Harvard Business School’s Garbage In, Garbage Out “Gender Equity” Experiment

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Readers may have taken note of a long article by Jodi Kantor in the Sunday New York Times magazine celebrating an experiment on the Harvard Business School graduating class of 2013. Here’s a short version: Even though HBS admitted women with comparable grades and test scores to men, the women on the whole performed less well relative to men in the MBA program. The culprit was classroom participation, which accounts for 50% of the grade. The school’s famed case method required that students debate real life management situations, and women didn’t fare well there. Harvard president Drew Faust installed a new dean at HBS, Nitin Nohria, who promised to fix the problem.

Nohria engaged in a wide-ranging set of interventions, including coaching female junior faculty members, monitoring class discussions to an unprecedented degree, even trying to curb the drinking scene and teaching women how to raise their hands in class.

The experiment was deemed a winner. More women students than ever graduated with academic honors. Student satisfaction levels also rose. As one faculty member at another school gushed,

An incredible article in the NYTimes about HBS and its efforts to introduce gender equity into the culture of the school. The most amazing elements are the in-depth approaches they have instituted, not simply focusing on curricula and hiring, but on the way faculty are mentored, classroom discussions take place, and grading is done. Truly groundbreaking.

Even a more cynical faculty member at a different school was impressed, noting that other efforts to improve the performance of underperforming demographic groups have not met with similar success.

But is this as impressive as it seems? Unfortunately, there is no reason to think this intervention will produce any long term benefit to the female HBS students, and good reason to think that the increase in their grades took place simply as a response to very explicit pressure on faculty members to increase them. In other words, this “experiment” looks like a “garbage in, garbage out” exercise.

That is not to say that women don’t continue to have a harder slog in the business world than you’d expect after nearly 40 years of participation in elite graduate programs like HBS.* And Kantor described various obstacles only the women faced, most important the perceived conflict between social and academic success.

I hope to return to the bigger gender issues raised in the piece. In this post, I will focus on the HBS interventions and whether the claims its supporters made for them hold up to scrutiny.

Would Better Grades at HBS Really Help Women?

One of the most remarkable aspects of Kantor’s article is that Drew Faust appears to be responding to a PR problem, that women at HBS aren’t as successful at the school as you’d expect them to be. But there is no evidence that the grades have anything to do with career outcomes. And more damningly, it seems no one at HBS or Harvard could even be bothered to see if academic performance at HBS was a valid predictor of anything.

Now the article didn’t bother explaining the grading system at HBS, nor how the classes work, so let me provide a bit of background. Grades are on a forced curve, with the top 15% to 20% getting a Category 1 (in my day, an “excellent”), the middle group a Category 2 (“satisfactory”) and the bottom 10% a Category 3 (“low pass”).** Those who get too many Category 3s in an academic year must petition an academic review board explaining why as a condition for continuing in the program.*** Every year, some students do drop out or are not readmitted for the next year, so the possibility of failure, known as “hitting the screen,” is real.

In addition, the incoming class is divided into sections of roughly 90 people. Each section spends the entire year together, taking classes in the same ampitheater-style room, with teachers coming in and out. As a result, the students and faculty come to know the personalities and biases of their sectionmates. At least in my day (class of 1981), the first year was intended to be a boot camp. The course load was heavy (in fact, there was a miscalculation due to the introduction of a new course with long cases and a failure to coordinate with other classes; the next year they lightened both the schedule and the amount of reading considerably). But students were at risk if they skimped on prep. The professors call on a student to open the case, meaning give an overview, present the main issues, and state where he came out on them and why. Not being able to open a case was assumed to be fatal to one’s class participation grade. Most students, at least until the first term was over, were worried they might hit the screen.

Now the school might have reason to be concerned if women were failing at a higher rate than men, but the New York Times article was silent on this issue. In my year, when women were 11% of the class, that was the case. But I question whether there is much correlation between academic success and HBS’s notions of career success, which is either rising to a prominent position in a large corporation, building a successful business (HBS give lip service to that but it is in the business of creating corporate executives, who tend to be a risk averse lot) or becoming partner in a Wall Street or consulting firm.

Getting good grades does pave a path to being hired by prestigious employers, like the top financial and consulting firms. But some with less than stellar grades, like Meg Whitman, who joined Bain and later became CEO of eBay, also break in. I can name individuals in my class who weren’t standout performers who did very well in life. For instance, arguably the most successful woman in my graduating class was Donna Dubinsky, later the CEO of Palm. From what I can recall, she was not a Baker Scholar. I can off the top of my head name several Baker Scholars who by the school’s standards, were not very successful (including yours truly). That shouldn’t be surprising. There’s a long standing joke at Harvard Law School back in the pre-grede inflation days that commemorates the lack of correlation between academic success and commercial success: A students at Harvard Law School become professors. B students become judges. C students become millionaires.

And the article acknowledges that women are generally not welcome in jobs that involve big money decisions, which is where power, status, and the biggest financial rewards now lie:

This was the lopsided situation that women in business school were facing: in intellectual prestige, they were pulling even with or outpacing male peers, but they were not “touching the money,” as Nori Gerardo Lietz, a real estate private equity investor and faculty member, put it. A few alumnae had founded promising start-ups like Rent the Runway, an evening wear rental service, but when it came to reaping big financial rewards, most women were barely in the game.

At an extracurricular presentation the year before, a female student asked William Boyce, a co-founder of Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm, for advice for women who wanted to go into his field. “Don’t,” he laughed, according to several students present. Male partners did not want them there, he continued, and he was doing them a favor by warning them.

In other words, even the women who did really well weren’t allowed inside (or very far inside) in the citadels of where power really resides today. Wouldn’t the school’s considerable efforts have been better devoted to that issue, which is a very tough but worthy nut to crack, than address its grading PR problem?

Moreover, as the article intimates, the issues that held women back in the class were presumed to be the result of gender roles. The New York Times story underscores that idea by stressing the school’s social market versus the classroom. But it’s more complicated than that. The sometimes combative case study method favors aggression and extroversion. An experienced teacher can keep the loudmouths who like to dominate air time from taking over, but less experienced faculty members can let them run roughshod. Allowing the pushy students to throw their weight puts the less forceful at a disadvantage. That may include a lot of the women, but it will also include a significant number of male students as well. So who is shortchanged is not so much a gender issue as a style/temperament issue that can overlap with gender.

In fact, past Harvard Business School faculty members have recognized the problem of less assertive students being hindered if faculty members aren’t skilled or confident enough to know how to curb the loudmouths. Amar Bhide, who was on the HBS faculty in the early 1990s, and is now at Tufts, recognized this was an issue and came up with an innovative teaching method to deal with the problem (I’ve embedded a memo from him that describes his approach at the end of this post). In brief, he asked students to submit before the class their bottom line on the case (typically a go or no go of some sort) and three short reasons supporting their conclusion. He’d then open the case, summarizing the views of the class. He’d then use the discussion time to focus on subtler tradeoffs or issues. He found that this produced a higher-level discussion (since students got no air-time points for presenting facts in the case or other statements of the obvious) and less combativeness. That result, plus Bhide’s sometimes calling on students who’d made astute observations in their written submission, served to level the playing field between the domineering types and everyone else. Even though Bhide found his approach delivered better results, in terms of the caliber of discussion, the faculty didn’t adopt it it because it looked like too much work for them.

It’s also perverse for HBS to pretend that it can have a lasting influence on something as deep seated as gender roles among fully-formed adults in a mere two-year period. It isn’t just that programs like Head Start, which show impressive results for much more malleable students, have their gains fade over time. It’s that the school has taken demonstrated vastly less enthusiasm for taking on the matter of ethics, an area where it has the potential to have more influence, not just through its MBA program but its publications and research. ****

Yes, the school has instituted a “Management Practice” which includes ethical issues. One of its moving forces has been the professor and Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics, Bill George. George was on the board of Novartis, which is hardly a paragon of virtue (see here, here, here, here and here for examples). Yet George touted Novartis on his blog even as some of these scandals were under media and government scrutiny. George now sits on Goldman’s board.

But George’s comparatively minor optical problems pale when you compare it to the propriety of having Joseph Fuller teach at HBS. Fuller was hte co-founder of Monitor Group. As the Boston Progressive explains:

The financial management company, founded by a group of Harvard Business School professors, hasn’t paid rent on its fancy Cambridge headquarters since August and owes approximately $200 million to over one thousand creditors.

The once lucrative Monitor Group operation hit troubled waters in Libya where it courted Muammar Khadafy and lavished praise on the dictator in a bid to handle his public relations problems. The Monitor crew even tried to spin the torture of Bulgarian nurses for Khadafy’s regime and counseled Khadafy’s son on how to run Libya’s dreaded secret police.

A steady flow of so-called “thought leaders” made the pilgrimage to Libya from 2006 to 2008 while Mark Fuller, Monitor CEO worked on a flattering biography of the Libyan strongman. Monitor Group’s consultants then lobbied for Khadafy upon their return to the United States but without registering as foreign agents.

Monitor Group never recovered from the scandal and now hopes to be gobbled up by Deloitte Consulting to keep its high-salaried talent on the payroll. In its Libyan heyday, the company got $250,000 per month from the Khadafy government.

I may be in a minority, but as a female graduate of HBS, I’d much rather see the school tackle ethical issues with the same fervor it used to go after gender problems. To throw the weight of a well-endowed, leading institution at the issue of the fair treatment of women while showing vastly less interest in broader questions of equity (and the complicated tradeoffs among them) is perverse.

Why the Improvement in Grades is a Crock

The New York Times article makes clear that President Faust saw improving women’s performance at HBS as a critical issue and installed a dean who committed himself to execute on that goal. Academics at other schools have read the Times story as a media plant, with Dean Nohria broadcasting his success (note this is not likely to be related to worries about his term as dean being renewed; to my knowledge, Harvard deans serve at the pleasure of the president, meaning there is no set term as is customary at other universities).

Kantor tried to do a fair job of reporting the story. The article highlights how the students thought some of the interventions were parental and misguided. It describes how some of the women’s conflicted objectives are part of the problem. Kantor recounts how many students felt that one woman’s stellar performance in a long-standing annual ritual, of having students present how to prepare for certain courses, did more for the image of women on campus than any of the faculty efforts.

The article also gives the impression that the school didn’t spend much time investigating what the underlying issues might be. If you read closely, you can see that these experiments were based largely, perhaps entirely, on the experience and intuition of Frances Frei, who was in charge of the first year curriculum as well as dean of faculty recruiting (there is a passing mention of only one study in the entire piece, and it appears not to have been instrumental in the design of the interventions). Other schools have taken strikingly different approaches to the problem of recruiting and promoting women faculty members, one of Frei’s goals. For instance, in 1999, MIT published the results of a five-year, data-driven study that found that female faculty members in its School of Science experienced pervasive discrimination, which operated through “a pattern of powerful but unrecognized assumptions and attitudes that work systematically against female faculty even in the light of obvious good will.” By contrast, HBS looks as if it simply threw a lot of crap at the wall to see what if anything might stick.

But all of the foregoing is noise. If you read carefully and know anything about academia, you can see what happened. The professors, who grade subjectively, were put under acute pressure to get women’s marks up. The overwhelming majority of instructors are not tenured. So what are you going to do? Buck the directives and score women worse if you happen to be so unfortunate as to have gotten a section where the turkeys are disproportionately female, or knuckle under?***** The evidence is buried in the piece (emphasis ours):

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….

New grading software tools let professors instantly check their calling and marking patterns by gender. One professor, Mikolaj Piskorski, summarized Mr. Nohria’s message later: “We’re going to solve it at the school level, but each of you is responsible to identify what you are doing that gets you to this point.”

So let me translate: if a faculty member gave women lower classroom participation marks, you can guarantee that he have his transcripts reviewed and be second guessed. That unheard-of level of supervision of a classroom effectively meant faculty members were no longer free to hand out their own classroom participation grades; they were subject to review and pushback by higher-ups. Why risk a fight over grading and making yourself unpopular with a new dean? Better to comply with the new directive.

Now this level of interference might indeed lead faculty members to be scrupulous about calling on women as often as they called on men. But even so, without a video, that could also amount to preferential treatment (ie, in some section, women might still not be asking to be called on as often as men). So the idea that the better grades of women was due to anything other than the dean providing overwhelming incentives for the faculty to give women better classroom participation scores is highly suspect.

As the Amar Bhide example above shows, the school did have ways to deal with its pedagogical problem, of having its case method and making it easier for the more reticent students to participate. As Bhide’s note below indicates, he simply counted any participation in class towards the overall score, eliminating the subjective element of deciding whether some remarks were better than others and how much extra credit to give those “better” comments. I contacted Bhide and asked whether this really solved the problem of blowhards who took up a lot of air time. Bhide said he’d still call on them, but he’d rough up anyone who gave lame or facile remarks, so the big talkers learned that strategy wasn’t a winner in his class. Bhide, also knowing what students thought about the case in advance, would also call on students who’d made good observations in their written submissions but hadn’t volunteered them (either due to native reticence or not seeing an angle in the flow of discussion to get them in). So Bhide used his knowledge of student point of view to manage against the tendency of the loudmouths to get more credit than they deserved.

Approaches that address the fact that the case method in the hands of a weak instructor, favors pushy students have the advantage of helping improve the caliber of the classroom discussions rather than relying on and therefore reinforcing a gender framing. HBS, for instance, created a course that emphasized team problem-solving called Field, which they introduced for a number of reasons, but a significant one was the belief it would be beneficial to women. Personally, I find the “women are more collaborative” assumption a blatant form of prejudice that gets repeated because it’s somehow assumed to be pro-women. Folks, prejudice is prejudice. If you take what you consider to be positive******, you are enabling the negative forms as well.

So Harvard Business School engaged in a whirlwind of gender-related meddling and experimentation, with no clear program design or testing. And even if some of these interventions might have been successful, the school put its finger so heavily on the scale that the results were pre-determined. For an institution that prides itself on rigorous problem-solving and organizational savvy, this is a sorry display.

*Yes, I know that “elite” and a trade school plus employment agency like HBS don’t tidily mesh, but that is HBS’s positioning and that view is well accepted in the corporate world.
** The nomenclature was changed from “excellent” etc. to the category system to emphasize that the grades are relative, not absolute. There are grades below Category 3 that professors may confer if they are particularly dissatisfied with a student’s performance.
*** The writing of the paper is not a pro forma exercise. Some students do decide not to continue in the program. The review board may impose conditions, such as taking extra courses in the area where the student scored badly, or may tell them they can come back in a few years.
**** I was told years ago by someone very well plugged in at the Harvard University level that at the time a wave of scandals broke out in the last 1980s involving Harvard Business School graduates, most notably takeover artist Paul Bilzerian, who was convicted of tax and securities fraud, that school had performed a study and concluded it couldn’t do anything about the problem, because its students’ characters were too fully formed by the time they enrolled. The most it could do was change its admissions criteria so as to recruit students with better values. The fact that the school nevertheless formed a “business practices” discipline suggests that views at the school were divided on this issue and some indeed wanted to Do Something.
***** There is a legitimate issue that work attributed to women, such as writing samples and verbal comments, are on average scored worse than the same output attributed to a man. A famous example is that the German musicians union won the requirement that all auditions to professional orchestras be conducted on a blind basis. Prior to that, women were seldom hired for these positions. After the rule was imposed, women wound up winning auditions in virtually equal numbers to men. But again, there’s no evidence in the piece that the faculty considered the question of how much of the women’s grade issue was the result of unconscious bias by faculty members, and how much was due to women getting enough air time.
****** I don’t consider “women are more collaborative” to be positive stereotyping. It is a polite cousin of “women are more nurturing” which is not too far removed from “women should stay home and have babies because really all women are supposed to be mothers.” It is reinforcing that nexus of associations.

Amar Bhide Memo on HBS Pre-Class Exercises

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  1. craazyman

    It Might Actually Work

    This is atrocious and somebody should do something about it before it gets out of hand, if it hasn’t already. If any of youse Harvard BS women can bring $1 million with you as an investment in your future, you can work for me. I’ll only take 20% and we’ll figure out some way to make money together. But I’ll let you do 80% of the talking and I won’t interrupt.

    1. craazyboy

      I assume they still have to take a urine test?

      It would really be useful if there was some way to test for lizard people. Harvard could do it too.

  2. s spade

    This article is so funny I suspected an April Fools joke. Regular readers here understand that HBS is one of the principal architects of the neoliberal disaster under which all of us now labor. Who cares whether the female looters do better or worse than the male looters? The real question is how long our society is going to tolerate exaltation of those systematically destroying the lives of everyone else?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Have you been reading the business press? There has been a huge outburst of articles on the women issue, what it will take for them to get ahead. Yes, you are right, it is now their turn to loot, but you ignore the messaging at your peril.

      The more interesting question is why the sudden media attention. I surmise there is at least an element of women’s identity-raising in play because they are going to be more intensely targeted as a voting block. I’ve also weirdly just started getting e-mailed by Emily’s List even though I never did anything to get me on their mailing list. It was to my day-job name, not Yves, so they are clearly buying lists and pushing harder.

  3. anon y'mouse

    on your final note:

    these things are, as you already have said, gender role type stuff. the fact that people say them does not make the tendency go away. the fact that you view them negatively is perhaps because of the stigma associated with having them become, by default, a “woman’s province”.

    last term I read a study exploring major choice in colleges. it showed that, over time (late 70’s to 90’s, then 90’s to present millenium) women were enrolling in greater numbers in non-traditional majors (education, social work stuff). but, as their numbers grew in any major to over 54%, men decreased their enrollment in them (they became stigmatized). this gain ended over time and hit a sort of wall, so that women stopped out-enrolling and maintained their positions. the switch then became women getting greater numbers of higher ed. degrees (same women? probably. they studied this in two blocks of time).

    it is not degrading for a woman to be collaborative nor nurturing. what is degrading is: that only women are supposed to be so, thereby handicapping men emotionally and, as you point out with the introvert personality portion above, men who are become stigmatized by feminine association. the problem is not gender roles per se, it is not allowing people to be what they are, viewing one side as “negative” or incompetent, or having nothing to contribute.

    the thing I kept asking myself is: has Harvard any good reason to want to grade people according to traits that only a certain segment of the population actually has? if there is a correlation between being an extrovert and success, or working collaboratively as unsuccessful then they have something to base their grades upon but if not, then they need to do a much more intense look at leadership style, how it fits into certain organizations better than others, etc. and let people go to what they are most comfortable with, whether they have been “brainwashed” by their gender roles or are just naturally inclined that way.

    the problem is not a backhanded compliment, or a gender role. the problem is the stigma of being female, or exhibiting what has customarily been known as “femaleness”. the problem is not allowing people to be what they are. I have no experience with the world of high end business, but it seems from the window you’ve given that it is even more of an exclusionary club than sports have been. why is that? is traditional “femaleness” a liability in that environment? is it fear of being viewed as “weak” in an environment suffused with a war-like mentality? what is it?

    1. grayslady

      Some great questions and observations. Whole books have been written on the subject, I believe; but, in my experience, the key word in your comment is “club”. I don’t think many of us would say that our large, corporate institutions are being run as successfully as they could be run. That’s because talent is less important than networks. Evidence of talent may get you hired initially, but if you want to move up the ladder you need the right sponsors and mentors. Women have been their own worst enemies in this regard, IMO. Even when women do establish networking groups, it’s more to convince themselves of their own prestige and success than it is to help other women. Not so with men. During my working years, 9 times out of 10, it was the men I knew who gave me the opportunities or helped me to have a chance for those opportunities.
      Going outside of corporate for a minute, think of the U.S. govt: there are caucuses for just about everything–Progressive Caucus, Black Caucus, etc, etc. What’s obviously missing? A Women Legislators caucus. How many women in Congress were willing to go to the mat for Hillary Clinton? You could count them on less than one hand. Women need to stop looking to men for approval and start being far more supportive of each other. That’s my take, anyway.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Don’t you see what you are doing????

      I know you mean to by sympathetic, but you are still reinforcing that “collaboration” is female! In general, you are supporting the frame of seeing people though gender rather than as individuals. Your sort of comment works against collaborative men and take-charge women.

      I’m also strongly of the view that a lot of the way women behave is the result of acculturation (nurture) not nature. Yet women identify strongly with their cultural programming. That is the lock I am trying to break here.

      That cultural programming is also what leads to the undue emphasis on male machoness…..

      It is associating these personality traits with gender that I find so offensive. In classes as large as men and women, the differences WITHIN each class will be larger than the differences BETWEEN the classes.

      1. anon y'mouse

        I don’t see “collaborativeness” as any more female than male. I understand that it is one of the traits that has been “fostered” in women, and neutered in men by our culture, but that is something we have to learn is not a limitation as to what we can become. that said, a lot of women get a great deal out of inhabiting their role, and a lot of men probably do too. roles are comfortable for a reason–they give you a clue, or a lifeline as to what to expect in a world of seeming social chaos. that said, they are also an inaccurate standard that one can be straightjacketed into when that really isn’t what a person wants to be.

        I don’t see the problem with inhabiting a role you feel comfortable in. naturally, this is a problem if people are expecting some different response or way of being. is there something essential about the traditionally “male” way of being in the business environment, or is that simply because they predominated there and still do?

        perhaps this is more of a problem with past generations than it is now. in interacting at school, other than appearance you can’t truly tell from behavior any more with the younger generations what someone’s gender (nor sexuality) are. people are becoming blank slates that you have to discover, and other than men generally wanting to talk sports more often i’m not seeing a clear dichotomy in the younger generation that I attend school with as to “how they believe they should behave.” granted, these aren’t business classes, nor are they classes where the majority are men. it would probably feel a bit different in a physics, math or biology class. although I took those in the lower division, women did not seem more timid or silent in those classes.

        both men and women were collaborating (group projects are required for virtually every class now), and using their own style seemingly predicated upon their own personality. so perhaps this “problem” will mostly die away.

  4. Lambert Strether

    Now that the Deans have gotten literal, actual stenographers into the classroom, one can only wonder if that precedent will be turned to any other purpose. That capability is quite the institutional asset, if you ask me.

    1. Thisson

      I think this entire exercise was a complete waste of time. The grades are meaningless because they have no predictive power:

      “Google is widely viewed as a bellwether of the new economy. It is noteworthy, then, that Google has found that academic success has little correlation with being productive in the workplace. Lazlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, made the following comments in an interview published by the New York Times in June 2013:

      One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s (grade point averages) are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore…. We found that they don’t predict anything.

      What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.

      Doing well in college—earning high test scores and grades—has no measurable correlation with being an effective worker or manager. This is incontrovertible evidence that the entire higher education system is detached from the real economy: Excelling in higher education has no discernible correlation to real-world skills or performance.

      Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-10-07/needed-revolution-emerging-higher-education

      1. JTFaraday

        “academic success has little correlation with being productive in the workplace”

        Well, there’s also little correlation between being productive in the workplace and success in the workplace, so you can pretty much junk the whole thing.

      2. s spade

        Don’t forget that very little higher education involves either the absorption of useful information or the development of productive skills. Mostly, those achieving outstanding grades are better at regurgitating second hand ideas congenial to an out of touch academic elite, and most businesses wouldn’t touch an academic with tongs unless he has matchless toadying credentials, eg., economists at the (Rockefeller) U of Chicago.

  5. PNW_WarriorWoman

    Superb thoughts and feedback on that NYTimes article. I cross posted it over on AAUW’s FB page. It gave me lots of food for thought.

  6. allcoppedout

    I feel so sorry for these poor little girls at Harvard. Nah!

    This is classic upper-class gender posturing and misses almost everything important. These are not the women getting the tough time to start with. The men involved have had the benefit of ‘best education’ – which tells us something about education as we have it – it fails other than as a crude excuse for unfairness and can’t even get people to behave decently.

    “Feminism” originating from commercial judgements and political correctness is merely a cover for chronic unfairness. These Ivy League-Russell Group women are often crassly self-centred and have no notion of equality or sisterly solidarity with women working in shirt factories. There must be exceptions as I live with one.

    There is nothing fair about getting to Harvard in the first place, or the role of elite universities generally. Critique needs to start deeper down than the pathetic discrimination of posh professors. We seem to have forgotten that Labov once explained how dull Harvard graduates were in comparison with some street kids. I’m wasting no tears on these already privileged feminist opportunists. As to the professors, I’d throw them to any class of women I do gender issues with – an exercise I doubt they’d survive. These women see straight through new men, tokenism and crude methods to cheat them. I’ve never noticed them needing institutional help. The elite institutions need to be pulled down.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You may see the NYT article and the underlying experiment as an unworthy targets, but it got a lot of attention in academia, so it is worth going after.

      And you can choose to turn your eyes, but Harvard is one of the ways the elite marks who of the young ‘uns might be allowed into the tent. You can’t contend with power structures if you don’t understand them.

      Harvard College used to go to some lengths to have about 25% or so of the class come from lower middle class backgrounds, and I’d hazard about another 50% was middle class. College was a ton more affordable when I was a kid, and middle class parents could afford (with a little but not huge strain) to send their kids to the Ivies. No longer, as we know.

      1. s spade

        I wouldn’t be surprised if most of that 25% of underprivileged Harvard student body was particularly good at basketball and football. The alumni must have gotten tired of getting its crimson ass kicked in game after game after game.

  7. Macmungo

    Yves: Sixty years ago in Cambridge HBS was commonly called “that intellectual brothel across the river.” Your article demonstrates a truly remarkable example of institutional continuity.

  8. participant-observer-observed

    “But is this as impressive as it seems? Unfortunately, there is no reason to think this intervention will produce any long term benefit to the female HBS students, and good reason to think that the increase in their grades took place simply as a response to very explicit pressure on faculty members to increase them. In other words, this “experiment” looks like a “garbage in, garbage out” exercise.”

    This (reasons to think intervention will produce long term benefit to female HBS students) is easy enough to check out. As an alumna of the Harvard Ed school, I routinely hear of collaborations between the Ed School and HBS on various programs. Therefore, we could check if the intiative had, at the level of its design, educational outcomes assessment methodologies deployed and/or consultancies made on this point.

    If so, (which we would hope for any credible program), then for me there would be at least SOME good reason to have confidence in the outcome claims (increase in grades not necessarily faculty pressure).

    If not, then it is anyone’s guess, and the confidence level is poor for eliminating a faculty pressure factor.

    I therefore need more data before making a conclusion.

    However, at another level, just having the male students and faculty of HBS experience some pro-active institutional investment in the outcome of women is in itself something of non-negligible value.

    1. participant-observer-observed

      Other related questions we might ask ourselves are:

      1. Was this initiative proposed before during the “reign” of His Highness Larry Summers?

      2. If so, how many times and was it ignored or denied?

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