I’m Proved Right (Again): New Study Shows Women Threaten University Ideal
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Almost four years ago, I looked at the problem of women in universities under the helpful heading Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably. This caused an international uproar when Professor Eric Rasmusen of the University of Indiana [Tweet himtweeted my article.

The university’s provost and dean—both women, of course, stupidly confirming my point—condemned him as “vile and stupid” and regretted that he could not be fired because of that pesky First Amendment. Now a new study further confirms my argument.

This is the unavoidable conclusion of the paper recently published by social psychologists at the State University of New York [The Value Gap: How Gender, Generation, Personality, and Politics Shape the Values of American University Students, by Zachary Rausch et al., Journal of Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences, 2023].

Citing The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, Rausch and his coauthors argue that Gen Z (born: 1995-2013) values “emotional well-being and the advancement of social justice goals above traditional academic values such as academic freedom and the pursuit of truth.” They duly investigated whether this “value discrepancy” existed among 574 American university students by exploring “the prioritization of five different academic values (academic freedom, advancing knowledge, academic rigor, social justice, and emotional well-being).” They also examined how “gender, generation, personality, major, and conservatism predict each academic value.” They compared Gen Z subjects to 126 Millennials and some who were older.

Their findings are exactly what anyone who has dealt with Gen Zers either as a teacher or even a parent would expect. Gen Zers value emotional well-being more than academic rigor.

But the differences between the sexes are striking:

Males scored higher on measures of academic freedom and advancing knowledge, while lower on social justice and emotional well-being compared to females. Political conservatism was the strongest predictor for social justice scores, with increased liberal attitudes predicting higher scores on social justice.

Emotional stability positively predicted advancing knowledge, while negatively predicting emotional well-being. Agreeableness positively predicted emotional well-being, while negatively predicting advancing knowledge. We ultimately argue that gender is a crucial, underestimated explanatory factor of the value orientations of American college students.

The difference on “advancing knowledge” was almost statistically significant in favor of men, and men scored higher on academic rigor, though with only 80 percent certainty. Men, however, scored significantly higher on valuing “academic freedom.”

University demographics and the characteristics of women show why universities have strayed from their mission. The authors cited multiple studies:

Gender demographics on college campuses have been reversed over the past sixty years. … Males dominated college campuses in the 1960s with a ratio of 1.6 male to 1 female undergraduate students, inverting, as of 2003, to become a ratio of 1.3 women to every 1 male undergraduate. … The change in gender demographics within colleges is significant, as gender has been linked to differences in personality traits, value orientation, and conservatism. … For example, men tend to be less liberal than women … men score lower on agreeableness and openness … and men have higher scores on emotional stability.

In layman’s terms, women are more liberal, more agreeable, and more neurotic than men, apropos of these findings in a study the authors summarized:

  • Higher Agreeableness was positively correlated with higher ratings towards social justice and emotional well-being and lower ratings towards advancing knowledge and academic rigor.
  • Lower emotional stability was linked with higher scores on valuing emotional well-being and on social justice and lower scores on advancing knowledge and academic rigor [hyperlink added].
  • Lower scores on conservatism predicted lower scores on academic rigor, but higher scores on social justice.

At this point, it’s worth recalling a little history about the university and what it was meant to do. It was supposed to be a “safe space” for people who are obsessively interested in ideas, in making sense of the world. In the Scholastic tradition—Medieval Scholastics founded the earliest European universities—the university’s purpose was the unbridled pursuit of Truth—motivated, in their case, by a desire to understand God’s creation. To suppress an uncomfortable truth would insult Him.

Thus, scholarship was rigorously scrutinized, and pulled to pieces if necessary. And if that upset an academic because he worked hard on it, too bad. A scholar might very strongly believe that something was true. Perhaps that truth was a significant part of his identity. It might profoundly upset him if colleagues used logic to tear his work apart. It might even seem “mean.” But “feelings” are, ultimately, the enemy of the dispassionate pursuit of truth. Everyone understood that—until women took over universities.

Curiously, this has all happened before. During World War I, a number of British universities began to admit women. A decade later, they cut back on the number of women because authorities noticed that women changed the “character of the teaching,” which in turn led to the “feminine government” of the universities [discussed in Education, by Carol Dyhouse, in Women in Twentieth Century Britain, 2014]. In other words, women are systematically more concerned about empathy—everyone getting along, everyone feeling validated and no one feeling upset—than they are about systematizing—that is, making sense of the world and the pursuit of truth. That was a serious problem for the university ideal.

And this isn’t important simply because most college students are women. Way too many professors are, too.

“Female professors significantly valued social justice and emotional wellbeing values above and beyond male professors across departments,” Rausch and his authors wrote, a finding supported by previous research. As well,

…conservative professors tend to prioritize values such as academic rigor and advancing knowledge more so than do liberal-leaning professors; while liberal professors tend to prioritize values such as social justice and emotional well-being more so than conservative professors do.

Of course, most of the conservative professors are men.

Similarly, writing for the American Enterprise Institute, Samuel J. Abrams, a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College, recently noted that women are moving the college campus in the same direction they are moving American politics—to the left:

[W]omen are ascendant on college and university campuses today and women generally outnumber men: 75 percent of Ivy League presidents, 66 percent of college administrators, and 58 percent of recent graduates are now female. Today many college administrators are part of a bureaucracy that pushes ideas like identity politics and divisive, reductionist, and community-fracturing narratives like “anti-racism.” Additionally, many Gen Z women students have grown up being fed reverse narratives from cognitive behavior therapy that promote depression and a sense of victimization. It has sadly become the norm that schools have witnessed a serious rise in the language surrounding “the concepts of victim identity and of trauma.” This is dangerous for the higher education world as it can shut down open inquiry and limit expression and the exploration of ideas for fear of upsetting feelings. When we stifle inquiry and expression out of fear, learning stops.

[The Dangerous Faculty Gender Gap, March 24, 2023]

As for politics, Abrams wrote, 60 percent of women professors are leftists. Just 22 percent are conservatives. Men are 48 percent leftist and 32 percent conservative.

In addition to associating predominantly with like-minded leftists, leftist women professors “are appreciably less tolerant of differing views on campus.” Consider this datum from Abrams:

Professors were asked about whether they would be open to sitting at a lunch with a colleague who is a Trump supporter. Almost a third (32 percent) of female professors reported that they would be either somewhat or very uncomfortable doing so, while just 14 percent of male faculty reported the same. When asked about the use of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statements, 61 percent of female faculty indicated they view signing onto a DEI statement as a justifiable requirement for hiring someone, while 61 percent of male faculty said that such statements are ideological litmus tests. [Emphasis added]

A slim majority of women professors, Abrams wrote, “could envision” shouting down speakers they don’t like. Maybe that’s why women college presidents don’t punish students who do so.

Of course, there are exceptions. Not all women at universities are hellbent on destroying them. Some, such as Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania—now struggling against cancellation for telling the truth about race in IQ—are fighting back.

But women such as Wax are the exceptions that prove the rule. Women taking over universities is just bad for their principal mission of free and vigorous inquiry in the pursuit of truth.

Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.

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