Hugo Schwyzer reflects on a NYT story on college admissions policies and the implications for both genders.
The New York Times reports today on a new study about changing college admissions policies. The big lede is that both public and private colleges are increasingly likely to admit wealthy applicants who won’t need financial aid, even when those applicants have lower grades and test scores than their competitors.
As troubling (though hardly unexpected, given the dreadful economy) as this news is, another part of the story is in danger of being overlooked: more colleges and universities than ever before are giving preference to male applicants—regardless of race or class. Inside Higher Education (the site that commissioned the study) notes that when it comes to competitive admissions men of all backgrounds are now lumped in the same preferential category as athletes, children of alumni, and offspring of donors. Though rumors have persisted in recent years that some colleges did favor men in admissions to try and achieve a balanced sex-ratio, we’ve never had evidence of just how widespread this practice is until now.
There’s no question that the percentage of women receiving bachelor’s degrees has climbed in recent years—and that at the same time, slightly fewer men are attending or finishing university. There are a host of hotly debated reasons for this shift. Some, like Leonard Sax, argue that boys lack the natural ability to focus that girls possess, and as a result tend to fall behind in school. They may need extra help, a different pedagogical approach – and apparently, preferential treatment in admissions.
But it’s hard to escape the sense that the decision to admit guys with lower grades than their female peers is tied to a panic about the seeming feminization of ambition and success in our culture. In the 1920s, the Ivy League famously initiated quotas to keep down the number of Jewish students, who were considered too bright, too pushy, and too likely to displace the young WASPs in pursuit of their gentlemen’s Cs. In the 1980s, there were widespread rumors that the University of California was taking steps to reduce the very high percentage of Asian students at campuses like Berkeley.
Women, it seems, are the “new Jews” of higher education—forced to be better than everyone else in order to be treated equally.
While affirmative action may make sense for historically disadvantaged groups, it’s absurd to apply less rigorous standards to middle-class white men. To the extent that boys are not as academically successful as their sisters, the blame lies less with the imaginary anti-male bias of the educational system and more with the crude anti-intellectualism of young male culture.
The false belief that “you don’t need an education to be successful” is more rampant than ever among young men of virtually all backgrounds. It is part of a backlash against women’s achievement and the disastrous sense so many young men have that masculine identity requires behaving in ways that women don’t. In this sad calculus, the more women attend college, the more college becomes identified with the feminine—and the less young men want to have anything to do with it. This is not about lack of ability or about different learning styles—it’s about the longing for all-male space.
The culprit isn’t attention deficit disorder in little boys. The culprit isn’t successful girls. The culprit is a Guy Code which prizes as masculine only those things that women cannot or will not do. Rather than punish our daughters and coddle our sons with different admission standards, we need to confront the toxic and worsening anti-intellectualism of young men’s culture.