Affirmative action for the affluent!


  Tower Room in the Baker Memorial Library at Dartmouth College.

Tower Room in the Baker Memorial Library at Dartmouth College.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

“Americans are the only people in the world known to me whose status anxiety prompts them to advertise their college and university affiliations on the rear window of their automobiles.’’


-- The late Paul Fussell


The federal government is suing Harvard as part of the Trump administration’s drive against affirmative action in college admissions (and elsewhere). Its angle is to assert that Asian-Americans, many of whom have very strong high-school records, should be admitted in higher percentages. What is left unspoken is that the Trump plan is also meant to help white applicants, who, at least in part because they tend to come from more privileged backgrounds than African-Americans and Hispanics, also tend to have better high-school records.

I think that the Feds should bug out of the college-admissions controversy. All elite colleges, including all eight Ivy League schools, use a wide variety of criteria to try to make sure that their undergraduate student bodies have at least a vague resemblance to the population of the nation that these schools have served very well. Indeed, the schools are jewels of American culture, having helped to produce much cultural, technological and financial wealth. Consider the scientific breakthroughs in the institutions’ labs.

Anyway, despite the schools’ efforts at affirmative action, students from affluent backgrounds (overwhelmingly white) dominate these schools because of the economic, educational and social advantages (including better public and private schools) they’ve grown up with. Students must be careful to pick the right parents! If the administration wins, the colleges will be even more skewed to the rich. Such skewing is what helped Jared Kushner get into Harvard despite a mediocre high-school record. Daddy wrote a check to America’s oldest college for $2.5 million. And Donald Trump’s transfer to the University of Pennsylvania from Fordham was lubricated by his father’s wealth.

As this Bloomberg story reported:

“A Harvard dean was thrilled. The undergraduate college had just admitted the offspring of some wealthy donors, and now the money was expected to pour into the university.

"’I am simply thrilled about all the folks you were able to admit,’ David Ellwood, then the dean of {Harvard’s} John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote to {Harvard College} Dean William Fitzsimmons on June 11, 2014. ‘All big wins. [Name redacted] has already committed to building and building. [Name redacted] and [name redacted] committed major money for fellowships -- before the decisions (from you) and are all likely to be prominent in the future. Most importantly, I think these will be superb additions to the class."

There will always be affirmative action for the rich, even at Harvard, with a $39 billion endowment.

Oh, well: Not all the big donors’ gifts go to putting up grandiose buildings with their names plastered on them and endowed professors’ chairs, also with donors’ names plastered on them. Some goes to fellowships and scholarships.

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