23.12.09

WHAT IS SEEN, WHAT IS UNSEEN. Emory's Mark Bauerlein contemplates higher education's supposed boy problem.
Colleges want to keep the ratio as even as possible, however, for a variety of reasons. One is that when one sex significantly outnumbers the other, sexual rivalries and competitions set in. When we head toward a two-thirds majority (remember the Jan and Dean line, "Two girls for every boooooyyyyyyyyyyy"), the sexual gamesmanshiip of social life goes up. Added to that, admissions people worry that strong female students won't want to go to school where the number of men is low.
Advantage, Cold Spring Shops.
Gonna go to college, gonna have some fun. (Apologies to Jan and Dean.) The economist in me always wondered about the stability of that equilibrium. University administrators do too, if in a different way.
Professor Bauerlein's comments, and the Inside Higher Ed column he reacts to, focus on the usual identity politics, diversity, affirmative action cluster. I wonder, though, if that isn't missing the point. Suppose beer 'n circus isn't an aberration, it's the mission? Here's a comment to the Inside Higher Ed column.

The big time football playing universities have a interest in the pending court case. Title IX requires the university to award athletic aid in proportion to the gender proportion of the student body.

In theory, if the gender balance is 60 percent female, then approximately 60 percent of athletic aid should be distributed to females. In all probability this means adding female sports.

The old boy network would claim that male sports, in particular the fottball [c.q.] team, would suffer because the male sports would receive less athletic aid based on the gender enrollment.

Certainly testable, although there might be constituencies within the administration for whom an exogenous reason to dial football back is more persuasive than mere budget constraints. And here's a comment to a tangentially related post offering anecdotal support.

At the first TT job I had, the football team accounted for about 20% of the male students. The recruiting folks counted it as a big help in keeping the gender ratio from being skewed. (For some reason they thought that educating women wasn't as important as educating men... hmmmm, IBTP.)

It's worth looking at football budgets in themselves, since they're often a big part of the Title IX dance.

A recent book by Rutgers sociologist Jackson Toby, which receives praise in part and criticism in part from Ben Wildavsky, might be another part of the same picture.

Early on, Mr. Toby concedes that education has become the country's "main economic escalator." But he is alarmed at how few students are prepared to meet even the minimal demands of a real college education. He faults lax college-admission standards that give high schools little incentive to push their students harder. Too many undergrads can't write with minimal competence or understand basic cultural references. Students often take silly, politicized courses. And they feel entitled to inflated grades: Mr. Toby reports that one of his students spewed obscenities at him for ending the young man's straight-A record.

Perhaps this kind of experience accounts for Mr. Toby's seeming bitterness toward unserious students, whom he calls "unprepared, half-asleep catatonics who drift in late and leave early." Most undergrads, Mr. Toby suggests, enjoy a steady diet of extracurricular hedonism while skating through their coursework (though it's unclear how this claim jibes with his complaints about low graduation rates).

Despite years of starvation rations at Northern Illinois, we have been able to entice some scholars away from Rutgers (I don't know the magnitude of the reverse flow) but their (relatively recent) high-visibility sports program has done well, particularly in football and womens' basketball. Perhaps the main culprit remains a higher education willing to do the high schools' work for them (as a way of obtaining larger budgets and demonstrating responsibility for larger institutions?) rather than a perceived market in beer 'n circus. That perceived market, however, strikes me as worthy of further research.

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