University of Tennessee Gets $700K Taxpayer Grant to Fight ‘Bias’ in STEM

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The University of Tennessee-Knoxville will spend more than $700,000 in federal funds over the next four years to get more women into STEM, despite their proposed intervention having zero record of success.


On August 19, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the University of Tennessee-Knoxville $713, 763 in federal funds. Led by Professor Verlee Keppens, this new project is called “ASCEND: Adaptations for a Sustainable Climate of Excellence and Diversity,” and will involve four other professors at the Tennessee public university.

With the grant money, Verlee and her colleagues will implement “evidence-based strategies” to support the school’s female STEM students. They claim that these strategies have been “proven” to help retain women at other NSF-funded schools. However, neither the NSF nor Keppens responded to questions about the effectiveness of such strategies. The grant abstract doesn’t explain what these strategies are, either.

According to the grant abstract, the $713,763 will target three main issues confronting women in STEM. These include “a culture of implicit bias” on campus, “social and professional isolation” faced by female students, and “work-life integration.”

“This project is not designed to facilitate the assimilation of women into problematic work cultures, but rather to identify and change problematic aspects of work cultures,” explains the abstract, written by lead-researcher Verlee Keppens. According to the abstract, taxpayers will also be paying for programs that increase awareness of “implicit bias” on campus,” the creation of “equity allies,” and the creation of policies recognizing women’s “emotional labor” for tenure applications.


Last but not least, the grant will support the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Intersectionality Community of Scholars (ICOS). Though the ICOS lists 26 members, it hasn’t done anything public since 2016, so it’s unclear what it does.

The NSF says the grant is in line with the organization’s mission. But it’s ultimately very unclear how exactly the funds will be used. PJ Media emailed the University of Tennessee-Knoxville three times, and called twice. The school did not respond. The NSF also did not respond to multiple inquiries for more information.

Perhaps this program might be helpful for women in STEM, and ultimately, scientific discovery at large. But considering that the NSF has poured millions of taxpayer funds into similar projects and hasn’t been able to document any results, it seems unlikely.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.


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