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One-to-One Rat Race


By Robert Decherd

AN ARTICLE in Monday's Crimson noted that Stanford University, by eliminating a rule restricting its enrollment to a 60-40 male to female ratio, had adopted a "sex-blind" admissions policy.

The "sex-blind" approach to college admissions was misstated in this case. All Stanford did was remove an outdated university statute putting a ceiling on the number of women in each undergraduate class. The school made no pledge to increase the present size (33 per cent) of the female student body, or to recruit more women applicants. Generally, such pledges are implied in the accepted sense of the term "sex-blind."

This one instance points up the complexities of non-discriminatory admissions procedures. Most advocates of "sex-blind" or 1:1 admissions policies seek only an end to discrimination; the subtleties of the debate, however, lead to easy confusion.

Yale's recent decision to adopt a "sex-blind" admissions policy provides a good example of such confusion. Yale says it will admit applicants without considering their sex; the result might be 70 per cent women in one class and 25 per cent in the next. The chances are, though, that unless conscious efforts are made to recruit female applicants, the current male-to-female ratio of about 2:1 will hold.

Obviously, a stated commitment to the principle of "sex-blind" admissions without the recruitment and encouragement needed to underpin such a commitment is anything but progressive.

By the same token, legislation requiring equal admissions, or a 1:1 ratio, at all public and private institutions is unrealistic given the instability of the present situation.

Many institutions are financially unable to absorb a drastic change in the composition of the student body, expecially if it meant increasing overall size to achieve a 1:1 ratio. Harvard pleads this as part of its defense against 1:1 admissions. Another argument claims that imposing 1:1 regulations would mean a probable drop in the student body's caliber at schools where the size of male and female applicant pools differ greatly.

STILL, THE underlying premise of 1:1 admissions is sound: with no more basic social division in human society than that of male and female, the highest priority should be given to creating equal opportunities for both sexes to enter society with equivalent educations. In turn, attention should be focused on compensating for other social divisions in education.

While "sex-blind" admissions is open to the subtle discrimination against women, 1:1 admissions would eliminate all subtleties and prejudices by forcing the numerically equal admission of men and women. But it would also create an unbending admissions yardstick which could severely hurt small, or poorly endowed, institutions.

How would a strictly enforced 1:1 admissions statute affect American society? An article in the February 25 New York Times reported that because of the draft's end, college attendance among young men has reached its lowest level in eight years.

The drop is particularly acute among white males, among whom the percentage of 18 and 19-year-olds attending college has declined from 47.3 per cent in 1969 to 39.6 per cent this fall. Overall, the percentage of males in college declined from 44 per cent in 1969 to below 38 per cent.

Meanwhile, there has been a steady increase in the number of blacks enrolled, of both sexes, and of white women. In percentages, the number of black males enrolled, aged 18 and 19, has risen from 12 per cent in 1964 to 23 per cent in 1972. In the same period, the black proportion of the college population went from 5 to 9 per cent. Blacks as a whole constitute 11 per cent of the nation's population.

The pertinent points of this study are that the percentage of black women enrolled in college remains very low, and the rate of college enrollment among women has remained steady for the past five years at about 14 per cent. So while the number of women in college has risen along with overall enrollment, the percentage of women in colleges and univerities has remained about constant.

This argues heavily that the absence of a national effort to develop the female applicant pool is a widespread and latent from of discrimination. Despite a large increase in the number of young people in colleges, the percentage of women enrolled has not risen in five years. It is no secret that this is due primarily to quotas on female enrollment.

GIVEN HARVARD'S resources, its long-term relationship with Radcliffe, and its national stature as a private institution, 1:1 admissions could certainly be instituted here more easily than at most colleges. By budgetary adjustment, active recruitment of women applicants, an increase in the overall size of the student body and a reduction of the male population, Harvard could approach a 1:1 ratio. This is an old argument, but one that withstands scrutiny.

On a national scale, however, forced 1:1 admissions remains an impractical, and unlikely, legislative measure. The best solution is probably to be found in a compromise between fixed admissions ratios and the vagaries of "sex-blind" admissions. Legislation could be enacted setting up an enforcing agency, similar to the HEW's review of discriminatory hiring practices. It would police American universities and ensure consistent, equal educational opportunities for women.

Given legal recourse, through individual complaints and class action suits, women will make inroads into higher education long denied them by unregulated, discriminatory admissions practices.

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