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Searching for Sexism

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 8, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

At a Research One university you would imagine the administration pays attention to basic scientific principles. But the administration has recently shown in its proposed sexual discrimination study that it is determined to ignore any data that doesn't fit with its political agenda - a clear violation of the scientific process.

The university's latest proposed pay equity study is part of a continuing hunt for sex bias in pay, though many previous studies have found no evidence of such bias.

This all comes to a head because of a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study. The study concluded women in the MIT science department were being discriminated against. MIT found faculty and administration were subconsciously prejudiced against the women in their science department. The results carry the implication that none of us can treat a female scientist fairly just because of her sex.

Once the study came out, various organizations and individuals jumped on UA administration to find the same problem so that they could solve it.

There was just one problem. We already did the study. In the recent past, studies have been done to determine whether there is pay bias based on sex at the university. All of these studies came back as inconclusive. Meaning they didn't find any bias.

This was bad news for those with social and political agendas. So now, in the recent furor, it has been decided that we have to look again. In fact, we'll have to keep looking until we find a problem. That is, if the hypothesis doesn't check out the first time, keep doing different experiments until it does.

The proposal for the new study is based on the claim that the only way to get accurate data is to look at select individual departments. If this is the only way to get accurate information, we can't get accurate information.

If we're going to look at individual departments, we need to look at all the departments. Just looking at the few departments where we think there is sexism will give us a skewed picture of the university.

UA President Peter Likins tells us that such a census of every department would be too expensive and time consuming. Instead, he suggests identifying a few selected areas for problems. In fact, he is suggesting that we only look for sexism where he is pretty sure we can expect to find it.

Even more disturbing, the players who may be involved in the study aren't waiting for the results before the facts they claim to be searching for are in.

Already, the president of the board of regents "instinctively" believes that we have a problem. Women's studies lecturer Kari McBride doesn't bother to hedge, saying "there is inequality at the UA." McBride also happens to be chair of the UA Commission on the Status on Women subcommittee on pay and equal treatment.

Remember that all of these statements are contrary to all the studies the university has carried out.

Naomi Miller, president of the Association for Women Faculty at the UA, is even more certain that there are serious problems. She says that women faculty feel discouraged and don't get the best assignments. She says that groups like the Commission on the Status of Women are working to help female professors out of these conditions. It is just too good a problem - too good a sound bite - to miss.

If we really care about sexism among faculty, we have to take the time to do a study right. That means having a disinterested board study every department. If the board finds that there is sexism in certain departments, they can make recommendations on how to fix it. If they don't find sexism, we leave it at that.

But that would be the logical way to do things, and logic has no place in the higher realm of social agendas.