I like talking to Chinese friends about how my mom and I, while enroute to America, arrived in Beijing of 1989 China–on June 4th. On the final approach, the train rolled into the capital station over a bridge. We saw the streets below have been flipped, exposing red bricks that lay at its foundation. At the next intersection, a military Jeep was burning in the middle of the streets. You cannot imagine the excitement this is for a 11 year-old boy, seeing machine guns and flying helicopters for the first time in his life.
Flash forward thirty years, in 2019, I read this story about Eleanor and Manuel Blum resigning from CMU SCS. Honestly, her story of how she was forced to leave the department is a terrible experience. Sexism in work place is like all other forms of discrimination and should be abolished at all cost.
I actually saw a little bit of professor Blum’s work women@scs in 2001 when I stayed an extra semester to complete my degrees. In 1996, when I was freshmen, there were 3 girls admitted to CS undergrad program out of 100 freshmen’s. This ratio improved to 50% in 2001. Her work continued strongly. In 2018, my alumni relations representative contacted me and talked to me a lot about how CMU can do better to place its graduates in Silicon Valley tech companies or to start one. He wondered if there were internship channel opportunities I can help to arrange. I mentioned to him that perhaps the best channel will be through the company’s diversity program.
This isn’t a reflection on the mystery that is the hiring process at my then employer. But to be sure, that felt like the most clearly defined entrance to tech at that company. If a minority–nay, if a economically disadvantaged minority, a girl, was interested and demonstrated motivation and could work hard, she is likely to be accepted through diversity program. This is not true for all red or blue blooded Americans. (Imho)
But shortly after those exchanges, things slowed down, and I now understand that professor Manuel has left the school.
Honestly, I’m 2001, I really did find the admittance of all those girls very annoying. Half of the free t-shirts are no longer my size. My 2001 self is your typical Asian nerd, showered once a week, glasses smeared beyond recognition, played games and read papers for fun, the rest of the time spent on meditation. The girls were your prototypical nerdy girl. So, in short, it was not an improvement on my social life at all.
But selfish reasons aside, there is this matter that men, too, need to feel the same kind of hope. Consider an aspiring male applicant to CMU in the fall of 2000. He had to compete against some number of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of applicants to gain admittance to CMU SCS. Now he has to beat out more applicants for half of the quota. This is a major shift in life for males of our affliction(addiction to computer stuff). It is for a just cause, just a little sudden for that male applicant.
What was described in the article seems like normal office politics. Some people had an agenda for the project and it somehow materialized in all male team. You should see, as a spectator, all Female teams I had to work with. There are of course a lot of really working organizations out there run by female majority executive teams. Gender of the team doesn’t matter.
Employment and admission fairness is important. The theory is that students and new recruits for a job are kind of new at it, they should not be expected to compete with older and more experienced people. Society gives them a chance to learn and grow into functioning organs. More full contact and strenuous competition begins after graduation.
To this end, I think schools should have some balancing affirmative action throughout the school. It cannot require a team to have any male or female participants–in the real world there isn’t any such rules. It should certainly strenuously encourage healthy culture and gender composition, but it should not force it. (It being CMU SCS, someone could probably come up with a taxonomy of minorities, and an algorithm for rewarding teams so as to produce some desired effects on the minorities. It seems pretty straight forward to do something better algorithmically than the affirmative actions we have right now. For example, three optimizing metrics are income of first job, career progress after 5-years(including academic careers), and successful entrepreneurship. So one idea is to target equal new-grad pay and achieve equal 5-year advancement(promotions) for all graduates. Entrepreneurship can be measured using funding or revenue and attributed to founders. Efforts (such as special scholarships and special attention by faculty) can be tracked over some decades to see what works and what doesn’t). The school can officially measure stuff that matter and make good stuff happen–for everyone.)
My experience at CMU is certainly that it is a utopia of academics. Work, study, projects, everything is well thought through by a lot of smart people and everything just works. But this resignation certainly is a dose of reality for students–we live in the real world and it takes a lot to survive, and even more to prosper, no matter gender, race, mission or afflictions.