Psychology professor Geoffrey Miller has been censured by the University of New Mexico for a critical tweet about obese PhD applicants.
Miller tweeted in June: “Dear obese PHD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth”.
The tweet has been deleted and his account made private.
Miller will be taken off all admissions committees for the remainder of his time at the school and be forced to work to develop a sensitivity training program, meet with a faculty mentor and the department chair, and apologise to the department and his colleagues, according to a memo obtained by Inside Higher Ed.
The news follows the release of a major study conducted by a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at Bowling Green State University, which says that overweight graduate school applicants are accepted to programs less often than their peers with lower body mass indexes (BMIs).
The study’s concluded:
Higher BMI significantly predicted fewer post-interview offers of admission into psychology graduate programs. Results also suggest this relationship is stronger for female applicants. BMI was not related to overall quality or the number of stereotypically weight-related adjectives in letters of recommendation. Surprisingly, higher BMI was related to more positive adjectives in letters.
That last sentence really hits home plate when you break it down: obese applicants had great recommendation letters, but were crushed by the interview process, implying that subjective and shallow judgment supersedes objective qualifications.
“It is plausible that letter writers, who had developed meaningful relationships with applicants, looked beyond superficial qualities, such as weight, to comment on the actual quality of the applicants’ work,” reported the study.
The study also said that traits like self-discipline and hard-work were subconsciously judged based on an applicant’s weight, which contributed to the discriminatory findings.
Curiously, the study clearly shows that there is a negative relationship between GPA and BMI, as undergraduate GPA decreases with increases in an applicant’s weight.
The study does say that “GPA was controlled for,” though the researchers could not be reached for comment regarding how those controls were enforced.
The study additionally noted that socio-economic status was not assessed, “which could have varied with BMI and been a factor that influenced interviewers’ opinions.”
This study, along with the news about Miller, will put pressure on graduate schools everywhere to avoid fat discrimination.
Admissions leaders aren’t alone in their subconscious perception of overweight peoples’ potential performance, as people tend to think overweight executives are worse at their jobs. As far as we know, there is no evidence that this is true.
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