Why are so many of our institutions captured by people on the fringes of the cultural Left?
But a recent study by two economists at West Virginia University provides a microcosmic example of how cultural leftists keep a grip on their power in universities: They discriminate in favor of their own.
No, this isn’t a study about suppressing conservative speech on campuses. This sort of discrimination is much more subtle.
The authors of the study sent emails to college admissions counselors at 500 randomly selected colleges and universities in the United States. Some of the emails included pronouns in the signature line—“he/him,” “she/her,” or “xe/xem.”
Those who did received responses 4% more often than those who did not.
There was no statistical difference in the speed of replies or in the number of words included in a reply, which suggested that “the decision was whether to respond, and [pronouns] did not affect the eagerness to respond.” But admissions officers’ responses to pronoun users tended to be different than to non-users.
Responses to pronoun users were “more positive” and “friendlier,” including “heightened use of exclamation marks and emojis.” Admissions officers used exclamation marks 10.5% more often with pronoun users and used emojis 141.7% more often with pronoun users.
Pronoun non-users tended to receive “strictly factual replies.”
What follows are some representative examples of the trend. The economists sent an identical email asking about the timing and delivery of decision letters to three admissions officers. The first two emails included pronouns, the third did not.
Here are the responses:
- Hi Morgan, Thanks for your message! The first item we will mail to you is your admission decision. It will be sent electronically and if admitted, also through the mail. Will you have moved by February?
- Hi Morgan, How long until you move? We will send an admissions email and then a physical packet in the mail within about 3 weeks from them [sic] so it will depend on that as most communication from WVU will be via email. Warm regards,
- I would say you should use whichever one you want to get your mail sent to because we’ll mail your acceptance letter, scholarship certificate, and financial aid package to that address.
It was noteworthy that the economists did not find a preference for nonbinary people (represented by “xe/xem” pronouns), but rather a fairly uniform preference for anyone who uses pronouns.
Thus, the economists concluded that the data suggest “that agents of higher education institutions hold a preference for progressively minded individuals.”
The institutions most likely to discriminate tend to be medium to large, based in cities, and have low retention rates and a large proportion of students receiving need-based financial aid.
The economists note that by giving pronoun users preferential treatment, admissions counselors make it easier for those applicants to gain admission.
In economic parlance, they “decrease the transaction costs” of the application process. Admissions officers’ preferential treatment also has the effect of promoting their institutions to pronoun users above others.
If you follow this logic one step further, the end result is that pronoun users will have an easier time getting through the application process and will tend to feel more welcome at a school than non-users will.
It may be a small effect in the grand scheme of things, but it’s only one small effect among thousands of similar effects. And just as thousands of raindrops will fill a bucket, thousands of little discriminations will fill a university with the preferred sort of student.
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