College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

News Flash: ‘Seminal Moment’ in Boy Troubles Debate Evaporates

By Richard Whitmire — March 15, 2011 1 min read
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The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has abandoned its effort to research gender discrimination in college admissions that favors boys. In a 4-3 vote on March 11, the commission gave up on its probe, with the majority of the commissioners saying the data they received from the colleges and universities they selected were too jumbled to compare.

(Sorry, there’s no link to a press release; all I have is an uncorrected transcript of the discussion leading up to the vote to set aside the investigation.)

In theory, the probe should not have been difficult. Some admissions directors and college presidents talk about it openly. When any college population approaches 60 percent female, unpleasant consequences occur that college administrators would prefer avoiding. So administrators (mostly private colleges; with some exceptions public universities fear the legal consequences and therefore avoid the practice) put their thumb down in favor of men.

That “thumb” is obvious in the statistical profile of who applies and who gets accepted. U.S. News has done some great reporting on it. Colleges say they put most of their emphasis on the rigor of high school courses taken and grades earned (SAT scores, where boys tend to do better, are not the major players they insist) and yet the profiles reveal that colleges are reaching far deeper into their male applicant pools to fill out their freshman classes.

Makes sense, actually, but it also allows K-12 educators to avoid scrutiny on why they tolerate a system that produces far more college-ready girls than boys.

Disputes over the data -- apples-to-oranges data issues, conflicts over whether private colleges should have been included, disputes over whether the study was too limited by having to pick schools within a 100 miles of Washington -- led to the action.

Here’s an objection to canceling the project from law professor Gail Heriot from the University of San Diego, the commission member who launched the probe:

COMMISSIONER HERIOT: I would like to say, number one, that if we were to cancel this project on the ground that we have missing data and we have some data collection problems. We have never had a study ever -- [text missing]. We always have data collection problems. There are always difficulties in getting facts. And if this one is canceled when it is almost done on that basis, then we had better cancel every project we are ever going to do and might as well just go home. You are going to have problems like this in any report you ever look at. Nowhere in Mr. Byrnes' paper does he tell us that none of the data is adequate. And so the notion of we're going to cancel it because some of the schools may be a problem seems to me just silly. And, you know, we very much ought to continue this project. There is useful information here. And we shouldn't throw it away.

The opinions expressed in Why Boys Fail are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.