I, like many opponents of affirmative action, often find myself voicing concerns in the form of *reductio ad absurdum* arguments. Affirmative action discussions always seem to elicit such reductio and slippery-slope counter-points. Now, due to [this USA Today report](http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2005-10-19-male-college-cover_x.htm?POE=NEWISVA), it is no longer necessary to only invent such arguments through abstract, ‚Äúwhat if,‚Äù means. The absurd is now reality.
A rising trend has now gone ‚Äúover the top:‚Äù last year women received more than ¬? of all higher level degrees. Furthermore, women now make-up 57% of college students.
Now, exactly what is absurd about this? This is the first time ‚Äì at least the first I know of ‚Äì in which a perceived ‚Äúpercentage problem‚Äù goes against the prevailing wisdom of who‚Äôs up and who‚Äôs down; who‚Äôs advantaged and who‚Äôs disadvantaged. Historically, affirmative action has been conceived of as a way of redressing the inherent inequalities in society (due to race, gender, sexual orientation etc.) by attempting to manipulate the statistical outcome. (Implicit to supporters of affirmative action is the incredibly bizarre belief that a statistic can accurately represent injustice [or justice].) These new statistics now show men to be on the bottom, at least in some way, of what is traditionally and unquestionably conceived of as a patriarchal society.
I often ask supporters of affirmative action if the process would create ‚Äì and would ever be able to remove itself from ‚Äì a vicious circle; a circle of raising the admission levels of a certain group only to see that group overtake the ‚Äúoppressor‚Äù group and having to do the whole thing over from the other side. If affirmative action is meant to address societal and historical inequalities when do the societal and historical inequalities *created by* affirmative action become those inequalities that future programs must attempt to redress?
Due both to increasing intellectual attacks on such assumptions and recent judicial decisions, the rhetoric behind affirmative action has shifted from ‚Äúsocial and historical redress” to the dodgy concept of ‚Äúdiversity.‚Äù Diversity has become the ghostly goal of educators ‚Äì looking something like pornography; you can‚Äôt define it but you know it when you see it.
American educators seem to be concerned that the new statistics represent a problem for the diversity of their universities. Possibly. (As soon as someone explains to me what ‚Äúdiversity‚Äù is I might have an opinion about it.) However, in accordance with the original tenets of affirmative action, there is also a very cogent argument to be made that society has been short-changing and ignoring men/boys due to the fist-raising idea of ‚Äúgender equality‚Äù and the thirty years of nearly neurotic concerns that society has had on these issues. Christina Hoff Sommers‚Äôs [*The War Against Boys*](http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0684849577/102-9655364-8951312) is a stirring expos?© on how severely boys have been ignored in the current academic and pedagogical climate. This trend saw much of its inertia initially created in the early ‚Äò90s, precisely when those now going to college were in grade school. In the opening paragraph Sommers writes:
>In 1990, Carol Gilligan announced to the world that America‚Äôs adolescent girls were in crisis. In her words, ‚ÄúAs the river of a girl‚Äôs life flows into the sea of Western culture, she is in danger of drowning or disappearing.‚Äù Gilligan offered little in the way of conventional evidence to support this alarming finding. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what sort of empirical research could establish so large a claim. But Gilligan quickly attracted powerful allies. Within a very short time the allegedly fragile and demoralized state of American adolescent girls achieved the status of a national emergency.
Sommers describes what was actually occurring:
>Contrary to the story told by Gilligan and her followers, by the early 1990s American girls were flourishing in unprecedented ways. To be sure, some‚Äîamong them those who found themselves in the offices of clinical psychologists‚Äîfelt they were drowning in the sea of Western culture. But the vast majority of girls were occupied in more constructive ways, moving ahead of boys academically in the primary and secondary grades, applying to colleges in record numbers, filling the more challenging academic classes, joining sports teams, and generally enjoying more freedoms and opportunities than any young women in human history.
Unfortunately the call to arms that Gilligan had raised in 1990 caused ears to perk up and action to be taken. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) commissioned a highly influential study to be performed by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women entitled *How Schools Shortchange Girls*. The study ‚Äúasserted a direct causal relationship between girls‚Äô (alleged) second-class status in the nation‚Äôs schools and deficiencies in their level of self-esteem. Carol Gilligan‚Äôs psychological girl crisis was thus transformed into a pressing civil rights issue: girls were victims of widespread sexist discrimination in our nation‚Äôs schools. ‚ÄòThe implications are clear,‚Äô said the AAUW; ‚Äòthe system must change.‚Äô‚Äù
*How Schools Shortchange Girls* was later (six years later) exposed to be a highly suspect if not blatantly invalid study. Former assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch said, ‚ÄúThe AAUW report was just completely wrong. What was so bizarre is that it came out right at the time that girls had just overtaken boys in almost every area. It might have been the right story 20 years earlier, but coming out when it did it was like calling a wedding a funeral‚Ä¶There were all these special programs put in place for girls and no one paid any attention to the boys.‚Äù
Everything got terribly unfunny when, in 1994, lobbyists with the AAUW report and similar reports swimming in their heads like Paine‚Äôs *Common Sense* pressured the US Congress to pass the Gender Equity in Education Act; an act that specifically categorized girls as an ‚Äúunder-served population.‚Äù As Sommers describes, ‚ÄúMillions of dollars in grants were awarded to study the plight of girls and learn how to cope with the insidious bias against them. At the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, members of the American delegation presented the educational and psychological deficits of American girls as a pressing human rights issue.‚Äù
Now, the truth is showing itself to be substantially, and painfully, different from the previously believed reality. Currently we lack the scientific data to make a full conclusion about the effect of the policies of the early and mid 90s on the current educational situation of boys. However, it seems clear that such policies would certainly be expected to produce precisely what we see now in American universities; and at precisely this time.
Now one of the truly interesting questions that hangs in the air is whether those who have championed equity in education for so long ‚Äì the most fervent supporters of affirmative action; academicians and policy analyzers who populate/dominate Women‚Äôs Studies, Race Studies, and English departments throughout the country ‚Äì will they come to the aid of we put-upon males? I highly doubt it. Such group-obsessed people only quarterback for one team. Those feminist scholars and advocates who helped drastically change American educational policies 10/15 years ago will most likely find some way to interpret this statistical change as being another example of Man‚Äôs oppression of Woman. Actually, I guarantee it.
The ultimate absurdity is how all of these things are inexorably related. The exact same philosophy lies behind the claims of the ‚Äúwar on girls‚Äù in the 90s and the theory of affirmative action and ‚Äúdiversity.‚Äù A belief in ‚Äúgroup think‚Äù is at the heart of this philosophy: that there exists such a thing as ‚Äúthe unique Black experience in America‚Äù or the ‚Äúuniquely female way of looking at things‚Äù and that such things demand recognition and representation. In such thinking the individual’s goals and actions are subsumed to patly constructed groups that are presumed to have identical members. Furthermore it is racism/sexism/etc. of the worst kind. By believing in “group think” one adds thought-crime to the list of transgressions one can make regarding race/sex. (Think about the phrase “acting white” or “Uncle Tom” and how these phrases are both ultimately racist to blacks *and* whites. Likewise, feminists have repeatedly attacked women who are combative to their dogma as being brainwashed and not being “authentically female.”) Expecting a group of people to think a certain way and lambasting them as “inauthentic” or “brainwashed” is racism of the worst sort; not the type that says “you aren’t good enough for *my* race” but the type that says “you aren’t good enough for *your* race.” These type of leftists all play *Risk* with the world: where one figurine represents thousands of individuals.
There is nothing wrong with being concerned with the status of minorities/the oppressed. However, if actions taken to respect the status of minorities begin to supersede the majority and actually cause them to switch places you‚Äôve done nothing but maintain the status quo. And that is a perfect *reductio ad absurdum*.
Trevor, Yet again, a fantastic article. I know this is a small site but your articles have kept me checking back for over a year. If you haven’t had a chance, you might find a copy of “The Ironies of Affirmative Action ” by John David Skrenty It’s a pretty interesting read on how affirmative action went from being something that was considered too absurd for serious disscussion even amoung the most radical groups to it’s present day “accepted” status.
Last week, we had a discussion about gender and the legal system in my contracts class. Little of the conversation was relevant to this topic, but one interesting tidbit did emerge: apparently there are a number of colleges and universities that have recognized the investion problem you’ve identified and have begun engaging in a sort of “reverse affirmative action” favoring white males in hopes of halting the trend. Interesting stuff…