The American Association of University Professors recently released a study that complains much about the “inequity” of fewer women than men professors in American colleges and universities. General secretary of the AAUP Roger Bowen sternly says, “My attempt is to put the academy on notice. We’ve got work to do.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story here in which I’m the dissenting voice.
This kind of analysis is quite common. Whether the focus is income, race, gender, or some other part of human life, the built-in assumption is always that unless the outcome of a spontaneous order matches up with an observer’s notions of perfection (usually that things should be equal in some respect), that is proof of injustice or inequity.
In his book The Mirage of Social Justice F.A. Hayek got to the heart of the problem. The trouble with these “social justice” or “social inequity” arguments is that they demand specific results from unplanned, uncontrolled systems where large numbers of people and organizations individually pursue their interests. While it makes sense to appeal to justice or equity where there is a decision-maker who can be either just or unjust, equitable or inequitable, Hayek argued that it makes no sense to label as unjust or inequitable the results of unplanned systems.
That observation applies here. There is no more reason to say that things are equitable if half the full-time professors and men and half are women than if, as currently, 61 percent are men and 39 percent are women. It’s not as if some rich uncle were playing favorites in how he gives out presents to his nieces and nephews. In each individual employment decision, men and women are free to seek the position and the institution is free to hire whomever it regards as the best candidate. It’s illogical to indict “the system” for unfairness where each transaction that comprises it is fair.