MORE FRETTING ABOUT SURF CITY COLLEGE. If two girls for every boy is unsustainable, perhaps there's a quiet preference for men in university admissions. But please don't call it affirmative action.
On one side of the current conflict are the opponents of affirmative action for any group, whether based on sex, ethnicity, or religion. Typically such opponents compare efforts to limit the number of women in a college population to the quotas for Jews that once prevailed in the Ivy League and the de facto quotas disfavoring high-achieving Asians that have typically arisen as a consequence of "diversity" measures favoring blacks and Hispanics. Squarely in the anti-affirmative-action camp is the instigator of the Civil Rights Commission's admissions probe, Gail Heriot, a law professor at the University of San Diego appointed to the commission by the Senate in 2007 and one of the backers of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that outlawed racial and other preferences by public institutions in California. "The exemption in Title IX was created to protect single-sex schools---to allow men's schools to remain men's schools and women's schools to remain women's schools," Heriot said in a telephone interview. "The admissions policies of coeducational schools weren't covered."

On the other side is a group that might be called "biological realists," a group that undoubtedly includes many admissions officers and alumni fundraisers. Their argument is simple: Call it sexist, or call it simply hormonal, but most young people want to attend a co-educational school where the number of students of each sex is roughly equal. There are almost no all-men's colleges left in the United States, and only around 50 all-women's colleges (two longtime holdouts, Hood in Maryland and Randolph-Macon in Virginia, went fully co-educational in 2003 and 2007 respectively, and even the most academically prestigious of the survivors, such as Bryn Mawr and Mt. Holyoke, draw a significant percentage of their student bodies from socially conservative populations in the Mideast and East Asia where single-sex education is the norm).
Perhaps administrators could do even more to eliminate the sexual gamesmanship and the rabbit culture by screening their applicants along 29 dimensions of compatibility, admitting in such a way that each matriculant has a reasonable chance of finding a special someone or three. What's interesting, though, is that Surf City College also loses prestige.

Furthermore, once any institution is perceived as predominantly female, whether a profession such as K-12 teaching or a college with a severe female-to-male gender imbalance, it loses prestige. Men shy away and eventually so do the most talented women, who want to be where the high-status men are. If high-school seniors won't apply to a college because they don't like the sex mix, the college drops both in perceived selectivity---the U.S. News rankings where the applications-to-acceptances ratio is paramount---and actual selectivity as it scrambles to fill seats with less able students. It's a rule of thumb that the less academic prestige a college has, the more likely it is to suffer from gender imbalance among both applicants and those who choose to attend (there's no gender imbalance at Harvard or the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, for example). At community colleges that take all comers, for example, 62 percent of students are female, and the for-profit open-admissions University of Phoenix boasts on its website that it has a 67 percent female student body. "The lower the pecking order, the more women," said Heriot.

It's a potential death spiral of which most college administrators and governing boards are well aware. In 2005 trustees at the University of North Carolina's flagship campus at Chapel Hill were distressed to discover that the entering freshman class was 58 percent female. Some trustees suggested that the university create some sort of affirmative action for men, an act that would have been violated the law.

That propensity of talented women to chase the high-status men has to perturb some equity feminists.
There's a third interest group in the mix, the hard-line feminists who insist either that males as historical oppressors should never qualify for admissions preferences, or that men's general lack of interest in institutions and activities that are "too female" is not a biological but a cultural phenomenon that can be reversed by role-modeling, mentoring, and sensitivity sessions. In a forum this spring for Education Next Susan McGee Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and principal author of the American Association of University Women's 1992 report "How Schools Shortchange Girls," argued that male high school graduation rates and male college enrollments would increase if there were a national campaign to encourage fathers to read to their children and more boys in the K-12 system had access to "men who hold other than traditionally male jobs."
With the ambitious women still chasing after the high-status men, and using the language of empowerment while doing so? Good luck with that. Incentives Matter.

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