The Bias in the Gender Bias Discussion

The College Guide has published several pieces recently about the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights investigation of a potential gender bias in American universities. The U.S. isn’t the only place that’s noticed gender disparity at the university level though. From an article in Inside Higher Ed:

Last month, [University of Alberta] President Indira Samarasekera pointed to the preponderance of women in higher education in Canada (three female undergraduates for every two males) and suggested that perhaps males could need some extra attention. “We’ll wake up in 20 years and we will not have the benefit of enough male talent,” said Samarasekera, a metallurgical engineer originally from Sri Lanka. “I’m going to be an advocate for young white men, because I can be,” she added, pointing to her Nixon-to-China status as a minority woman advocating for men.

Within days, students at Samarasekera’s school began ridiculing the president and her notion that giving special preferences to men might help the school. The idea is, well, awkward. As the article points out:

Feminist groups studiously ignore the issue of women dominating college campuses; it drains credibility from their claim as a disadvantaged group in need of redress. The day after the recent commission announcement it was investigating bias against women, groups such as National Organization for Women and the American Association of University Women were silent on the news — despite this being an issue presumably dear to their hearts.

This issue is obviously complicated, mired as it is in both things universities can’t control (e.g. the education of boys at the k-12 level) and things so powerful the universities can’t really take on (e.g. Title IX) but this current situation prevents rational discussion. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is a deeply political institution and unlikely to produce a report observers will see as neutral and unbiased. But the investigation is likely to prompt the right debate. But women used to be a minority group in higher education. Now they’re not. Why did that happen and what does that mean? Maybe it’s time to start talking about this.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer