PAW published the story online in February Below are my comments. While I certainly do not want to appear to be taking issue with the main core of Mr. This particular excerpt seems to me only somewhat tangentially related to a history of the discrimination once faced by Jews when applying for admission to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, discrimination I am glad to say was history by the time I became involved in admissions in at Swarthmore College. The question of why a smaller number of entering freshmen at Princeton indicate their religious preference to be Jewish than is the case at Harvard and Yale is one we have looked at periodically beginning back in June , when I made a detailed report on the subject to President Harold Shapiro, Provost Hugo Sonnenschein, and Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel. The expressed concern has not been that the percentage of Jewish students entering Princeton has been lower than either the percentage entering all colleges or the percentage entering private universities in the same year the average respective percentages for Princeton during my 15 years as dean were
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He demonstrates that many contemporary practices, such as attempts at regional diversity and finding "well-rounded" students, emerged through the anti-Semitic and anti-intellectual stance of early 20th century college presidents and admissions deans. For example, facing a "Jewish problem" in the early s, Harvard president Lawrence Lowell enacted limits on the size of incoming classes and a new emphasis on "aptitude and character" in admissions decisions.
This standard, which became a predominant qualification for entry into these elite universities for several decades, was built on a white Anglo-Saxon protestant model of manliness.
Using an ostensibly value-neutral yardstick allowed these universities to exclude many Jews as well as women, blacks and Asians from consideration. Admissions decisions are not simply the purview of admissions deans and college presidents. College alumni, faculty, private school administrators, students and the media play influential roles in the creation of admissions policies.
In particular, college alumni and faculty place oppositional pressures on admissions departments, demanding consideration for less-gifted alumni children and more exclusive focus on academic qualifications, respectively.
As The Chosen demonstrates, when admissions deans seek to balance these constituencies with the increasingly competitive college market, the goals of diversity and equal opportunity are alternately shunted and elevated depending on their potential to affect the status of the university.
While the legitimacy of these institutions depends upon the appearance of diversity, their financial success often rests on exclusionary practices, such as legacy and early decision admissions.
These competing forces of legitimacy and financial interests have complicated these universities' definitions of merit throughout the 20th century. The Chosen illustrates not only the past foibles of anti-Semitic and chauvinistic college presidents.
Harvard, Princeton and Yale — along with elite colleges and universities throughout the country — currently espouse the ideals of regional, racial and talent diversity. Yet they miss incorporating class diversity in their student body. As the price of college attendance rises, and financial aid remains minimal in relation to what the average person would require to attend an elite [End Page ] college, Karabel calls for attention to a remaining source of homogeneity in the student body — that of social class.
While colleges and universities have become more visibly diverse in the past few decades, post-secondary education remains deeply stratified by class differences. As Karabel suggests, incorporation of social class background in a manner similar to current treatment of race within the admissions process might well be beneficial in light of the growing income and wealth inequality within American society.
The Chosen is a tome befitting the shelves of anyone interested in the history of the elite, post-secondary education or the shifting and ever-present political battles over the contours of "merit.
The author uses historical documents, which are not often used in sociological research, such as internal communications, admissions handbooks and reports, student newspapers and yearbooks, and government reports to shed light on the changing nature of these three schools. In addition, he demonstrates the impact of historical events such as immigration in the early part of the century, World War II, the space race and the race riots of the s on college admissions policies, tying the narrow historical process of institutional policy with larger fluctuations in American ethos.
The most important contribution of this book, however, is in illuminating ways that meritocratic standards may be constructed to systemically discriminate against particular social groups. This is not a new concept, but it bears repeating, as gatekeepers in various settings continue to use supposedly "objective" criteria to control access to elite spheres of power.
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In The Chosen , Jerome Karabel traces the emergence of the admissions process at the Big Three universities Harvard, Yale and Princeton , and the evolving definitions of merit. If you would like to authenticate using a different subscribed institution or have your own login and password to Project MUSE.
Additional Information. Project MUSE Mission Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.
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The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton
Newsworthy, but too dense for the general reader. Bush is set to complete his second term, graduates of the big three will have occupied the White House for 47 of the years he covers here. How did the schools arrive at a highly subjective process that weighs academics, athleticism, lineage, class and character? Until the s, most major universities based admissions solely on academic distinction. Then, amid a national wave of immigration reform, the upper-crust schools overhauled their policies to have a more well-rounded student body, by which they meant one including not too many Jews. While the fight over admissions occasionally boiled over in public, Karabel makes his case most persuasively—and exhaustively—through internal reports and correspondence. Though it can hardly be overstated, the institutional anti-Semitism is a note Karabel plinks past the point of exhaustion.
'The Chosen': Getting In
A few years ago, I wrote a book about the rise of a new educated class, the people with 60's values and 90's money who go to Starbucks, shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos. A woman came up to me after one of my book talks and said, "You realize what you're talking about is the Jews taking over America. My eyes bugged out, but then I realized that she was Jewish and she knew I was, too, and between us we could acknowledge there's a lot of truth in that statement. For the Jews were the vanguard of a social movement that over the course of the 20th century transformed the American university system and the nature of the American elite. Karabel's tale begins in , when young men like Franklin Delano Roosevelt graduated from academies like Groton, St. Paul's and Choate, moved easily and almost automatically to Cambridge, New Haven or Princeton and set the cultural tone at the country's prestigious universities. When they arrived on campus, these scions of the Protestant Establishment didn't concern themselves overly much with academics.