By Robert Weissberg
Soviet ideologues were famous for adjusting Marxism to the zigs and zags of history, but they were pikers compared to today's campus affirmative-action apparatchiks. The latest installment from university diversicrats is--ready for this--affirmative action for men, not black or Hispanic men, but white men (see here and here and especially here). Allan Bakke, come back, all is forgiven!
More is involved than the usual "fairness" via biological quota. The financial stakes are huge. Compared to women, white men disproportionally gravitate to wealth-generating fields--business, engineering and the sciences. This predilection will be no small matter in a few decades, and universities are justifiably nervous as the pool of future rich donors shrinks vis-a-vis those who majored in French literature.
What explains this male flight? Let me speculate a bit and offer a reason that dare not speak its name in today's PC climate: universities are increasingly becoming feminized and many men, to use the anti-discrimination vocabulary, loathe a hostile working environment. In a word, males increasingly feel emasculated in today's universities. Yes, being outnumbered by women may fuel certain male adolescent fantasies, but believe it or not, a young male who visits a school dominated by women will suddenly have second thoughts about predatory opportunities.
Support Services for Hetero Males?
Further, add the abolition of male-dominated sports such as wrestling, while adding women's teams, regardless of demand, in sports like rowing, to satisfy Title IX requirements. And don't forget all the attention lavished on Women Studies Programs, everything from academic majors to expensive conferences and hefty speaker fees. And where are the support services for heterosexual males? Try putting Playboy in a college bookstore or decorating a dorm room with female pin-ups. These problems are almost inconceivable if the magazines in question were Out or the Advocate, two leading male homosexual magazines. Indeed, a student--let alone a Christian group--protesting gay magazines and homoerotic pin-ups would certainly risk being disciplined for impermissible hostility (and those complaining about Playboy may even benefit from this socially sanctioned outrage).
Underlying this public emasculation is a deeper, less visible faculty-led war on maleness that is currently concentrated in the humanities and social sciences but may well spread into the "hard" disciplines. (For the record, "feminine" and "masculine" here do not exactly correspond to biology. This is about psychology not anatomy. I know "male" female academics that drive their female colleagues crazy with their "male" mentality.)
This difference is about how to find truth. For males (and again keep in mind the non-overlap with biology), truth is discovered as follows. First, it is axiomatic that a single objective truth exists and this drives inquiry. Second, social niceties are subordinated to truth-seeking and uncivil, upsetting behaviors like sarcasm are therefore tolerable. Emotional feelings about what is right or wrong are irrelevant. Thomas Sowell once told me that he would never return to the classroom since he did not want to hear, "I feel...." Indeed, many males relish the verbal jousting and put-downs and these do not undermine personal friendship. Third, not all views are worth hearing and those wasting time will be forcefully and brusquely cut-off. Those able to marshal hard evidence prevail. In a nutshell, male truth-seeking is authoritarian.
By contrast, the feminine approach will stress social etiquette--woe to those who interrupts the speaker with, "there's no hard evidence for that, so let's move on." And unlike a male-dominated discussion, everyone, regardless of background and expertise, is permitted to "share" their views and then is thanked for sharing. Consensus-building is central and those rejecting harmony will be castigated as disruptive. Personal relationship often shape discussions--one never disputes friends even if one sharply disagrees and being attacked, no matter how mild, can destroy a friendship. Needless to say, everybody taking a turn to speak can make for long, rambling meetings.
To make this concrete, consider a stereotypical male (a nerdy "John") in a small liberal arts college enrolled in Economics 101 whose instructor (a knowledge facilitator, not a sage on stage) embodies the feminine approach. John wants to learn economics to become rich. The class begins with the instructor explaining that contemporary statistics-heavy economics is only one way of knowing, and this class will focus on alternatives to conventional knowledge. Moreover, there will be group projects to discover ways of making society more just by equalizing wealth and the group project will count for 50% of the final grade. The first two class periods are spent asking each student to explain what he or she hopes to learn plus their opinions on economic inequality. Nobody is criticized or told to stop talking, regardless of factual errors.
Matters go badly for John. The instructor repeatedly chides him for belittling the ideas of others by rolling his eyes and making facial expressions of disbelief. His insistence on finding a single best possible solution to an economic problem becomes repetitive to the point where the instructor suggests that he seek help at the school's counseling center to manage his anger. John's recourse to statistical data is interpreted as just showing off. By the third week is he no longer blurting out "What about trade-offs and opportunity costs?," since nobody pays attention. He discovers that the Internet offers multiple sites explaining economics, he finds a nerdy on-line discussion group, stops attending class and eventually drops out.
Thanks to his Internet contacts, John joins a small start-up and three years later patents a program to detect lying on the Web. It is widely licensed and John is an instant multi-millionaire. Though rich as Croesus he never sends a nickel to his "alma mater."
This depiction is, of course, an exaggeration but not by much. And this anti-male atmosphere will probably escalate as fewer and fewer males even apply. Meanwhile, those males who do attend and graduate will probably be ghettoized in such traditionally male fields as business, engineering and the sciences (and one wonders how long these majors will survive outside of major universities).
Reversing this pattern, assuming that gender equality is a problem requiring a solution, will be exceedingly difficult. The traditional affirmative solution of lower admission standards to achieve diversity is politically risky. What judge will rule that today's complex diverse world economy requires students to learn how to interact with white males?
It is equally hard to imagine universities attracting more white males by making the campus more white-male friendly. Will Deans subsidize a fraternity as a "while-male theme house" or sponsor beer-blast toga parties to achieve a critical mass of white males to lessen their social isolation? (But Brandeis did make a faint attempt to attract more males: it gave free baseball caps to the first 500 males who applied.).
Make no mistake--the numbers are indisputable but the source of the problem is unspeakable. No university wants to admit that sex differences are real and often intractable. Men and women are not interchangeable and as many (but not all) women feel uncomfortable in an uber-macho setting, many males (but not all) similarly reject an environment dominated by female values.
Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science, Emeritus at The University of Illinois-Urbana, and occasionally teaches in the NYU Politics Department MA Program.