Mark Perry is on a mission to rout what he sees as rampant discrimination against men in higher education.
The University of Minnesota alum, who teaches finance at the University of Michigan at Flint, has approached numerous campuses in the Twin Cities and nationally about scholarships, faculty awards and programs reserved for women and girls. The U recently opened up several women-only scholarships to all students and is reviewing three awards for female professors. Now, Perry is pressing private colleges, including the University of St. Thomas and Macalester College in St. Paul, about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) summer camps they host for middle or high school girls.
Perry's efforts are part of a larger push in recent years to challenge women-only programs on college campuses by invoking Title IX, the law banning sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding. The federal Department of Education has launched a slew of investigations into such programs. Perry argues they are not only illegal but outdated: For years, more women than men have graduated from college.
"There is this blind spot in higher education where they have accepted discrimination against men and boys," said Perry.
But Kristin Mapel Bloomberg, a professor of women's studies at Hamline University, says efforts such as Perry's abuse Title IX.
"This is part of a longer-term backlash against gains women have made in education and the professions," she said.
Women still lag behind men in many STEM fields, in compensation and in leadership posts in both the corporate world and academia, Bloomberg said; they also carry a greater share of the student loan burden.
The University of St. Thomas noted that Title IX explicitly permits programs like its long-running STEPS engineering camp — single-gender programs designed to address gender imbalances in education.
Perry, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, says his quest started with a successful challenge to a women-only study lounge at Michigan State University.
"I called it gender apartheid," he said. "They had this prime space on campus where they were discriminating against half their student body."
He later successfully challenged awards reserved for female faculty at his own institution. He says women-only opportunities shut out not only men, but also gender-nonconforming students and employees.
Perry also looked at his alma mater, the U. He wrote to the university about three student scholarships and awards administered by the U's Women's Center. The university recently said it is opening those scholarships to students of all genders.
Most recently, Perry wrote to 19 campuses around the country about girls-only STEM camps. He praised the U's Duluth campus, which this past summer hosted a girls-only camp — but also one just for boys.
Macalester says it simply rents space to a national program that puts on the camp. St. Thomas said programs like its STEPS camp recognize that one factor in the shortage of women in engineering is a drop-off in interest in the middle grades.
"Over the years, the program has proudly encouraged and actively engaged nearly 5,000 6th- and 8th-grade girls to continue on a STEM educational pathway," the university said in a statement.