Thinking of steering students away from a sexist field?

Such steering may be illegal, according to an article in the latest CHE:

Breaking new ground in its enforcement of civil-rights laws, the Education Department is investigating whether a Columbia University professor discriminated against a student by steering her away from a course on the basis of her Jewish background.

… The investigation of Columbia University by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is examining whether [there was a civil rights violation] when an academic department chairwoman allegedly discouraged an Orthodox Jewish student from taking a class taught by a professor who has been accused of anti-Israel bias.

Although the Education Department has often investigated complaints that elementary or secondary schools illegally tracked students into low- or high-ability classes based on their ethnicity or race, several veteran higher-education lawyers said Tuesday that they could not recall any similar investigation of alleged discrimination in academic advising at a college.

In considering the idea that bias in academic advising could violate federal civil-rights laws, the Office for Civil Rights could be opening the door to similar investigations involving other forms of discrimination, such as cases involving female students who were discouraged from enrolling in engineering programs considered unwelcoming to women, or black students whose race was cited by advisers who encouraged them to major in black studies.

Arthur L. Coleman, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education in the Office for Civil Rights who now is a managing partner at EducationCounsel, a firm that advises colleges, declined to comment specifically on the Columbia controversy. But in general, he said, colleges seek to avoid even subtly steering students into certain classes or fields based on their race, ethnicity, or gender.

Noting that colleges’ efforts to promote diversity on campus are premised on the assumption that such diversity promotes the robust exchange of ideas, Mr. Coleman said any steering of students to avoid exposing them to disagreements in the classroom “raises a set of fundamental concerns” related to a college’s educational mission.

As far as I can see, “anti-Israel” bias is considered as a clash of ideas. There is a question about whether sexism – in the form, say, of “being unwelcoming to women” – would be analogous.

There is a difficulty, it seems to me, in that a climate hostile to women is supposed to be illegal. Perhaps, though, it can be illegal to steer peple away from academic depts with illegal activities if one does it because of the students’ ethnicity or gender.

6 thoughts on “Thinking of steering students away from a sexist field?

  1. This reminds me of when Arizona banned ethnic studies: If it’s illegal to talk about the problem, that means there’s no problem, right?

  2. This doesn’t strike me as much of an analogy. One, supporters of Israel are not systematically discriminated against in American universities. Two, Israel is a country and women are people. Three, it isn’t in any sense obvious that “anti-Israel” means “anti-Orthodox Jewish”, claims by many defenders of Israeli military actions aside. I don’t know about the details of this particular case, but someone is going to have to do much more than claim a professor opposes Israel to substantiate the claim that said professor discriminates against Jewish folks.

  3. It doesn’t seem analogous to me. In any case, the response to a sexist professor/class should not be steering women away but fixing the problem.

  4. Really fascinating. I can’t find the link, though. (However that could just be link-challenged me.)

  5. Jender, it was my bad. I hate doing links on my ipad, which I was using, and the article is locked against non-subscribers.

    Matt, it seems it was not clear. The question of descrimination arose because the advice given was based on the student’s ethnicity. So the possible analogy is between that and advising a student on the basis of her gender not to do something. Race, gender and ethnicity are not supposed to play a role in academic advice given to students, it seems.

  6. Thanks for clarifying that, Anne. I guess what I’m raising doubt about is whether or not the same policy would be applied to a clearer case, a case where a professor warns a female student about a documented sexist or a black student about a documented racist. What clouded this case for me is this: even if the accusations of bias are accurate (assuming “anti-Israel” means “opposed to Israeli policy”), that still doesn’t even provide much of a basis for the recommendation (absent other problems that directly relate to the specific student’s sex/race/orientation/ethnicity/etc.). My guess would be that the policy or was invoked because of the lack of connection between the student’s Jewish background and the nature of the charges against the professor, and that there would be great reluctance to invoke the policy/rule if the connection were present.

    Then again, my guess might be wrong!

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