Math professor calculates a 99.6% chance she and female scholars were discriminated against in Naval Academy tenure decisions

Math professor calculates a 99.6% chance she and female scholars were discriminated against in Naval Academy tenure decisions
USNA Assistant Professor Carolyn Chun.Timothy Koeth
  • Naval Academy Math Professor Carolyn Chun is alleging gender bias in the school's tenure selection process.
  • Out of the 11 men and four women who applied for tenure in 2021, 10 men were successful. Chun says the odds of this happening are 11 out of 3,003.

For assistant professor Carolyn Chun, who teaches math at the Naval Academy, gender bias can be summed up in a simple equation.

Chun applied for tenure at the Academy in 2021 alongside three other women and 11 men. Ten men recieved tenure, while no women were successful. The chances of that happening, she said, "all things being equal," are 11 out of 3,003. In other words, there is a 99.6% chance gender discrimination occured during the tenure selection process.

"This is a straightforward, discrete math problem that my students would compute for you," Chun told the Washington Post Magazine in a recent feature.

This was Chun's second attempt at tenure after being denied for the first time in 2020. She was especially shocked when she didn't recieve tenure the second time, as all of her colleagues in the math department said she was a shoo-in. She said one colleague even threatened to quit his job in protest if she didn't get tenure.

In her first and second tenure rejections, the committee cited student feedback as a reason for denial.


"Open and constructive reflection on student feedback, can often lead to a teaching innovation that captures a cohort of students that may not have been engaged previously," the Academy's Vice Provost O'Sullivan wrote in Chun's outbrief letter, which is given to all candidates denied tenure." Assistant Professor Chun's teaching reflections left the committee unclear as to whether Assistant Professor Chun is fully engaged in this aspect of the teaching process."

But student feedback forms are notoriously biased against women, especially women of color, according to multiple research reports, including economist Anne Boring's study, which found that student evaluations of teaching measured gender biases better than the instructor's effectiveness and especially put female teachers at a disadvantage.

Math professor calculates a 99.6% chance she and female scholars were discriminated against in Naval Academy tenure decisions
United States Naval Academy midshipmen sit in the stands waiting for graduation to begin in Annapolis, Maryland on May 25, 2018.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Washington Post article stated that during Chun's seven-year career at the Academy she had scored highly in the three areas that determine tenure: teaching, scholarship, and service. Chun holds a bachelor and masters of science, a PhD in math, as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing. She completed six years of postdoctoral work before coming to USNA, specializing in matroid theory.

Chun, along with the three other women denied tenure in 2021, filed an appeal, only to get rejected again. Now, Chun has applied for tenure a third time and is awaiting a decision. Chun feels it's her duty to speak up about gender bias in academia, especially at the Naval Academy where men hold the majority of tenured positions. Out of the 299 civilians who have tenure at USNA this past fall, 223 are white, with 219 being white men, the Post reported. According to data provided to Insider by the USNA's office of public affairs, 69.4% of civilian faculty in the fall of 2021 were men.

USNA spokesperson Cmdr. Alana Garas declined to comment directly about Chun's allegations, saying doing so would be "inappropriate" because the complaint is active and pending investigation.


"The Naval Academy is proud of its evidence-based, peer-led evaluation for promotion and tenure," Garas said in an emailed statement to Insider. "The tenure process for any and all faculty at the Naval Academy is a rigorous system with distinct criteria that has to be met in order to maintain the standards of education for our future military leaders."

But Chun says that the Academy's tenure process is skewed against women, and many who are aware of it are afraid to speak out.

"The fear of retribution here, I find it really disheartening," Chun told Insider. "So when I look at the machine that the Naval Academy has become and I can see the bodies of crushed women in its wake, I find it morally ambiguous to remain here unless I am disruptive."

"I wish I could advocate better for people who are afraid to advocate for themselves," she continued.

Math professor calculates a 99.6% chance she and female scholars were discriminated against in Naval Academy tenure decisions
Mahan Hall displays banners for the War of 1812 exhibit at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chun noted that most of the people who spoke out about gender bias in the Post feature either had full professorship, or had left the Academy.


"Nobody else who felt that they had anything to lose was willing to put their name in this article, and I found that really staggering," she told Insider. "They're willing to say that there are problems here, but people are afraid to articulate those problems, they are afraid of retribution."

One woman, quoted anonymously in the Post feature, left the Academy after being denied tenure not because of her application materials or compliments, but because two members of the selection committee sat in on her class and found that it was "too quiet, began late, and finished early."

The woman was shocked at the remarks, the Post reported, saying she had started her class with a mental health check-in and had left time at the end of class for meetings with students who needed individual attention.

"The bigger problem is that the committee overruled my whole record," she told the Post. "I'm talking about my annual performance ratings by my department chair, teaching observations by senior colleagues, my advising work with student sports teams — they decided that the concerns voiced in these snapshots, these 75-minute teaching observations, were enough evidence to prove that I did not deserve a promotion. And they considered that fair treatment."