Saturday, March 25, 2006

What affirmative action hath wrought

From the New York Times:

Few of us sitting around the table were as talented and as directed at age 17 as this young woman. Unfortunately, her test scores and grade point average placed her in the middle of our pool. We had to have a debate before we decided to swallow the middling scores and write "admit" next to her name.

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit. The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men. How's that for an unintended consequence of the women's liberation movement?

The elephant that looms large in the middle of the room is the importance of gender balance. Should it trump the qualifications of talented young female applicants? At those colleges that have reached what the experts call a "tipping point," where 60 percent or more of their enrolled students are female, you'll hear a hint of desperation in the voices of admissions officers.

First, a question for those who believe in gender equality. Why should colleges pay any attention whatsoever to gender? If there is no importance to gender, how can you justify admitting men on a different basis than women and why is it a problem if a college is 85 percent women or 85 percent men?

And if you believe it is acceptable for colleges to discriminate on a gender basis, why is it unacceptable for corporations to do so?

A more significant question is this: is the declining propensity for men to attend college a sign of increasing female power or the decreasing value of a college degree. Five years ago, I would have stated the former. Now, I am not so sure.


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