February 10, 2000 Vol . 17, No. 3
Ms. Scholefield's accusation (SF News, Jan. 27)) that I made unsubstantiated claims concerning overhiring, fellowship awards, and productivity of women academics, is both disingenuous and offensive. She must know that opinion pieces (and letters) do not allow space for references. She could easily have obtained these during our recent email correspondence, as may anyone else. Her own commentary dismisses the need for actual facts, in favour of subjectivity and anecdotal evidence.
That approach unfortunately exemplifies a common feminist aversion to objective evidence, particularly in the form of hard numbers. For example, her report that women made up only 31 per cent of hirees at SFU in the last five years is meaningless without knowledge of the percent of qualified women applicants. If the number of women applicants were significantly lower than 31 per cent, the pattern would be consistent with other evidence that women have been over-hired in Canadian universities in the past two decades. However, I was informed by the equity office at SFU that they do not record number of applicants of each sex, to faculty positions; perhaps another device for promoting diversity?
Similarly, when in the 1980s NSERC gave only 15 per cent of its University Research Fellowship awards to women, they constituted less than 15 per cent of the applicants. NSERC, like many other institutions, has been bamboozled by feminist rhetoric rather than influenced by objective evidence. MIT science dean Birgeneau has been sharply criticized on precisely the same grounds (reference available). Complaints of victimization not backed up by evidence are not admissible bases for preferential treatment.
Hiring the best person for the job is of course an ideal not always met in real life. But to reject that ideal in favour of an ill-informed diversity principle is a recipe for mediocrity.
Doreen Kimura, president
Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship
Identifying the best
Re: Doreen Kimura's Comment piece in SF News, Nov.4.
I have always been jealous of those able to identify the best. Is the best the easily quantifiable highest score in math or the most publications? Or, do the best have other characteristics such as being well rounded and sympathetic and supportive of others? Kimura is caught in a common trap that the characteristics of men are the best. It is my view that many women do things slightly differently from men, and that these differences have value in science and engineering .
After the NSERC Women's Faculty Award was terminated I was part of a task force to review the situation for Canadian women in science and engineering. The results showed that: the program had increased the representation of women faculty in participating universities, that women faculty tended to have more female graduate students, that women were rarely involved in centres of excellence or among the high-flier category of grant recipients, and that female post-doctoral fellows had slightly fewer publications than their male colleagues.
How should we interpret these findings? A paper in American Scientist (Vol. 84, 1996) showed that although women published less than their male colleagues, their papers had more citations higher impact. Several analyses have shown that symposia organized by women include more women than those organized by men. Similarly centres of excellence initiated by men are likely to include mostly men. And a study of how men and women evaluated academic records showed that men distinguished between good and slightly less good academic records if the better record were associated with a male name rather than with a female name (Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol 57). Grants based on academic records may not be judged without bias and women may be less likely to be included in collaborative projects.
I have seen too many votes of university committees split on gender lines to not recognize a bias. With this bias in science and engineering at universities the inclusion of women will be slow. Programs such as the University Faculty Awards speed the rate of transition.
Finally, Kimura finds unconscionable that $1 million was spent last year on University Faculty Awards (0.2 per cent of the NSERC budget). If you compare this to the equal amount of money that NSERC awards to a single individual (almost certainly a male) in the Gerhard Herzberg prize, I think one is readily convinced that UFAs are extremely good value per dollar.
Department of zoology and faculty of agricultural sciences University of British Columbia
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