Friday 2 October 2015

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. And now, I have a foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so. I will be posting full paragraphs or pages of interesting excerpts from those letters every Saturday.

This week's entry is the letter from Dave Sim to Mr. Douglas A. Jeffrey, of Hillsdale College, which was attached to the letter Dave sent me in June of 2004, and which was referred to in last week's post. This was the beginning to one of the oddest correspondences I've ever had occasion to witness between Dave and anyone else. I was just involved peripherally, despite having "sicced" Dave on Mr. Jeffery and HIllsdale College in the first place, by virtue of having put Dave's name in for a subscription to their free conservative publication, Imprimis. Here we go:

22 June 04

Douglas A. Jeffery
Vice President for External Affairs
Hillsdale College
33 E. College Street
Hillsdale, MI

Dear Mr. Jeffrey:

Thank you for your note of earlier this month welcoming me as a subscriber to Imprimis. I have already sent a photocopy of the first issue you sent, the April number, to one of my reader/correspondents and have quoted it to another. A most extraordinary, thoughtful and clear-thinking publication. I enclose my contribution and the addresses of two more possible subscribers.

I have to admit that the only thing that dismayed me in reading about your institution was the statistic that you have 51% female enrollment and 49% male enrollment. This was the only area where I saw you as violating your mandate as a liberal arts college in the original sense of the term. Female representation is certainly something to be acknowledged and accepted everywhere and by everyone in a free society, but I would maintain that a one-to-one ratio can only be achieved through the skewing and lowering of standards. After all, even the United Nations is only calling for 30% female representation in the world’s legislatures -- and is everywhere falling well short of that goal because of the (to me, anyway) self-evident overall lesser aptitudes, interests and inclinations of the female of the species in the required areas of genuine achievement.

I only remark upon this because I noted with great interest and approval that Hillsdale refused to adopt affirmative action in the 1970s, was the only college to publicly refuse to sign the Title IV compliance forms, and has chosen to forego all federal funding -- even indirectly -- in order to maintain this principle stance. To go through all of that and then to have a nearly exact 50-50 gender mix in your study enrollment, strikes me as being about as sensible as going eyeball-eyeball with the Soviets in 1962 until they blinked and then spending the next 20 years trying to find ways to appease them.

I enclose one of my more controversial essays, Tangent, from 2001. Mr. Seiler is a reader of mine of long-standing and I'm sure that he (quite rightly) guessed that -- apart from the above-mentioned foundational disagreement between our positions on gender -- Hillsdale College and its publication would be exactly my "cup of tea".

Dave Sim


Entry from U.S. News and World Report’s annual America’s Best Colleges issue, 2004.

U.S. News ranking: Lib. Arts, No. 96

Freshman admissions:
2003-2004: 1,150 applied, 881 accepted. Either SAT or ACT required. ACT 25/75 percentile: 24-29. High school rank: 42% in top tenth, 78% in top quarter, 98% in top half.

Undergraduate student body:
1,195 full time, 35 part time, 47% male, 53% female; N/A American Indian, N/A Asian, N/A black, N/A Hispanic, N/A white, N/A international; 47% from in state; 86% live on campus; 33% of students in fraternities; 40% in sororities.

Most popular majors:
25% business, managing, marketing, and related support services; 18% social sciences; 15% biological and biomedical sciences; 11% English language and literature/letters; 10% education.


Anonymous said...

If feminism is "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men", then I suppose you could argue that insisting that women are not equal in overall aptitude to men is merely "anti-feminism" and not misogyny.

His opinion seems to be sexist though. "Sexism" is defined as "prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex." By that definition, it is sexist prejudice to say that "the female of the species" have an "overall lesser aptitude" (aptitude meaning "a natural ability to do something") in the areas of genuine achievement.

Is one a misogynist merely because one holds a prejudice against most women? Is sexism inevitably misogyny?

As a point of comparison, "anti-Semitism" is defined in many online dictionaries as "hostility to or prejudice against Jews". The definition of anti-Semitism closely parallels sexism, yet for some reason being defined as a sexist lacks the stigma of being defined as anti-Semitic. On the other hand, Wikipedia's definition of anti-Semitism includes "hatred" of Jews, so perhaps that is more indicative of people's understanding of the terms, and explains the greater stigma.

Perhaps the problem for Dave is that there is a thin line between prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and hatred.

- Reginald P.

Anonymous said...

@Reginald You overlooked his line "Female representation is certainly something to be acknowledged and accepted everywhere and by everyone in a free society"

Tony Dunlop said...

As long as the exact same standards - across the board - are applied in all admission decisions - and I think they were/are at Hillsdale - I can't wrap my brain around Dave's objection.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous:

The qualification you point to doesn't change Dave's overall prejudiced view; if anything it makes it even more prejudiced.

He's basically saying, "Women should NOT be excluded from participating in a free society; their own natural lack of aptitude in areas of genuine achievement will ensure that they are excluded naturally. Where women are represented in equal numbers in fields of genuine human achievement, the logical conclusion is that there must be some sort of silent policy of affirmative action. The women could not be admitted on merit, despite Hillsdale's apparent policy."

I think if you read the whole thing together, you will see that is the point he is clearly driving at.

- Reginald P.

Jeff Seiler said...

Reg is pretty well getting to the heart of the matter here. But there are more letters from Dave to Mr. Jeffery, in the upcoming weeks...

Tony again said...

Hmm, yeah, it's clear that Dave's position is that admitting equal numbers of men and women is, in itself, evidence of some kind of affirmative action, whether Hillsdale is conscious of it or not. It seems to me that that comes dangerously close to the kind of reasoning that leads to one's own desired conclusions regardless of the nature of the empirical evidence…aka "prejudice." Not at all the same thing as "misogyny," mind you, but still…not fully "rational" either.
I look forward to future installments!

Tony again said...

Two more comments here (sorry if I'm "hijacking"):
1. The applied vs. admitted data are not broken down by gender. Perhaps considerably more than half of applicants were female?
2. This one's borderline snark, but…no college can call itself "liberal arts", especially in any classical sense, if a quarter of its degrees are in "business and marketing," i.e. vocational degrees. Those are trade school degrees, not liberal arts.

AlextheKay said...

Interesting. I don't agree with Dave. I find the assumptions underlying his assertion pretty baseless (that they are sexist should go without saying). But....

Well, to be perfectly frank, I don't give a shit.

I love Cerebus--the work, not the guy who created it. I'm a huge fan of H.L. Mencken, too. That doesn't mean I share his particular prejudices. I'm a fanatical fan of Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon. The first one was nuts and the second remains a mystery. And that's probably just as well.

Remember the section of "Latter Days" where Garth Innocent (or whatever he's called in there) talks about how if he were in Cerebus' position, he'd drag his favorite comics creator in for a heart-to-heart? Well...that's dumb. (Typical, mind you, but dumb.) The work's what's important.

The creators are always human. Just like the rest of us.


iestyn said...

So many points I agree on here.

Dave clearly jumps to a conclusion based upon his long held BELIEFS, without examining the facts.

He's taking a generalisation (that he holds true) and trying to apply it to individual circumstance. It's like saying men CAN achieve greater strength than women, so in all competitions of strength between men and women the winner will be a man. In reality, there ARE women who are MUCH stronger than I am, because these things exist on a sliding scale, not in singular nodes.

Same here - if there is a standard required to achieve entry and all of those attending are the ones that achieved that standard, then it is clear that those individual's have the appropriate abilities and skills. To insist on abstract philosophies or statistics being constantly applied in each circumstance is to fail to understand the concept of abstraction - it is at a significant remove from encountered reality for individuals.


I do think that Dave does hold to some very out of date sexist opinions. I also believe it hold to some pretty old fashioned small 'c' conservative values.

BUT - I still don't care - I'm sure he's still a well intentioned individual and I KNOW he's done a lot to help MANY people of all stripes.

Iestyn Pettigrew

Jack said...

In the US, at least, female high school students consistently get better grades than male high school students. You'd have to skew admissions in the boys' favor to get gender parity in college admissions.