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Washington Post on sex discrimination in admissions

The Washington Post has a good article today titled “Why getting into elite colleges is harder for women“:

Getting accepted to an elite college has never been more difficult. So to all the young women who got in this year I say: Great job! You earned it.

To the young men I say: Congrats. But just be thankful you didn’t have to apply as a woman.

Why? Because one of academia’s little-known secrets is that private college admissions are exempt from Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination—a shameful loophole that allows some of the most supposedly progressive campuses in the nation to discriminate against female applicants…

Colleges won’t say it, but this is happening because elite schools field applications from many more qualified women than men and thus are trying to hold the line against a 60:40 ratio of women to men. Were Brown to accept women and men at the same rate, its undergraduate population would be almost 60 percent women instead of 52 percent—three women for every two men.

The Post article cites a string of figures showing that women are accepted to men at lower rates at a number of top private schools. Of course, there is no way to know if the male and female applicant pools at these schools are equally strong. It might be that the higher admission rate for males simply shows that the men (for whatever reason) are more qualified. It’s also hard to know the size of the credentials gap, if any, from just looking at those figures.

In an effort to make this “little known secret” a bit better known, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights attempted to do a study of sex discrimination in admissions back in 2009. The project was abandoned for what appeared to be political rather than substantive reasons; Gail Heriot, the commissioner who initially proposed the project, and I wrote up the saga of the study’s failure in an article for the Federalist Society’s Engage in 2011.

The Post article states that “This bias in private-college admissions is blatant enough that it can’t be long before ‘gender-blind admissions’ becomes the new campus rallying cry.” For reasons that Heriot and I discussed at greater length in the Federalist Society article, I am less sure that it will be. Allegations of discrimination in admissions have been in the papers off and on for nearly a decade, ever since a Kenyon admissions officer published a New York Times article on the topic. Feminist organizations — who would seem to be the natural leaders of any pro-gender-blind admissions crusade — have been strangely silent on the topic. Indeed, a number actually opposed the Civil Rights Commission’s effort to study the problem just because it contained a single sentence suggesting that current interpretations of Title IX on discrimination in athletics may actually be making the problem worse.

Second, many of the arguments for sex-blind admissions are stunningly similar to those for race-blind admissions. It is telling that the Post article concludes, “So if you’re a recruiter for a Fortune 500 company and two Vassar résumés come across your desk—one from a woman, the other from a man—keep this in mind: It was almost twice as hard for the woman to get into Vassar as it was for the man. Maybe they’re equal candidates. But if you’re playing the odds, I’d say hire the woman.” Yet there would be howls of outrage if the Post even dared suggest that employers might be tempted to do the same for recipients of race preferences. Likewise, the Post article notes that men admitted with preferences graduate at lower rates than do women, likely because of the gap in entering credentials. Yet similar arguments about the “mismatch” problem regarding race and admissions have generally been brushed aside by the Post and other mainstream media.

In other words, so long as the case for gender-blind admissions might strengthen the case for race-blind admissions, I suspect many feminists and other progressives will not be inclined to push for it. That’s a shame. Still, it is a good sign that the Washington Post is at least willing to bring some greater attention to the problem.


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