Harvard Business School seems to be all over the New York Times recently… Instapundit links to this article from a couple of days ago about how class, not gender, is the real dividing line among students at the School.
Interesting stuff to me, but the more interesting story appeared a week ago in a long piece the Times did on Harvard Business School’s attempt to enforce “gender equity”. If any of you are looking for a rock solid argument of the folly of gender equity — or at least that idea as conceptualized by academic and cultural elites then this story is for you. It would be hard for anyone even partially open-minded (that requirement excludes many folks I realize) would have a hard time not seeing that Harvard’s gender equity experiment was a disastrous bit of social engineering.
When the members of the Harvard Business School class of 2013 gathered in May to celebrate the end of their studies, there was little visible evidence of the experiment they had undergone for the last two years. As they stood amid the brick buildings named after businessmen from Morgan to Bloomberg, black-and-crimson caps and gowns united the 905 graduates into one genderless mass.
But during that week’s festivities, the Class Day speaker, a standout female student, alluded to “the frustrations of a group of people who feel ignored.” Others grumbled that another speechmaker, a former chief executive of a company in steep decline, was invited only because she was a woman. At a reception, a male student in tennis whites blurted out, as his friends laughed, that much of what had occurred at the school had “been a painful experience.”
He and his classmates had been unwitting guinea pigs in what would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy: What if Harvard Business School gave itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success?
The country’s premier business training ground was trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem. Year after year, women who had arrived with the same test scores and grades as men fell behind. Attracting and retaining female professors was a losing battle; from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left.
Some students, like Sheryl Sandberg, class of ’95, the Facebook executive and author of “Lean In,” sailed through. Yet many Wall Street-hardened women confided that Harvard was worse than any trading floor, with first-year students divided into sections that took all their classes together and often developed the overheated dynamics of reality shows. Some male students, many with finance backgrounds, commandeered classroom discussions and hazed female students and younger faculty members, and openly ruminated on whom they would “kill, sleep with or marry” (in cruder terms). Alcohol-soaked social events could be worse.
“You weren’t supposed to talk about it in open company,” said Kathleen L. McGinn, a professor who supervised a student study that revealed the grade gap. “It was a dirty secret that wasn’t discussed.”
But in 2010, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first female president, appointed a new dean who pledged to do far more than his predecessors to remake gender relations at the business school. He and his team tried to change how students spoke, studied and socialized. The administrators installed stenographers in the classroom to guard against biased grading, provided private coaching — for some, after every class — for untenured female professors, and even departed from the hallowed case-study method.
The dean’s ambitions extended far beyond campus, to what Dr. Faust called in an interview an “obligation to articulate values.” The school saw itself as the standard-bearer for American business. Turning around its record on women, the new administrators assured themselves, could have an untold impact at other business schools, at companies populated by Harvard alumni and in the Fortune 500, where only 21 chief executives are women. The institution would become a laboratory for studying how women speak in group settings, the links between romantic relationships and professional status, and the use of everyday measurement tools to reduce bias.
I’m always struck by the religious nature of these things. The impulse to reach beyond the classroom — not by inculcating good character in class and assignments, but by trying to enforce behaviors off campus smacks of Bob Jones University and many other Christian colleges who used to try to do similar things vis a vis drinking, dating, etc. As Harvard did — or soon will — find out, such enforcement efforts are a fool’s errand. Why the need to try a Panopticon approach to social engineering?
In my experience, it usually stems from a lack of confidence in the message or values being taught or espoused. Just as Bob Jones ludicrous, and sometimes racist, behavioral restrictions ultimately betrayed a lack of confidence in the redeeming nature of the Gospel (and a tacit recognition that most people won’t follow strict behavioral restrictions without “encouragement”) it sought to proclaim, so Harvard’s gender equity social experiment and its far-reaching nature exposes a realization that perhaps there are very real differences between the sexes (and that gender is a linguistic concept, not a biological one — but I digress) and that while there is nothing wrong with encouraging women to be more assertive and men to be more welcoming to female colleagues — people won’t respond well to ham-handed strict enforcement regimes. As the French say… vive le difference and may that difference last for the duration.