News Highlights: Week of June 5

NIH finds using anonymous proposals to test for bias is harder than it looks, by Jeffrey Mervis of Science Magazine

The National Institutes of Health wants to award more diverse candidates with grants, and they’re pulling out all the stops to make it happen. They’ve invested $250 million to increase diversity and commissioned a contractor to review their grant award process. They’re attempting to remove all possible identifiers from grant applications, including name, location, institution, collaborators, and where applicants were trained. It’s proven cumbersome—and presumably costly— so far, but these important first steps demonstrate the NIH’s commitment to diversity. It also calls to mind Google’s recent claim that closing their gender pay gap would prove too expensive.

Berkeley Psychologist Looks to End Bias in School Discipline, from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Professor Jason Okonofua knows that early on, disciplinary measures like suspensions and expulsions have a long-lasting effect on the educational trajectory of Black students. He wants to disrupt that trajectory. He is introducing an online intervention program that helps middle school teachers make better disciplinary decisions. It aims to educate teachers about the relationship between implicit bias and “knee-jerk” decision-making. Part of the solution includes having teachers read student testimonials and acknowledging that “teachers are more likely to see Black children as troublemakers.”

These Campus Inquisitions Must Stop, by Frank Bruni of The New York Times Opinion section

Who Defines What Is Racist?, by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed

Evergreen Regroups Amid Discord, by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed

There’s no relief in sight for Evergreen State College. It all started when Professor Bret Weinstein sent an email opposing a new approach to the school’s Day of Absence tradition. The original idea was for students and faculty of color to meet off campus for the day, highlighting their value to the campus community through their absence. This year, student groups decided to flip it– ask white faculty and students to voluntarily step off campus for the day, and in the process, uproot the campus as a “white space.”

Weinstein also disapproved of a potential new policy that requires all new faculty searches to include an “equity justification/explanation.” He argued that the most important thing is for new hires to have expertise in their subject matter, not diversity. This is a classic example of equating diversity with lower quality.

On the other side of the issue, the subsequent student protests, and in some cases, threats, seem to be reaching an upper limit. Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes that Weinstein’s campus statements were “a reasonable perspective and a prompt for discussion, not fury.” He points out that it was a revealing moment when Weinstein asked students if they wanted to hear his answer, and students shouted “No!”

Are student protesters defiling ideals of free speech or are professors hiding a version of racism behind those ideals? Are professors defining racism in a narrower sense than students would?

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