To the Editor:
In “The Muddled Politics of Male Gender Preferences” (March 18, 2011), Richard Whitmire accuses the American Association of University Women of being “mute” regarding possible educational discrimination against women. Calling the AAUW mute on such issues is like saying a jelly doughnut is fruit and fiber—it’s laughable. We have addressed the question of admissions discrimination to achieve gender balance on campus.
In a Nov. 18, 2009, article in U.S. News & World Report, I said that gender, and other characteristics, factor into the process of making a diverse student body, and that socioeconomic diversity on our nation’s campuses is critical. If we focus on preparing disadvantaged boys and girls for college, we’ll be much closer to addressing this nation’s persistent achievement gap than if we focus on gender alone. This isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do to create a competitive workforce in the global economy.
Moving beyond Whitmire’s poor word choice, it’s clear that he has a particular bone to pick on matters of sex discrimination—but he’s cherry-picked the wrong tree to make his case. The nationwide numbers show no widespread sex-based admissions bias. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2003 and 2008, women were admitted to college at a rate that is, on average, 2 percentage points higher than that for men. So, where’s the beef? The AAUW certainly doesn’t have one.
The AAUW takes on gender balance and other issues in its report “Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education.” Some key facts fly in the face of Whitmire’s gloom and doom on this matter: A gender gap in college attendance is practically absent among those entering college right out of high school. The actual disparity is largely due to older-student enrollment, where women outnumber men by almost 2-to-1. Having been in the workforce, these women recognize that education is the best way to get solid jobs with benefits. With manufacturing jobs declining, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more men realize the same thing and head back to school.
Whitmire thinks the AAUW has somehow declared a ban on gender-balancing discussions out of self-preservation. First, numerical parity on campus is important, but hardly the only indicator of gender equity. Second, if I thought true equality had been achieved, I’d be more than happy to turn out the lights and chain the doors.
Director of Public Policy and Government Relations
American Association of University Women
A version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2011 edition of Education Week as AAUW Far From Silent on Gender Bias in Education