To the Editor:
I am writing to express concern about the premise of your recent article, “Largest Source of Private Funding for Women in STEM Is Under Attack” (The Chronicle, January 5).
While I applaud any effort to promote entry and retention of talented individuals in the STEM disciplines, I am against those which target specific demographics.
The reason I am opposed in this instance is because, according to the latest report from the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board, “Women earned almost two-thirds of the degrees awarded in psychology, biological sciences, and social sciences in 2019 but received only about a quarter of those in engineering and computer sciences. In other S&E fields, they earned almost half of the degrees awarded.”
In addition, while enrollment in STEM disciplines at U.S. universities remains strong (about 35 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded), it is concentrated in a few disciplines (about two of three bachelor’s degrees in STEM are in computer sciences or social sciences). STEM degrees also are concentrated in a few institutions of higher education. According to the executive summary, “A small number of institutions awarded three-quarters of doctorates, over half of master’s degrees, and nearly 45 percent of bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields in 2019.” Lastly, the NSF-NSB report also indicates that “Students on temporary visas (i.e., foreign students) are earning increasing shares of U.S. S&E master’s degrees — 36 percent in 2019 compared with 26 percent in 2011 … .” As a consequence, despite increased enrollment on STEM disciplines, fewer of those students are from the U.S., potentially reducing U.S. competitiveness in the future.
All of this to say that I believe we need to be focused not on demographics, but rather on promoting enrollment and retention in and funding for the STEM disciplines across sexes, ethnicities, etc. In fact, to me your article highlights a major problem with demographically focused programs, and that is, who decides when it is enough?
Lawrence P. Reynolds
University Distinguished Professor of Animal Sciences
Co-Director, Center for Nutrition and Pregnancy
North Dakota State University