U-M Flint professor calls for end to ‘discriminatory’ female-oriented programs

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 - 1:48pm

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Design by Jack Silberman

In an article currently circulating Facebook, Mark J. Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, calls readers to act against female-oriented programs in order to encourage “diversity, equity and inclusion and end gender discrimination in Michigan.”

According to Perry, the University needs to eliminate women-only programs on the grounds that they are “illegally discriminating against men and gender non-conforming students, faculty and patients.”

Perry challenges 11 different University programs, initiatives, organizations, scholarships and fellowships at U-M Ann Arbor, including groups such as Girls in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the OCH Initiative for Women in Finance and the Barbour Scholarship

In Perry’s article, published on the American Enterprise Institute website, he claims the programs violate the University’s Nondiscrimination Policy, Title IX and the state of Michigan Constitution. 

“It’s important to note that university programs, scholarships, initiatives, fellowships and medical programs that are for gender exclusionary (‘women-only’) are potentially illegal for excluding and violating not just the civil rights of men, but are also potentially illegal for violating the civil rights of students, patients and faculty who have non-binary gender identities that are not exclusively male or female, and would include those who are transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender-expansive, bigender, dual gender, pangender, trigender, genderfluid, or agender,” Perry writes.

Student organizations such as GEECS and the Ensemble of CSE Ladies were originally designed to create a support group for women within the STEM fields. However, Perry argues, these programs not only exclude men but violate their civil rights. He cites the Michigan state Constitution’s portion about affirmative action programs in his argument:

“The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and any other public college or university, community college, or school district shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

In response to Perry’s allegations, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said the University has already conducted an investigation and responded to Perry.

“Professor Perry asked the university to review a number of programs to assess whether the programs were in compliance with Title IX, Proposal 2 and university policy,” Broekhuizen wrote in an email interview. “There was no allegation that Professor Perry, or any other person, had been denied participation in any of these programs based on their gender.” 

Perry’s pursuit of the 11 cases at U-M Ann Arbor comes after of his appeal to U-M Flint regarding faculty awards that were oriented toward females and minorities. 

“It was only because of my complaints last year that UM agreed to end its practices of illegal gender and race/ethnic discrimination for five faculty awards on the Flint campus and its illegal discriminatory admission policy for girls-only summer STEM camp,” Perry writes.

Perry goes on to argue the University also needs to change the names of formerly female-oriented programs for high school students to be more gender inclusive.

In an open email to Pamela Heatlie, the senior director for institutional equity and Title IX coordinator, Perry maintains the University should follow the lead of the Boy Scouts of America in changing the names of programs like Girls in Science and Engineering Camp.

“If, like the Boy Scouts, UM is really committed to offering programs that are truly welcoming to students of all genders after ending its previous gender apartheid practices, then perhaps those programs would respectfully consider name changes that would communicate publicly our institution’s commitment to full gender equity, fairness, and justice,” the email reads.

In this email, Perry contends not only is it discriminatory to maintain programs only for women, but if any demographic needs help getting into STEM fields, it’s high school boys. 

“(F)emale high school graduates today are entering universities with superior academic qualifications overall and a better background in math and science (STEM) classes than boys, on average,” Perry writes. “Therefore, one could make a data-supported case that if there are any math/science/STEM deficiencies that need to be addressed by UM with summer camp programs and other girls (mostly) STEM programs, that it is high school (and middle school) boys, not girls, who need those deficiencies addressed with summer camps and other STEM programs.”

Perry criticizes the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, saying with a budget of $8.4 million annually for 100 diversity staffers, he is surprised and disappointed he is the only one taking up this campaign at the University. 

“As I mention above, I’m happy to provide pro bono monitoring services to UM to help uncover any systematic gender discrimination that exists today on the Ann Arbor campus, but I could use a little help from the army of nearly 100 full-time diversity employees who obviously have plenty of resources available to self-monitor campus programs like the ones in Ann Arbor that are currently under review at my request,” Perry writes. “I’m sure there are more programs that need to be reviewed to ensure compliance with state and federal civil rights law.”

Despite Perry’s statistics of gender discrimination and female high school students in STEM, most studies support the underrepresentation of women in the science, technology and engineering fields. According to a 2017 study published by the Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, not only are there less than half as many women in STEM fields than any other career field, women hold a disproportionately low number of STEM undergraduate degrees, and even women studying STEM are much more likely to pursue fields outside of STEM than their male counterparts. 

“There are many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields,” the 2011 version of this study concludes. “Regardless of the causes, the findings of this report provide evidence of a need to encourage and support women in STEM.” The 2017 study concludes “there has been little overall change in this underrepresentation since our last report using 2009 data.”

Similarly, Veronica Varela, a former genetics graduate student at the University and contributor to Science in Color, argues women need more representation in STEM. 

“It’s hard to be a woman in science, especially a woman of color in science, especially in a primarily white male-dominated field,” Varela said. “I go to a male adviser. I’m surrounded by a lot of male graduate students. A lot of times women get spoken over and people don’t take you seriously. I felt like I constantly had to defend my science, where I felt like my male counterparts did not have to do that as much.”

As a former member of Women in Science and Engineering, a group that Perry claims is in “possible violation of the Michigan State Constitution”, Varela argues these organizations are more important than ever for helping women find their place in a primarily male-dominated environment.

“How is it unfair to men? Take a look around and see that men are still in a position of power and still hold the dominant position in just about every industry that is involved in STEM. I don’t even know what to say to that,” Varela said. “Even now one of my daughters is interested in coding and feels a little self-conscious about it because it’s considered to be something that boys do. It’s just something that girls are taught, that just science and engineering are for the boys and it’s not. We need these organizations because young girls still feel like they don’t belong in these fields. They feel like they’re not empowered enough to be in these fields of course we need these organizations.”

Perry said he could not comment on his campaign at this time, saying there are some ongoing developments in his pursuit of equity and inclusion that he cannot currently discuss with the media.