Ross Douch-hat may get it (a little bit) right

I’m not a big fan of Ross Douthat, one of the token antediluvian thinkers on the NYTimes oped page. His view on the Princeton We-are-but-searching for Ivy League husbands scandal is full of the usual idiocy. For example, the widely held view that he articulates:

a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates

is not quite entirely true. There is this aspect. But there is also more than this, for the students who want to find it, and who work at finding it. But one thing that got my attention was (my emphasis added):

Or it would be like telling admissions offices at elite schools that they should seek a form of student-body “diversity” that’s mostly cosmetic, designed to flatter multicultural sensibilities without threatening existing hierarchies all that much. They don’t need to be told — that’s how the system already works! The “holistic” approach to admissions, which privileges résumé-padding and extracurriculars over raw test scores or G.P.A.’s, has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite.

For a while (relatively recently) I did some teaching in a place that, while it had a big medical school, was definitely the second tier state school – UMass Boston,  UMBaltimore, Univ of Cincinnati, Univ Illinois in Chicago The place I taught was the place for working class to middle class urban people of various races, religions, etcs to go, so that they could live at home, and keep working 20 hr a week while going to school. Some of these people (now male and female) may have played high school sports, but thats about it. They did not get French lessons, ice skating lessons, chess club, or parent subsidized science fair projects. The ones with whom I interacted largely wanted to become physicians or dentists or nurses, because they knew that would be a ticket out of their neighborhood, which wasn’t always safe or pretty. I met at least a couple of students who were also supporting their families with full time jobs (parents who were no longer functional Vietnam Vets – the war that keeps on giving to the nth generation). I saw casual racism, sexism and rampant homophobia that the students received from every corner, including the profs, and despite that, they kept at it.

Whether the Ivies would  or could serve these people (of whatever race) or not is debatable. Most of these students were or became superb human beings, and most of them became or are becoming terrific clinicians serving communities they came from.  Whether “superficial integration” makes a difference, I don’t know and can’t judge and I haven’t read much about it that makes a lot of sense to me. But if “meritocracy” rewards activities that are highly correlated with class, and class is highly correlated with race, then the Ivies aren’t going to change except superficially.


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