Saturday, June 29, 2013

Women in Science in Japan

NYTimes ran a story on the massive underrepresentation of women in the sciences -- Japan's "Science Women" Seek an Identity by Miki Tanikawa. The story covers this phenomenon from many different angles, but this one stood out for me: the fate of a proposal to guarantee at least 5 seats (out of 54) for women in the Math department at Kyushu University:

Attempts at raising the number of women come against legal barriers, underpinned by social mores and cultural forces. In 2010, faculty members of the Kyushu University mathematics department concluded that a more proactive admissions policy might be needed to recruit more women. The number of female students was only in the single digits, out of a student body of more than 50.

So the faculty decided to set up a quota. The first group of 45 students selected would be done regardless of gender. But, in the second group, the department would admit at least five women out of nine slots. Ultimately, that meant a quota that guaranteed a minimum of only 5 women in 54 total places.

But months after the announcement was made, calls and e-mails poured in criticizing what was seen as “reverse discrimination” and the breaking of the “equality before the law” principle, said Masanobu Kaneko, dean of the department.

“They claimed it would be unconstitutional, violating Article 14 that guaranteed equality of gender before the law,” he said. “We realized that this could lead to a lawsuit,” possibly by male applicants who failed to get in.

“If we lost the case, it could result in irrecoverable damage” to the school’s reputation and cause problems for those who were admitted, Dr. Kaneko said.

On the advice of lawyers and constitutional scholars, the faculty decided that they could lose such a lawsuit. Baffled, they gave up the idea.