3.9k Share this
One of the major characteristics of 21st-century America is its transformation into a hierarchical society in which privileged families occupy the upper strata, and there’s comparatively little room for those at the hierarchy’s bottom to move up.
It’s always been that way to a degree, of course, and it used to be much worse. But starting with the rise of “objective” college entrance exams, the gates of opportunity opened much wider.
Someone who scored well on the SAT, the GRE or the LSAT could enjoy opportunities previously reserved to those favored by college gatekeepers for other reasons, such as wealth or bloodlines.
For three generations, it was realistic for smart kids to think that regardless of their background or resources, if they could do well enough on those tests they could enjoy admission to the highest levels of education and society.
Now, in an America of shrinking horizons, many schools are moving to undo those changes and push the gates shut. It’s being done in the name of “progressive” ideology, but like so many things done in that name, it’s actually regressive.
Harvard, for example, is de-emphasizing test scores. Now the SAT won’t matter as much for admissions — in fact, it’ll be optional for applicants — and Harvard will choose its students in a more “holistic” fashion. It will look more at essays, at grades, at how many buildings parents might endow and whether there might be favorable press or gossip associated with a particular admissions decision.
What it won’t be doing is admitting a bunch of poor black kids. Oh, there will be a few — even a hundred years ago and more, the Ivy League had its tokens, there to show its broadmindedness without giving up many slots. But the purpose and effect of getting rid of objective tests is to give more room to subjective judgments.
In short, they’re getting rid of objective tests so as to give more power to admissions bureaucrats. And those bureaucrats won’t have applicants’ interests at heart but rather Harvard’s and their own.
As blogger Freddie deBoer writes, “Now it’s in their best interest to have even more leeway to select the bumbling doofus children of the affluent, and you’re applauding them for it in the name of ‘equity.’ Brilliant.” (“Equity” is a term woke academics have chosen because it sounds kind of like “equality,” which Americans like, but actually means active racial discrimination, which Americans don’t.)
In fact, a cynic might think — and, in fact, I do think — that much of this is just to make Harvard’s already extensive discrimination against Asians easier and harder to prove.
Asian students do very well on objective tests, on average. If Harvard admitted students based solely on SAT scores, its population would be very heavily Asian. Harvard doesn’t want that. So it aims to use softer variables instead.
This isn’t new. The Ivy League did the same thing in the first half of the last century, when it was afraid it would be overrun by Jews. It started emphasizing “well-roundedness,” “leadership,” athletics and things that Jewish immigrants would find harder to satisfy. Now it’s doing it again.
So what? you might ask. Harvard is a private university. Let it admit who it wants.
Well, there are two problems with that. First, though Harvard is nominally “private,” it soaks up a huge amount of taxpayer money. As former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently noted, “The Ivy League is ripping off America.” Not only do these schools get huge subsidies from federal financial aid and research grants, but the tax subsidy for contributions is essentially $1 for every $3 raised. And we already don’t let universities admit whoever they want, based on numerous federal antidiscrimination laws.
Harvard’s admissions play an outsized role in American society, which is probably bad in itself. And these changes illustrate yet another way in which the gentry class is pulling up the ladders of economic and social opportunity to defend its place at the top, even as it does a worse and worse job of improving the lives of people at the bottom.
You may have noticed that New York is canceling next month’s Regents exams. Same thing: less recognition for merit at the bottom, more power for the connected at the top. That’s the woke plan for America, one unaccountable bureaucracy at a time.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.