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Inequality, by the Numbers

Commentary | DAVID GELERNTER

Don't fight bigotry with stats and ratios.

June 10, 2005|DAVID GELERNTER

Two news topics show why Democratic positions often strike Republicans as half-baked. First, the Title IX crusade to increase the number of female college athletes. (The Supreme Court turned down a Title IX challenge this week.) Second, Harvard President Lawrence Summers' revised view of women in science, and his ongoing penance for previous errors. (Harvard announced last month that it would be spending big bucks in the hopes of achieving gender equity among professors.)

And then a liberal history professor spoke out on a third issue -- and clarified the other two. He made it clear (accidentally) that affirmative action policies represent arrogant, busy-bodying attempts to substitute statistics for common sense.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration began to enforce Title IX of the Civil Rights Act in a new way. Colleges were required to make the male-female ratio in their sports programs equal the ratio in their student bodies.

How to do it? Athletic directors tried to get more women to go out for sports. But colleges all over the country failed to scare up enough female athletes and were forced to terminate men's teams instead. If you can't bring your female count up, you must force your male count down.

At various points, men's swimming and diving teams were dropped at UCLA (22 Olympic medalists came from those programs), men's swimming was dropped at the University of Miami (Greg Louganis was an alum), men's basketball was dropped at Howard University. And so on, all over the map.

Common sense suggests that if women weren't turning out for college sports, maybe they didn't want to play college sports. These students had been the beneficiaries of Title IX throughout their childhoods. They'd had plenty of chances to be fascinated by sports. But men still turned out for college athletics in far greater numbers.

And so what? Why is physical competition so important anyway? Why is it crucial for women to be just as keen as men on hammering their opponents into the ground? Why is it more important to play sports than do other things at college, such as your homework? College women have higher GPAs than men on average. Lagging at schoolwork is a lot more serious than lagging at playground participation.

In 2002, the National Wrestling Coaches Assn. tried to put things right. It sued the U.S. Education Department over Title IX enforcement. On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to reinstate the suit, which marks the legal end of that road. The coaches vow to fight on, somehow. More power to them.

A similar lack of "equity" common sense almost did in Harvard's Summers in January, and he is still apologizing. He suggested that, on average, maybe women are less good than men at science, which might explain why fewer females than males are science professors at Harvard. The university will spend $50 million over 10 years promoting professorial diversity. What will the man's next doctrinal error cost?

Women are naturally better at some things than men. It follows that men must be better at other things. We don't know a priori which things those are, but there must be some. Summers guessed that science is one. Maybe he's wrong; I don't know. His opponents are positive he's wrong. How can they be so sure? Naming eminent female scientists is irrelevant. Summers made a statement about averages, not individuals.

Given the liberal craze for maneuvering women into fields where they evidently don't want to be, it was refreshing to find UCLA history professor Russell Jacoby addressing the topic of letting people do what they want. The conservative American Spectator quoted Jacoby on the oversupply of Democrats on college faculties:

"More leftists undoubtedly inhabit institutions of higher education than they do the FBI or the Pentagon or local police and fire departments.... But who or what says every corner of society should reflect the composition of the nation at large? Nothing has shown that higher education discriminates against conservatives, who probably apply in smaller numbers than liberals."

Exactly. Lack of balance on college faculties doesn't automatically prove bigotry. (Jacoby's comments also show that liberals don't necessarily believe their own material.)

During both world wars, Jews were overrepresented in the U.S. military relative to their numbers in the population. Ergo, the military discriminated against gentiles? Guess again. Prejudice ran exactly the other way. Numbers prove nothing unless you understand the underlying social context.

Bigotry is real, but fighting it purely by the numbers is moronic. Right, Professor Jacoby?

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