There is something curious about the implicit assumptions of the article “Female faculty rises in system” that appeared in The Badger Herald Thursday. The first paragraph reads, “Although the number of female faculty in University of Wisconsin campuses still hangs below the national average, their presence has been on the rise over the past several years.”
According to the article, women made up 38.7 percent of the UW System faculty for the 2011-2012 academic year. This is below the national average of 45.5 percent.
Notice the “but” tone of that article; it is saying the number is rising, but it is still insufficient. The assumption seems to be that relatively “low” women faculty proportion is undesirable. The comments of UW officials who wish the situation would be otherwise suggest a “proportionate” representation of women in faculty is a necessary good.
It is not clear why the UW System would be concerned about the gender composition of its faculty. What is clear is this is an issue of parity, not equality, and the two are not the same. Parity is about achieving the same outcome while equality is about the same rights or access to something. Under equality, the outcome for individuals may be different, but whatever the outcome, they will still be considered to be in equality. To put it another way, communism is about parity while the free market is about equality.
The fact only slightly more than one-third of UW faculty is made up of women is not inequality by itself. This is simply non-parity. If there was inequality, it would take the form of selection bias in recruitment of faculty or imposition of different standards. However, this is not what is being focused on in the above-mentioned article. Much of the concern is about the disproportion itself, which is nothing but a statistic.
If the concern is really about inequality, then we should not be focusing on the outcome, but the process that is inequality in the recruitment process. However, no one should bemoan if we cannot get the desired gender faculty proportion even with equality in recruitment. There are many reasons we may not get the desired proportion – probably not enough women are applying for faculty positions for the UW System to reach that proportion.
It must also be kept in mind the national average of female faculty percentage is higher than that of UW System, which is not a bad situation for female faculty members on the macro level. I am not claiming I am right, but I am saying an assessment of inequality should not be directed towards the faculty gender proportion.
However, one may say if parity is not a problem, faculty diversity is. Some may say the inclusion of women in the faculty is necessarily good because they bring in different perspectives on their respective academic fields. In fact, there is a significant part of the neuroscience community that has found inherent cognitive differences between men and women over the years. However, this justification is still unenlightened because it implies the desire for a certain faculty gender proportion is based in inherent traits, which is contrary to meritocracy.
Furthermore, why stop at seeking female faculty members? The UW System might as well think it needs a certain proportion of the faculty who are syndicalists, deconstructivists, vegan moralists and Druids. However, when it comes to finding academics with these perspectives, the natural way of doing it would be scrutinizing their past scholarly output, such as journal publications, not a specialized recruiting process.
Yet no one would suggest that because we need 10 percent of the faculty to be Druids.Therefore, it is also less than reasonable to set a target proportion of women in the faculty to get an input of perspectives usually associated with women.
The lack of gender parity in the faculty is not a real problem by itself, and although there may be a correlated advantage from having diverse faculty members, this should not be a conscious and deliberate goal.
Heikal Badrulhisham (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freshman.