News, Views and Careers for All of Higher Education

Affirmative Action for Men

When admissions officers gather to create a freshman class, there is a large elephant in the room, wrote Jennifer Delahunty Britz, in The New York Times last week: the desire to minimize gender imbalance in their classes. Britz, the admissions dean at Kenyon College, wrote that her institution gets far more applications from women than from men and that, as a result, men are “more valued applicants.” Britz discussed a female candidate who was considered borderline by the Kenyon team but who — had she been a he — would have been admitted without hesitation.

Why is it important to favor male applicants? “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,” Britz wrote.

The gender gap in undergraduate enrollments is, of course, no secret in academe. Women are solidly in the majority (about 57 percent nationally) and their percentages are only expected to increase in the years ahead. The gender gap first started to show up — more than a decade ago — at liberal arts colleges, with educators guessing that men preferred larger institutions or the engineering and business programs more prevalent at universities. But recently, the gap has started to show up at flagship public universities, too: Some board members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were so stunned in May to learn that this year’s freshman class would be 58 percent female that they asked if it was time to institute affirmative action for men.

Chapel Hill isn’t going that route, but Kenyon is. And while Britz’s column stunned many applicants and parents and frustrated many advocates for women, its substance didn’t surprise admissions officers. While few admissions officers wanted to talk publicly about the column, the private reaction was a mix of “of course male applicants get some help” along with “did she have to share that information with the world?”

Is It Legal?

Lawyers who work on higher education law were also intrigued by issues raised by the column, but most wanted to talk on background and more than one asked a variation of the question “did her president know she was going to write that?”

The reality is, however, that Kenyon is unlikely to face any legal problems for its policies — although if Chapel Hill took the advice of those trustees who wanted to adopt a pro-testosterone admissions policy, it would be in trouble. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bars gender discrimination in all education programs at institutions receiving federal funds (all but a handful of colleges). But Title IX has an important exemption: On admissions decisions, the statute covers all vocational, graduate and professional programs, but for undergraduate admissions, it applies only to public institutions. Kenyon, as a private institution, isn’t covered.

Private institutions are covered in terms of how they treat students once they are admitted, and that includes athletics. That could be relevant to the admissions issue because one reason cited by advocates for affirmative action for men in admissions (although not cited by the Kenyon dean) is that a lopsided gender ratio in enrollments can make it more difficult to comply with Title IX in athletics. That’s because the most straightforward way to comply with Title IX’s rules for athletics participation is to demonstrate “proportionality” — that the percentage of female athletes is roughly the same as the proportion of female undergraduates. Institutions that are majority female and that have a football team often find proportionality daunting.

Several lawyers familiar with Title IX said on background that they found intriguing and potentially illegal the scenario where a private institution favored male applicants (in theory legal) to build male enrollments so that sports programs for men could be protected over programs for women (potentially illegal).

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is charged with enforcing Title IX, and released written answers to questions prompted by the Kenyon column. At a public institution, the department said, regulations “prohibit treating individuals differently on the basis of sex, including giving preferences on the basis of sex.” The only exception to this, the department said, would be “affirmative action to overcome the effects of conditions that resulted in limited participation in the recipient’s education program by person’s of one sex.”

The Supreme Court has never ruled on the use of gender-based affirmative action in higher education. But the OCR statement noted that in the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision finding that Virginia Military Institute, as a public institution, could not deny admission to women, the justices said that under the Constitution, any public institution using gender-based distinctions in admissions needed an “exceedingly persuasive justification” that was “substantially related” to an “important government interest.” While trying to read the minds of Supreme Court justices is risky, it seems hard to imagine that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, author of the decision, was thinking about a good ratio of dance partners as such a government interest.

In 1999, the University of Georgia was sued by a white woman for its use of an admissions formula that gave extra points for being male and/or a minority applicant. Had the woman been a black man, the extra points for race and gender would have put her above the admissions cutoff level, but she was instead rejected. Even before a federal judge rejected Georgia’s system as unconstitutional, the university stopped awarding the extra points to men, although it tried without success to defend the way it was using race in admissions.

Affirmative action in college admissions has been subject to much litigation, but the focus has been on race and ethnicity. In the landmark decision in 2003 upholding the right of colleges to use race in admissions, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that limited use of affirmative action was justified to create a critical mass in a student body, because of the educational value of such diversity. But her decision stressed the limited way race was used by the law school at the University of Michigan, and the Supreme Court at the same time rejected a system used in undergraduate admissions at Michigan that relied more heavily on race and ethnicity.

Some lawyers cautioned against viewing gender and race in admissions in the same legal terms because the Supreme Court has generally subjected racial distinctions to the highest scrutiny. But others — especially critics of affirmative action — said that if the O’Connor standards were applied to gender, public colleges could be in trouble for favoring men, since no one is suggesting that there isn’t a critical mass of men in higher education.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group opposed to affirmative action, said policies like Kenyon’s “should not be legal.” He said that O’Connor was apparently swayed by educators’ arguments that if they didn’t reach some figure — say 5 percent — in terms of black enrollment, qualified black students would enroll elsewhere. “But there’s no way you can say that without affirmative action for men, you wouldn’t have some minimum level,” he said.

Is it Right?

Just because private colleges appear to have the legal right to favor men in admissions, that doesn’t mean that they should necessarily do so. But many admissions officials say that policies like that at Kenyon are entirely appropriate.

Joyce Smith, executive director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said that the uproar over the Kenyon column misses the reality that admissions officers favor all kinds of groups. “Institutions want to have a diverse class and you want all kinds of representation,” she said. Smith noted that many colleges have outreach programs for women in math and science programs, and said that the social realities of a college class are a real factor.

“If you have a dance, you have to have enough folks to dance with,” she said.

At Kenyon, while there is a gap, dancing is probably still possible. The college currently has 770 men and 870 women — a gap of under 5 percent. But the gap is larger in applications (1,848 from men and 2,400 from women). In terms of applicant quality, female admitted students topped male applicants on the verbal portion of the SAT, 705 to 681, while men bested the women on the math section by a smaller margin, 675 to 665.

To the extent that Kenyon is favoring male applicants, that poses both personal and professional concerns for Jocelyn Samuels. She is vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center and has a daughter who is waiting to find out if Kenyon has admitted her for the fall.

Samuels said that she believes strongly in the value of diversity, and that one reason that it was important to have a critical mass of students from different genders or races or ethnicities is so that no one single black person or female or male student must speak for all — as any one person couldn’t do, given the diversity within genders, races, etc. But Samuels noted that the arguments being put forward by colleges — about social life and student perceptions of campuses as too female — weren’t educational in nature.

“I think stereotyping of any sort is a dangerous business and saying that men won’t come to a campus that is dominated by females is the kind of stereotypical thinking that Title IX was intended to prohibit,” she said. She said that she found it “legally problematic” and “missing the point of the educational reasons that the Supreme Court has authorized schools to take race and gender into account” for colleges to be justifying discrimination by saying “we want to make sure our students can get dates.”

Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, was so angry when she read the column in The Times that she fired off e-mail messages to Kenyon’s president and a women’s studies listserv, and posted comments on The Nation’s blog. In an interview, she called the male favoritism “scandalous,” and said people would never stand for the equivalent logic about other groups. “Boys won’t apply to schools that are too majority female? What about whites? What about Christians applying to schools where there are so many Jews. It’s saying that the market place forces [admissions officers] to discriminate. I think it’s shameful.”

Pollitt also said that these policies debase affirmative action, which she strongly supports. “Affirmative action is intended to remedy past discrimination. There is no past discrimination against white males,” she said. She also sees these policies as defining the college experience as social, not educational. “Is this an intellectual endeavor or the prom committee?”

Others were bothered by the column for other reasons.

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said that he definitely sees “consciousness within the profession” about the gender gap in applications, and that the gap has grown large enough at some institutions to cause real concern. But he questioned whether there is really as much unfairness as many people assume because of the Kenyon article. If colleges were so willing to favor men, Nassirian said, there are still enough men applying to college that institutions would be 50-50 on enrollment, and they’re not.

More broadly, he said that the discussion is reinforcing a false sense about college admissions — a sense that is always more of a problem in this time of year, as students await answers from colleges. People have an “idealized image of admissions” in which all the applicants are lined up in some kind of precise, merit-based order and when an admissions dean has lined up her class, she figures out how many slots she has, walks down the line to the appropriate place, and admits everyone on one side and rejects the rest.

“There is no line, and there’s no real consensus on merit,” he said. “If everyone at the top of this imagined line is a cello player majoring in nursing, you will skip over the next cello player wanting to be a nurse,” he said. Nassirian noted that there are colleges with strong math-science programs and weaker humanities programs, so would-be poets might have an edge over an engineer. It’s all about context, he says, but now the public will again think there is a magic formula, benefiting men.

For her part, Pollitt hopes that not just women, but men will be angered by policies like that described at Kenyon. “I wouldn’t apply there,” said Pollitt (who was admitted from an all-female applicant pool at Radcliffe College), “and the flip side is that if I was a boy, I wouldn’t want to apply either. Now we know that the boys who go there are stupid.”

Scott Jaschik


Affirmative Action for Men?

Fine points of the legal arguments aside, can a woman really hope to get a good education in a college or university that thinks it’s ok to discriminate against women in admissions? Britz makes a great case for women’s colleges, where women are taken seriously from the start. She’s just plain wrong when it comes to her claim that “Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.” Millions of women gladly attend majority-female universities, and thousands are very happy, satisfied and successful at women’s colleges and universities. There was no hint of a “problem” when men were the majority. The “desperation” of admissions officers dealing with the majority-female applicant pools is proof that the women’s revolution is far from over. We will only have true equality when gender is no longer an issue.

Pat McGuire, President at Trinity (Washington) University, at 7:30 am EST on March 27, 2006

more males in the pool

A truly selective college would have no difficulty finding plenty of males if they gave more weight to SAT scores in their admissions decisions. Since males are more variable than females, at the top five percent (those scoring over 700) there are more males than females on BOTH the verbal and math sections of the SAT.

jungle gymn, Prof at cuny, at 7:45 am EST on March 27, 2006

Affirmative Action for Men a Bad Idea

Why not just have gender-blind admissions? A college still could designate slots for special talents (cello, physics, journalism, athletics, drama). This, of course, would require some courage on the part of a college to allow student activities to be truly student activities — and reflect the composition and character of the entering class.

This issue is not altogether new. At The College of William & Mary in Virginia back in the 1970s and 1980s there was public talk about the quest for the elusive “Virginia Male.” Applicants were conisdered within the pool of one of four categories defined by in-state vs out of state status, and women vs men. One irony was that college counselors from prestigious prep and public schools in the Northeast were upset because so many out of state slots went to athletes — esp women athletes.

What bothers me is the lack of comment on two other troubling parts of the Kenyon Admissions Dean’s article. True, the opening incidengt was poignant — the rejection letter received by an able, achieving student. But note at the end of the article we learn this same student was accepted at 4 out of 5 colleges to which she applied. Is that really a good sign that life (i.e., college admissions) is unfair?

Also, the Dean indicated that admission to college was relatively easy decades ago. I think this might be present-minded in its bias. In 1964 the Ivy Group reported about 6 completed applicants per class slot. And, this was the high water mark for SAT scores.

Note also that some of the signs of the crush to get into colleges today might be inflated by “churning.” About a week ago a front page NYT story told about students who each apply to 15 or more colleges. That drives up the selectivity proportions.

john thelin, Professor at University of Kentucky, at 8:40 am EST on March 27, 2006

men and women in college admissions (Kenyon)

The discussions of discrimination or advantage in college admissions to achieve some kind of gender balance are overlooking the much more serious social and educational concern. Why has the participation rate of young men declined so dramatically? There are no doubt large social and cultural forces at work, but educators must examine what are the factors in schooling itself as well as the nature of the college selection process that may be further alienating young men.

Ann Marcus, New York University, at 8:55 am EST on March 27, 2006

I think the comments about the cello-playing nursing major really throw the entire thing into perspective, but I’m not sure how I feel about that reality. It still seems unfair. Maybe admissions should blind the process to both race and ethnicity! Does anyone know if this has been tried at a large school before?

By the way, note well the comments of the people at The Nation. Affirmative Action is not about fairness today. It is about treating liberal guilt over past wrongs — guilt that betrays an inherent racism. After all, why should a white person today owe something to a black person today for an injustice that involved neither of them, and possibly didn’t even involve their anscestors, unless you are in the business of judging entire races as a whole, and not persons.

Samwise, at 9:20 am EST on March 27, 2006


“There was no hint of a “problem” when men were the majority.”

This is quite possibly the most ridiculous sentence I have ever read.


Steve, at 9:35 am EST on March 27, 2006

Why not just admit blind?

Seems that the best policy would be to admit all people without regard to their silly qualifications. It doesn’t appear to me that other countries that admit based on (gasp) performance on standardized tests and grades (and not extracurriculars, alumni status, race, gender, etc.) are suffering a dearth of productive members of society.


eric, assistant professor at R1 university, at 9:35 am EST on March 27, 2006

AA and “factors”

While I don’t take a position on whether affirmative action is good or bad, and defer to the Supreme Court’s ambiguous case-law (regarding gender) on whether it is legal, I wish to make a few points.

AA has been used to satisfy a perceived need for diversity, and this is an acceptable factor if it is not applied absolutely, but rather as “factor.” This is different than the “guilt” justification or the “fairness” justification. Gutten v. Bollinger, 02-241 (Jun 23, 2003) (“That a race-conscious admissions program does not operate as a quota does not, by itself, satisfy the requirement of individualized consideration. When using race as a ‘plus’ factor in university admissions, a university’s admissions program must remain flexible enough to ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant’s race or ethnicity the defining feature of his or her application.”)

A school might have an interest in creating a class that reflects certain characteristics. Whether such a jurisdiction would pass legal muster or not under the 14th amendment or under the Title IX is a different story. But, at least let us be fair to Britz, who was likely tasked with admitting a class with no major imbalances, on this count.

Pat, I am surprised that you, as an academic, cast aside the “finer points” of legal argument, in favor of declaring people to be “just plain wrong.” Britz may or may not be correct, but it behooves you to explain why.

Secondly, Eric, raises a good point. Perhaps blind admission would be the way to go. In such a realm, nobody would be considered on the basis of extra-curricular activities, interests, or who their parents are. Perhaps a school could give different weights to certain courses in high school taken based on what sort of “interests” the student has. After all, if a student is really interested in something, he would take courses in it. Not just pretend to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Any student that attempts to distinguish himself in a non-quantifiable manner would be automatically disqualified.

Larry, at 10:50 am EST on March 27, 2006

I am a trustee of an all-girls high school and I know the issues discussed are real. It is very frustrating to see “demographics” — desire for gender balance — drive the way colleges admit.

Dan Lundquist, at 10:50 am EST on March 27, 2006

We need to be careful here. This argument about the Kenyon policy is rather quickly reframing the public debate from one about increasing access and participation to a debate about which groups are worthy of favoritism and which groups are not.

We must be sensitive to all students that are lagging behind and experiencing declining enrollment patterns. If we are truly advocates for student success, then we cannot work to exclude some students from our best efforts, no matter how much privilege they already have.

If we continue to criticize each other for focusing on one group of students who have declining participation rates, instead of a more favorite group that is struggling, then we will accelerate the end of public interest in this issue.

We must help students who are less privileged, but we cannot ignore any students (yes, even white males) if we intend to maintain the moral and political capital that allows us to affect change.

Brad Andrews, at 10:50 am EST on March 27, 2006

Affirmative Action

My campus has 70% female freshman, and no one here is complaining much.

Once again, the elite that imposed affirmative action are about to see it come back to bite them. Maybe soon we can put an end to all this nonsense — maybe this will be the trigger to put the whole concept out to pasture, or, more appropriately, the junkyard of ideas.

Eric, your suggestion is absurd. The strenght of progressively selective colleges is their ability to specialize to some extent in training people who work at similar levels, rather than needing to dumb themselves down for those who cannot keep up.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 10:50 am EST on March 27, 2006

Are elites oppressed?

Kevin, What is wrong with being an “elite.” It serves many people well. If you are an “elite” you get to do things without working. For instance, a friend of mine got into law school despite having LSATs under 160 because his parents donated a lot of money. Indeed, I asked a pool of people (randomly selected from outside a coffee shop) who scored under 160, if they would refuse an offer of admission to an “elite” law school if they knew that they were getting in because they were “elite” and none of them said no! Amazing.

Likewise, “elites” run our government, schools, hospitals, and just about everything. Quite well, I might add.

Or, Kevin, are “elites” like “trial lawyers” the new bogeyman that you blame everything on?

Larry, at 11:35 am EST on March 27, 2006

Emphasise SATs? Ridiculous.

Most importantly, we should eschew this notion that emphasis on SAT scores or testing would be a solution to the Kenyon/liberal arts college problem. That kind of college is a small community with certain places that must be filled. In a certain year, an admissions officer might have to take (for example) a quarterback, someone who excells at the backstroke, a dynamic actress, and someone with a stellar track record as an activist. If that weren’t to happen, the community would lose things that are vital to it. At a place like Kenyon, many students’ presences are felt. Individuals count.

Beyond that — SATs are not a exactly a stellar indicator of skills like writing style (which should be somewhat developed before college), capacity for original thought, or genuine enjoyment of intellectual discussion and a desire to take academic life outside the classroom — things that are crucial at a liberal arts college and especially at a place like Kenyon (which has extremely strong humanities and social sciences).


meredith, at 12:05 pm EST on March 27, 2006

affirmative action

my daughter graduated from kenyon this past may—giving me no special insight (save that i think kenyon is a particularly honorable institution—witness the voluntary “outing” of this issue in the first place), but a rather keen interest in this whole brouhaha. so, a few points:

1. the justification for racial affirmative action has long ago shifted from rectifying an historical pattern of discrimination (i.e., a kind of reparations) to “a diverse student body is good for everybody’s education.” the suggested proportions of such diversity are usually, or most often, that of the general population. these two arguments open the door for gender affirmative action that would engineer the student body as close to 50/50 male-female as possible.

2. the frequent equation of race and gender (more accurately, “sex,” but that’s for grammarians) has always had problems, e.g., no separate-but-equal restooms? but compartmentalizing them has drawbacks, too. if he were at a de facto all-white high school, would the gentleman from the all-girls high school complain in public that he hated the way racial affirmative action was driving college admissions? or would the otherwise intellgient katha pollitt say about a college that practices racial affirmative action, that she now knows that the blacks who go there are stupid?

3. the argument that boys just might be by male nature less interested in school, in general, than girls, gives credence to the anti-title IX people who argue that, per capita in college, women are simply less interested in sports than men and, therefore, that basing sports funding on simple male-female percentages in the student body is simplistically fallacious.

4. the arguments the effect on getting admitted or not of an applicant’s voluntary, and more or less academically relevant, persona (e.g., a cello-playing nursing student), from sex and race which, unless you’re a judith butler devotee, are involuntary. a college’s wanting a certain number of lacrosse-playing botanists is a lot different from its wanting a certain percentage of latinos or men in its student body.

5. the crux of the discomfort felt by (us) liberals over male applicants receiving some mild affirmative action comes from our finding ourselves feeling, insofar as female applicants are concerned, “let the chips fall where they may on academic merit alone.” t’were that the case, all those racial “diversity” goals would go by the boards, at least in the short term. and not just against blacks and latinos: i’ve read that if admission were determined only by grades and test scores, the freshman class at UC berkeley would disproportionately (relative to the general population of california) asian.

ah, what a tangled web we weave when first we attempt to, uh, tinker.

Peter Plagens, at 12:15 pm EST on March 27, 2006


Larry, I don’t have a problem with elites when they don’t IMPOSE their will on the rest of us. I don’t mind them so much in elected government because “we the people” put them there. I don’t mind them at the top of the corporations they created or are best qualified to run. I DO, however, object to anti-democratic factions of elites imposing their will through the back-door legal shenanigans and unaccountable tenured positions that have come to characterize business in our democracy.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 12:45 pm EST on March 27, 2006

No matter where you go, there will be elites

Elites will always impose their will on the rest of you people. That is why they are elites. They pass laws, and, it seems decides who gets into your schools. Unless you want to live in a place where there are no laws (which it is doubtful that such a place exists) you will always have to deal with elites.

Indeed, an “objective” decision regarding who gets into a school will also be an imposition of some “elite” view upon others. There are many people out there who think that it is stupid and worthless to have to learn calculus, and the only real measure of worth is one’s knowledge of bible stories!

Further, there are many anti-democratic functions out there. Believe it or not, the entire constitution contains many undemocratic features. People are allowed to say just about anything they want, even if a majority would like them to shut up. The president is only elected ever four years, even if people want to get rid of them! The president can only be re-elected once, even if he is popular! Babies (who, according to some, are human) can’t vote. The mentally ill can’t vote. Criminal guilt is determined by 12 people (not a majority of the populace) and judges review decisions of trial courts. And the list goes on.

I think your problem is that you just want to be an elite, and you want to impose your will on others, and you disagree with the selection of certain people as the elites.

Finally, Kenyon is a private institution, so if you are asking that Kenyon be prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex (in favor of men) you are seeking to be an elite and to impose your will on Kenyon. Which, by the way, is cool with me.

Larry, at 1:05 pm EST on March 27, 2006

I am fortunate to work for a community college where all are welcome and admitted. It is gratifying to see men and women have the same equal opportunity to succeed during the first two years of a higher education. I wish the same were true in the upper division.

Kim Smith, at 1:35 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Gender Blind Admissions is Ridiculous

It seems ridiculous to even imagine a “Gender-Blind” admissions process...diversity in gender for small liberal arts schools is as important (if not more so) than cultural diversity, which seems to be a huge part of the “favoring” on admissions processes...would many people agree with a “race-blind” admissions process as well? Probably not. Then why a gender-blind process, which is pretty much the same thing?

Joshua, Kenyon, at 1:50 pm EST on March 27, 2006

The dirty fact that is often overlooked is that boys still perform better on both sections of the SAT than do girls.

Ok, so little Jane gets into Vanderbilt and not into Penn, and little Mary has to go to Kenyon and not Amherst; cry me a river, folks.

When Britz stops awarding “Girls in Mathmatics & Science, etc.” funds to, er, girls, I will take her claims more seriously.

Our business schools (to take a single example) have long been looking the other way when it comes to women’s GMAT scores in MBA admissions.

PhD, U of C, at 2:15 pm EST on March 27, 2006

I was not surprised at all by Ms Hunt’s essay. Over a decade ago, I worked in admissions at a highly selective liberal arts college that grappled with the same gender issues. The institution, which — like many others — had been all-male until the 70s, was trying to figure out how to keep the enrollment balance from tipping too far female. So we sat around tables, too, cringing when we waitlisted superstar females in favor of above average men. The experience taught me these things:

1. I found the whole thing more than a little ironic. The very men on campus who were the ones blasting affirmative action were the same ones we had “dipped a little lower” in the pool to get in order to gain our gender balance. The bottom line, you never know how you got in to college. So before you go representing yourself as a “self made” man/woman — realize you may have gotten a handout you didn’t even realize.

2. The vast majority (I’d say upwards of 85%) of the applicants we received were “qualified” to do the work at the college. They had good grades, high test scores, and lots of activites. But we only took 18% — due to keeping the college small and the available bedspace — thus we could pick and choose the characteristics we wanted to “shape the class".

3. The idea of a meritocracy in anything (college, hiring, where you live, etc) is a lofty ideal but far, far from the reality. Why we expect education to be above the politics and special interest siding of everything else in American culture is beyond me.

4. Politics aside, my own hyprocrisy came into startling view when I realized that if I were choosing a college at 17, I’d want there to be some gender balance!

Name Witheld Upon Request, at 2:25 pm EST on March 27, 2006

AA for men? Let’s Do It!

I say let’s do AA for men. Why not? Then, when they are on campus, and subsequently throughout their lives — regardless of their hardwork, abilities or successes — women and minorities can turn to them and say “You got here just because of affirmative action.”

Betty, at 2:35 pm EST on March 27, 2006


Larry, I seek the end of all affirmative action. I seek the use of no factors besides grades and standardized test scores (including AP, IB, SAT, and ACT scores) for admissions. The other factors do not measure academic ability, and I question the validity of grades compared to the more objective standardized test scores. What I would like to see is a grid with family income on one axis and a numerical score based on the ACT plus fractional points added for AP or IB credit scores to determine tuition and cost. I would like to see this graph have a cut off that is straight, not diagonal because of various political considerations. I hope for an uncomprimised meritocracy, or the closest approximation we can get.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 3:05 pm EST on March 27, 2006

To Ms. Pollitt...

To Katha Pollitt, columnist at the Nation who writes, “Now we know that the boys who go there [to Kenyon] are stupid.” :

Before you make such sweeping generalizations, I would invite you take your head out of the sand and spend some time at the institution you berate. Get to know those stupid boys — the ones who are forming student organizations, leading class discussions, and making this place more diverse (intellectually and socially) than the all-female school you attended. We boys aren’t so stupid after all; on behalf of the boys of Kenyon, I demand an apology.

Yours,Max Thelander, ‘07

max, student at Kenyon, at 3:20 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Kenyon class composition is hardly biased...

As a male who graduated from Kenyon last May, and also one who has personally been involved in public scrutiny of the Admissions process, I would have to say this article is completely wrongheaded and biased. The first thing to note is that I didn’t agree with Britz’s article in the first place. Britz was basically overinflating the importance of gender in admissions — as the following contrast between a quote from her article and an actual admissions fact shows:

“Though Kenyon was a men’s college until 1969, more than 55 percent of our applicants are female” (from the article)— If I recall correctly, it is almost exactly 55%.

Now, contrast this with a claim from Kenyon’s web site, which states that class composition was about “54 percent women and 46 percent men in the Class of 2007″.

So the bias is about 1%? In an entering class of about 450, that is a differential of two more females, and two less males in relation to the applicant pool. Obviously, the bias is huge.

The second point of this post is to point out the massive irony of this article from the standpoint of “women’s rights.” Previously, if women’s right advocates had been told that the applicant pool of women had been less qualified for admission to a school, these advocates would have been in an uproar about social circumstances, gender role inequality, and how this imbalance MUST be accounted for in any admissions policies. Now the tables are turned, and they’re suddenly touting the former “misogynist” viewpoint that only the “most qualified” should be given admission.

The question that underlies the whole debate looms large — is male affirmative action so out of the question? I think not. Here are some statements that seem right to me, and probably have plenty of empirical grounding if you bothered to look into it:

1) Men are given far less social encouragement to excel in academic pursuits.2) Men are frequently forced into lower-paying manual labor jobs straight out of high school, creating a gender-based education disparity that I can’t believe any rational person would support.3) Males are less likely to achieve in high school classes due to modes of socially-acceptable behavior (e.g., acting “like a man” or “being macho” — both of which negatively affect grades).

And that list could go on and on. The point is, this article ignores the multitudes of points that could be used to support Kenyon’s admissions methodology, and focuses on the “letter of the law” and a knee-jerk quasi-feminist reactionary response.

And finally, I find the closing quote of the article absurdly offensive, both personally and from an impersonal viewpoint. So if this policy means the boys at Kenyon are stupid, how stupid must the African-American graduates be? That’s a horrible way to look at it, and certainly not valid. Having actually been at Kenyon for the last four years, I can tell you that my personal observation is that there are a lot of “middle-of-the-road” girls at Kenyon — people who are hard workers, and probably achieved well doing that in high school, but bring nothing to the table in advanced intellectual discussion. The boys, on the other hand, tend to either be filler “rich kids” who pay the top of the class’s tuition but do poorly in school, or extremely intelligent, dedicated individuals that run some of the best groups on campus, achieve some of the highest academic honors, and outclass almost all of those women that seem to literally have been cut straight out of the 90-92 percentile of their graduating high school class.

Tris, Kenyon, at 3:25 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Elites versus Elitism and affirmative action for who?

The first translates loosely as “undeserved privilege” and the second as merit or at least competence in running things well (aside: government? –you’ve got to be kidding). The first kind of elite is bad; the second is good, except in college admissions. In this time of March Madness, no one disputes that the Elite Eight got there by winning basketball games, and to be elite (among the best) in sports is a good thing. Few people have qualms about colleges recruiting and fielding the best athletes even if those athletes are functionally illiterate. Yet when it comes to non-athletic admissions decisions, supposedly based on academic standards, being elite becomes a bad thing and we come up with all kinds of reasons not to be “elitist”. It’s ok to have discriminating standards in sports (proven excellence) but discriminating standards in academics are, well, discrimination and colleges strain to find reasons to admit students with sub-standard performance whether it be on the SAT or high school grade point average.

The outrage expressed by some over the very idea of affirmative action for men is rather amusing in light of the ongoing and vociferous call for affirmative action for women in physical sciences and engineering since women are underrepresented in these fields. Women already outnumber men in college in general, so what’s wrong with a little affirmative action for the underrepresented men. (And I say this as the father of a high school senior daughter who is eagerly awaiting word from several “elite” institutions, Kenyon not among them.)

Bob, at 3:35 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Ideological Admissions Practices

Kevin,Your utopian notions of ideological admissions practices seem truly charming but greatly unrealistic on many fronts. Your practices would seem to account for a universal education system where all students received identical instruction, where outcomes were equal, and inputs stayed constant. The reality is that our educational system is not universally equal, at any level, and nor will it ever be. So the philosophical notions of admissions professionals placed into practice try, at best, to account for the lack of equality in the educational system at all levels.

Admissions Professional, alum/admissions professional at Kenyon College, at 3:45 pm EST on March 27, 2006

“So the bias is about 1%?”

That’s assuming that the pools of male and female applicants are exactly equal in quality.

jcl, grad student, at 4:30 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Admissions Professional, Why would a school want to admit someone who is less qualified simply because they came from an inferior educational background? Personally, I don’t have much sympathy for people that went to bad high schools or colleges, because I only want to deal with the best and brightest. Why does your school admit lesser people?

Kevin, While your idea of a grid which plots income against test scores is a good one, I know at least 20 ways to manipulate family income. Anyway, I am with you: I don’t see a need to admit poor kids into college unless they have a track record just as good, or better, as the rich kids.

Alternatively, we could simply admit students based on random selection. I really don’t think colleges would be any different.

Larry, at 5:10 pm EST on March 27, 2006


The vision isn’t so much utopian as a recognition of reality. Some people are better educated or better prepared for whatever reason, and no amount of whining or rationalizing about “social injustices” done them or “discrimination” fostered on them changes the fact that they are, according to the objective measures (ie standardized tests) not as prepared or capable. We should stop taking extraneous factors into account and rate performance alone. I use the example of the Olympics — runners from the third world don’t start halfway around the track to compensate for the lost of opportunity and discriminatory pracitice of not having first world equiptment, nutrition or coaches. They compete on the same basis and are given no special treatment by the judges or scorers. The same should be true of our educational system, which has moved very far indeed from meritocracy.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 5:30 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Management by quota?

Note: previous Bob not as good-looking, kind, or intelligent as original Bob (Bob. A).

IMHO, the average person is for fairness, reasonability, and even-handedness. If the U.S. ran itself by test results, we’d be Japan.

Hard to believe, many parts of the U.S. pride themselves on their INABILITY to follow educational rules (e.g., S. Jobs, B. Gates, M. Dell, D. Ernhardt Jr., LeBron James, GWB/Kerry/Kennedy). Heck, Martha Stewart doesn’t have a Harvard MBA (but did have a well-connected lawyer-hubby, now ex-hubby).

So it is with some amusement when my acquaintances at “The Nation” crowd bemoan the column by the Kenyon staffer. Do they want the U.S. to become Japan, to have career position determined by test score?

Yo, “Nation” folks. Upset about lack of representation somewhere? Focus your economic power embedded in worker pension funds and insist on change — “f” the 60’s demonstrations.

Bob (original one — Bob A., at 6:40 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Elitists/Special Admits

The largest difference (scale and impact) between the Elitist (legacies, big donor families, children of board or faculty) special admits and the AA special admits?

The latter will probably work extremely hard* if they are ever appointed to coordinate disaster relief after a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Of course as a secondary impact, the board is probably estatic that the legacies (et alia) mostly pay their tuition and fees (without working two jobs that might distract them from navel-gazing) for the “gentleman’s ‘C’” grade.

(*except those lazy white males)

Dr. F. Gump, at 8:25 pm EST on March 27, 2006

When I was helping my son a couple years ago prepare for the financial part of entering college, we looked at hundreds of scholarships to see if he could apply for any. We saw dozens and dozens of female-only scholarships. We never saw a single male-only scholarship. That’s probably a factor in whittling down the number of boys who will go to college.

steve2, at 8:25 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Larry, your comments are extremely don’t care about if people came from a poor educational background or didn’t have the opportunity to be smart like yourself. Obviously, that’s not why America was thought of as “the land of opportunity". It seems in your “ideal” society that people who had the random chance of being born to a poor family has and should have absolutely no chance of making anything out of him/herself in the world. Fortunately for the educational system, and those less fortunate than yourself, admissions committees want a more rounded student body that can boast more than just standardized test scores and GPAs. Diverse backgrounds lead to a more lively student body that in turn leads to academic growth and understanding. True, it doesn’t seem “fair” that someone who is less qualified is accepted over someone more qualified from a purely academic standpoint, but how is coming from a poor educational background considered fair? True, the olympics award the gold to the single best, but unlike the olympics an academic education isn’t all about “being the best". Think also from a practical standpoint...if every school chose the absolute best students that applied to it, and all of those students chose to attend somewhere else, how would its student body turn out? A collegiate education is more than simply “being” the best, but also recognizing the potential for further greateness.

Maverick, “Only the Best and the Brightest” at kenyon, at 8:55 pm EST on March 27, 2006

Kevin: While an admissions system based entirely upon standardized test scores may seem tempting for a larger university that was hoping to cut admissions counselors out of their budget, it’s utterly absurd for a small college with values like Kenyon’s. Jennifer Britz is just one of the incredible, committed staff members in Kenyon’s Admissions Office — they work hard (significantly more than is required of them) to continue a tradition of intelligent, dedicated, and community-oriented students. I don’t know if it was unique to the years I took the SATs, but I don’t recall many questions about, say, personal initiative or social responsibility.

In order to maintain the small, discussion-based classes of which the admissions office boasts, there is simply no way the counselors can accept every student they want. Jennifer Britz is apologizing to those students who were qualified, but had to be cut for any number of reasons. If you look at the numbers in this article, you will understand that the gap between female and male applicants (at Kenyon as well as other institutions) is impossible to ignore. Ms. Britz never asserts that she supports this trend, but she does call attention to it, and I hate to think that she’s taking the heat from every high school student (and parent of every high school student) who is afraid she won’t get into the college of her choice.

In this article, Joyce Smith makes a very valid point: this is just one of dozens of the considerations every admissions office must make as they select a diverse, well-rounded class for the upcoming year. I disagree with her second point, however. Ms. Britz led into a sentence with a light-hearted bit, “Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal...” which I believe this writer (Scott Jaschik) misinterpreted as her priority in accepting male students. It certainly sounds as though Jocelyn Samuels was upset by this statement. If the admissions office were held responsible for the students’ Saturday nights (in addition to grades, test scores, ethnicity, maturity, location, and a hundred other factors), they wouldn’t have time to mail those acceptance letters.

All humor aside, I am outraged that Katha Pollitt would conclude that “the boys who go [to Kenyon] are stupid.” Though it’s growing tougher for females to get into Kenyon, declaring that the males who are admitted are unintelligent is absolutely unfounded. Small, liberal arts schools are universally difficult to get into, and Ms. Britz did not intend to diminish the achievements of the men at Kenyon by apologizing to the talented women who will not be able to attend next year. In order to maximize the potential for these incoming students to succeed, the hard-working folks in admissions are doing their best to balance interests, backgrounds, and yes, gender. It may sound unfair, and Jennifer Britz eloquently stated that this situation is undesirable, but I hope students don’t avoid applying to Kenyon (as Ms. Pollitt might) because our dean of admissions wrote to the New York Times about it.

Kirsten, Sophomore at Kenyon College, at 9:35 pm EST on March 27, 2006


Kirsten, it is difficult if not impossible to accurately test personal initiative. Extracurricular activities are not nearly as good a gauge of initiative as many make it out to be. Anyone can swiftly add many extracurriculars to their college applications; anyone can sign up for lots of clubs or organizations. To most people I have spoken to, including people who have attended Ivy league, nationally known liberal arts and top research schools, as well as community colleges and places inbetween, these activities are used as a means to get into college, not because of any real commitment to them. Nor do these activities, even when the commitment is real, reflect academic ability, which is the reason we have the progressive levels of college selectivity: to specialize in instruction appropriate to a certain level of academic ability. Activities, even when sincerely pursued, do nothing to reflect ability in this area.

Social views should be outside the realm of admissions. Any that excludes people with whom they disagree loses a great deal of potential for the honest debate and discussion that higher education once promoted. Additionally, it is quite difficult to accurately assess these perspectives, just like activities.

The great strenght of standardized tests are their immunity to bias. The measure an objective skillset that cannot be faked or covered over or negociated around.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 4:20 am EST on March 28, 2006

Kevin, did you say that standardized testing are immune to biasness? How about the hundreds or perhaps thousands of SAT scores deemed inaccurate by the College Board? How about the fact that one can usually get a higher score by engaging a SAT tutor or getting the most expensive test-prep materials? How about cultural biasness — Not many people (refering to International students) know about Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln. The fact is that no criteria used in judging applicants or people in general is perfect.

What Kristen is trying to say is that admissions should be holistic like what Kenyon or many selective Liberal Arts Colleges have been doing all the while by having the 10 admissions officers read your applications again and again instead of letting a computer decide. And ECs is just one factor in admissions. There are other factors, such as an interview (which Kenyon strongly advocate for), many short questions, essays, counsellor’s report, teachers’ recommendation and your school transcript. All these are used to paint a picture of the applicant. And seriously Kevin, people can tell the difference between someone who is really passionate about something versus someone who do something for the sake of college admissions. You will realise that the depth of the activities you pursue is more important than the number of activities you participate in. So, “signing up for lots of clubs or organizations” will not lead you far in admissions into the top colleges. And when it comes into creating a class, colleges take into account the diversity that you will add to their class, and sadly, there is such a thing called gender diversity. It’s just like if there are too many singers in the applicant pool, the school can only limit the number of singers they take in.

And seriously, I dont know why Jennifer Britz or perhaps Kenyon College is getting most of the heat for something what most selective colleges in this country are doing. I can tell you that any colleges whose gender ratio is close to 50/50 like that of Wesleyan practises a policy like that.

And I must admit that I have never seen such a courageous lady pointing out such practices and admitting that “discrimination” does occur in Kenyon. She definitely deserves some credits for that. Ms. Britz purpose for that article is actually to bring people’s attention to a problem that is looming large which needs urgent attention. But from the comments I read, it (her orginal purpose in writing that op-ed) definitely did not turn out to be the case. Instead of addressing the bigger problem, people (eager applicants or parents who’s daughters applied to Kenyon) are condeming this “iniquitous” act Kenyon practises or preaches.

Kenyon is a private institution and can of course decide what is best for her. And at a small institution like hers, each and every individual counts. Every one who chose to attend will impact/affect each other in someways, unlike in a bigger state university. Thus, selecting a class that mirror that of a gender ratio close to that of America’s will help in the sense that it reflects the real environment one will step into when one graduated from college.

With regards to this statement “once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive", I would agree that the statement is true. If you compare Kenyon to women’s college that of Kenyon’s calibre like Mount Holyoke or Smith, you will see that these institutions are not as selective as Kenyon, albeit they are both fine institutions. And this is empirical evidence actually.

And contrary with what Ms Pollitt might think of Kenyon males, I have applied to Kenyon not knowing that such unconcious policy exist in the first place and that I must present myself to the admissions committee as well as my female counterparts do. I am thankful actually to be admitted to such a prestigious college in the first place. Rest assured Ms Pollitt, neither me nor the peers (males) I have interacted with are stupid. In fact, I am simply amazed at the qualifications they present, the activities they have taken on prior to attending Kenyon, their eloquence and their enthusiasm about Kenyon College in general. The asinine and sweeping statements you have made with regards to Kenyon males do reflect your (Ms Pollitt’s) professional/job ethics well and they also simply reflect the kind of excellent education you have received over at a now-defunct women’s college, Radcliffe. And lastly Ms Pollitt, I would say that there are more urgent issues for you to cover in this nation than to grapple with trivial issues like your so-called “sex discrimination” (which isn’t true) in a private college, a college that do not depend much on federal fundings (i.e. your money unless of course you contribute annually to the Kenyon funds which I doubt so). Lawsuit? I would urge you to bring it on. At the least I know that I am heading to a school that has diverse views and people come August. And that I, as an individual, is taken seriously.

Yap, A Male member of the Class of 2010 at Kenyon College, at 6:30 am EST on March 28, 2006

Reply to Maverick

Maverick, I am sorry that you are disturbed by my ideas. Indeed, if I was an admissions professional I would not care about a candidate’s background. Why? I am would not be in the business of saving the world. While America might rhetorically be the land of opportunity, it would not be my job to ensure that it actually IS the land of opportunity. Instead, I am in the business of creating a class that reflects a certain profile. This profile, according to many, involves as many as possible “high achieving” people as possible, because those people are more likely to do better, achieve more in the future, and perhaps donate more. In truth, in my experience “diverse” records of achievement mean that there are kids that didn’t achieve much, won’t achieve much, and probably will drop out. If they were really serious about achieving something before college, they would have done so. But, they didn’t. So, you are right. I would want to construct a class filled with people that are the best and will continue to be the best. (I would be good at it, too, because I can spot a padded resume in a flash.) I am sorry if you found this disturbing.

Larry, at 8:00 am EST on March 28, 2006

Males on campus

As a male working at School of Nursing, allow me to present another prespective on this issue. The nursing profession has been dominated by females for most of its existence. The very name of the profession, “nurse", alludes to a physical act that can only be performed by females! for the past several years, we have been struggling to overcome the current nursing shortage. The one constant that never seems to change is the lack of males in nursing. Even in the midst of the worst shortage in our history, we still cannot attract more than 5% to 8% males into nursing. This problem is not only a lack of interest on the part of males, but a sort of underground “good old girls” network that makes sure the profession stays the way it is.

I’ve been fighting to get the name of the profession changed from “nurse” to something less female-oriented like “humanics". People who work on cars are are called “mechanics". People who work on humans could be called “humanics” or some other more despriptive term.

Looks like that will never happen though.

feudi pandola, at 8:25 am EST on March 28, 2006

Affirmative Action for Men

Response to Larry’s comment on college admissions and the task of creating a class, not “saving the world. . “

Some time you ought to read your institution’s charter, let alone IRS 501 © 3 conditions that provide your institution all kinds of exemptions, benefits, privileges, et al. Were those documents ever enforced, your public point of view might jeopardize the historic and legal amenities provided colleges. You and your institution may not have a requirement to “save the world,” but as a matter of fact you do have some very strong obligations to serve society in some important ways that may not be fulfilled by “creating a class according to a certain profile.”

john thelin, professor at university of kentucky, at 10:10 am EST on March 28, 2006


Like I said, my campus is currently 70% women and I hear no one complaining. I would much rather be around women at or close to my academic level then men below it. I don’t think I’m alone in that. We manange to pull off dances, socials and various other pair or couple activities without a problem.

Affirmative action is distorting the landscape of admissions. We have set aside classes apart — encouraging more women here (graduate sciences for instance) and less there(undergraduates), and more minorities here, and somewhere, a less there. The utter arrogance of administrators that believe their universities allow for social engineering, and that it is not only their right, but their obligation to decide what color or sex should be destined for what is not only astounding, but appalling. I applaud those who revealed one more abuse of this excessive power, but I am disappointed they only criticized this particular expression of it, rather than Affirmative Action in general, or even all proceedings not based on objective merit.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 11:30 am EST on March 28, 2006

no such requirement in 26 USC 501

John, I am not directly employed by an institution. But, various clients have different policy goals as expressed in their charters. Not all of them demand that admissions policies right all of the wrongs of the world.

I am, however, intimately familiar with “taxation” of exempt organizations. There is no requirement in the statute or regs. that such exempt organizations give preference to people with lesser numerical qualifications in order to preserve their status. Read 26 USC 170 and 26 USC 501. It isn’t in there. Likewise, read Rev. Rul. 71-447 (available at ). Therefore, I think you made it up. (I have been in practice for over 11 years now.) Obviously overt discrimination of the Bob-Jones type is a problem, but an “objective” color-blind, background-blind, gender-blind admissions policy will not hurt anyone, or will it results in a revocation of an institution’s 501©(3) status.

Larry, at 12:05 pm EST on March 28, 2006

what’s wrong with it?

Given the history of this subject, it’s easy to see why folks would get upset over an article like Ms. Britz’s. But I would have to say that the effects of gender imbalance in higher ed will leave our society with more problems than it currently engenders for ambitious girls. The real problem is, why are less and less men applying to college, and what will our society look like when less and less men are college educated? I am deeply proud of the accomplishments of my fellow females, but I’m also deeply worried that nearly every award I’ve ever won, every special class I’ve taken, every extracurricular group I’ve been a part of, has been dominated by females—where are all the men? Granted, I’ve tended towards activities that are heavy in the humanities, which are traditionally the province of women, but this was also true in Model Congress and study abroad. Weighting men’s applications more than women is just a temporary solution for a larger problem—but if we let men’s education slide in the short term, the problem will only get worse.

Additionally, I feel that gender balance should fall under exactly the same rationale as racial diversity. Just as people from different racial or socio-economic backgrounds bring different perspectives to a college community, so do women and men think and act differently in ways that enrich their mutual understanding. I respect all-female colleges, but I suspect there is a reason why most women choose not to attend them.

Melissa, at 12:25 pm EST on March 28, 2006

affirmative action for men


I don’t think I said anything about an imperative that a college must admit certain groups or whatever. But I am pretty certain that many college charters plus their standing as eleeomysnary institutions make them responsible for certain kinds of higher services — including educational goals. Those may not always be enforced — but that does not mean they do not exist. The purpose of a college is not to “craft a class” — that’s a means to a larger, higher goal. Perhaps reading college charters will shed light on this.

john thelin, professor at university of kentucky, at 3:10 pm EST on March 28, 2006

Red Herring indeed.....

First off, let me say that I find it amusing the amount of attention this article has garnered over another one (

Second, those addressing the underlying issue should be applauded. The fact that college’s are engaging in a form of “selective decision making” on which applicants to admit is not new, nor is it novel. It has been occurring for years. The difference now is that it doesn’t positively effect women and/or minorities — oh no! There are many factors that are contributing to the reported decline in male college applicants, but I agree with others that the real question is why fewer male applicants are applying, not this so-called injustice.

Reasons for fewer male applicants (just off the top of my head):- more financial aid opportunities for non-white, non-male college students- increases in the cost of higher education coupled with the previous reason- increased emphasis on girls going to college over the past couple decades with no corresponding encouragement for boy’s- employers have devalued degrees to some extent

Befuddled, at 3:10 pm EST on March 28, 2006

Talking Charters

Mr. Thelin, Why don’t you pick a random school’s charter, and show me how it demands non-blind admission.

True, some schools (such as Dartmouth) seem to express a preference for some minorities. In fact, Dartmout’s charter seems to DEMAND affirmative action. In fact, it reads, “KNOW YE, THEREFORE that We, considering the premises and being willing to encourage the laudable and charitable design of spreading Christian knowledge among the savages of our American wilderness” (5th paragraph from the top).

But, outside of this, there does not seem to be any great demand in a college charter that it educate the dumbest of the dumber, or anything but the smartest. Perhaps you can correct me.

I should note that the job of “crafting a class” is usually what the mandate of the admissions department is. Educate people usually falls to someone else.

Larry, at 4:30 pm EST on March 28, 2006

a few points

I am an admission counselor at a “highly selective” small, residential, liberal arts college, similar to Kenyon. In reading the postings, I felt the need to chime in with a few points.

To Kevin: you mentioned that “(you) would much rather be around women at or close to (your) academic level then (sic) men below it.” First, I’m assuming you’re not a student at Kenyon. Regardless, if you’re at a selective liberal arts college, I find your statement somewhat humorous. “Name witheld upon request” offered a great point in an earlier post. S/he said, “The vast majority (I’d say upwards of 85%) of the applicants we received were “qualified” to do the work at the college.” This is the case at my institution, as I’m sure it is at a lot of other institutions. Most of our applicants are extremely bright, receive great grades, and test very well. We received 3,588 applications for a total of 265 spots, so how are we to differentiate between applicants? You advocated using a system where SATs and grades are the only factors. As idealistic and nice as that is, you completely overlook differences between high schools. I speak not just of the differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots” but also, for example, certain elite private schools are notorious for grade deflation. You cited AP and IB credits...what about high schools that do not offer AP or IB designated classes? I realize one could prepare on their own for the exam, but by now, hopefully my point comes across clearly—there is no objective ‘be all, end all’ solution available.

A second issue that was not discussed is institutional priorites. Colleges are businesses. Students and their parents are paying customers. I often get asked the question, “what is the difference between your college and X college?” Parents want to know why they should pay 30k-40k a year to send Junior to my institution. Differentiation is a simple reality and colleges seek a diverse crop of students not just for the potential to improve their campus life and discussion, etc., but for other bonuses. A 50/50 male female balance is good for campus dynamnics AND parents like hearing that during information sessions. They like hearing 70/30 in-state/out-of-state ratio, or that 36% of our students are students of color because Junior will be exposed to students with different backgrounds. Like most colleges and universities, our President and Board of Trustees have given us a few things to think about while reading. Obviously, our chief goal is to admit a great academic class, but we’re also charged with shaping a class that offers more than just 265 academic all-stars. We need quaterbacks, dancers, pianists, etc. ...And then development office likes to weigh in from time to time with “special cases"...after all, who doesn’t want a new science building or athletic facility on campus?

In short, let’s not go crucifying Ms. Britz for what she wrote. At a school that looks to fill 441 spots from a pool of 3,929, all the while appeasing the president, the development office, the alums, the coaches, and (apparently) the masses, she does a pretty great job.

Joe Counselor, counselor at a selective LAC, at 7:35 pm EST on March 28, 2006

I couldn’t agree more with Joe. To let you guys know, Kenyon really takes pride in the fact that they do know each and every of their applicant well. In fact, I find Kenyon’s admissions process perhaps the most personal I have encountered while applying to 6 selective LACs. I mean not many Dean of Admissions seek to understand prospective students that well and that personal. And mind you, Kenyon’s applicant pool this year has swollen to 4248 applicants which means more work needs to be done and also, more people to appease actually.

Yap, at 8:55 pm EST on March 28, 2006


Joe, there is a difference between being competent and being the best available. There are lots of people who could do the minimum amount of work or have the minimum academic ability needed to perform to a certain standard at a selective institution. We should be choosing those with best academics among them, not simply assuming everyone who is “good enough” is now on even footing.

The beauty of the ACT and SAT is the near impossibilty of faking ability on their objective parts (ie the multiple choice). Evaluating with too much emphasis on grades leads into the trap of guessing at high school quality and instructor quality and consistancy.

I noted earlier that my university is selective, and we have 70% females in our freshman class. I have yet to hear much of anyone complain except by way of “Seventy percent chicks and I can’t get a date.” Some people may prefer a 50-50 split, but I’d bet that most wouldn’t be willing to give up the intelligent women we have for some slightly less capable men.

Kevin, Undergraduate, at 11:10 am EST on March 29, 2006

JCL’s Grad Student Stats

“‘So the bias is about 1%?’

That’s assuming that the pools of male and female applicants are exactly equal in quality.”

No, that’s wrong. The _actual_ selection bias is 1%. Regardless of the quality of the original applicant pools, the selection bias is 1%. The point you raise is a valid one in this sense: if the female applicant pool is more qualified than the male applicant pool, then there may be more disparity than is apparent statistically, since one would expect that more people from that overqualified pool would be admitted proportionally to their prevalence in the population. Thus, significant differences between the application pools could reasonably affect the “unfairness” to women. However, I do not know of any specific data relating to this matter at Kenyon or other liberal arts schools. It’s not common practice to give statistics on the applicant pool, only on those presented with offers of admission.

Another kink in that statistical puzzle is the fact that girls are statistically more likely to apply to many schools than boys. Thus, the probability of accepting an offer of admission is lower for females than males. The available statistics are about _enrolled_ students. It’s perfectly reasonable that the Admissions board actually accepted a disproportionate number of women (e.g., higher in percentage of offers of admission than would be expected for their share of the applicant pool), but that those women were more likely to not enroll, since they likely had other options (due to applying to more schools). Thus, the apparent 1% selection bias could reasonably actually be a self-selection bias — that is, girls eliminate themselves from the accepted pool more frequently than males. Once again, that would take some extra math to verify. Both of the above are possibilities, but the facts presented warrant only one interpretation — that there is, in fact, only a 1% _enrollment_ difference, regardless of selection criteria. The dynamics of offer acceptance and original admission procedures are far more complex issues, but the actual difference in the resultant class is minimal.

Tris, Kenyon, at 11:30 am EST on March 29, 2006

Gender Bias? Not that I see

The controversy surrounding the admission by a Kenyon admissions rep that they give a bit of favor to male applicants got me to wondering: How widespread is the tendency to admit males at a higher rate than females? To hear most of the outraged responses to this question, you’d easily think that males are the only ones getting an admission boost because of gender.

I have compiled the male and female admit rates for 50 private schools, both liberal arts schools and universities, and will be continuing to add more to the database. For the most part, I am working my way down the US News ranking list, so these 50 schools represent the schools at the top of the list.

Of the 50 schools, 33 do indeed admit one gender over another at a higher rate. Females are admitted at a higher rate than males at 17 of the 33 schools, while males are admitted at a higher rate at 16 of the 33 schools. In other words, the “gender unfairness” many are outraged about is actually quite evenly distributed between the sexes for this set of schools.

The message, I think, is that there is a great deal of institutional variation and no one should assume that just because males are getting a boost in admissions at *some* institutions that they are getting a boost at *all* schools. Indeed, female applicants are still getting a boost at may institutions.

Carolyn LAwrence, at 7:45 pm EDT on April 8, 2006

One way to encourage more men to attend university; Ask the federal government to help by reinstituting the military draft while allowing for a student deferment and a healthy veteran education benefit.

Mac, Assoc. Director of Admissions and Records at California State University, Stanislaus, at 12:05 pm EDT on May 10, 2006

Title IX question

Doesn’t Title IX require that any institution receiving federal funds maintain a population that “reflects the general population"—or some such wording? Our general population is not currently 50/50 white female/white male. Does anyone know what it is? And wouldn’t this ratio—and nothing else—determine Title IX compliance?

I do realize that Kenyon would, as a private institution, be exempt from compliance in admissions. Title IX is not the source of their Admissions Office concern—the decreasing number of white-male applicants is.

Still—what is the national ratio of white female/white male these days?

K, at 9:40 am EDT on May 23, 2006

The Problem With Boys Goes Back to Elementary School

Has anyone examined the gender of the top five percent of graduating high school students? In our local schools, the top high school students are typically girls. It would be fascinating to see an objective study. Just this week, the LA Times had an article on a Latino girl who was first in her class from a very disadvantaged LA high school. She stated that the top ten students in her school were all girls, and she attributes the difference to peer pressures on Latino boys. (Studying is not cool.) At our local schools, it is usually 8 or 9 girls to 1 or 2 boys among the top ten.

My son competed in a regional Bank of America scholarship program. Except in science and math, the winners were about 2/3 female. (And of the boy winners, the great majority were Asian.) At our local high school academic award ceremonies, the majority of winners are girls.

I suspect the problem goes back to elementary school. The huge majority of elementary school teachers are women, so boys have few male role models in the early years. The system in elementary school rewards students who obey, dot the i’s and cross their t’s, and generally, sit still. Good handwriting is a plus.Boys are rougher, more likely to be ADD, less likely to still still, and generally prefer recess and PE. It is no wonder that girls do better. In addition, girls also mature earlier. Come the end of junior year of high school, girls have more academic and civic accomplishments, even if their SAT scores are a little lower on average.

While our K-12 schools reward girls, real life, especially capitalism, rewards boys: risk taking, aggressiveness, questioning the status quo, etc. Sorry to bring up these stereotypes but they are real.

Yes, colleges, especially small liberal arts colleges, should give preference to boys to even the score. Otherwise the girls won’t want to go either. The disproportion is less evident at large universities with good sports teams. Small liberal arts schools need boys too.

Maryann, at 8:25 pm EDT on July 2, 2006

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Admissions Counselor, University of Vermont.
The University of Vermont, established in 1791, is located 90 miles south of Montreal between the Adirondack and Green Mountains on the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont, a city of 50,000, consistently recognized for its quality of life, ...

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