Thursday, June 12, 2008

Academic Malpractices --a Continuing Saga

By Richard Vedder

Asians at Princeton

A couple stories in INSIDE HIGHER ED the last couple of days caught my attention. The Department of Education is looking broadly at Princeton's policies with respect to the admission of Asian students. Discrimination has been alleged.

Anyone who has read the masterful books written by Jerome Karabel (The Chosen) or Daniel Golden (The Price of Admission) would not be surprised by the Education Department's inquiry. For decades, the Ivies have been using subjective concepts to evaluate things like "character" or "leadership" and then have used this as a means to admit favored groups and nix less favored ones. Early in the last century, Jews were restricted and discriminated against. Private school kids were favored over public school ones. Alumni children are typically favored, and Asians are not, as anyone who read Golden's account of Henry Park knows. Henry was the excellent graduate of Groton School with a 1560 combined SAT score who was turned down by many Ivies while African-American students with far poorer academic records were accepted. As Henry's mom succinctly summarized it, "I was naive...I thought college admissions had something to do with academics."

Why are the Ivies demonstrably anti-Asian (even though, in fairness, they do accept a lot of Asian students)? I think it is all about politics. The alums have influence and big pocketbooks. African Americans, especially, and Hispanics (to a lesser extent) have powerful political forces interested in their welfare. But Asians largely eschew politics, including university/admission office politics. They raise less of a fuss when dumped on. However, it is morally dubious, and also somewhat anti-academic and anti-intellectual (although the kids accepted are almost universally very good students). In any case, I think a rigorous academic standard should be the criterion used --arguably the SOLE criteria used --in admitting students. Any other standard opens schools up to claims of bias and discrimination. The objective academic standard works in Europe, where even the Prime Minister's child was rejected at Oxford. This country is built on meritocracy not aristocracy; why cannot we use the same objective standards?

This is not a good week for the Ivy League. Leaving Princeton and moving up north to Harvard, it turns out that a prominent professor has been taking large consulting monies from a pharmaceutical firm and not reporting it --as required by Harvard and federal law. This reminds me of a similar scandal a few years back, when an economics professor buddy of then President Laurence Summers was found to have misused millions of grant monies relating to Russia. What happened? Harvard forked over millions, and the professor continues to teach and hobnob with Summers. Where is the accountability? Are college folks immune from the consequences of dubious behavior that anywhere else in society would be severely punished? Where is the transparency? Is there any wonder Senator Chuck Grassley (whose staff uncovered this latest scam) is on the warpath? Harvard may still discipline the professor in question, but don't count on it.

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