The Magazine

The Quotas Everyone Ignores

Why universities are quietly favoring white males once again.

Mar 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 27 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Since the early 1980s, when a brief period of parity was reached after generations of male dominance, more girls than boys have applied to college each year; in 2011, 60 percent of college applicants will be women. Girls—sorry, fellas—are by any objective measure more attractive applicants than boys, with higher average GPAs and test scores. They have fewer behavioral problems. They write better application essays. They have a wider range of extracurricular interests. They clean up better for interviews. 

On any fairly balanced scale, the acceptance rate for women at selective colleges should be far higher than for men. Instead it’s the other way around. The reason is “affirmative action,” sometimes called preferences, sometimes called quotas—though never publicly. Admissions deans like Britz have placed a thumb on the scale.

This much is generally accepted practice among college admissions deans in the upper tiers of American higher education. But why? If girls are better suited to college, why not let them enter the better colleges at rates equal to their achievements? 

Here is where the Legend of 60-40 enters in. Sixty-forty is the ratio of women to men at which, according to admissions lore, the “atmosphere” of a campus changes irreversibly and the school’s reputation passes a point of no return. It becomes known as a “girls’ school” and before you know it .  .  . there goes the neighborhood. 

“Once you become decidedly female,” Britz wrote in her op-ed, “fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.” Or worse, it becomes attractive to the wrong kind of male. Hubba hubba, in other words. Predation can be a problem. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by the indispensable education writer Richard Whitmire offered anecdotes from the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. JMU refuses to institute gender quotas and as a result is now more than 60 percent female. “What can be seen [on campus] so far is not encouraging,” Whitmire wrote. “Stark gender imbalances appear to act as an accelerant on the hook-up culture”—a reference to the Bonobo-like mating patterns that have lately enlivened social life among America’s budding scholars.

For this reason, the admissions dean of the College of William and Mary has been unapologetic about that thumb of his, which he has firmly planted on the boy side of the scale. “We are, after all, the College of William and Mary,” he has often said, “not the College of Mary and Mary.” 

The most selective of the private schools from which the Civil Rights Commission staff requested data, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown, adamantly refused to cooperate with the commission. Title IX of the education amendments to the Civil Rights Act, which outlaws sex discrimination in public colleges and universities, exempts private undergraduate nonprofessional schools—a loophole designed in 1972 to preserve traditionally single-sex colleges, nearly all of which have since become co-ed.

It’s fair to assume that the refusal of Georgetown and Hopkins was on grounds of self-incrimination. Boy quotas are the unofficial but undeniable means by which schools are staving off the dread 60-40, and even where sex discrimination is not explicitly illegal, a few beams of sunlight cast into the cloisters of college admissions offices might act as a disinfectant, as liberal activists like to put it. 

Yet the activists have been utterly silent, for reasons we can only guess. There’s been not a peep even from the National Women’s Law Center, which routinely issues press releases with such headlines as “NWLC Files Brief in Supreme Court, Supporting the Women of Wal-Mart in their Class Action Lawsuit” and “House Republican Spending Cuts Devastating to Women, Families and the Economy.” Reached by U.S. News, a spokesman for the American Association of University Women ducked. “We need to help impoverished boys and girls to improve educational outcomes and have equal opportunity,” she said, with stubborn irrelevance.

Whitmire, the education writer, has offered theories of his own to account for the thunderous silence, based on his discussions with feminist lawyers. “Alerting the public that women increasingly dominate college campuses will make it appear women have ‘won’,” he wrote. “And if women have won, why are they still complaining about discrimination in higher education?” Public sentiments like this might endanger more important feminist projects like increasing the number of tenured female faculty and closing campus “wage gaps.” There again, the Democrats on the commission may have simply been responding to the interests of a precious political ally—the vast, impenetrable combine of American higher ed, which is no happier than any other industry to have the feds snooping into its files.

Recent Blog Posts