How Berkeley Engineering launched three Black AAU presidents

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When Reggie DesRoches assumes the presidency of Rice University on July 1, he will become the fifth Black leader of a top research institution.

He will also be the third Black president in the 65-member Association of American Universities who attended the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, along with Gary May, now the chancellor of the University of California, Davis, and Darryll Pines, president of the University of Maryland, College Park.

The three men pursued different disciplines at Berkeley and overlapped for only a short time in the mid-1980s. But they credit the institution with supplying the training and support network that launched their remarkably similar trajectories.

“For all of us, [Berkeley Engineering] provided a foundation of excellence and knowledge that we’ve been able to take forward in our careers,” Pines said.

Each man rose to the top of his field: May in electrical and computer engineering, Pines in mechanical engineering, and DesRoches in civil engineering. All three served as engineering school deans—Pines and DesRoches at the institutions they now lead, and May at Georgia Tech. All three have been named to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering and now head up large research universities.

Whatever role Berkeley Engineering played in their success, however, it’s clear in speaking to them and others that their experience signaled not the ascendancy of Black students in STEM but rather “a unique moment at the university,” as DesRoches put it. “There was a strong population of both Black engineering students and Black graduate students. It was just a special time when we were there.”

By the late 1990s, a combination of anti–affirmative action legislation, budget cuts and shifting priorities among new leaders at Berkeley decimated efforts to recruit and graduate underrepresented minority students.

“All those things had a chilling effect on the matriculation of Black students in engineering—particularly at the graduate level,” said May. “I’m not saying our experience couldn’t be replicated, but it would be harder today.”

Friends and Mentors

When DesRoches entered Berkeley as a freshman in 1985, Pines was a rising senior who mentored him and other young Black engineering students. May arrived the following year to earn his master’s and Ph.D., but as chair of the National Society of Black Engineers, his reputation preceded him.

“Gary was a big man on campus,” Pines said. “We were all nobodies, but Gary had migrated to the top of the organization. And then he shows up to Berkeley in January, we’re like, ‘Wow, we got the president at our university.’”

The three met through the Black Engineering and Science Students Association (BESSA), which held events and maintained an office on campus where Black students hung out. May helped establish a sibling organization known as BGESS, for the Black Graduate Engineering and Science Students.

BESSA and BGESS complemented the carefully constructed minority engineering program (MEP) Berkeley had developed to help Black students succeed. The program was grounded in workshops, based on mathematician Uri Treisman’s model of fostering collaborative problem solving to help students from underprivileged backgrounds master the material together.

“The whole work was the integration of academic and social spheres,” said Toni Torres, a 1981 Berkeley graduate who was hired by then College of Engineering dean Karl Pister to run workshops for minority students. “Those workshops weren’t just about doing the math; this was a coming together of a scholarship group, it was creating their academic identity and sense of belonging, creating a community that was engaged in their success and the success of their peers. And because of that cascade mentoring, you always had role models.”

For DesRoches, that meant May and Pines.

“When I was a first-year student trying to figure out my way, they were both role models for me,” DesRoches said. “There was just this culture of seniors and graduate students sort of looking down on the young folks saying, ‘Hey, you guys have got to stick it out. You guys need to think about graduate school.’ And Gary would stop by the office on campus, just to talk to students. There was this incredible culture around supporting each other.”

The mentors benefited as much as the mentees.

“It was lonely,” May recalled. “There weren’t that many of us. That was a big motivator for me, just to be around people that have similar backgrounds and struggles and issues.”

Darryll Pines, a Black man wearing glasses and a blue suit. He has a University of Maryland pin on his lapel.Pines remembers being in a freshman statics class and noticing some of his white classmates poring over a thick binder of notes, which he discovered were the statics exams and problem sets from the last decade, passed down through a frat house.

“These guys wouldn’t even come to class, and they were like, ‘Oh, I got a perfect score [on the exam],’” he said. “And I killed myself to get an 89. So they’ve been cheating in a sense. And this is part of the problem: when you’re a person of color, you’re not connected to the network.”

The MEP sought to build a network for students of color. Sheila Humphreys, who served as a director of diversity at Berkeley Engineering in the 1980s and 1990s and became the first academic director of graduate outreach, attributes the program’s success to two key factors: unwavering administrative support, emanating from the late Dean Pister, and a comprehensive, whole-student approach.

“The whole idea was to have continuing support from the moment students got there through graduation,” Humphreys said, beginning with summer “bridge” programs and freshman boot camps.

As director of graduate outreach, Humphreys even played a role in admissions, advocating that the program accept Ph.D. candidates from HBCUs and other institutions that Berkeley Engineering didn’t typically draw from.

Kamau Bobb, who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Berkeley Engineering beginning in 1990, says he greatly benefited from having mentors of color—including May and DesRoches, who remains a close friend.

Many of the grad school instructors “were themselves Black and brown students,” said Bobb, now senior director of Georgia Tech’s Constellations Center for Equity in Computing. “So our introduction to calculus, physics, chemistry, introductory [mechanical engineering] and CS and [electrical engineering] was through our own folks. And their kind of sensibilities and all those things that you’d expect were built in.”

The End of Affirmative Action

Everything changed in 1996, when California passed Proposition 209, which banned preferential treatment based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin in public employment and education.

“Prop 209 was a big win for white supremacy,” said law professor David Oppenheimer, director of the Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law. “It achieved exactly what its promoters wanted: to ensure that programs that were successfully bringing more students of color to the University of California would fail, and that the result would be fewer people of color in leadership positions in government and industry.”

“That that was the death knell for the [minority engineering] program,” said Torres. “People really struggled to figure out how to sustain the mechanics of the program when you couldn’t really target students for participation in the same way.”

Across the university, the share of Black freshmen enrolled fell from 6.7 percent in 1995 to 3.7 percent in 1998, eventually plateauing at around 3 percent. Today Black students make up about 4 percent of Berkeley’s undergraduate population.

Data from Berkeley Engineering do not separate Black students from other “underrepresented minorities,” which include Native American and Latino students. But an analysis by Fiona Doyle, a former engineering professor, found that freshman enrollment of underrepresented minorities dropped by more than 40 percent between 2005 and 2009, from 10.4 percent of the class entering in 2005 to 6.2 percent of the class that started in 2009.

Tsu-Jae King Liu, the current dean of engineering, said that following the passage of Prop 209, the number of Black undergraduate engineering students fell by about 1 percent—a decline that remained largely flat until recently. Data show that in the 2021–22 academic year, underrepresented minorities made up 20 percent of engineering undergraduates, though just 8 percent of graduate students.

“This is actually the first year that we ended up with a higher percentage than even before Prop 209,” Liu said.

Students and faculty tried to compensate for Prop 209 by establishing MEP-like programs, such as the Center for Underrepresented Engineering Students (CUES). But sustaining momentum proved difficult. As a public institution, Berkeley couldn’t offer the kind of financial aid its private counterparts could, so it lost qualified candidates to institutions such as Stanford and MIT. Doyle’s report noted in all caps that in 2009, “Engineering had THE LOWEST YIELD OF UNDERREPRESENTED FRESHMEN OF ANY UNIT ON CAMPUS.”

Despite vehement opposition from students, Berkeley merged CUES with Engineering Students Services, a broader student support group, in 2009.

“CUES served a very small cross-section of our students,” said Liu. “And so that’s why it was integrated—plus, Prop 209 made it more difficult to justify. Some of the minoritized students who benefited most from that program probably felt that we were reducing some support for them. But the idea was really to be more inclusive and supportive of all students to succeed.”

Caleb Bugg, who recently completed his Ph.D. at Berkeley Engineering and is now doing a postdoc at Georgia Tech, understands the administration’s position.

“It’s not like I think the people in the College of Engineering are evil; they’re just spread so thin,” he said. “There’s an all-Black organization; it’s running well. And then people say, you need to bring in other people who are also oppressed in some way. So, of course, you want to bring them in, too, but …”

He notes that BESSA and BGESS, the Black affinity groups that nurtured May, Pines and DesRoches, are as strong as ever. Bugg, who served as a vice president of BGESS, estimates that roughly 70 or 80 of the 110 members regularly showed up to events.

But without funding, administrative oversight or academic coaching, they remain largely student-run social organizations, and Bugg believes they could be so much more.

“The real power of these organizations is us being exposed to other people’s research and other people’s work to the point where you can say, ‘I could see an all-Black research group doing work that goes in a major journal, and that’s not weird to me, because I saw it in graduate school,’” he said.

The Future of Black STEM Scholars

Pines, who grew up in Oakland, graduated Berkeley in 1986 and moved across the country to attend graduate school at MIT. May and DesRoches studied and worked together for years at Berkeley, and then later at Georgia Tech, where May helped DesRoches get his first faculty job.

But the three men remained in touch, never forgetting the sense of community and possibility they found as engineering students at Berkeley.

Today they remain committed to ensuring a robust pipeline for future STEM scholars of color.

“We know how to do this,” said May. “There are hundreds, maybe thousands of programs that have been successful. But they’re not knitted together in any reasonable way. And there’s no consistency from year to year. Most of these programs depend on charismatic leadership as opposed to a national imperative or national will to solve the problem. So I use the Bush 1,000 Points of Light metaphor: there’s a thousand points of light here, but no constellation.”

May and Pines serve on the National Academy of Engineering’s newly formed Committee on Racial Justice and Equity.

“What we’re doing now is trying to align those programs, so there are some synergies that make it easier for folks to go from undergrad to grad to scholarship funding,” said Pines. “As Gary has said, diversifying STEM in general is a national imperative. If the government wants the United States to still be at the forefront of STEM education, and therefore technology accomplishment and contributions, we need to invest in diverse populations and do that nationally.”

Among the steps they recommend: creating a national STEM scholarship program based entirely on need, and establishing a national database of underrepresented STEM students at every stage of their career.

More than 35 years after the three presidents connected at Berkeley, their legacy still looms large—on the campus and beyond.

“I met Gary May recently. He’s been an idol of mine for a very long time,” said Bugg, who aspires to be a college president.

“The work that Gary, Reggie and Darryll did, while they were at Berkeley and after, helped create the environment that will allow the next generation of American engineers and scientists to see that they, too, could do something similar, that they, too, have a right to be in these spaces, that they, too, can help create and mold not just American society, but the world writ large,” said Ryan Shelby, who got his master’s and Ph.D. from Berkeley in the 2010s and now works for USAID in South Africa. “The work that these guys did as well as their experience there helped shape and mold the next generation, and I am living proof of that.”

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DesRoches (left) and May have been friends and colleagues since they met at Berkeley Engineering.
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New Title IX rules raise concerns for the accused

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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a middle-aged Hispanic man with glasses and a goatee.

The long-awaited proposals for new Title IX regulations under the Biden administration were released last week, to mixed reactions. The proposals include changes to the way colleges investigate sexual assault, which has sparked concern and condemnation from civil liberties advocates.

Some critics believe that changing the process for sexual assault investigations will roll back due process rights for the accused, returning higher education to a climate that allegedly favored the rights of accusers, which prompted a flurry of lawsuits from alleged perpetrators in recent years.

Supporters of the changes argue that Biden’s Title IX regulations reverse rules established by the Trump administration that have silenced accusers and made victims less likely to come forward.

Arguments For and Against

The Biden administration’s proposed changes will drop mandated live hearings in Title IX cases—unless they are required by state law—that provided for cross-examination of accusers, permit a return to a single-investigator model, reduce the evidence a college must share with the accused to a written summary and allow colleges to investigate sexual misconduct without a formal complaint.

These changes roll back a number of regulations established under former secretary of education Betsy DeVos during the Trump administration that emphasized due process for the accused. Opponents of the DeVos regulations have welcomed the changes, though much of the reaction has fallen along party lines, with Democrats celebrating and Republicans fuming.

Richard Burr, a Republican senator from North Carolina and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, issued a news release calling the Biden rules deeply flawed, arguing that they take a step backward and undermine the judicial system.

“This attempted overreach is not only extremely concerning, but runs counter to federal court precedent and the opinions of leading legal experts, including the late Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg. With this proposed regulatory change, it’s clear the Administration is placing accusations of guilt above fair consideration of the evidence,” Burr said last week.

Patty Murray, a Democratic senator from Washington who chairs the HELP Committee, landed on the opposite side, supporting the proposals last week with a celebratory tweet: “On the #TitleIX anniversary, I can’t think of a more fitting tribute than the Biden Admin today announcing they’ll replace the Trump-DeVos rule that led to survivors being silenced & campus sexual assault being brushed under the rug. The new rule will help make campuses safer.”

Some higher ed observers, such as KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, have warned that the proposed changes, which are largely a return to Obama-era rules, will lead to a “Title IX inquisition,” a system lacking checks and balances and limiting due process and therefore procedural fairness.

Johnson, who tracks cases brought by students accused of sexual misconduct, said by email that the new regulations represent “basically a return to the 2013-2016 system but in a dramatically different legal environment. Rather than having a standard system where all students will have the same core procedural rights regardless of where they go to school, as now exists with the DeVos regs, there will be wild disparities between public & private schools and also depending on what judicial circuit the school happens to be in.”

Essentially, that means precedent set by courts may shape different rules and outcomes based on where colleges fall geographically.

He added that colleges can uphold current procedures—including live hearings and greater access to evidence for the accused—if they choose to, since the new regulations don’t prohibit it, but he expects few institutions will do so.

Alexandra Brodsky, staff attorney at the nonprofit legal advocacy organization Public Justice, celebrated the proposed rules, which she considers a win for survivors of sexual misconduct.

Brodsky downplayed concerns about due process for the accused, arguing that the changes allow colleges to choose a disciplinary model that they deem most appropriate, rather than having a quasi-judicial model forced on them that she believes undermines victims’ rights.

“One thing I’ll note about [the] process is that the proposed regulations allow schools to choose from a number of different kinds of disciplinary models, including the one required by the current DeVos regulations,” Brodsky said by email. “That’s a return to the status quo over both Democratic and Republican administrations pre-Trump, and the state of school discipline law for all other kinds of misconduct: courts and federal agencies have long allowed schools discretion to design disciplinary procedures, so long as they respect certain fundamental rights, and had previously declined to impose a one-size-fits-all model. If a disciplined student or faculty member believes a school’s disciplinary policies—whether for harassment or any other kind of misconduct—don’t comply with due process or fundamental fairness requirements, that inquiry concerns schools’ obligations under the U.S. Constitution and state law, not Title IX.”

Striking a Balance

Other observers believe that the Department of Education struck a balance between the rights of survivors and the accused. They maintain that while the proposed regulations aren’t perfect, they are fairer than the 2011 Dear Colleague letter from the Obama administration—which some have blamed for a spike in reverse Title IX lawsuits by the accused—and the 2020 regulations from the Trump administration, which critics have said made victims less likely to report sexual misconduct.

“I think a lot of critiques of the 2020 regulations are based on the fact that they were off balance with respect to protecting rights and compromised the rights of complainants to benefit respondents. I think, in some sense, the Dear Colleague letter in 2011 did the exact opposite,” said Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators. “So the question was whether the Biden administration’s efforts were going to take us back to a more complainant-centered process, or were we going to achieve a better balance between the two? I’m pleasantly surprised to say I think they achieved a more balanced approach than I expected. I don’t know that it’s an ideal balance, and I think there are certainly ways to improve on it, but it’s not a one-sided process. It’s pretty well balanced and I think that’s a sign of the times and that the Department of Education is not ignoring the rights of all participants in the process.”

A 60-day comment period will follow the Department of Education’s June 23 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which came on the 50th anniversary of Title IX becoming federal law. The Biden administration summarized proposed changes in a fact sheet published last week.

Sokolow believes that as the Biden administration collects feedback on the proposed rules, certain aspects of the regulations will likely shift, meaning what has been proposed now is far from final.

Costly Reverse Title IX Cases

Critics of the 2011 Obama administration guidance suggest that overenforcement of campus sexual misconduct issues led to false accusations and unjust punishment. DeVos rescinded the Dear Colleague letter in 2017, but more than 700 lawsuits had already reportedly been filed by the accused.

“Before the Dear Colleague letter, there were virtually none of these lawsuits,” Johnson said.

Oftentimes universities settle with plaintiffs behind closed doors rather than proceed with expensive and messy court cases.

“With increasing frequency universities are settling before there’s a decision in the case because they basically can read the tea leaves,” Johnson said. “Or they’ll try to get the lawsuit dismissed; if they fail, then they’ll settle. The core demand for students in almost all of these lawsuits, with a handful of exceptions, is an expungement of the record—for them, to be able to say, ‘I was not found responsible for sexual misconduct.’ Because if you are responsible, your chances of transferring to another school are limited, or it will come up in jobs that require background checks and limit career options.”

Johnson believes there is little pressure internally or externally to provide due process for the accused, which is why he welcomed the DeVos regulations and is wary of Biden’s.

Brodsky, however, sees the DeVos regulations as pushing a one-size-fits-all disciplinary model on colleges and believes many of the lawsuits brought by the accused are questionable cases.

“I don’t think that they are succeeding because they are, in fact, meritorious. I think they are succeeding because courts are unusually sympathetic to them. I think that they are succeeding because they tap into a cultural narrative that the Me Too movement has gone too far and the real victims of sexual harassment are falsely accused men, which I obviously do not think is true. But I think that you can see that instinct at the heart of a lot of the opinions in these cases,” Brodsky said.

But will Biden’s proposed changes usher in a new era of reverse Title IX lawsuits, in which the accused claim to have been wronged in the investigatory process? Sokolow is skeptical.

“I think the regulations cleverly defer to the courts. It says we’re going to establish a floor, a baseline of procedural protections, and then based on your jurisdiction, on state laws, on federal court rulings, you’ll want to amp your level of procedural protections accordingly,” Sokolow said.

What’s more likely, Sokolow suggested, is that as certain rules around due process change under the proposed regulations, states will act on their own, enshrining protections into law.

The Policy Debate
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Proposed Title IX rules crafted by the Department of Education were announced earlier this month by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
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Mexican university spends $100M to recruit first-world talent

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The Times Higher Education logo, with a red T, a purple H and a blue E.

Mexico’s Monterrey Institute of Technology is making a push for global prominence, outlining a strategy to hire 100 elite scholars from first-world institutions in more than a dozen academic fields.

The Times Higher Education logo, with a red T, a purple H and a blue E.The five-year plan is predicated on hopes for substantial new philanthropic support at the private 30-campus operation and animated by a long-term desire to draw greater academic talent into the developing world.

Its initial eight hires for the $100 million Faculty of Excellence initiative include experts in nanotechnology, ethical capitalism, entrepreneurialism and urban design, mostly from the U.S.

“What we’re focusing on,” said Juan Pablo Murra, rector for higher education at Tec, “is attracting talented students and talented faculty and doing high-quality research that helps solve the challenges that we have in Mexico and in the world.”

Tec is already one of the top-ranked universities in Latin America, with about 2,000 full-time academics and 6,000 adjuncts in 20 cities across Mexico. It has about 60,000 undergraduates and 8,000 graduate students.

One of Tec’s first Faculty of Excellence recruits is Raj Sisodia, professor of global business at Babson College who is now serving as professor of conscious enterprise at Tec. Sisodia, a native of India, is the creator—along with John Mackey, a co-founder of the Whole Foods Market grocery chain—of an endeavor known as conscious capitalism, which aims to help corporate leaders understand that their operations will run better if they treat their employees better.

He saw great potential for the initiative at Tec, which has 500,000 alumni and 500 trustees, many of whom are business leaders committed to the conscious capitalism ideals. About 100 other Tec professors have said that they are willing to take part, with plans that include creating a conscious business minor, he said.

Others who have joined the institution include Marc Madou of the University of California, Irvine, as professor of nanoengineering at Tec, and Cipriano Santos, a private sector expert in applying mathematics to business challenges.

Most of the other initial hires are taking visiting professor positions.

From the outside, the overall initiative looks ambitious, said one expert, Gerardo Blanco, a native of Mexico who is now associate professor of higher education at Boston College. Chief challenges to the Faculty of Excellence venture, Blanco said, will include sustaining the funding levels necessary to keep world-class scholars and overcoming Mexico’s reputation for violence connected to organized crime and drug cartels.

Because of those hurdles, Blanco said, many new recruits might leave after only a short time at Tec, or they might just use Tec’s offer to extract higher pay from their current institution. “When you attract somebody who is very high-profile,” he said, “you need to keep them for a while to get some return on investment.”

Sisodia, however, was giving every indication that Tec was a long-term partner. He is in the middle of a two-year leave of absence from Babson and will face a decision at the end whether to stay for his full five-year offer at Tec, which requires him to spend only about 10 weeks a year in Mexico.

“The odds are that I will be staying,” Sisodia said. “Their commitment to being at the cutting edge of business education, and integrating societal and planetary perspectives into that education, is far stronger than I had seen anywhere else.”

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Update on capital campaigns

Starting Off

  • King’s College, in Pennsylvania, is starting a campaign to raise $50 million. The college has already raised 62 percent of the total.
  • University of Georgia is starting a campaign to raise $300 million for athletics. The campaign will designate $50 million for women’s athletics.
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Education Announces nearly $25 million for Promise Neighborhoods Funding

By: Brenda Calderon, Ph.D., Office of Elementary and Secondary Education “Promise Neighborhoods build on the rich resources, ingenuity, and creativity of communities to bring together schools, nonprofits, and other organizations in a concerted effort to meet the needs of children and youth”— Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. What if students were supported from cradle to

Interact With Student Voice Survey Data From Inside Higher Ed

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Screen showing visualization of survey data.

Wondering how various student demographic groups are experiencing life as college students? Student Voice has conducted 16 surveys since its launch in February of 2021, and all of the survey data are open to the public and accessible for free. Click here to explore data from the latest survey on campus safety and security, or here to access each topic’s survey results.

Topics range from student mental health to data privacy awareness, and readers can view the specific survey questions and detailed findings. The survey dashboard allows readers to segment answers by university type, race, political leaning and more. Results are published the month after each survey concludes, giving institutional leaders the information they need to meet shifting student needs and institutional goals in real time. The compiled data can assist with planning student success resources and support allocations for the 2022–23 academic year and beyond.

College Pulse creates and conducts Student Voice surveys in conjunction with Inside Higher Ed. Respondents are part of College Pulse’s American College Student Panel, which includes over 450,000 undergraduate student respondents from more than 1,500 two- and four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states. Read more about College Pulse’s methodology here. The project is made possible with support from Kaplan, with Inside Higher Ed maintaining editorial independence and full discretion over its coverage.

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Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Participates in Conversation with DACAmented Students, Educators, School Counselors, and Policy Leaders

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona participated in a virtual discussion with six DACAmented students, educators, school counselors, and policy leaders in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month and the 10th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), a program which provides temporary status to undocumented students and professionals. Participants shared their personal experiences with the Secretary and with each other. Secretary Cardona listened and emphasized the importance of continuing to share these stories:

New paper finds evidence of name discrimination for Ph.D.s

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Name sticker with "Hello, my name is" written at the top on a blue field.

Prior studies have found evidence of name-based discrimination in hiring. But while such research often used fake applications to examine how would-be employers responded to names distinctively associated with a particular race or gender, one new preliminary study looks at name fluency: how long it takes to a pronounce an applicant’s name.

In addition to studying name discrimination from a new angle, this working paper is also based on the real-world employment outcomes of some 1,500 economics job candidates from about 100 Ph.D. programs following the 2016–17 to 2017–18 market cycles, not hypotheticals.

Ultimately, the authors found that having a name that takes longer to pronounce is associated with a significantly lower likelihood of being placed into an academic job or obtaining a tenure-track position. Having a hard-to-pronounce name—from the perspective of native English speakers, that is—also is associated with initial job placement at an institution with lower research productivity, as measured by the research rankings in the Research Papers in Economics database.

These findings generally held true when the authors tried different ways of measuring pronunciation difficulty, including a computer algorithm based on common letter and sound combinations. These disparate outcomes also persisted when controlling for factors such as candidates’ Ph.D.-granting institution and their home country.

Across the two Ph.D. cohorts, the paper says, there is “strong evidence for labor market discrimination against individuals with names that are hard to pronounce. Job candidates with difficult-to-pronounce names are much less likely to be placed into an academic job or to land a tenure-track position, and also are placed in jobs at much lower ranked institutions, as measured by research productivity. These results are statistically significant and economically large in magnitude.”

According to the paper, one standard deviation increase in the median time it takes to pronounce a candidate’s full name lowers the likelihood of obtaining an academic or tenure-track job by roughly eight percentage points and results in placement in an institution that is nearly 100 spots lower, as ranked in the Research Papers in Economics database.

The magnitude of effects for first and last names is roughly the same. The researchers didn’t find the effect was about the candidates’ qualifications, as there was no relationship “between name pronunciation and outcomes related to research quality such as the publication status of one’s job market paper or Google Scholar citation counts.”

What’s going on? The researchers say their work doesn’t allow them to pinpoint a mechanism of discrimination. But they offer some guesses. For job searches at academic, governmental and research institutions, the paper says, an initial screening “generally involves committees getting together to discuss names of potential candidates, which may lead to some subconscious discrimination against names that are harder to pronounce and/or remember.”

Beyond this screening stage, the authors venture, it’s possible that candidates with “easier names are viewed more favorably during the initial and final stages of interviews, as discussed in prior research.”

The paper suggests that this kind of name discrimination possibly goes beyond—or begins before—hiring. So the results “may in fact be underestimating the true long-term impact of discrimination based on difficulty of name pronunciation.”

Co-author Stephen Wu, Irma M. and Robert D. Morris Professor of Economics at Hamilton College, said Tuesday that he’s in the process of incorporating more data into the paper, namely from prior experimental studies that used fictitious résumés to see if perceived race based on names would impact callback rates for job applicants. “We find that even within ethnic-sounding names, those with harder-to-pronounce names are less likely to get called for a job,” he said.

Asked about implications for academe, such as expanding the use of blind reviews of CVs, Wu said such a change might be “difficult,” but that it “certainly that would be a way to combat this type of bias.”

Even the awareness that this type of bias exists “might be helpful for hiring committees to know,” he said. “While you can never totally eliminate these types of unconscious biases, the initial awareness may help limit it.”

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Economics Ph.D.s with hard-to-pronounce names face hiring discrimination, according to this new working paper.
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Title IX protections for pregnant students in post-Roe America

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The Biden administration’s attempt to advance protections against sex-based discrimination and harassment on college campuses through a Title IX proposal came just 24 hours before the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion.

In the eight states that have so far banned abortions, and the 22 states where bans are expected soon, pregnancy rates among college students are expected to rise. Many colleges will now have to grapple with new questions of how Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applies to students seeking academic accommodations to access abortion, especially for college students who will now have to cross state borders to legally terminate a pregnancy.

According to a 2013 study, 20 percent of individuals said that they got an abortion because having a child would interfere with their future opportunities, including education. College-aged individuals, of whom 92 percent are under the age of 24, are among the most likely demographic to seek abortion care.

Title IX—the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at all federally funded colleges—requires colleges to provide academic accommodations for medical needs related to pregnancy, abortion and miscarriages. These protections were created so that pregnant students can continue their education without significant disruption.

Recently, additional protections for pregnant students were proposed under the Biden administration’s new Title IX rules.

How the New Title IX Proposal Expands Protections for Pregnant Students

On Thursday, the Education Department released a new proposal for Title IX, which further clarifies gray areas in the existing regulations around discrimination against pregnancy and “pregnancy-related symptoms.” Since pregnant students are more likely to drop out of college, these clarifications will likely play an important role in helping an increased number of pregnant students continue their education.

Protections for discrimination against pregnant students have been codified into law since 1975, which states that sex-based discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy, or recovery therefrom” is prohibited.

“Title IX regulations regarding pregnancy and related conditions have remained static for nearly a half century,” say the proposed regulations. “In that time, much has been learned about what appropriate standards are necessary to afford students and employees the ability to learn and work while pregnant or experiencing pregnancy-related conditions.”

The new regulations clarify the types of accommodations that students can access due to pregnancy, miscarriage or abortion and provide a clear definition of what falls under “pregnancy-related symptoms” that students can use to request a medically excused absence from class. Advocates say that these clarifications are important because pregnant students and those with children are often discouraged from and discriminated against when trying to continue their education.

“We see student parents leave all the time because they’re told they can’t stay, that they need to withdraw, that accommodations won’t be made. They are told that they don’t belong,” said Jessica Lee, a lawyer and the director of the Pregnant Scholar, a group that educates students who are parents or pregnant in college about their legal protections.

Under the newly proposed regulations, a licensed health-care provider can now sign off on medical leave; that includes midwives, registered nurses and other nonphysicians, whereas under the current regulations students need a sign-off from a physician. Medical leave can be requested for anything from needing to miss class for a medical appointment, for experiencing pregnancy-related symptoms such as morning sickness, or to get or recover from an abortion.

“There is going to be some responsibility on schools to provide accommodations and no hindrance to access for pregnant people who need to seek abortions,” said Alyssa-Rae McGinn, vice president of investigations at Dan Schorr LLC, a company that advises colleges on Title IX. “Needing an abortion very clearly falls under pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.”

Making Sense of the New Legal Standards on Abortion

As access to abortion becomes increasingly limited across the nation, many college Title IX offices will have to address new questions of what services they are able to provide, including the possible need to travel out of state for abortion care.

Although the Biden administration’s Title IX proposal would codify explicit protections and entitlements for pregnant students, accommodations regarding abortion, which require a medical note from a doctor, will largely be left to colleges to implement in their own Title IX policies.

In order to ensure students are aware of what protections and accommodations are available to them in the case of pregnancy, college health service staff are going to need explicit communication on swiftly changing state laws regarding abortion care and contraceptive services to ensure that they are not breaking the law, Lee said. This is especially important as some states move to pass legislation restricting access to emergency contraceptive services or out-of-state abortion referrals, which are services regularly provided by many university health service centers.

“Folks who aren’t lawyers aren’t going to know where the line is between saying, ‘here’s what’s available to you’ and what is actually legal, so people aren’t just saying nothing out of fear,” said Lee. “All of that is a very nuanced legal standard that health-care providers typically just aren’t up to speed on, and they’re really going to need to rely on general counsel and Title IX compliance officers to let them know where the lines are.”

According to McGinn, this could mean colleges providing students with the necessary accommodations to continue their education in the face of needing to travel out of state for an abortion and to recover from an abortion. Title IX does not require that students are given time off to travel to seek an abortion, however.

“Title IX coordinators understand that the protections of Title IX are a floor,” said Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators. “All the things that the proposed [regulations] say that schools need to do to protect pregnant individuals—those are things that a school could exceed if it chooses to do so.”

As abortion becomes increasingly illegal across the nation, it could become harder for students to gain the academic accommodations—time off—needed to get an abortion in some states. Since Title IX prevents students from being discriminated on based on their choice to get an abortion, it will likely play an important role in ensuring students do not face criticism for their choice to terminate a pregnancy.

“As it gets harder to get an abortion, it gets harder to fly under the radar. Whereas someone in a state with easy access may only miss a class or two, someone in a state with more challenging access might have to miss a significant amount of time from school, and it might be more disruptive to their education or to their work in a way that shines a spotlight on them,” said Lee. “All of this is going to get a lot more public right at a time when people are feeling less safe being public about it.”

Bayliss Fiddman, the director of educational equity and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, said that for students to feel comfortable disclosing that they are pregnant and seeking an abortion, they must feel as though this information is protected.

“Right now it is really important that you actually make the university a safe space, so letting them know that whatever they seek on campus, whoever they tell on campus that they received an abortion or that they’re pregnant and are looking for one, that this is a safe place and they will not be reported to the criminal legal system,” said Fiddman.

In an example of what some colleges are doing, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, which has a ban on abortion that will go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court ruling, has established a task force that will consider how the abortion ban will impact student’s access to clinical reproductive care and educational instruction. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to support women’s health and the safety and well-being of our community and to create a supportive and inclusive environment for educational success,” said Vanderbilt chancellor Daniel Diermeier.

New Protections for Pregnant Students Could Still Be Added

The Biden administration’s Title IX proposal could be changed to include additional protections for students who are pregnant or seeking abortion. The Education Department did not respond to request for a comment on whether the administration is considering this.

The proposed regulations will undergo a 60-day comment period where both antiabortion advocates and abortion rights campaigners are expected to be vocal about their concerns. “It will be interesting to see based on Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization] whether [in] the final rule the Department of Education decides it wants to go a bit further and talk about some of the abortion-related implications. I could foresee them potentially doing so,” said Sokolow.

Lee said the Education Department could add explicit language regarding what protections must be in place for college students seeking abortion care.

Advocates are also worried about the ability of colleges to provide an increasing amount of support to parenting or pregnant students, who already make up 20 percent of the undergraduate student population. Although Title IX offers basic protections against discrimination based on these factors, parent students are still highly vulnerable to leaving school due to increased responsibility and lack of access to childcare.

“We are already in a state of crisis for pregnant and parenting students,” said Lee. “I think that an added wave of student parents in need of services might only make that problem worse, because these universities and colleges just aren’t providing enough support. I fear as the population grows, the gaps are only going to get wider.”

There are concerns about an upcoming Supreme Court decision that could weaken federal regulatory power that could apply to Title IX.

Additionally, any advancements made to protect pregnant college students in Title IX remain vulnerable to Congress overruling them. Congress could also move to enact legislation to protect students’ access to reproductive health services, such as emergency contraception and birth control, through their college health centers, which could be important as some states move to limit access.

“Title IX advocates are really on the edge of our seats right now,” said Lee.

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