn't that meaningful to me. I can't overlook that in a large fraction of this nation's population- scientists not excepted-there is a strong propensity to doubt the message conveyed by manpower statistics if in disagreement with one's beliefs.
I call attention to the recent article by Ms. Ann Devroy appearing in the Washington Post, reporting on President Clinton Administration's guidance on its affirmative action policy, which would base responses to affirmative action on disparity measures. Ms. Devroy's article is accompanied by a summary of a response from Mr. David Sutherland, who is a legal scholar with the Center for Equal Opportunity. It states, "Sutherland wrote that states and local governments had turned to 'disparity studies' to prove discrimination after lower court rulings against their affirmative action programs. The studies, he charged, often had preordained results and statistics manipulated by economists to support their desire to continue the programs." We are all familiar with such thinking, viz., the accusation is tantamount to stating that experimental results are modified to agree with theory.
The American population is not convinced by generalities. It has become skeptical and unfortunately, but understandably, distrustful of their leadership. In my opinion, the very first attempts to correct disparity were initiated with insufficient thought. If the focus of this action had initially been on the "historically discriminated U.S. ethnic minorities", the country could have more readily convinced to work toward a reachable target. As it is, the target lacks definition and with it, a nation's commitment. It is my impression that changes in deeply held social beliefs have more promise of success if attempted on an individual basis. For example, some years ago a leader of the scientific community was reluctant to hear my argument that he should take a leadership position in dealing with the increasing under representation of women and minorities in science. His attitude on the subject changed only after his daughter earned her credentials as a scientist when he came to understand the discrimination she faced through her experience in seeking employment.
The attempt to intellectualize the absence of minorities in science by resorting to philosophical argument makes me uncomfortable for clearly any progress made on this ephemeral basis has been painfully slow. In my estimation, a direct and pragmatic approach is called for. As I have noted above, typical discussion of the merits of affirmative action appears to be a smoke screen. I question the expense and investment made in most efforts attributed to affirmative action. Many efforts have been made to recruit minorities. One can only guess the number of "job fairs" that take place every year across this land. Recruiters justify the expense to their supervisors by noting the number of applications obtained. You see, the problem is not recruiting; the problem is hiring. A direct and pragmatic approach would base recruitment efforts on success in hiring and not on the number of employment applications received.
The American Physical Society should not so much seek to act collectively to eliminate the disparity as much as it should ask its members to act individually. A viable and pragmatic goal would be to seek to have a minority scientist work within reach of non-minority scientists. To me, the solution is as straightforward as that. Thus, I put the onus of responsibility on each individual scientist to bring about a change for the better. Each scientist in this country should consider whether or not one of every five scientists he/she works with is a representative of a historically discriminated U.S. ethnic minority. Any physicist can use this as a measure of the disparity and use it to guide his/her own personal and positive response to the problem. In such accounting, I would exclude scientists from abroad that did not receive their high school educations in this country. While they may be excellent scientists, I do not view them as members of the U.S. historically discriminated ethnic minorities. It only takes the inclusion of a few foreign scientists to the rank of minorities to severely distort the true picture.
We do not need large changes in numbers to begin showing significant gains in eliminating the existing disparity. Even a small increase in representation of minority scientists in visible and responsible positions would be a substantive outcome. I worry that minority members having the potential for becoming scientists are being marginalized and lost due to the lack of appropriate mentoring. Such a loss will extract a heavy price in the future-from them, from the physics arena and from our society as a whole.
I feel this discussion would be incomplete if I did not share the need to distinguish between what I consider the proper noun, "Affirmative Action" from the pronoun, "affirmative action". Of the latter, all of us have some experience with or know an instance where an employer hired a person that person was whom the selector wanted to work next tothe selection being strongly based on social criteria. In a classic case familiar to me, the person selecting, a project manager, was a former student and close acquaintance of a major professor. The professor called the manager and mentioned that the student would shortly be available for employment. In an event that could be said to adhere to the adage, "one good turn deserves another," the finishing student was hired. I am certain this experience is not a singular and I suppose some of you know of similar cases. I wouldn't really criticize this informal method of hiring but why isn't it applied universally? These outcomes all come within what I label as "affirmative action", no federal or state mandate was involved. On the contrary, legal statutes governing "Affirmative Action" were violated. What unfortunate person denied rights in this manner would institute court action to seek redress? The associated costs and risk to his/her hiring potential would simply not permit it. The existence of favoritism exemplifying the pronoun must be as old as mankind. It isn't new. We should know the difference between the proper noun and the pronoun as contrasted here. It only takes common sense to distinguish between the constructive and debilitating aspects of how these actions are used.
If I understand the concept of a "level playing field", achieving it would be aided by the effects of two enforcing actions. One would grant equal opportunity to minorities and women, not only in hiring but in promotion as well ("Affirmative Action"?), one part of the leveling action needed. The second is the discontinuing the use of "affirmative action" where hiring and promotion is based solely on personal contacts ("being well connected"). No longer must the "White Male" expect to receive employment or promotion preference because of his favorable socioeconomic condition. The result of these two "leveling actions" is an overall improvement of productivity of both minorities and non-minorities with commensurate reduction in representation disparity. Understanding the harm of preferential hiring and promotion should be a matter of common sense.
A last point that I feel compelled to address concerns the effects of immigration on the availability of technical positions for U.S. scientists and engineers. Inasmuch as a representation disparity exists in the U.S., these effects impact more seriously on the hiring of minority than non- minority scientists. The corporate sector raced for employing technically trained personnel from abroad and residing in the U.S. and setting up enterprises, laboratories, in foreign countries work against removal of the disparity. I am fully aware of the economics involved but that isn't to say this corporate response doesn't contribute to maintaining the disparity. The subject is timely as there are indications the bill on immigration and naturalization currently before Congress will be strongly debated. Correcting this problem is not straightforward, but it is conceivable that in return for favoring foreign investment, the corporate sector should assign itself a stronger leadership role to ensure the quality science education for America's students.
Several years ago, I argued a relevant point in a Letter to the Editor of Science Magazine. My reaction was prompted by a comment in the magazine made by a senior scientist to the effect that enrolling foreign graduate students was a "good deal" for the U.S. I agreed that it was a good deal in the short run. However, to the extent that enrolling foreign students in our universities would displace U.S. students or detract from the proper training of American students, the "good deal" policy would be counterproductive to American's future in the long run. This "good deal" would avoid holding our educational system accountable for the proper education and training of our young people. The easy way out, while attractive to profit-making in the short run, will extract a heavy price in the long run. I believe the non-competitive state of science education in the U.S. is a principal outcome of the approach of optimizing profits through chasing the "good deal". It will be interesting to assess the history of U.S. technological development several decades hence and determine to what extent the U.S. generosity that has led to the export of technology for assuring profitable trade and taking advantage of a "good deal" by enlisting the services of academically well grounded foreign students may have made the U.S. a less economically competitive nation. The thought troubles me but I wouldn't mind being proven wrong. I would prefer it.
J. V. Martinezarmd@physics.wm.edu