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Letters to the Editor

Letter: Brown should go gender-blind in admission

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

To the Editor:

I wish to thank The Herald for its Nov. 30 article, “Brown consistently admits male applicants at higher rate.” This is an important topic for all members of the Brown community to consider.

The article accurately quotes me saying I am “skeptical” of the argument put forth by Dean of Admission Logan Powell holding that Brown’s higher acceptance rate for male applicants is a function of its need to enroll students interested in physical science — not a function of Brown putting a premium on gender balance and thus treating women and men unequally in the admission process.

I would like to provide some context for my skepticism. As the Herald article points out, undergraduate admission processes at private colleges such as Brown are exempt from Title IX. Admission to state colleges and universities is regulated by Title IX, though, and this makes for some useful comparisons. Leading public universities such as the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia and the University of California at Los Angeles also have large, well-regarded programs in science, math and engineering, yet these schools still have higher acceptance rates for women than men. At Berkeley, the acceptance rate is 18 percent for women and 15 percent for men, according to U.S. Department of Education data. At Virginia, it’s 31 percent for women and 29 percent for men. UCLA: 18 percent for women versus 16 percent for men. This makes sense, as research shows that high school girls generally outperform high school boys academically.

I should also point out that — like Brown — Berkeley, UVA and UCLA all received more applications from women than from men in 2015. UCLA actually received 6,000 more applications from women. Yet because Title IX requires UCLA to have sex-blind admission, the greater number of female applicants did not prompt UCLA’s admission office to accept female applicants at a lower rate. Given this, I would suggest that as part of Brown’s upcoming celebration of 125 Years of Women at Brown, President Christina Paxson P’19 and her Ivy League peers should ask Congress to repeal the Title IX loophole for private-college admission.

Jon Birger ’90

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  1. Men perform significantly better on the SAT than women do, especially when it comes to individuals who score in the top few percentiles. Thus, there are more male applicants who are qualified for admission to elite schools.

    I think if Brown released the SAT scores of male and female applicants, that would suggest a different picture — one that shows it’s harder for men to be admitted, despite more there female applicants.

    In other words: What matters is not the percentage of all female or male applicants who are admitted, but the percentage of qualified male or female applicants who are admitted. “Qualified” means having a very high SAT score, since that is the fairest and most objective way to compare students.

    But, yes, any male student should be in favor of gender-blind admissions. That would help them even more in graduate school admissions, since the talent requirements are even greater there, and we know men dominate the right side of the bell curve for intelligence.

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