Letter to the Editor: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

a newspaper and a black laptop with Letter To The Editor written over them in big white letters

RE: Traditionally underserved communities graduate from CSUN STEM programs at 23 percent – lowest in CSU system

In a recent Sundial article addressing the high achievement gap in STEM disciplines at CSUN, Kristy Michaud stated that this was because of “racism and bias” by STEM faculty and that accepting the notion that students from traditionally underserved communities struggle because of poor preparation in the high schools is not acceptable. Okay, so let’s ignore for the moment that the six-year graduation rates for female STEM students are much higher than for male STEM students (suggesting “racism and bias” against males?). Such assertions by Michaud leads to the following conclusions:

1) The lower math SAT scores in the traditionally underserved population and their higher enrollment percentages in Developmental Math at CSUN are not the products of poor high school preparation and don’t impede their college progress.

2) The essentially identical six-year graduation rates for traditionally underserved populations in STEM at CSUDH and CSULA as at CSUN, but lower achievement gaps, are because of greater “racism and bias” against traditionally better-served students at CSUDH and CSULA.

3) The very high six-year graduation rates among traditionally underserved students at SLO (66%) has nothing to do with the university’s high entrance requirements but is instead due to a lack of “racism and bias” among the faculty at SLO.

4) The higher achievement gaps in engineering compared to Biology is because of greater “racism and bias” among the Engineers and Computer Scientists, rather than students’ weak quantitative skills.

5) The generally higher achievement gaps in the large lower level STEM courses, where exams are typically objective (e.g. multiple choice and true-and-false questions) and hence not as susceptible to subjectivity, is because of greater “racism and bias” among the faculty members teaching the larger courses.

6) That split second differences in reaction time translates into actual discriminatory behavior, even though the Implicit Association Test is known to be unreliable and not valid. (Two developers of the test, Greenwald, and Banaji, acknowledge that it doesn’t predict biased behavior, and a possibly more plausible explanation is that the brain processes the familiar faster than the novel.)

For an administrator to make such claims is at best lazy thinking and at worst a power trip. The STEM faculty that I know have dedicated their lives, both consciously and unconsciously, to student success irrespective of race.

Jerry Stinner, Dean of The College of Science and Math