With college acceptance letters hitting mailboxes in full force this month, high school seniors are either celebrating being accepted to their dream school, or learning to love the idea of attending a safety school. But, for female students rejected from private liberal arts institutions, that rejection might have happened precisely because they're female. Yes, so-called male affirmative action continues to roll on in private college admissions, and it's all, supposedly, in pursuit of gender balance.
The issue first came to the forefront back in 2006 in "To All the Girls I've Rejected" a New York Times op-ed by Kenyon College dean of admissions and financial aid Jennifer Britz. Britz described the real angst of sitting in a room of admissions officers rejecting women in favor of sometimes less-stellar male applicants all because of school's desire for gender balance. Women earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees and, if admitted according to merit, they'd easily be two-thirds (or more) of the students on a given campus. Apparently, in pursuit of diversity, campuses don't want the student body to be more than 60 percent women.
Fast forward to a month ago when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights suspended its investigation into discrimination against women by the admissions offices of private liberal arts colleges, and they've refused to reconsider opening the case. Richard Whitmire, the author of Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving them Behind calls the issue out again in Inside Higher Ed, saying it's a missed opportunity for the nation's boys since they're being held to lower expectations and allowed to succeed.
Whitmire points out that commission member and University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot acknowledges that the bias is discriminatory but the issue
"gets no support from national women’s advocacy groups such as the National Organization for Women or the American Association of University Women, the very groups you’d expect to see rising up in protest over discrimination against young women. In fact, they opposed the probe. The women’s groups, says Heriot, see themselves as progressives favoring racial preferences. They fear any curtailment of the authority to favor men could lead to a twin curtailment placed on favoring minorities."
This reluctance to speak up makes no sense since the two issues are not the same. Unlike racial and ethnic minorities and women, men, specifically white males, have not been historically discriminated against in America. In fact, men have been the recipients of America's privilege and favor—and clearly, with this college admissions favoritism, that's still the case. Schools would do well to realize that gender balance isn't the same as gender equity. Women still have less opportunity overall in our society, so rejecting them in favor of less qualified men, actually decreases gender equality.
One other bothersome idea that comes up in Whitmire's piece relates to the belief that colleges promote gender balance so that women have enough guys to date. Whitmire writes,
When men become scarce on campus, women compete harder to win them and some young men start acting like amateur lotharios, or worse. Not a healthy social situation for anyone.
The stereotype that women head to college just to get a Mrs. degree is played out. Women aren't going to college to compete for a boyfriend. They're going to get an education, improve themselves, and further their personal ambition, just like the guys do.
Really, if someone's missing an opportunity in this scenario, it's the female high school seniors getting rejection letters. After all, the men still get to attend their dream school.