Monday, May 2, 2011

The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same — in Many Times and Places

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Wikipedia says the phrase was coined in 1839 by Alphonse Karr, a French writer and editor. "His epigrams are frequently quoted, for example — "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" which sounds more charming in French than the English translation, but is equally as valid in most cultures and subcultures.

An article about gains and drawbacks for female professors at M.I.T. over the last 12 years reminded me of unintended consequences of change. Initially MIT acknowledged that it had discriminated against female professors and committed to erasing the bias. Here are the improvements.
•  An aggressive push to hire more women.
•  Increased prizes and professional accolades for women faculty.
•  Women included on all faculty committees.
•  Family friendly faculty policies and facilities on campus.
•  Disparities in salaries and resources between men and women have disappeared for the most part.

The primary unintended consequences.
• Perception that too much effort is made toward recruitment of women and acknowledgment of their accomplishments.
• Perception that work-life balance and parenthood are women's issues, not family issues.
• Persistent stereotyping that women still must walk a tightrope between too aggressive and too soft.
• Perception that correcting bias means lowering standards for women.

Two interesting comments:
"It's almost as if the baseline has changed, because things are better now," according to the associate dean of the School of Science.
"The more fundamental issues are societal and M.I.T. can't solve them on its own," according to the dean of the School of Science.

My comment about change isn't pro or con, or even directed at M.I.T's process or faculty., just an interesting reality of life in many spheres.

Here's the link if you want to read the whole article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/us/21mit.html
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