[Mb-civic] On Campus, a Good Man Is Hard to Find By JOHN TIERNEY
michael at michaelbutler.com
Sat Mar 25 10:06:46 PST 2006
The New York Times
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March 25, 2006
On Campus, a Good Man Is Hard to Find
By JOHN TIERNEY
When a boy opens his acceptance letter from college, he now has to wonder
what most impressed the admissions officers. Did they want him for his mind,
or just his body?
The admissions director at Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz,
published an Op-Ed article this week revealing an awkward truth about her
job: affirmative action for boys. As the share of the boys in the applicant
pool keeps shrinking it will soon be down to 40 percent nationally
colleges are admitting less-qualified boys in order to keep the gender ratio
balanced on campus.
This week's revelation did not please Kim Gandy, the president of the
National Organization for Women, who told me that she might challenge the
legality of affirmative action for male applicants. She and I are not
normally ideological soulmates, but I have some sympathy with her on this
It's not fair to the girls who are rejected despite having higher grades and
test scores than the boys who get fat envelopes. It's not fair to the boys,
either, if they're not ready to keep up with their classmates. Affirmative
action just makes them prone to fail, and is probably one of the reasons
that men are more likely than women to drop out of college.
After consulting with the federal Education Department, I can confidently
report that this discrimination may violate the law or then again, it may
not. Either way, I agree with Gandy that public colleges shouldn't practice
it, because the government shouldn't favor one group over another.
Gandy's also wary of allowing private schools like Kenyon to discriminate,
and she's skeptical of their justification: that they need a fairly even
male-female ratio on campus to attract the best applicants of either sex.
I'm not sure if that's true, but I trust the colleges to know better than me
or Gandy or federal lawyers. As long as a school is private, let it favor
whomever it wants men, women, alumni children, Latinos, African-Americans
without any interference from the Education Department.
What the department should be doing is figuring out how to help boys reach
college. The gender gap has been getting worse for two decades, but the
Education Department still isn't focusing on it. Instead, it has an
"educational equity" program aimed at helping girls and women.
The department is paying to encourage African and Slavic girls and women in
Oregon to pursue careers in science. There's a grant to help women in West
Virginia overcome "traditional, outdated 19th-century attitudes" by pursuing
jobs in blue-collar trades. Another grant aims to motivate women at the
Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn to study math.
Those are all noble goals. I'd be glad to see the women in Brooklyn take up
advanced calculus. But the chief "equity" issue at their college is the
shortage of men, who make up barely a fifth of the student body. What
happened to the boys who didn't make it?
Boys are, on average, as smart as girls, but they are much less fond of
school. They consistently receive lower grades, have more discipline
problems and are more likely to be held back for a year or placed in special
education classes. The Harvard economist Brian Jacob attributes these
problems to boys' lack of "noncognitive skills," like their difficulties
with paying attention in class, their disorganization and their reluctance
to seek help from others.
Those are serious handicaps, but they could be mitigated if schools became
A few educators have suggested reforms: more games and competitions that
appeal to boys, more outdoor exercise, more male teachers, more experiments
with single-sex schools. But those ideas have gotten little attention or
money. Schools have been too busy trying to close the gender gap in the few
areas where boys are ahead, like sports and science.
No matter what changes are made to help boys, they'll probably still be less
likely than girls to go on to college, simply because girls' skills and
interests are better suited to the types of white-collar jobs that now
require college degrees. Boys will remain more inclined to skip college in
favor of relatively high-paying jobs in fields like construction and
There's no reason to expect a 50-50 ratio on campus and certainly no
reason to mandate it. Boys don't need that kind of affirmative action. What
they could use, long before college, is equal attention.
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