Here’s an article from Inside Higher Ed that a friend sent me about a university being sued for gender discrimination. As I understand it, the professor and teaching assistant did a terrible job of applying well-supported, evidence-based techniques to improve student performance in science classes. The basic idea is as follows. People from groups that are underrepresented in the sciences (usually, women and people from ethnic minorities) often do not believe that they are going to do well in science classes, and consequently do not do well in those classes. This is called stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is more pronounced when students are the only representative of an underrepresented group, for example, if a student is the only woman in a group of students. The solution: don’t make groups of students with 1 woman and 3 men. Easy peasy.
The problem: this doesn’t work if you tell students that you’re doing it, let alone why you’re doing it. Psychology researchers think this might be because calling attention to the stereotype enhances the threat associated with the stereotype, leading to a decline in student performance. This is true even if one mentions the stereotype simply to say that the stereotype is baseless. For example, did you know that girls have actually been doing better than boys (pdf) in math classes (and everything else, for that matter) for about the last century, from elementary through high school? And still, somehow, the stereotype persists. But I digress.
So the instructors at U Cincinnati messed that up. It seems like they messed it up pretty badly. Perhaps they were even in violation of Title IX. I respect what they’re trying to do, but they needed to spend more time doing their homework. I implement some techniques along these lines in my classrooms – but I can’t tell you what they are. If my students ever read this, then they wouldn’t work!
I file this story along with the rest of the grouchy old man complaints about these dang kids in college nowadays, who just aren’t as great as we used to be dagburnit! In that same file, someone on the Internet seems to be quite annoyed with the UO, for no good reason that I can discern. This was intended to be a scathing review of the UO’s processes for reviewing complaints about “bias,” but I read the whole thing and didn’t find anything especially objectionable. And then this post is complaining about how dumb funded research can be. I read the original research article (pay-walled, let me know if you want the pdf, which I will try to find when I’m back on campus), and while I don’t find it especially compelling, I appreciate what the author is trying to do: include more perspectives when deciding what scientific research should be done on glaciers, and how we ought to use that research. It hardly smacks of hypersensitivity, or undue deference to political correctness. And I don’t think that some kowtowing to a liberal conspiracy of hypersensitivity is a thing that happens at the UO. I mean, the UO tolerated having this guy speaking on campus. I think that students are less hypersensitive than many people who are not actually on campus seem to believe.
Upon closer inspection, I think it’s just one writer, Robby Soave, at one website, reason.com, that seems to have a problem with inclusivity at the UO.