John Leo

Why do some MIT women feel marginalized? According to a report co-authored by James Steiger, a statistician and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, MIT senior women in biology, on average, published fewer scientific articles, were cited less in other scientists' work and brought in less grant money than the male scientists. All the women at MIT are very good. All would be stars elsewhere. But MIT is a very fast track, so some are below average for a campus that sets standards that high. Men in this predicament can't chalk it up to gender. Women can.

One MIT report tosses in good news then quickly paddles past it. It mentions that the engineering school has a history of giving tenure to a higher percentage of women than men, and quicker promotions to full professor as well. But then the report lurches back to chatter about marginalization. Even substantial pay raises for women are disparaged on the grounds that if they had been given earlier, more pension or retirement money would have accumulated.

The 200-odd pages of the reports are laid out in a way that makes it hard for journalists to encapsulate what is being said. One example, though: At one point the management report attempts to measure the comparative discomfort levels of female and male professors. It's a wildly unscientific effort. In general, said Steiger, "any undergraduate in a research methods course could debunk these reports."

The sad truth is that MIT, one of the world's great centers of scientific education, has now produced and accepted two astonishingly unscientific studies of its own administrative behavior. In response to these studies, nobody on campus has spoken out. Worse, the culture of MIT is being changed. Gender equity has replaced scientific merit as the value administrators will be judged by. As always in affirmative action schemes, women on the faculty will now come under suspicion as people who wouldn't be there except for politics. And all without any real discussion or open debate. Amazing.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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