Monday, September 04, 2006

Harvard College and the children of America's elite

A few months back I wrote about wiggle room for admissions at the Harvard Business School. This morning in the Boston Globe, I see a column by Alex Beam about affirmative action for rich people at Harvard and other Ivy League schools. Beam basically says that the children of rich alumni get to sneak around pesky admissions criteria that most other Harvard College applicants have to contend with, such as getting sky-high grades and writing stellar admissions essays. Sometimes the rich use admissions consultants to write or polish essays. Sometimes they simply use large amounts of cash, he says, drawing upon the evidence presented in Dan Golden's book The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates:
Golden's book is a well-reported critique of what amounts to affirmative action for rich people, who enjoy a panoply of preferences in the college admission process that outsiders could never dream of. The best-known examples are ``legacy" admissions for alumni children; scholarships reserved for upper-class sports, such as rowing; and the ultimate preference: dough. When you read how Harvard treats the children of its fat - cat Committee on University Resources -- who enjoy such perks as sit-downs with the director of admissions, personal campus tours, and access to the coveted ``Z-list" of deferred applicants -- suddenly real affirmative action for people who need it doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

The most egregious example of pay-for-Crimson - play is that of Jared Kushner , now the youthful owner of The New York Observer. While Jared was applying to colleges, his dad, New Jersey billionaire developer Charles Kushner , pledged $2.5 million to Harvard, to be paid in installments. (Kushner pere pleaded guilty to tax evasion and other counts in 2004 and recently completed a prison sentence.) An official at Kushner's high school told Golden: ``There was no way anybody in . . . the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard. His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought, for sure, there was no way this was going to happen." Kushner graduated from Harvard in 2003.
Beam was prompted to write this column after reading Golden's book. I haven't read the book myself, but Golden's thesis doesn't surprise me. Harvard and other schools need rich people to strengthen their endowments, get new academic programs off the ground, and build new facilities. The rich have extraordinary access to deans, university presidents, and influential alumni bodies -- far more than ordinary students or their families. If your last name is Bass, Gates, Bush, Kennedy or Ballmer you'll find it a lot easier to attend the college of your choice, compared to someone with the same high school academic and extracurricular abilities, but surnamed Jones, Lin, Martinez or O'Neill. It's unfair, but that's the way Harvard -- and many other private colleges -- work.


Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...

Or, if you're name is, um, Lamont.

Anonymous said...

Or Dubin... let's guess the other 2 children will be matriculating at Harvard in a year or so.