Thursday, January 5, 2017

Numerical equality or equal opportunities

It is common to hear concerns about the fact that women do not want to study technical careers and prefer to pursue other professions, such as in health sciences, psychology or the humanities, where they usually make the majority. In contrast, in technical schools there is usually a high percentage of male students. For example, at the Higher Polytechnic School of the Autonomous University of Madrid, during the 20 years between 1992 and 2012, in our degree in Computer Engineering, two-thirds of the students were male, just one-third were female. And between 2003 and 2012, in the degree in Telecommunications Engineering, the proportion of women was even lower: there were three men for each woman.

While I was director of the Higher Polytechnic School, we received the visit of the President of a Cuban university specializing in the teaching of computer science. When we mentioned the disparity of sex among the students in our School, he was proud to reply that in his university they had solved the problem, as they had exactly the same number of male and female students. What had they done? Very simple: they had imposed a different entry level for the two sexes. In other words, in this university, to be accepted, men need a high qualification in the entrance exams, while women can get in with much lower results.
What the President did not realize (or if he did, he did not care) is that they had managed to achieve numerical equality at the cost of equal opportunities. There are many kinds of equality, and not all of them are equivalent. Sometimes, as in this case, if one is increased, it is at the cost of lowering the other.
What is more important? That the number of men is equal to the number of women everywhere? Or that everybody, men and women, have the same opportunities in life? If smart women do not want to follow technical careers, must we increase the number of less skilled female students, at the cost of several more able males not being able to follow their chosen profession?
Politicians seek numerical equality desperately, regardless of the effects this may have on other types of equality. To achieve this, they apply what they call positive discrimination, an absurd name, because whatever positive discrimination for someone implies negative discrimination for another, and vice versa. If it is said, for example, that blacks are discriminated, compared to whites, in certain countries, it follows automatically that there is positive discrimination in favor of whites in those countries. And if a system of positive discrimination is imposed in favor of women, a negative discrimination against men is automatically imposed. But of course, discriminating against men is politically correct.

Manuel Alfonseca

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