By Heather Mac Donald
April 20, 2015
IDEAS
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

A new study finds that females are twice as likely to be hired as tenure-track faculty in the sciences as males. This finding undermines the claim that faculty hiring is biased against females. It also shows that the ever-growing bureaucracy to support diversity on college campuses is a waste of resources.

Researchers at the Cornell Institute for Women in Science asked faculty in biology, engineering, economics, and psychology from 371 American colleges and universities to evaluate three hypothetical applicants to their departments. The job-search packages for the applicants included a search committee’s report, quotes from letters of recommendation, and an overall numerical score. The academic qualifications of two of those hypothetical candidates, a male and a female, were equal. A third male candidate was slightly inferior to the other two.

The nearly 900 faculty members, half male, half female, from all four fields preferred female applicants over identically qualified males by two to one. Only male economics professors showed no gender preference; female economics professors chose the female candidate by a ratio of two to one. The marital and family status of the candidates had no consistent or significant effect on their likelihood of being selected, and when it did, it did so in a way that contradicts the usual gender bias narrative. Male evaluators preferred mothers who had taken a year of maternity leave over mothers who had not, whereas female evaluators preferred mothers who had taken no maternity leave.

To make sure that the faculty subjects were not guessing the nature of the experiment and choosing female applicants to please the researchers, some faculty were asked to evaluate just a single candidate. Those professors evaluated the solo candidate more favorably if the name attached to the resume was female.

The result of this study, authored by Cornell psychologists Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, and published April 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is hardly surprising. Since the 1980s, females have been interviewed and hired at a higher rate than their representation in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) applicant pool would predict, as documented by the National Research Council and other investigators. Pressure from campus administrators to hire a female candidate over a more qualified male peer is relentless and overwhelming. If a STEM faculty resists that pressure and hires the most qualified candidate regardless of his gender, the administrators may force the obstreperous department to hire an additional woman anyway.

Yet the myth of a sexist science hiring process has persisted, even though it is contradicted every day by the observable characteristics of faculty searches. And that myth has given rise to a stupendously expensive campus bureaucracy tasked with increasing diversity and combating alleged faculty bias. Last month, the University of California at Los Angeles hired its first vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at the jaw-dropping salary of $354,900 — enough to cover the tuition of nearly 30 underprivileged students a year. That vice chancellor will be expected to ride herd on the faculty and make sure that it hires according to gender (and race). The Berkeley, San Francisco, and San Diego campuses of the University of California have long had their own vice chancellors for equity, diversity, and inclusion at salaries ranging from a “mere” quarter million to nearly three hundred thousand dollars a year. Each such vice chancellor presides over a princely realm of bureaucrats, all sucking up vast amounts of taxpayer and student tuition dollars.

Private universities are just as committed to the myth of faculty bias. Harvard created the position of senior vice provost for diversity and faculty development in 2005. That senior vice provost reviews faculty appointments to ensure that they contribute to “diversity in faculty ranks across the University” — in other words, that new hires be selected on the basis of gender and race, not their academic accomplishments.

The university should be the one place where reason and evidence rule. For years it has been apparent that hiring bias runs in favor of women, not against them. It’s time to shut down the costly diversity bureaucracy and allow faculty to hire on merit alone.

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