Too Few Good Men

by Blair Sullivan | 2/21/10 11:00pm

A recent New York Times article discusses the social implications of the fact that, on college campuses across the country, women outnumber men. According to a report by the American Council on Education, females have comprised approximately 57 percent of the national undergraduate student body since at least 2000. The Times article raises an interesting question: should colleges and universities engage in sex-based affirmative action in order to strike an even gender balance?

Some schools have expressed a sense of obligation to admit the most qualified applicants regardless of gender, as doing otherwise might be characterized as unfair. But a school's attempt to level the gender ratio does not seem to be significantly different from race-based affirmative action, which the Supreme Court has deemed constitutional.

The Court's rationale for affirmative action has changed since the practice was first put into place. While sex-based affirmative action may have once been considered improper, it is now consistent with the Court's most recent reasoning. The Supreme Court initially approved the practice of affirmative action in order "to remedy deeply entrenched patterns of state-mandated segregation." By this logic, sex-based affirmative action on behalf of males would not be permissible, since males have never been the victims of systematic discrimination. However, in the case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Court legitimized affirmative action on the basis that the First Amendment provides schools with "the right to select those students who will contribute the most to the robust exchange of ideas'" and that diversity is "of paramount importance" to a University's mission.

If one agrees with this logic, it is difficult to deny that sex, like race, contributes to this "robust exchange of ideas." I have never taken a Women and Gender Studies class, but I imagine that in a predominantly female area of study, the male perspective is highly valued. And I am sure that the men of Dartmouth had much different classroom experiences once females were admitted to the College.

Academic experience aside, colleges and universities have an interest in the quality of life of their students. Some female students at the University of North Carolina quoted in The Times article seem pretty miserable with their social lives as a result of their school's predominantly female campus. Factors like these have an impact on a school's reputation and, therefore, its attractiveness to prospective applicants. While schools like UNC may not want to turn away top female applicants by admitting less qualified males in their places, these women may turn away from the school of their own accord in light of a skewed gender ratio. I imagine that The Times article certainly isn't going to be a selling point for UNC admissions.

It is interesting to consider these issues in the context of Dartmouth. Our undergraduate student body ratio is essentially even at 49 percent male and 51 percent female. Yet some women are unsatisfied with the social scene, lamenting the lack of female-dominated social spaces. While the Dartmouth social scene may not be perfect, when comparing our situation to that of the UNC women, some positive elements of the frat scene come to light.

The UNC female students interviewed for The Times article expressed the difficulty of competing for the attention of their male peers on campus. One female student said the uneven ratio gives men all of the control, and that some girls will actually tolerate a boyfriend's cheating in order to hang on to him. Another woman said that it was not uncommon to see "six provocatively clad women hovering around one or two guys at a party or a bar." This certainly does not resemble the scene in Dartmouth frat basements. If anything, guys are the ones going out of their ways to vie for the attention of their female peers.

While female-male interaction certainly is not all about winning the attention of brothers in frat basements, Dartmouth, with its even gender ratio, seems to have something that the women of UNC desire.