College Gender Bias Investigation Announced

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
December 17, 2009

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will be investigating 19 colleges and universities to determine whether admissions officials unfairly favor male applicants.

While the probe was discussed last month, federal civil rights officials declined to elaborate on which specific institutions would be investigated until yesterday. Inside Higher Ed notes that that the commission will be scrutinizing a wide variety of schools, include religious colleges, selective private institutions, historically black colleges, and moderately selective public and private institutions.

The complete list of colleges and universities that will be investigated include Howard University, Lincoln University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Virginia Union University, Catholic University of America, Loyola College, Messiah College, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, Gettysburg College, University of Richmond, Goucher College, Goldey-Beacom College, Washington College, York College, Shepherd University, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, University of Delaware and University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

"There is no suggestion that any of these schools are doing anything wrong," emphasized Lenore Ostrowsky, the commission's acting chief of public affairs, who was quoted in the Patriot-News in Pennsylvania. "They just fit the profile."

The Washington Post reports that women now outnumber men in higher education by about 60-40 nationwide, primarily because men are more likely to drop out of school, join the military, or go to prison. Consequently, some colleges appear to favor male applicants so as to maintain a more equitable gender mix in their student populations. The Post notes, for example, that at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, 43 percent of male applicants were admitted in fall 2008, compared to 29 percent of female applicants. (Since the commission sought to minimize costs by investigating institutions within a 100-mile radius of Washington, D.C., the College of William and Mary will not be probed.)

Some claim that the investigation is actually a way to raise questions about Title IX, a federal law which demands equality between men's and women's sports and prohibits public institutions from discriminating against students based on gender. Private institutions, however, are permitted by law to consider gender as a factor in admissions.

Reactions to the probe were mixed. "Society is changing dramatically when it comes to gender, and more young women are applying for college than ever," writes Petula Dvorak in The Washington Post. "But that doesn't mean that standards should be changed for anyone based on gender."

But critics argue that the commission is wasting its time. "Will women be happier at campuses in which men make up only 35 percent to 40 percent of the student population?" asks Mona Charen, who was quoted on "Will our society be better off with women outpacing men in education and income? Or might it be better to address the flagging achievement of boys in our school system?"

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