“Uncomfortable” Men on Campus

Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes raised eyebrows with a recent comment saying that, on some college campuses, men feel uncomfortable because they are outnumbered by females. He subsequently said his remarks were taken out of context, that he was referring particularly to the low enrollments of black and Hispanic males in higher education.

The reason the comment of Dr. Paredes didn’t sit well with some online commentators is due undoubtedly to recent reports of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault of women by notable men, including stories from prestigious universities. Toss in other tragedies involving college fraternities and you’ve got some serious gender issues happening right now. It’s women who have been uncomfortable on campus over the years, to put it mildly, and now as a society we are talking about it openly. It’s worth remembering that women weren’t allowed to enroll at some colleges and universities in the U.S. until the 1970s.

In an attempt to add light rather than heat, for many years leaders of higher education have worried about so-called Lost Boys (you may recall the Peter Pan story) choosing not to go to college. The reasons are complicated, but the phenomenon is probably driven by changes in the economy. Professions now flourishing in health care, education, and human services tend to require college degrees or certificates, but are traditionally occupied mostly by women. Male-dominated jobs, particularly in the blue collar sector, attract more men who don’t see the need for going to college. Ethnic minorities are most susceptible to the Lost Boy syndrome.

Then, of course, we have a special problem with the tech sector. When you look at group photos of Google and Facebook employees, it’s mostly young dudes. The companies say they are working on the problem. Closer to home, have a look at a typical calculus class.

Now, let’s get back to the present situation in higher education and revelations regarding sexual misconduct, which may involve criminality. It is tempting to think that community colleges are immune, since we don’t have professors treated like demigods with power over graduate assistants and student acolytes. But two-year schools are also workplaces, with supervisory relationships and employees with little job security. Not to mention students, of course, who may be children under the law, especially with the expansion of dual credit programs.

In the flurry of media attention, two articles are notably worth reading. One is a nice analysis of Texas law, called “How Texans Can Get Help if They’ve Experienced Sexual Harassment at Work,” by Alex Samuels, in the Texas Tribune.

The other is “Here’s What Sexual Harassment Looks Like in Higher Education,” by Katherine Mangan, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Both pieces are worth a look.