The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is studying the issue of gender in college admission and will gather testimony and data from the University of Richmond and 18 other mid-Atlantic colleges and universities.
All of the schools were chosen by the commission based on their proximity to Washington, D.C., according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
But Richmond was also put on the list because of reports that asserted the university was intentionally admitting a disproportionately high number of male applicants, including a U.S. News and World Report article from June 2007 .
The commission has chosen to hold hearings in Washington, and it can require testimony only from colleges and universities located 100 miles or less from the hearing site, said Brian Eckert, director of media relations at Richmond.
Richmond received a subpoena from the commission, asking for information about its admissions process and for certain documents. The subpoena requires Richmond to provide a written response and relevant documents by mid-February, Eckert said. No hearings have been scheduled yet.
"Our track record in admitting women speaks for itself," Nanci Tessier, vice president for enrollment management, wrote in an e-mail to faculty, staff and students on Friday afternoon. "In the past four years, we have consistently admitted more women than men to our first-year class. In fact, this fall, we admitted just over 600 more women than men."
Tessier said the number of applications from women and female enrollment in colleges and universities had grown and approximately 58 percent of bachelor's degrees were awarded to women. The commission seeks to determine whether the institutions are violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by giving admissions preferences to men as the number of female applicants rises.
Title IX prohibits colleges and universities that receive federal funds from discriminating against applicants based on gender. But undergraduate admissions at private colleges that are not professional or technical institutions are the exception.
"Selective colleges, like Richmond, create a community that prepares students for life," Tessier said. "We begin by looking for academic talent and then also consider other factors such as geography, artistic talent, gender and athletic talent when selecting a first-year class."
The civil-rights commission cannot penalize institutions, Eckert said. But the commission can prompt action in Congress or the courts based on its findings.
Contact staff writer Nick Mider at firstname.lastname@example.org.