Androids, Higher Ed, and the Future of Work

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Here are some highlights from this week's On Hiring and Diversity newsletter. If you'd like to subscribe, sign up here.

Diversity training, free-speech rights, and the dust-up at Duke’s Divinity School

Paul Griffiths, a Duke divinity professor who resigned (effective next year) in the face of disciplinary action for publicly criticizing a diversity-training program, has set off a commotion over free speech and political correctness on college campuses, The Chronicle’s Ticker blog reports. In response to an email inviting faculty to attend a voluntary two-day session on combating racism, Mr. Griffiths sent a mass email urging colleagues not to attend the session, which he called a “waste” of time and akin to indoctrination “by bureaucrats and apparatchiks,” according to the Ticker. The Divinity School’s dean then sent an email to the faculty saying that the "use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.” Things snowballed from there. You can read the whole email exchange on The American Conservative and more about what ensued in a New York Times article

But is this really a free-speech violation, or more like an example of the dangers of sending mass emails? It’s worth noting that Mr. Griffiths isn’t the first person to take issue with diversity workshops; many people hate them and say so publicly all the time, as numerous articles in The Chronicle and elsewhere have noted. One wonders if Mr. Griffiths had grumbled to colleagues about the pointlessness of diversity training and then skipped the session, which was optional, whether that would have been the end of it. Instead, he issued a bulk email urging everyone to boycott the session. When his supervisor called him on the carpet for trying to undermine it, he and his defenders pointed to “free speech” and “political correctness.” 

Which brings us to a New York magazine article by Jesse Singal highlighting several provocative studies that consider whether the free-speech defense is being deployed by some opportunistically as cover for attacks on diversity and multiculturalism. In one of them, researchers at the University of Kansas gauged hundreds of participants’ racial attitudes and tested their reactions to various anti-black and anti-police scenarios. What they found was that those who held racially biased views adamantly defended other people’s right to express racist views on free-speech grounds, but withdrew that argument when the scenario didn’t concern racist speech, Mr. Singal writes. In other words, they used the argument when it suited them.

While the results are “incendiary,” Mr. Singal notes, they seem relevant, given the extent to which the free-speech flag has being raised lately to defend racist hate speech or, in this case, to deflect diversity ideals on campus. 

Women, work, and economic prosperity

The Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen recently shared her thoughts on how to boost the slowing U.S. economy: Make it easier for women to work, an article in The Washington Post reports. She suggested that the dearth of family-friendly work policies in the U.S. is not only keeping many American women out of the work force, but impeding growth. At a time when an aging population and “weak productivity growth are already weighing on” the economy — which grew a paltry 0.7 percent in the first three months of 2017 — we should be utilizing our entire talent pool, not just a portion of it, Ms. Yellen suggested.

Noting that the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t have paid maternity leave, Ms. Yellen suggested the government might increase GDP and women’s labor-force rates by instituting paid leave and child-care subsidies. “One recent study estimates that increasing the female participation rate to that of men would raise our gross domestic product by 5 percent,” Ms. Yellen said. That would help the whole country, not just women.

Women in the workplace versus male identity

Work has long been central to male identity, and as more working-class guys struggle to find good jobs and more women become breadwinners, some of the former may increasingly feel threatened, Tyler Cowen has suggested. Studies show that bringing in less money puts some men under identity stress — they become more politically extreme, more likely to cheat on their spouses, and less likely to help around the house, studies suggest. It can also impact marital satisfaction. A recent study shows that women with higher-status jobs than their husbands tend to have rockier marriages unless their husbands pick up the slack at home, an article in the Harvard Business Review reports.

As more jobs fall to automation, however, it’s only a matter of time before more workers (many of them men) are displaced by machines and must grapple with a loss of relative income and status. For society’s sake, men need to develop a new model of masculinity that doesn’t involve outearning their wives, says Dan Cassino, an associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, in an HBR article.

Speaking of automation …

Steve Kolowich, a writer for The Chronicle, sat down with Andrew McAfee, a research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management who has been studying the potential impact of automated labor and has co-authored two books on the subject, Race Against the Machine and The Second Machine Age. Mr. McAfee talked about the threat of automation, what work may look like in the robot age, and how higher ed can help us secure our economic future. He said it’ll be critical to revamp the educational system, which is still focused on producing “the kinds of workers the economy needed 50 years ago” — that is, people who could “read, write, and do some math,” and were trained to be clerks and laborers who could “follow the voice of authority.” Machines are already better than us at those things, so colleges should start teaching “people to do the things computers can’t do” — like think creatively and figure out what problems to tackle next, work as a team to solve those problems, and have compassion for others, as well as the ability to coordinate, motivate, persuade, and negotiate, Mr. McAfee says.

Meanwhile, an article on Quartz suggests that we should fret less about robots replacing us and more about them hijacking the skilled parts of our jobs and leaving us with the low-paid scut work. At a discussion hosted by NYU’s Stern School of Business and the McKinsey Global Institute, Albert Wenger called full automation “a big red herring,” Sarah Kessler, a reporter for the digital news outlet, reports. As new tech leads more jobs to be partially automated, fewer qualifications will be needed for those jobs, and that could drive down wages, Mr. Wenger warned the audience: “If a human worker needs fewer skills because a machine does part of her work, then she’ll most likely be cheaper to hire — maybe even cheaper than the cost of technology that could replace her,” he said. Just look at Uber. Thanks to GPS technology and apps like Uber and Lyft, anyone can be a taxi driver — “at least until driverless cars take over,” Mr. Wenger said.

In other news ...

Adjuncts have a lot to lose if Obamacare is repealed.

When it comes to getting health insurance, most adjuncts are on their own; if Republicans replace or repeal Obamacare, it could become downright unaffordable, a Chronicle article reports.

Are you really disabled?

In a Pacific Standard articleDavid Perry wonders, Why are disabled people constantly forced to prove they’re disabled?

Questions, Comments?

Have a suggestion for the newsletter or a tip or story idea to share? Send it to me at gabriela.montell@chronicle. com or @GabrielaMontell.

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