New York Times thinks she's some kind of wonder woman who
is making science safe for the sisterhood. In
nothing scientific about Nancy Hopkins and her claim to fame.
In its quarterly
"Education Life" supplement this weekend, the New York
Times profiled Nancy Hopkins, "The
Reluctant Feminist." Hopkins is a professor of biology
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology "who has become
the emblem of the struggle by women for equal treatment in higher
In the summer
of 1994, Hopkins talked to some of her MIT School of Science female
colleagues. As the subsequent MIT "Study on the Status of Women
Faculty in science at MIT" later reported: "In the course
of their careers these women had come to realize that gender had
probably caused their professional lives to differ significantly
from those of their male colleagues. Interestingly they had never
discussed the issue with one another, and they were even uncertain
as to whether their experiences were unique, their perceptions accurate."
As it turns
out, these women had never noticed the discrimination until Hopkins
pointed it out. Discrimination had been a non-issue for these women.
The meeting with Hopkins has been described as "akin to a religious
experience" in its revelatory impact for the women.
The MIT mea-culpa
report is a classic product of a New Age MIT, with little more than
feelings as evidence of discrimination. Gender discrimination is
"subtle but pervasive," the report concludes, "and
stems largely from unconscious ways of thinking that have been socialized
into all of us, men and women alike." MIT's Committee on the
Status of Women, for instance, reported, "a common finding
for most senior women faculty was that the women were 'invisible.'"
The study found that, "Many tenured women faculty feel marginalized
and excluded from a significant role in their department."
If MIT did collect any data about this "universal problem,"
the school has refused to release it, claiming it was "confidential."
But if these
women scientists really were trailblazers, wouldn't they want
to waive any confidentiality relating to this information?
York Times this weekend wasn't the first to miss some of these
key details. (In the past, the Times has gushed over Hopkins
on the front page and the editorial page (is there any difference?).)
CNN has reported, uncritically, that the MIT report "didn't
dwell on obvious disparities like salaries. Instead, it focused
on subtle discrimination that made women invisible and excluded
them from plum assignments."
So science isn't as important as making women feel good? Is that
the message from MIT, a supposed oasis of scientific inquiry?
It seems that
way. You'd think MIT would be embarrassed, but it seems almost proud
of its public humiliation. Despite considerable public protest,
the dean of the school at the time of the Hopkins complaint, Robert
J. Birgeneau, admitted to a Toronto reporter that, "it wasn't
gross discrimination, but what these women came to understand was
that part of their marginalization was a series of minor insults."
When asked to expand on other occasions, he said the quote was taken
out of context. For Birgeneau, the complaint and ensuing furor were
career boosters; soon after, MIT's diversity hero assumed the presidency
of the University of Toronto.
is not the only one to have benefited his career. Despite the fact
that this seven-year-old saga has never been much of a story at
MIT notwithstanding the ongoing media obsession the
whole incident has done wonders for Hopkins's career, and for other
female scientists at MIT. Hopkins got a salary hike, new grants,
a seat on the National Academy of Sciences's Institute of Medicine,
and an invitation to the Clinton White House. Reparations to tenured
women on the MIT science faculty included a 20 percent salary boost,
more research money, and lab space. Women who had already retired
were awarded with pension increases. And more women were hired.
One of Hopkins's female colleagues was quoted in the MIT report
as saying, "after the committee was formed and the dean responded,
my life began to change. My research blossomed, my funding tripled.
Now I love every aspect of my job."
the Committee on the Status of Women never bothered to examine why
MIT didn't have enough women on the faculty to satisfy the diversity
bean counters. Maybe that's because Nancy Hopkins, the woman who
launched the original complaint, led the investigative committee
(talk about statistical bias!). What's more, the Hopkins team only
looked at three of MIT's six science departments.
Hausman and statistician James Steiger took a look at the MIT
biology department on behalf of the Independent
Women's Forum, they did, in fact, find some disparities between
men and women scientists. The men published more and were cited
more often in scientific journals. So why shouldn't they get more
another important issue, one that is never really addressed by the
feminist firebrands at MIT: Why are there fewer women in science
then men? The simple truth is that women just aren't as interested.
Judith Kleinfeld, a professor at the University of Alaska, whose
father went to MIT, wrote a trenchant analysis of the MIT report
at the time, explaining, "The explanation for the sex disparity
is the shortage of women in these scientific fields overall, not
gender discrimination on the part of MIT."
the study of reality is out of vogue at MIT. This is especially
so when science doesn't jibe with the research goal--in this case,