Back in the early years of the last century, American Academia was dominated by white gentile males (hereafter, WGM's). Members of racial minorities were hardly to be found, either among the professors or among the students. Women were severely underrepresented, compared to their numbers in the population as a whole, and were excluded altogether from some of the most elite schools. Jews were subject to quotas that kept their numbers far below what they should have been, based on academic merit alone.
But by the 1970's, all that was just a memory. The anti-Jewish quotas fell in the 1960's. Standards for high school g.p.a.'s and test scores were relaxed for minority applicants, sometimes dramatically, in an attempt to achieve "parity" with their representation in the overall population. Though a few schools remained all-male, they hardly threatened women's academic opportunities: women were already well on the way to their present day relative over-representation in the undergraduate population.
Still, today, the perception remains that WGM's continue to enjoy an unfair advantage in the academic world and that affirmative action remains as necessary as ever to counterbalance that advantage.
But is it true?
Let's look at one major facet of this issue - and the facet which, I think, has the most to tell us, not only about where we are now, but where we are headed in the future: undergraduate admissions. Even after all the civil rights gains of the last few decades, are WGM's still over-represented in the ranks of undergraduates at our most prestigious colleges and universities?
Coming up with the relevant numbers on this took me some doing, and the results are compromised by the fact that I had to rely on three different sources that are imperfectly coordinated. Still, I was able to come up with some rough and ready estimates - and I think they might surprise you.
First source: the National Center for Education Statistics breaks down student populations at individual schools by gender and by race/ethnicity. Second source: Hillel, the Jewish student organization, provides estimates of the numbers of Jewish students on most campuses. Third source: Wikipedia has general information on the demographics of the United States.
Using those sources, let's work through a particular example: my own alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley. According to the NCES, 32% of Berkeley's undergraduates are "White non-Hispanic" (rounding to the nearest percentage point). According to Hillel, about 10% of Berkeley's undergraduates are Jewish. So, defining "gentile" simply as "not jewish," about 22% of Berkeley's undergraduates are white gentiles. According to the NCES, again, Berkeley's undergraduates are 46% male. So the percentage of WGM's at Berkeley should be about 46% of 22% - i.e., about 10% (again, rounding to the nearest percentage point).
Unfortunately, there's a complication: 9% of Berkeley's undergraduates are listed by the NCES as "Race-ethnicity unknown." So this 10% has to be divided by .91 to get WGM's as a percentage of all students of known race/ethnicity. Result: 11%.
Finally, how does that compare to the representation of WGM's in the U.S. population as a whole? According to Wikipedia, the U.S. is now 74% white. Deducting 2% for the Jewish population, and multiplying by .5, WGM's would seem to make up about 36% of the U.S. population today. Dividing 11 by 36, one concludes that the representation of WGM's at Berkeley is about 31% of their representation in the U.S. population as a whole.
Compare that to the underrepresentation at Berkeley of non-Hispanic blacks, which has been the subject of so much controversy since Proposition 209 abolished affirmative action in California schools. According to the NCES, 3.5% of Berkeley undergraduates are black. According to Wikipedia, 12.4% of Americans are black. Dividing 3.5 by 12.4, one concludes that the representation of blacks at Berkeley is about 28% of their representation in the U.S. population as a whole.
So WGM's at Berkeley are represented at about 31% of parity, blacks at about 28%.
Now isn't that interesting? Would you have expected that result?
Berkeley, of course, though especially interesting to me, is an exceptional case in all kinds of ways. So I used the same procedure to come up with figures for all of the top twenty schools in the latest U.S. News and World Report ranking - which, though far from perfect, will do well enough to be going on with. And here are the results (For each school, I first list the percentage of WGM undergraduates compared to all undergraduates of known race/ethnicity, and second their percentage of parity with WGM's in the U.S. population as a whole):
1. Princeton: 24%, 67%
2. Harvard: 15%, 42%
3. Yale: 16%, 44%
4. Stanford: 16%, 44%
5/6. Penn: 9%, 25%
5/6. Cal Tech: 29%, 81%
7. M.I.T.: 29%, 81%
8. Duke: 24%, 67%
9/10. Columbia: 12%, 33%
9/10. Chicago: 21%, 58%
11. Dartmouth: 25%, 69%
12/13. Washington U. of St Louis: 19%, 53%
12/13. Cornell: 18%, 50%
14/16. Brown: 14%, 39%
14/16. Northwestern: 18%, 50%
14/16. Johns Hopkins: 24%, 67%
17/18. Rice: 22%, 61%
17/18. Emory: 11%, 31%
19/20. Vanderbilt: 30%, 83%
19/20. Notre Dame: 22%, 61%
Summary: WGM's appear to be underrepresented, compared to the overall population, in all twenty schools. In seven of those schools, they are represented at less than half of parity. In ten out of the twenty (Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Penn, Duke, Columbia, Washington University of St. Louis, Brown, and Emory) they are even more underrepresented than blacks - who also remain underrepresented at all twenty schools.
So, believe it or not, it would seem that, at America's top schools today, white gentile males are about as underrepresented as African Americans.
Run the numbers yourself, if you doubt me.
I can only repeat: now isn't that interesting? Would you have expected that result?
* * * * *
(1) Hillel is unclear about its methodology, and their numbers for overall enrollment appear to be out of date. It may be that they overestimate the numbers of Jewish students.
(2) It also may be that the percentage of male students is higher for white gentiles than it is for other groups. I don't know, offhand, why it would be, but it's possible.
(3) The percentage of students of unknown race/ethnicity ranges everywhere from 0% (Johns Hopkins) to 18% (Chicago). If those students are disproportionately one race/ethnicity/religion or another, it could change the results by several percentage points, in some cases - though I doubt whether it would change the overall picture much.
P.S.: If anybody can suggest a more reliable source for any of these stats, I would most appreciate it.