Male affirmative action?

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Gone are the days when many women went to college primarily to get an "M.R.S." Even if those days had not vanished due to a change in women's choices (to launch careers rather than to go to college to find husbands), they have been outmoded by women's abundant success in academe. Recent studies show women have not only undone academic barriers to achievement, they have nuked them.

Women now so outnumber men at most American colleges (the former make up more than 57 percent of college students) that men on campuses may soon join the endangered species list.

While the percentage of college women continues to rise to new levels, the trend is not exactly news. In February 1999, U.S.News & World Report predicted that with female college graduates increasing in both number and percentage, women could close the salary gap and move toward parity in the corporate world, as well as in academe and in politics. Somehow that part of the equation has yet to be realized.

What is new is that female dominance on college campuses is triggering a debate about affirmative action for men in college admissions. That debate heated up last week when new federal statistics on advanced education revealed women now earn not just the majority of undergraduate college degrees but also the majority of degrees in traditionally male-dominated fields such as biology and business. Women have also closed the graduate-school gap with men in law and medicine. That is news, and it's troubling to some.

  • It's troubling to women's rights advocates because they fear women's success in the academic arena could be wiped out if men win college admissions preferences. They also note federal data show a continued gender gap in earning power, and, until that gap narrows, admissions preferences for men would be unfair.
  • It's troubling to some men's rights advocates who don't want to see white men harmed by women's advancement. And it's troubling to minority groups who are still battling for access to college and graduate school.
  • But all these arguments miss a couple of important points. First, there is no gender imbalance on Ivy League campuses or among upper-income students across the nation. Second, men were dominant on campus due to postwar preferences they received. Third, college-educated women want an abundant supply of college-educated men to date and/or marry.

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