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Transcending the Places That Hold Us:
Public Policy and Participation in Science

The following paper was presented by Daryl E. Chubin, Senior Policy Officer, National Science Board Office, NSF, at Workshop 2000:  A Joint Conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Emerge Alliance, and the National Science Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia on February 24, 2000. 


Thank you to Shirley Malcom, Yolanda George, Ginny Van Horne, AAAS, and our Georgia Tech hosts for this “national dialogue.”  I stand before you as a member of a Federal research and education agency, as staff to a national policy body that also provides oversight to NSF.  But tonight, I speak as an individual – a private citizen – who continues to talk and collaborate with some of you about mutual obsessions.

So why me?  I don’t look like many of you, or work in a setting like yours.  What matters – and binds us together, I believe – is what moves us.  There is a reciprocity between Federal policy – my niche – and what you do.  I am grateful for the chance to get out of Washington for a day and describe that reciprocity.  

Also, Atlanta to me is a homecoming.  Of my 13 years as an academic, 8 were spent at Georgia Tech (before it came to full bloom), then 7 as congressional staff, and I am now completing my 7th as executive branch staff.  There is some symmetry there – and it relates to the theme of my remarks.

Theme and Purpose of My Remarks 

My theme tonight is what, in “The Hurricane,” Rubin Carter says to Lesra Martin during their first visit:  It is important to transcend the places that hold us.

Those places are sometimes physical, but more often mental, conceptual.  Indeed, we are trained in paradigms, with certain mindsets and world views.  Breaking out of them, distancing ourselves to see, and perhaps to act, differently tests our discipline, our fortitude, and defines “what moves us.”

I want to step back from what we have already heard today and ask big questions – questions more of policy than of programs and practices, but above all, about participation in a merit-based society.   

We must transcend our current positions, organizations, allegiances, and ask, what is the national need – and how best do we serve it?  You have all heard the phrase “do no harm.”  I abhor it.  The Federal Government can do better than that.  In some arenas, especially developing human resources, it has – until Adarand, ca. 1995.

Since the GI Bill, National Defense Education Act of 1958, civil rights legislation, Title IX, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, law and policy have positively intervened in the market and improved the “life chances” for many – but not enough.  

To borrow from my AAAS colleagues, we are “making strides,” but face an “upward climb.”  We either make or lose ground together:  this is a challenge to the Nation, not just to certain groups, institutions, regions, or sectors within it.  

The contradiction in our merit-based society is that some characteristics are not supposed to matter – but they still do.  And in the eyes of many, the advantages that accrue to some mean that disadvantages accrue to others.  That zero-sum mentality is dangerous, misleading, and represents both bad thinking and bad policy. So how do we cultivate the entire talent pool?

During Black History Month, we should be doubly aware that as demographics continue to shift to “majority-minority” in the school-aged population, those historically underrepresented and underserved in the professions – not just science and technology – are making slow, incremental gains.   As a proportion of most denominators – fraction of the U.S. population, high school graduates, baccalaureate degree recipients – they lag far behind.  What places hold us back?

A Big Month

Two other events in February are noteworthy:   release of the President’s FY—2001 budget request, and last week’s annual meeting of AAAS.  

NSF’s request includes the largest proposed increase in its history – over 17 percent.  I’ll say more about the “fine print” in a moment.

For the annual AAAS meeting in Washington, DC, Willie Pearson and I organized a day-long symposium on Human resources for Science, Technology, the Nation, and the World.  Some who are here – Shirley, Yolanda, Peter Syverson – helped us take stock of the research, policy, and programmatic lessons in human resource development.  I may be an optimist – full of hope and energy – but it ain’t a pretty picture. 

By examining in a meticulously data-based way, demographic, education, employment, and career trends, we tried in the AAAS sessions to establish a baseline for producers and consumers of new scientists and engineers at every degree level.  

We consciously adopted a comprehensive approach to the production, supply, demand, composition (by gender, ethnicity, national origin, disability status), and utilization of trained personnel.  If you focus on boosting only one segment, you can do harm to the others.  Unfortunately, oversight in the policy process encourages such piecemeal action. 

So with help from the presenters, we posed a series of questions,  first on What We Know:  Who Is Participating in S&T Education and Employment, then on What Can We Do:  Institutional Roles and Practices, Policies and Strategies.  I want to use a subset of those questions – 7 clusters to be exact – to structure my remaining remarks.

Questions and Observations on Participation

1. Graduate enrollments in science and engineering (S&E) have declined for five consecutive years.  Yet demand and hiring is brisk in our robust economy.  What do these trends portend, especially when disaggregated by major demographic, disciplinary, and sectoral categories?  Put another way, the S&E workforce is projected to grow three times faster than other occupations.  Who will be prepared for those jobs?  

Graduate enrollment of minority students is just now recovering to pre-Adarand levels.  But this is as much a preK-12 problem:  Undergraduate enrollments waver as Prop 209, Hopwood, and other state initiatives unfold.  Much of this reflects declining applications, self-selection out of the pool, or formulaic uses of SATs and GREs as admissions criteria.  The problem must be addressed earlier.  Local communities must decide what is best for their children and schools.  But they must also recognize there is a national interest in improving student achievement.

2. Both the “single” and “double bind” hypotheses continue to be sustained empirically.  The MIT self-study of women science faculty provides the latest evidence.  What, then, are the prospects of career opportunity and advancement of women, and especially women of color, in S&E?

One response is generalizable to any underparticipating group:  Because career choice is determined by many factors in addition to individual talent, how might we investigate the factors influencing observed outcomes?

Consider differential retention as well enrollment rates.  NACME data are compelling here.  At most institutions, freshman engineering majors have different experiences if they are members of racial or ethnic minorities.  In the aggregate, two out of three majority students in engineering complete a baccalaureate degree, but only one out of three minority students do so.  That is indefensible, especially if Federal dollars are supporting those engineering programs and faculty.  The same applies to science students – though the data have never been reported in quite this format.  I’m sure such data would embarrass many institutions.  

The National Academy of Engineering, under the leadership of Bill Wulf, has embarked upon a year-long Forum on Diversity in the Engineering Workforce.  Richard Tapia and I serve on that Forum, an important national effort with credibility among the business community.  But how do we reach the major producers of engineers?

3. What is the role of national data in influencing policymakers, agency sponsors, institutions of higher education, faculty, and students with career aspirations?  

I work a lot on this, as do organizations such as the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, the Engineering Workforce Commission, and the Science Resources Studies Division at NSF.  Unfortunately, those are not the organizations consulted before a public relations campaign is launched, such as the one surrounding the shortage of IT workers for U.S. companies.

Furthermore, we lack systematic information on student interest, factors influencing choice, retention and reasons for leaving S&E.  I hold accountable the culture of higher education, its decentralized decisionmaking (especially at the graduate level) and a research-driven reward system.  

All the mentoring awards in the world – and I proudly staffed the White House Presidential Mentoring Awards in 1997 – will not change this culture until some chancellors and presidents, indeed, some Federal agencies, act to recognize as mainstream professional service, work with students and teachers K-16.

Policies and Strategies

Within the FY—2001 budget request for NSF, research goes up 10 percent, education 5 percent.  More education programming is now distributed through the agency’s research budget.  But how will we know whether NSF’s research and education missions are being successfully integrated?  Perhaps we can look at the agency’s first GPRA performance report at the end of next month.  

Let me suggest, however, that NSF currently runs a suite of over 30 education and human resource programs, preKindergarten through mid-career.  How do they cohere?  What value do they add, particularly for those underrepresented and underserved?   How many of you in this audience are PIs encouraged to coordinate your human resource development project with others on your campus?  

Would it not make sense, for example, to connect systemic reform sites at the K-12 level, with AMPs at the undergraduate level, with MGE and traineeships at the grad level, with postdoctoral and early career support programs?  It appears to me that we have the ingredients, but no clear recipe. 

4. What do the growing ranks of postdocs suggest that sponsors, institutions, faculty advisors, and professional associations do to increase responsibility for this vulnerable next generation of S&E’s?  

Both Cong. George Brown, just before his passing, and Mary Good ever since, have talked about weaning human resource development from Federal research funding policy.  

To many, the problem of recruitment and development of careers in science is rooted in an academic culture that, while honoring merit and open competition, is at the same time quietly discriminatory and elitist.  How does one change this culture?  Lamenting the size or diversity of the talent pool while feeding an insatiable research funding model that sacrifices all else to the production of knowledge is not only contradictory, but silly and stupid.  We know better.  We can do better.  And I do not subscribe to the tyranny of the faculty culture.  Money talks.  It can change behavior. 

NSF has funding criteria that define merit in more than one way – intellectual, managerial, intergenerational.  They are useless, however, if ignored – by agency program officers and reviewers alike.  If funding decisions don’t support our research and education missions together, they become “competing goods.”  Put another way, a Federal grant is a policy tool either supporting the system as it is, or stimulating change.  

5. Why shouldn’t funding criteria be tied explicitly to education and training of future S&E’s at all levels?  At NSF, on paper, they already are.  That’s not enough.

Federal programs targeted to particular groups is no longer a viable policy strategy.  Affirmative action as we know it is dead.  So how should institutional programs be designed and implemented?  MGE is a model for future development of S&Es.  It is consortial, collaborative, and if it can be scaled up and adapted to other academic settings, could be a substantial contributor to the pool of professionals that this nation needs.  In game show lingo, programs such as MGE and EMERGE offer “lifelines” – we all need occasionally to “phone a friend” or “ask the audience.”

According to the analysis by my friend, Michael Teitelbaum of the Sloan Foundation, science as a career does not compare favorably – on a host of factors including opportunity costs in length of preparation, starting salary, and benefits – with medicine, law, engineering, or business.  His advice:  do it for love, but have no illusions.  Again, careers should be part of life, not instead of life.  

6. Is a Federal human resource development policy for S&T needed to coordinate across the R&D agencies?  The Clinton-Gore blueprint, Science in the National Interest, promised such a policy in 1994.  Shirley Malcom and I have argued for, and written about, this for most of the 1990s.  So far, we have failed – no policy.

This means the agencies currently have no “cover.”   Understandably, they are advised by their General Counsel’s to back away from targeted programs to avoid lawsuits.  So how do we reach the growing cadre of students who need to be informed and recruited?  We go where they are, fund the institutions they are either likely to attend or already are attending.  We reexamine our selection and admissions criteria for biases that systematically remove, on false pretenses, those who can excel.  

7. Finally, lost in the “pipeline” metaphor of human talent development is the issue of “leadership” in disciplines, sectors, and organizations.  

My colleague Richard Tapia has been instrumental in highlighting this issue.  Transitions in training and careers disproportionately remove persons traditionally underrepresented in S&E at each stage.   We rob our disciplines, our profession associations, universities, companies, and political institutions of the diversity of talent that we need.  These places that empower us can also hold us.

For me, the counter-example is Puerto Rico.  Higher education, focused at the U. of Puerto Rico campuses, is strongly engaged in K-12 education reform.  Math and science are seen as preparation for higher education, entry to the high-tech workforce, and central to the economic development of the island.  All students are viewed as future human capital – some to pursue careers in S&T, most to join a science-literate workforce as citizens, and a few to become societal leaders.

All of our preceding investments fail to come to full fruition if the next generation leaves prematurely, forced out by stereotypes, chilly climates, despair, and lack of support, instead of by students’ legitimate changes in plans.  We must ensure access to opportunity.  The problem is “out there” in the environment.  We are not eating our seed corn.  We are ignoring it – or forcing it to look for sustenance and fulfillment elsewhere. 

To Conclude

You live in your labs, departments, institutions, and professional communities.  You deserve credit for doing so much.  I thank you, as do your students. You must do more. . .

In 1983, an NSB Commission advised:  “Our children are the most important asset of our country; they deserve at least the heritage that was passed to us . . . a level of mathematics, science and technology education that is the finest in the world, without sacrificing the American birthright of personal choice, equity and opportunity.”

In the national interest, there is a need to reassert the ethic of participation, to translate expectation into action, to mainstream and institutionalize “what works.”  Indeed, that is the purpose of this dialogue, this workshop . . .

So tonight I end with questions that I hope you ask yourselves and your colleagues:  How can law and public policy help make a difference in the lives of our children?   How can we all transcend the places that hold us?  Thank you.


About the Author:

In August 1999, Daryl Chubin was selected as Senior Policy Officer for the National Science Board (NSB) at the National Science Foundation (NSF).   In March 1998, he was detailed to the National Science Board as Senior Policy Associate, staffing education and human resource activities, including service as executive secretary for the NSB report, Preparing Our Children:  Math and Science Education in the National Interest (1999).  

Dr. Chubin joined NSF in September 1993 as Division Director for Research, Evaluation and Communication in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources.  During 1997, Dr. Chubin served on detail as Assistant Director for Social and Behavioral Sciences (and Education) at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  While at OSTP, he staffed the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology Panel on Education, and helped to coordinate the Presidential Mentoring Awards.  His Federal career began in 1986 at the Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, where he directed the reports Educating Scientists and Engineers:  Grade School to Grad School (1988) and Federally Funded Research:  Decisions for a Decade (1991).  

Prior to 1986 he taught at four universities, and currently is Adjunct Professor in the Cornell-in-Washington Program and the Northern Virginia Center of Virginia Tech.  Chubin has published six books, including Rethinking Science as a Career:  Perceptions and Realities in the Physical Sciences (with S. Tobias and K. Aylesworth, 1995).  A co-edited collection, Science, Technology, and Society:  A Sourcebook on Research and Practice, will be published by Kluwer Academic/Plenum in April 2000 (with D. Kumar). 

In 1990, Chubin was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and in 1999 was elected Chair of AAAS Section X—Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering.  Since 1996, he has served on the Board of Directors of the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, of which he is now President.  In 1998, Chubin joined the boards of the Radcliffe Public Policy Center and the Loka Institute.

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