Thursday, March 23, 2006

Those Ivied Walls Are Falling Down; Meritocracy and Institutional Imperatives

An interesting op-ed in today's Times: To All the Girls I've Rejected,
by Jennifer Delahunty Britz, director of admissions at Kenyon College:
"The elephant that looms large in the middle of the room is the importance of gender balance. Should it trump the qualifications of talented young female applicants? At those colleges that have reached what the experts call a 'tipping point,' where 60 percent or more of their enrolled students are female, you'll hear a hint of desperation in the voices of admissions officers.

Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive."
Link this to the thesis of The Chosen, by Jerome Karabel, a good book, recently published, which reviews the history of admission policy at Harvard, Yale and Princeton from 1920 to now. He traces the different criteria for admission used and not used: academic promise, SAT scores, personality, extra curricular, legacy (descendant of alumni), athletic ability, race, religion, geographic diversity, international diversity, etc. Sometimes "diversity" was used to keep Jews out, sometimes to get African-Americans in; "legacy" has always been important because it ties directly to alumni support (giving).

Karabel barely touches on the new controversy--whether affirmative action should apply to males over females. Twill be interesting--will Bill Buckley be happy if Yale is 80 percent female? Will the stalwart proponents of merit-based admissions change their positions when the issue is not black versus white but male versus female?

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