March 23, 2006

"Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit."

The dean of admissions at Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, writes a NYT op-ed blatantly admitting to a policy of discriminating against women:
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....

Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women that they must, nearly 25 years after the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, be even more accomplished than men to gain admission to the nation's top colleges? These are questions that admissions officers like me grapple with.
Questions, indeed. But any answers? Britz has none. She does apologize, however, and seems to think that the fact that her daughter faces the same obstacles makes the apology more sincere.


Art said...

Using a bargain basement Steven Levitt Freakonomics analysis...something puzzles me.
I understand why an oversupply of females would make females less likely to apply. But wouldn't men go looking for a place with an oversupply of females?
I can't say that would have been the main selling point but It wouldn't have hurt.

KCFleming said...

What are the consequences of young men discovering that:
* colleges have little to offer them (apart from more diversity training)?
* girls were so "shortchanged" in grammar and high schools that they now dominate university campuses?
* being a white male means you have no prospect of a scholarship and are the primary cause for all that is wrong with the world?
* the expense of a college education can no longer be repaid with a college degree?
* a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?

Re: "But wouldn't men go looking for a place with an oversupply of females? "
Some men might do so. Most young men prefer other young men for camaraderie, however, and don't want to attend a "girl's school", especially one that indoctrinates the "white male oppressor" view.

The incentives over the last 30 years have all been geared toward gaining a female advantage in higher education. As a result, there has been a shift in market forces, favoring males at college due to the problems created by their relative scarcity. And, as always, be careful what you ask for, you might get alot of it.

But what do I know?

Gaius Arbo said...

The law of Unintended Consequences. Having successfully created a concept of protected classes, with the goal of fighting protected classes, it comes full circle.

Tell me again why affirmative action works......

CM said...

I think diversity is a valued goal, and part of the reason you might contribute to a place is your race, religion, gender, orientation, age, or background, so I don't see much wrong with this. Unless, as you suggest, they start taking underqualified applicants.

I live in a suburb of Boston. If you live around here, you do have to achieve more to get into a top school than if you live in South Dakota or Alaska. It's too bad for some kids in some situations, but overall I think it's good.

Al Maviva said...

60:40. That's the ratio, +/- 2%, of females to males in undergraduate institutions. The percentage of males drops every year, in spite of preferences similar to the ones reported here.

No educational crisis for boys to be seen here folks... move along.

CB said...

The most interesting aspect of this situation, to me, is whether there will be a runaway effect now that students know the rules of the game. Will girls now work harder and apply to more schools, while boys slack, knowing they will likely be admitted to their first choice? The result of that would be an even greater imbalance, leading to a need for even harsher discrimination. I don't see how an equilibrium could be reached.
I see a similar problem with the proposals to hold teachers responsible for their students' performance. Once the students know that their teachers, and not themselves, will be punished for their poor performance, what motivation do they have to work hard?

Icepick said...

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options?

God, I love being a man. Even when things don't go our way, things go our way.All that equal rights for women stuff just means we get to goof off more! (Framed more positively, it means we've become more efficient: We're accomplishing the same goals with less work!)

More seriously, the sentence I highlighted from the article does single out men, but why wouldn't the same logic apply to any other group targeted for affirmative action?

Icepick said...

cb, if only teachers are held accountable, what you describe will likely happen. But if you also hold students accountable that shouldn't happen. If the students fail, then hold them back. Don't let them be promoted, don't let them graduate. That way the students AND the teachers have reason to work hard.

Bruce Hayden said...

I am not overly worried that kids will get off at the expense of teachers.
After all, they are usually competing with kids across the country, and if they are not prepared for college, there are plenty who are. If a school gets a reputation as being weak, colleges take this into account, more often negatively.

MadisonMan said...

It's interesting to read the op/ed substituting 'black' for male and 'white' for female. Or 'Christian' for female and 'Jew' for male. The permutations are endless, and they all leave a bad taste.

Jake said...

As one male college student said, “The main thing I have learned in high school and college is that Men-bad, Women-good.”

Bruce Hayden said...

We have been through this before here, but part of the problem is that girls are preferred in school from very early ages. Lower school teachers are mostly female, prefer girls, and teach accordingly. It used to be that we could cut corners on homework assignments and still get an A in a class by doing extremely well on tests. No longer. Now, homework and such have become important enough that the guy who used to be able to get an A this way, can now only get a B or C. And then colleges look more at grades than SATs now, so that guys are again disadvanted.

Why is this important? To start off with, the obvious one - diversity. It is (IMHO) much more important to have both sexes in college than to have token minorities who happened to go to the same high schools as did the whites (which is often the case for diversity admits now).

Also, women marry (same or) up, and men marry down. This is so engrained that apparently some women are not marrying because of this already, and it is just going to get worse.

In graduate school, and, in particular, afterwords, men, on average, work harder than women. Not because they are harder workers, but mostly because the typical division of work between the sexes is so well engrained. Women then are less willing to forgo work at home and in raising kids to work at their paying jobs than men are.

This is part of the reason that the medical field is looking at a crisis in physicians in a couple of years. Half of med school graduates are women now, but they are apparently far less likely to work the hourse needed to make a big sucess in the practice of medicine, and, indeed, are significantly less likely to pick residencies that require a lot of time and on-call, such as surgery. When the baby boomers go on Medicare, they aren't going to have the surgeons available that their parents did.

Bruce Hayden said...


That is one reason that diversity and affirmative action are such problems. Today's victims so easily turn into tomorrow's victimizers. We saw this with Jews, and are seeing this happen with Asians - who still get preferences at some schools, despite already doing much better at college admissions and graduations than appropriate for their percentage of the population.

Balfegor said...

Or 'Christian' for female and 'Jew' for male.

Strictly speaking, shouldn't that be the other way around? I though the median Jew outperformed the median Christian by a significant amount, like a full standard deviation or so, in the US -- much more than the comparatively slight male-female gap here.

Asians - who still get preferences at some schools,

Where? Where can we get this? Any good schools? It's too late for my sister now -- applications season is over for the year -- but I've a cousin coming up on applications next Fall.

Icepick said...

Upon reading the whole article, I find it amusing that it never seems to occur to Jennifer Delahunty Britz why there are fewer male applicants now than in times past. (And why do women from private liberal arts schools always go by three names? Perhaps their brilliance and accomplishment is too big for two names....)

To quote Al Maviva, "No educational crisis for boys to be seen here folks... move along."

Bruce Hayden said...


I had a long talk recently with an old friend who has an adopted asian kid who is a senior in high school and is applying now for college. He wasn't surprised that so many small schools in the mid-west were willing to give them preferential admission and big scholorships based on race, but I was, esp. given the racial mix these days of the state schools in CA.

Bruce Hayden said...


I had a long talk recently with an old friend who has an adopted asian kid who is a senior in high school and is applying now for college. He wasn't surprised that so many small schools in the mid-west were willing to give them preferential admission and big scholorships based on race, but I was, esp. given the racial mix these days of the state schools in CA.

Icepick said...

Balfegor, you are essentially correct in your comparisons of Jews to Christians. Also, at the top schools the quotas on Asians are CAPS, not floors. If actual academic accomplishment were the sole criteria for getting into the top schools, there would be more East Asians and Jews, and fewer of everyone else.


Not that there's any actual variance between races.


Not that races actually exist.


Not that we even be discussing this.

Bruce Hayden said...

I guess I finally got Blogger Word Verification to screw up - it double posted, rejecting my first post and publishing it just the same.

Henry said...

And what messages are we sending young women that they must, nearly 25 years after the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, be even more accomplished than men...

Isn't that aside about the Equal Rights Amendment curious? It's a throw-away line, but there's something wistful about it as well. If only the ERA had been passed, it could save Britz from herself.

Bruce Hayden said...

My understanding is that Jews are now considered White, which means that they get admitted at higher percentages than would be justified by their percentage in the population. And, thus, Eugene Volokh's observation that approximately half the faculty at the UCLA law school are of Jewish descent.

This is a big change from when I was an undergraduate. When I was in graduate school for my MBA, my girlfriend there bemoaned that she had to go to Brown because most of the other Ivys had very low Jewish quotas at that time, and Brown did not, and so was (according to her), approximately 40% Jewish.

The problem is that caps look bad. So, I expect that Asians will soon be rolled into the White population for statistical / diversity / affirmative action purposes. This looks much better than making the discrimination more obvious, as is done with quota caps.

Bruce Hayden said...

The ERA wouldn't help guys today in college. The biases against them are too engrained and subtle for that, and most evidenced (IMHO) in their K-12 education. By the time they are applying for college, they are demonstrably less qualified on paper than are the girls of their generation.

Ann Althouse said...

Henry: I thought that business about the ERA didn't fit at all. Presumably, the author is SORRY the ERA didn't pass, but the discrimination she describes could just as well be outlawed under the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. It's not the lack of a constitutional text that allows this discrimination to take place. But expecting consistency from this author is pointless. She's just describing what things are like today and musing about how sad it is.

Henry said...

Bruce: I was thinking the opposite. I get the feeling that Britz wishes there was a law to force her to do the right thing -- that is, admit more women over men.

Ann: What are the chances that a suit could be filed on 14th Amendment grounds?

John R Henry said...

The stats on men v. women are for all colleges. What about the stats on students in hard sciences? Engineering? Business? Information technology etc?

I wonder if the ration of men is higher in these vs lower in liberal arts like Kenyon?

Thomas Sowell wrote a couple books about this, though more black vs white than on gender, back in the 80's. At that time, blacks and women tended not to go into "harder" programs than white men. There were various reasons, including discrimination. But the fact remained.

I wonder if that holds true today for women?

Anybody know any studies?

John Henry

me said...

I think most colleges want equal male/female enrollment -- I thought that was what the article was saying?

I submit: Fewer men are going to undergrad and boys are having a crisis in lower school education b/c the way school is structured now is in many ways entirely stupid. To help the the "female crisis" we have completely OVERcorrected our educational system and now it favors homework over tests, style over substance, etc. Who knows how long it will take to make the correction back the other way.

Undergrad is four years of useless busywork for people in less competitive degrees -- why should guys want to it, if they won't get much out of jobwise? My question is, why should women want to do it either? It is a 4 year all expenses paid vacation for the upper middle class kids, but for those who have to pay for it, there's not much value in any degrees except engineering, accounting, computer science, unless you go on to grad school. I think women will burn out on the system soon too -- when they realize all their colorful posters and journals they worked on in college aren't getting them a great job. In my four years, I had about 10 classes that I felt were interseting and educationally valuable. I didn't go to a top school, but I went to the "flagship university" of my state.

INMA30 said...

Is there anything sadder that white male victimhood?

stealthlawprof said...

This discussiuon has been very interesting. I am particularly curious to see the reaction to the article from my son, who applied to Kenyon this year (and is still waiting to hear its decision).

Troy said...

chickens, roosting, Malcolm X [tear]

Is this bad feminist karma?

Coco said...

What are the consequences of young men discovering that:
* colleges have little to offer them (apart from more diversity training)?

What actual non-antecdotal evidence do you have to back this up? What percentage of a mandatory college curriculum contains "diversity training" to the degree that is constitutes it is about all colleges offer? I sure hope that no white high school male (or anyone for that matter) is depending on you for information on the question of "should I go to college?" SOunds like your answer would be no....which would be terrible, terrible advice.

reader_iam said...


Is there anything sadder that white male victimhood?

What age group are you mocking, exactly?

Just curious.

reader_iam said...

As the for the linked editorial itself, words fail.

The Tiger said...

I find the whole situation incredibly funny.

And sad.

But it's where the logic of affirmative action does lead...

[And is a good argument to help turn others against it and for -- Heavens! -- race and gender-blind admissions processes]

David Ebersole said...

Here's the hard statistics.
In her article, Ms. Delahunty Britz states that 55% of her applications were from females.
The population at Kenyon College is 53% Female.
The admissions profile for the most recent Class of 2009 was 54% Female.
There are approximately 1600 Students at Kenyon and there were 446 Admitted for Class of 2009.
(Source: Kenyon College (

If you accept that there is no difference between males and females in the applicant pool (which we'll get to later), these percentages are clearly within the margin of error and no real cause for concern.

Therefore, we are left to rely on Ms. Delahunty Britz's examples to support her assertion that women are held to a higher standard, and that leads to several possible examples, none of which are particularly appealing...

1. She has an agenda to push. I hope this isn't correct, because then we're creating a problem that doesn't exist. I doubt this is the case and, quite frankly, it doesn't lead to interesting discussion.

2. She's a bad example. This has some value, I think. Kenyon is a small, liberal arts school in asmall town in Ohio. This seems to be a profile that would attract more high-quality female applicants than male. (Contrast the gender numbers at Kenyon with a more technical school. Case Western Reserve U. in Cleveland has an UG body and admissions profile at 3:2 Male). Perhaps, the best male students are more likely to choose a more technical education, which would seem to lead to her conundrum.

3. Male UG applicants are weaker, across the board, than female UG applicants. This leads to a whole bunch of problems.
Why is this the case?
What should we do about it?
Should colleges' interest in diversity trump purely merit-based admission?

I lean towards Explanation #2. I think this is bad data and a bad example. The only real evidence that male applicants are weaker is her own statement that "Had he been a male, there would have been little question."
Another problem is that we are essentially debating at the margins. Unless a purely merit-based distribution would result in a significantly greater percentage of women, then this is really just a strawman.

Thanks All,


altoids1306 said...

A few comments:

1. Affirmative Action with respect to East Asians: Yes, there is selection bias, but it is against East Asians. After the UC system was forced to remove affirmative action, Asian enrollment skyrocketed, since it had been artificially kept low by implicit quotas.

As a Chinese, I really don't care...if the bar is set higher, then jump higher. It's like how I used to train for 1500m races by wearing weights on my ankles. Get used to the extra weight, and once the burdens are removed, you can blow away the competition.

2. Female to Male ratio: I feel that that 60/40 sounds about right for college campuses in general, but in hard sciences and engineering, males still dominate. The disparity is even more pronounced in graduate school. The only field of hard science where women outnumber men is biology. (Pre-med track).

3. Diversity and Affirmative Action in general: People aren't stupid. If certain groups or individuals were admitted due to relaxed standards, classmates can tell quickly. In the course of my undergraduate study I probably met 500+ people who I could identify by name. After meeting enough people, the mind begins to classify - and, yes, stereotype - people, both consciously and unconsciously. The brain is a wonderfully sensitive signal processing machine. Affirmative action fools no one.

KCFleming said...

Re: "I sure hope that no [one]is depending on you for information on the question of "should I go to college?" SOunds like your answer would be no....which would be terrible, terrible advice."

Well, in the last 20-30 years, college grads ended up earning about $1 million more (over a lifetime) than those limitied to high school training. That gap appears to be narrowing, however, so the ROI from an increasingly expensive secondary education may not, in fact, be "worth it" any longer.

Similarly, in Canada an England, it is increasingly true that only the richest can afford to apply to medical schools, because the legal limts on doctor salaries make it quite impossible to pay back student loans.

It would be a terrible thing for college to be perceived as a waste of time, but that appears to be a trend.

howzerdo said...

My campus reports that it is 50/50 male/female. In my school of ed classes, I find that usually females far outnumber males, but this semester in my four classes, they are 57%/43% male/female (42 students), 53%/47% male/female (28 students), 40%/60% male/female (24 students), and 20%/80% male/female (30 students). The dynamics are dramatically different between the sections, and it is very interesting. Not sure if this has to do with gender, but the recent attention on the subject makes me want to go back and see what the breakdown was in the past - and revisit my memories of what the dyanamics were then.

I hesitated to comment on this post, mostly because many of the comments about the worthlessness of undergraduate degrees, women's work ethic, racial and gender preferences etc. really bothered me. The fact is that there are strong returns to education...take a look at the census. But to be honest, that certainly isn't what motivated me as a student, or inspires me as a professor. Every semester I hope that my classroom will be filled with students who love to learn. That's much more rewarding than students who are only there because they are seeking a piece of paper that will translate to the almighty dollar. I suspect the different dynamics I sense in my classes is not due to the gender or racial mix. I believe that when the atmosphere is positive, sure it is because I am doing a good job. But also, it is because the love of learning crowd outnumbers the willing to do anything (except put in genuine effort, or you know, maybe even do a little introspective thinking), including cheat to get an A crowd, in the hope that some personnel officer or graduate program will hand them a golden ticket. Gina

Cake said...

@stealthlawprof: Be prepared to wait--theirs was the last I recieved. Good luck to him.

I have to say this doesn't surprise me at all, when I interviewed with their representative in Singapore, she indicated that as a white woman with no "development" money I was less desirable than other candidates (my Asian friends, and this one strange guy who always looked at his wrist watch when he addressed people.) But I have to say that I wasn't sold on Kenyon (and the aid they offered me was laughable) and that I find Wisconsin much more agreeable than Ohio, so it all worked out for the best.

Bruce Hayden said...


I may have been the one who brought up the subject of work ethic. One thing that is interesting to me is that the work ethics of the two sexes are, to some extent, quite different.

In K-12, and, in particular, HS, it seems like females work significantly harder than their male counterparts. I admit that I was bad there - but have to think that our male egos have some part in this. To me, there was just something not very masculine about doing mindless homework that really didn't help me learn a subject. Looking back, I don't really see why my fragile young male ego took such an afront at much of high school and the way it was taught, but I did. And, talking to HS students, this is still going on today. The difference though is that when I was going to HS back in the 1960s, I could still get a lot of A's by acing the tests, even when I didn't get in the homework.

Not anymore. The guys who worked like I did back then, are getting B's and C's, for, in many cases, refusing to do mindless homework, which is now so much more of their grades.

In any case, I do submit that on average females work harder in K-12, and, in particular, HS, than do males. I think it has somewhat to do with the progressive feminization of primary education, and how that conflicts with male egos - but that is just a hypothesis.

But I will also submit that by graduate school and later, things have swapped. It is most likely not that females are working any less hard, but rather that males are now working much harder at one thing, whereas many women spend their time doing more than one thing (like having a job and having a family at the same time).

I attribute a lot of this to males being, on average, more single minded than females. In HS, this didn't matter, and, indeed, may have disadvantaged males, as they had to expend their efforts at multiple subjects at a time - concentrating on any one (like you can do later) only gets them lower grades in their other classes.

A friend, who has hired a number of medical residents over the years, was moaning that while women are now half of graduating physicians, they aren't going into surgery (his specialty). But then, later, he commented that surgery residents are now restricted to 60 hour weeks, down from 120 or so when he was a resident. But why is he surprised that some people don't want to spend their 20s (and often then some) working 60+ hour weeks?

To some extent, the preponderance of males electing this sort of life is because a lot of females seek to balance their lives, and, in particular, spend some of their energy on a family, and maybe on friends too. They may actually be working more hours a week - just not at "work".

I should also note that this is most likely also part of the reason that males get, and will IMHO continue to get, most Nobel Prizes (as well as being in a distinct majority in a number of medical and legal specialtie).

I think that a lot of the problem is that K-12 is innately pro-female and, thus, anti-male, in its approach, and, as a result, we see the college numbers.
But some high paying occupations are pro-male and, thus, anti-female, in their basics, and we are seeing some negative outcomes as a result. It isn't a question really of work ethic in either case, but rather of one type of environment being more conducive to the work ethic of one sex than of the other.

stealthlawprof said...

Cake --

Thanks for the insights. I have always thought that Kenyon was fifth on his list of five, but he could surprise me. A mediocre aid package is, however, unlikely to earn them points.

I do tend to think these things work themselves out for the best. They were not that interested in you, but in the end you really were not that interested in them.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Men are not going to university as much as women because the value of a university degree has gone down over the past several years.