For the professional school, the group would provide an added number of female student candidates as well as an introduction to counseling and advising as a means of fostering the integration of women into their programs, since counseling and support services for the thirty students would be carried over to the technical school. If successful, even these modest numbers would alter the gender balance in a meaningful sense. The intention to review the effectiveness of the program in achieving these aims, moreover, was an important element of the plan.
The public response to this proposal, however, was less than logical or sympathetic. The notion that a program might be established exclusively for women was, and continues to be, greeted with very mixed reviews. The representatives of governmental agencies striving to encourage the participation of women were enthusiastic with their rhetoric, but not with resources or funding.
At the same time, within the region that was singularly suited to attempt this plan, a surge of antipathetic argument has been heard. The matter has escalated (without much consultation or reference to the bases of the proposal) throughout the realms of academic and professional associations, and the language of the critique has become laden with phrases such as "instituting segregation" and "self-interest".
To the scholar and academic, such language suggests a less than altruistic interest in solving the educational problem. After all, the impact of a maximum of thirty more women studying engineering in any given year is likely to be positive, or at worst neutral, on the profession as a whole. The presence of thirty additional students of any gender, it would seem, would prove an asset.
My personal analysis of the dynamics of opposition are not encouraging. If the fear of this program stems, at least partially, from unfamiliarity with the research relating to women in science, it evidences itself in language that is intolerant of alternatives and choice. It ignores the stated experience of many women who have succeeded in engineering programs, and sets up artificial barriers that others, given the current state of their education and perceptions, will be unable or unwilling to break through.
The criticism of the proposal does not fix upon the academic or professional elements of the program. Rather, it rejects the notion that a program involving women will be credible, simply because it is for women. This, in turn, suggests that any endeavour to create programs designed to respond to the problem of gender participation will, in and of themselves, create new levels of discrimination.