An anonymous indie-cinema-loving hermit friend from Amsterdam sends me an article in this week’s Economist entitled “Poison Ivy: Not so much palaces of learning as bastions of privilege and hypocrisy” (unfortunately, only available to subscribers). The article is a summary of an excellent Wall Street Journal series by Daniel Golden (again, unfortunately, only available to subscribers), which I’ve been following with great interest. Golden has also put out a book about this topic, called The Price of Admission (“How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates”), which I just ordered from Amazon. In the meantime, I’ll simply quote a few passages from the Economist piece:
Mr Golden shows that elite universities do everything in their power to admit the children of privilege. If they cannot get them in through the front door by relaxing their standards, then they smuggle them in through the back. No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra “hook”, from rich or alumni parents to “sporting prowess”. The number of whites who benefit from this affirmative action is far greater than the number of blacks…
Most people think of black football and basketball stars when they hear about “sports scholarships”. But there are also sports scholarships for rich white students who play preppie sports such as fencing, squash, sailing, riding, golf and, of course, lacrosse. The University of Virginia even has scholarships for polo-players, relatively few of whom come from the inner cities…
What is one to make of [Senate Majority Leader Bill] Frist, who opposes affirmative action for minorities while practising it for his own son?
Two groups of people overwhelmingly bear the burden of these policies — Asian-Americans and poor whites. Asian-Americans are the “new Jews”, held to higher standards (they need to score at least 50 points higher than non-Asians even to be in the game) and frequently stigmatised for their “characters” (Harvard evaluators persistently rated Asian-Americans below whites on “personal qualities”). When the University of California, Berkeley briefly considered introducing means-based affirmative action, it rejected the idea on the ground that “using poverty yields a lot of poor white kids and poor Asian kids”.
The article ends with the hope that “America’s money-addicted and legacy-loving universities can be shamed into returning to what ought to have been their guiding principle all along: admitting people to university on the basis of their intellectual ability.”
I harped about this issue in one of my very first posts, almost a year ago. I don’t know what else to say. If idealism won’t goad us Americans (yes, I’m still an American) into overhauling our crooked, anti-intellectual admissions system, then maybe it will help to see just how absurd that system looks to the rest of the world.