Reducing class size and shaking up grading systems could help close the gender gap in professional schools, suggests new research in the Journal of Legal Studies. Authors Daniel Ho and Mark Kelman, both professors of law at Stanford University, say that common professional school pedagogies, such as the Socratic and adversarial methods, may put women at a disadvantage when class sizes are big. In their study, Ho and Kelman analyzed 15,689 grades assigned by 91 instructors to 1,897 students from 2001-12.
During the first part of that time period, from 2001-08, women earned grades that were 0.05 grade-point-average points lower than those for men. But in the data from 2008-12, when Stanford adopted a lower-pressure “honors and pass” grading system, the gender gap disappeared across all classes. That change didn't just reflect "masked" grade differences under the new system, the authors determined through a kind of "shadow" grade analysis of pre-2008 data -- women were really doing better. And in a mandatory class whose size was shrunk and instruction was made more “simulation-intensive,” involving more student interaction and participation, the gender gap was reversed.
Although the original gender gap was relatively small, the authors say, it’s statistically significant when students hit the law job market. For example, they say, a GPA increase from 3.6 to 3.65 is associated with a 7 percent higher chance of landing a federal appellate clerkship. Kelman said that the study refutes a common assumption that performance is predetermined by "fixed" student traits. "To me, the most important finding is the most general one: gender inequality is sensitive to pedagogy," he said via email. "I think this fact is more significant than the particular pedagogical mechanisms that were in play here at Stanford."
We have been hearing about how various women’s colleges are responding to the challenges presented by the way in which gender is currently evolving in our society and culture. The question facing women’s colleges should be distinguished from the general matter of civil rights that transgender people should expect and the respect they should enjoy from fellow members of society. It has to do specifically with whether an institution believes itself to have a continuing mission as a women’s college.
There are different forms of transgenderism, among them being those biological/legal males who identify as women; biological/legal women who identify as men; and those who, for various reasons and in various ways, do not feel themselves to fit within a two-gender system at all.
Of these different categories, the one that women’s colleges would seem to have the most compelling need to address is that of persons who are legally male as identified by our society (based on biology/anatomy), but who feel themselves to be women and wish to be considered as such. One can well understand why a women’s college would want to be open to them. Here the question is what admissions criteria a college may use so as to preserve the institution as a women’s college while admitting these students. Legal advice will surely be useful in this context.
It is also fitting and proper – as well as being generally the case – that women’s colleges support individual students who enter as women in the terms defined by our society and subsequently find themselves on a different gender journey. They should feel welcome, receive the support they may need through the remainder of their time at the college, and be received happily among the institution’s alums.
Beyond that, it is less clear why a women’s college should feel the need or the responsibility to make institutional adaptations to the general category of biological/anatomical women who already self-identify as men by the time they apply to college. While there is no legal basis for denying admission to such students, one well might question their expectation that a women’s college should make a variety of special adaptations to them as a subgroup of the student body. Insofar as transgenderism involves taking a less biologically fundamentalist approach to gender, then why would one emphasize the difference between a biological male and a transman (i.e., a biological female who self-identifies as male)? And why would a women’s college make the kind of adaptation to transmen that it would not make to men who have come by that status in a more traditional way?
If, indeed, the goal is to take less of a biologically fundamentalist approach to gender, then one would think an appropriate response to such students would be encouraging them to apply to some destination other than a women’s college to pursue their higher education. A similar point might be made for young people who do not want such categories as “women” and “men” to apply to them at all.
Some transmen who apply to women’s colleges have said that they do so because these are places where they would feel safe. This raises the question of what it takes these days to make students feel “safe” and whether the lengths to which colleges tend to go in that project – the many “safe” spaces that have been popping up on campuses for various special groups – do more to enhance a sense of vulnerability than to make young people stronger. It is hard to imagine that transgender students would be in greater danger at a place like Hampshire, Bard, Wesleyan, Antioch, Macalester or any number of institutions especially known for their open attitudes to culture change than at Wellesley or Mount Holyoke.
Unless, of course, they were buying into some familiar gender stereotypes, which would seem to be the case for women’s colleges themselves if they were to assert that they are uniquely qualified to welcome transgender students. Women’s colleges might argue that, having dealt with one stigmatized and disadvantaged group, they are well-situated to deal with another. But, just as women’s colleges do not and would not want to corner the market on feminists, so they do not and should not want to corner the market on those able to understand and accept transgenderism. Moreover, it is not as if women’s colleges hold some kind of privileged place in the world of higher education or operate as special paths to social privilege, as men’s colleges did once upon a time.
In brief, it would be reasonable and understandable for a women’s college to decide that gender as a basis for admission and for participation in the life of the institution no longer makes sense in this day and age. The college could then decide that it no longer wishes to be a women’s college. But, if it still wishes to be a women’s college, then it should reasonably be expected to serve women.
Judith Shapiro is former president of Barnard College and also is a former professor and provost at Bryn Mawr College.
Simmons College, in Massachusetts, has become the third women's college to announce that it will admit transgender applicants, The Boston Globe reported. Many women's colleges, formally or informally, have not taken action against students who enroll as women and who later determine that they identify as male. Simmons is now formally stating that such student are welcome. In addition, Simmons will now admit those who are born biologically male but who identify as women.
Faculty members at Brock University, in Canada, are angry that the winners of a student costume contest for Halloween were four students who put on blackface as part of their portrayal of the Jamaican bobsled team, CBC News reported. The university has said that it will consider ways to screen offensive costumes, but some faculty members consider that response to be insufficient.
Brock's student body president said that the contest was judged by audience applause, and that participants were not seeking to offend. But critics said that it should be well-known by now that blackface is not acceptable humor.
The British Columbia Law Society, reversing an earlier decision, has revoked recognition of the new law school at Trinity Western University, The Globe and Mail reported. At issue is Trinity Western's ban on students and faculty members having sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. Critics say that the policy violates principles of equal rights for gay people. Earlier this year, in a non-binding referendum, members of the law society recommended that its governing council withdraw recognition, and it has now done so. A legal fight could follow. Trinity Western has argued that it should be allowed to have rules consistent with its Christian beliefs. A statement from the university said that it was reviewing its options.
Faculty members in the main undergraduate college at the University of California at Los Angeles voted narrowly on Friday -- 332 to 303 -- to require all undergraduates in the college to take a course on diversity. In 2012 and 2004, the faculty rejected diversity requirements. Additional reviews are necessary before Friday's vote becomes final, but this takes the idea further than has been the case previously. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block has endorsed the idea and issued this statement: “A diversity-related course requirement for UCLA College undergraduates is an important component of our commitment to expose students to beliefs and backgrounds other than their own. It would help prepare our students for work in a multicultural world, in part by engaging them in difficult but crucial conversations for our campus and society as a whole.”