Are computing educators professionally and legally required to change and improve their practice?

September 24, 2012 at 11:07 am 7 comments

I did a Blog@CACM post this weekend asking a question that I’ve been wondering: Are we as computing educators professionally and legally required to change our practice in order to diversify our classes?  In the United States, we have a law called Title IX that says:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Because of this law, many female-only athletic programs have been created in the US, with scholarships, so that women would have the same opportunities as men do in sports like football and baseball.  Does this same law apply to academics, and specifically, computer science?

There are huge benefits for having a computing degree.  Jane Margolis says that those who don’t get access to computing get “Stuck in the Shallow End” of the economic pool.  If we are constructing our degrees in such a way that women don’t get access, are we “denying them the benefits of” our education programs?

“But women can take our programs! There are women in our programs!”  one might reply. Yes, but few.  Why?  If the reason is bias (even if unconscious), then I think that Title IX would require us to change.  I wonder if Title IX creates (at least) a legal obligation to monitor gender participation in computing programs, and to seek to improve that participation.

I do believe that higher education computing teachers ought to uphold professional standards, but it’s not obvious to me what that entails, and if there are legal requirements in addition to the professional obligations.  I wrote the blog post to explore the question.  What are our obligations, as computing education professionals?

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New National Academies report on Discipline-Based Education Research Who completes a MOOC?

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thinkingwiththings  |  September 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I’m so glad you have raised this, Mark. The answer to the legal question is that Title IX applies to *all* the aspects of a university education, not just athletics. The athletics have gotten all the attention, and all the outrage, perhaps because focusing on sports is a lot easier than looking at the subtle and not-so-subtle barriers on the academic side of the house (and by the way, once could also ask about barriers to men in, say, nursing programs.) I have raised the question of looking to Title IX for ammunition in the past, and have found that folks sympathetic to the cause of women in computing really don’t want to go there. I get it that it’s not nice to start an adversarial process, especially an expensive one, but is moral persuasion working? I’m not sure.

  • 2. Bijan Parsia  |  September 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I’d be happy for the Title IX stick to help with participation in computer science and philosophy. Really happy, actually.

  • 4. Lloyd  |  September 26, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I think it would be reasonably easy to show that we are satisfying the third prong of the compliance test (meeting the interests and abilities of the underreprested sex). We all want to increase the participation of women (and, for that matter, minority students) in cs, but Title IX is not the way to go about it.

  • 5. Fight the MOOCopalypse! « Computing Education Blog  |  October 5, 2012 at 6:16 am

    […] Second, I don’t want #2 to happen — not as a professor, but as a citizen and a computer scientist.  I predict that those who complete MOOCs in computer science are 80% White or Asian and 90% male.  That’s not the world I want.  I wrote a blog piece for CACM last May where I pointed out that 10 years after we started working on increasing female participation in computing, we have made almost no progress.  And that’s with flexible, face-to-face systems with people offering the courses.  Why should it get better in a “near future” with all MOOC’s all the time?  How much will state legislators across this country support an all-MOOC world which so blatantly violates Title IX? […]

  • […] to the citizens of their state to be inclusive. Readers of this blog have argued that Title IX does not apply to academic programs, suggesting that there is no legal requirement for CS departments to try to draw in more women and […]

  • […] raised the question here before, whether CS departments could be forced to change their teaching practices in order to comply with Title IX p… so that more women might participate.  One of the arguments I got in response was that no one […]


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