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Female domination concerns academics

September 28, 2006

There is growing concern in the academic world that men are being left behind.  This issue has raised concerns among the administration and faculty here at UW-River Falls.

Geoffrey Scheurman, professor of teacher education, led a faculty discussion Aug. 29 regarding the low number of male students on university campuses.

“I have been observing, anecdotally, a disappearing act of boys from public schools,” Scheurman said. “Nationwide, the pattern is girls — good, boys — bad.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of women in college surpassed the number of men in 1979. The Bureau also reports that the ratio of males reached 44 percent nationwide as of 2000.

The UW-RF campus is 40 percent male, according to the UW System Office of Policy Analysis and Research. This ratio has remained steady for the past 10 years, but 15 years ago the percentage of males was at 46.

“We took for granted that males would continue to come to college at the same level,” said Brad Caskey, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Scheurman believes that this trend is a backlash of the 1960s and 70s civil rights movement to increase the number of female students on university campuses.

“Nobody wants to talk about how correcting one error has created the seeds of the next one,” Scheurman said.

Caskey, who is a developmental psychology professor, said many male high school graduates take jobs in the skilled labor field where they can earn a decent living, rather than opting to continue their education.

Travis Tubre, an associate psychology professor specializing in industrial organizational psychology, said for many young men the opportunity to start earning a livable wage after high school is difficult to pass up.

“A lot of men who opt not to go to college base it on a perception that they don’t really understand,” Tubre said. “They assume stability when there really isn’t any.”
Tubre said as technology advances and the demand for housing and construction work dries up, many of the skilled labor positions will become obsolete.

Despite growing concerns, little has been done at UW-RF to address the issue.
Faculty members said there may be a double standard when trying to raise awareness regarding this problem.

“If the numbers were reversed we would be going through the roof,” Scheurman said.
Caskey believes the issue needs to be addressed quickly.

“The national trends aren’t slowing down,” he said. “We should have learned this lesson. You can’t have just one sex dominate college life.” 

Dean for Student Development and Campus Diversity Blake Fry said that trying to increase the percentage of men at UW-RF will be a topic in upcoming freshmen recruiting discussions, although there are no definite plans yet.

Fry said that one solution may be to look at the problem discipline by discipline.

“There are certain majors that are focused on females and others are male-oriented,” he said.

This is a fact not lost on Caskey and Tubre, who said that 75 percent of majors in their department, psychology, are female.

One UW-RF student reiterated that belief.

“Teaching is a big thing on this campus,” junior Josh Woodward said. “A lot of women seem to be geared towards that.”

Another aspect of this issue is the potential problems it raises for women.

“We’re becoming OK as a society for women entering the workforce, but we’re not comfortable with men taking on domestic roles,” Tubre said. “As a society we need to provide better support mechanisms for professional women who want to have a life outside of work.”

This issue also concerns Scheurman.

“My prediction is that we will neglect issues related to the stressed out, burned out, do everything, be everything female,” Scheurman said.

Students have also noticed the gap in the male-female ratio, but they don’t seem to see it as a problem.

“We’re here to learn, not socialize,” said senior Megan Ireland.

Ireland and other female students thought the female-male student ratio at UW-RF was closer to 70-30.

While the numbers seem to have reached a plateau here at UW-RF, the problem is viewed by Scheurman as a major one.

“These issues are like viruses,” he said. “There will be some difficult times as it tries to correct itself.”