Affirmative Distraction

July 29, 2010

Please excuse this article’s being here posted in place of overdue original content, but it makes some good points, and makes them well… especially for The New York Times. Though, it’s heartening that venerable rag hired Ross Douthat and let him write this. Mr. Douthat, in addition to NYT columnist, doubles as film critic for National Review and hails from New Haven, Connecticut. He joined the paper in 2009 and his career will bear watching.

In March of 2000, Pat Buchanan came to speak at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. Harvard being Harvard, the audience hissed and sneered and made wisecracks. Buchanan being Buchanan, he gave as good as he got. While the assembled Ivy Leaguers accused him of homophobia and racism and anti-Semitism, he accused Harvard — and by extension, the entire American elite — of discriminating against white Christians.

A decade later, the note of white grievance that Buchanan struck that night is part of the conservative melody. You can hear it when Glenn Beck accuses Barack Obama of racism, or when Rush Limbaugh casts liberal policies as an exercise in “reparations.” It was sounded last year during the backlash against Sonia Sotomayor’s suggestion that a “wise Latina” jurist might have advantages over a white male judge, and again last week when conservatives attacked the Justice Department for supposedly going easy on members of the New Black Panther Party accused of voter intimidation.

To liberals, these grievances seem at once noxious and ridiculous. (Is there any group with less to complain about, they often wonder, than white Christian Americans?) But to understand the country’s present polarization, it’s worth recognizing what Pat Buchanan got right.

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.

This may be a money-saving tactic. In a footnote, Espenshade and Radford suggest that these institutions, conscious of their mandate to be multiethnic, may reserve their financial aid dollars “for students who will help them look good on their numbers of minority students,” leaving little room to admit financially strapped whites.

But cultural biases seem to be at work as well. Nieli highlights one of the study’s more remarkable findings: while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or “Red America.”

This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike. Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited — that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third world immigrants, and so forth.

Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what’s being plotted in the heartland. In the Bush years, liberals fretted about a looming evangelical theocracy. In the age of the Tea Parties, they see crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs everywhere they look.

This cultural divide has been widening for years, and bridging it is beyond any institution’s power. But it’s a problem admissions officers at top-tier colleges might want to keep in mind when they’re assembling their freshman classes.

If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there’s more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers

Advertisements

In Decline, Graciously

July 2, 2010

Via The New York Times:

Satisfaction with our national progress should not make us forget its authors: the very Protestant elite that founded and long dominated our nation’s institutions of higher education and government, including the Supreme Court.

Unlike almost every other dominant ethnic, racial or religious group in world history, white Protestants have ceded their socioeconomic power by hewing voluntarily to the values of merit and inclusion, values now shared broadly by Americans of different backgrounds. The decline of the Protestant elite is actually its greatest triumph.

Like any ethno-racial or religious group, the population of white Protestants is internally diverse. It would be foolish to conflate the descendants of New England smallholders with the offspring of Scandinavian sod farmers in the Middle West, just as it would be a mistake to confuse the Milanese with the Sicilians, or the children of Havana doctors with the grandchildren of dirt farmers from Chiapas, Mexico.

So, when discussing the white elite that exercised such disproportionate power in American history, we are talking about a subgroup, mostly of English or Scots-Irish origin, whose ancestors came to this land in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their forebears fought the American Revolution and wrote the Constitution, embedding in it a distinctive set of beliefs of Protestant origin, including inalienable rights and the separation of church and state.

It is not as though white Protestants relinquished power quickly or without reservation. Catholic immigrants, whether from Ireland or Southern Europe, faced a century of organized discrimination and were regularly denounced as slavish devotees of the pope unsuited to democratic participation.

And, although anti-Semitism in America never had anything like the purchase it had in Europe, it was a persistent barrier. Protestants like Abbott Lawrence Lowell, a great president of Harvard in the early 20th century, tried to impose formal quotas to limit Jewish admissions to the university. The Protestant governing elite must also bear its own share of responsibility for slavery and racial discrimination.

Yet, after the ideals of meritocratic inclusion gained a foothold, progress was remarkably steady and smooth. Take Princeton University, a longtime bastion of the Southern Protestant elite in particular. The Princeton of F. Scott Fitzgerald was segregated and exclusive. When Hemingway described Robert Cohn in the opening of “The Sun Also Rises” as a Jew who had been “the middleweight boxing champion of Princeton,” he was using shorthand for a character at once isolated, insecure and pugnacious. As late as 1958, the year of the “dirty bicker” in which Jews were conspicuously excluded from its eating clubs, Princeton could fairly have been seen as a redoubt of all-male Protestant privilege.

In the 1960s, however, Princeton made a conscious decision to change, eventually opening its admissions to urban ethnic minorities and women. That decision has now borne fruit. Astonishingly, the last three Supreme Court nominees — Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — are Princeton graduates, from the Classes of 1972, ’76, and ’81, respectively. The appointments of these three justices to replace Protestant predecessors turned the demographic balance of the court.

Why did the Protestant elite open its institutions to all comers? The answer can be traced in large part to the anti-aristocratic ideals of the Constitution, which banned titles of nobility and thus encouraged success based on merit. For many years, the Protestant elite was itself open to rising white Protestants not from old-family backgrounds.

Money certainly granted entrée into governing circles, but education was probably more important to the way the Protestant elite defined itself, which is why the opening of the great American universities has had such an epochal effect in changing the demographics of American elites. Another key source was the ideal of fair play, imported from the ideology of the English public schools, but practiced far more widely in the United States than in the class-ridden mother country.

Together, these social beliefs in equality undercut the impulse toward exclusive privilege that every successful group indulges on occasion. A handful of exceptions for admission to societies, clubs and colleges — trivial in and of themselves — helped break down barriers more broadly. This was not just a case of an elite looking outside itself for rejuvenation: the inclusiveness of the last 50 years has been the product of sincerely held ideals put into action.

Interestingly, this era of inclusion was accompanied by a corresponding diffusion of the distinctive fashion (or rather anti-fashion) of the Protestant elite class. The style now generically called “prep,” originally known as “Ivy League,” was long purveyed by Jewish and immigrant haberdashers (the “J.” in the New Haven store J. Press stands for Jacobi) and then taken global by Ralph Lauren, né Lifshitz. But until the Protestant-dominated Ivy League began to open up, the wearers of the style were restricted to that elite subculture.

The spread of Ivy League style is therefore not a frivolous matter. Today the wearing of the tweed is not anachronism or assimilation, but a mark of respect for the distinctive ethnic group that opened its doors to all — an accomplishment that must be remembered, acknowledged and emulated.


Pretenders To The Throne

May 19, 2010

Rush Limbaugh is an author, in the most sluttish sense of that word (that is, its loosest and most non-discriminatory application). So are Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. They’ve all published (and, to some extent, written) books. “Books” is another loosely and generously applied word, but it’s true all their books share some commonality: they’re double-spaced, published in large font, and don’t include any words requiring a dictionary. These guys know their audience, and it’s not the Harvard political science department. Rush himself has less than a year’s worth of Southeast Missouri State University under his belt.

William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote real books. The single-spaced kind, with no pictures. He graduated from Yale University and published his first, God & Man at Yale, shortly thereafter. It was revolutionary for its time, and he followed up with over 50 more; some political discourse, others spy novels, travel journals, or biographies. He also served briefly in the Central Intelligence Agency, as a field officer in Mexico, and hosted the talk show Firing Line. He wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column, On The Right, ran for mayor of New York, and founded a magazine, National Review. NR is still a bastion of conservative thought… not just of party line conservatism, but of conservative thought. Through it, he mentored young thinkers like Dinesh D’Souza and Richard Brookhiser.

Rush & co. are noisy, arrogant pretenders to Buckley’s throne. Buckley earned the title Lion of The Right; today’s pundits are hyenas cackling over the lion’s leavings. None enjoy his intellect or joi de vivre; Buckley was playmaker, coach, and commissioner of a game in which the rest are Monday morning quarterbacks. They abstain from play, whereas Buckley launched a movement and defined conservative thought. Limbaugh and the others define only conservative rhetoric, and trust their audience not to spot the difference.

William F. Buckley, Jr.


Dollars & Sense

April 7, 2010

Online salary database PayScale.com undertook recently to rank American schools by their students’ average income upon graduation, and then again ten years out. Things broke down thus:

  1. Dartmouth College ($58,000 / $129,000)
  2. MIT ($71,000 / $126,000)
  3. Harvard University ($60,000 / $126,000)
  4. Harvey Mudd College ($71,000 / $125,000)
  5. Stanford University ($67,000 / $124,000)
  6. Princeton University ($65,000 / $124,000)
  7. Colgate University ($51,000 / $122,000)
  8. University of Notre Dame ($55,000 / $121,000)
  9. Yale University ($56,000 / $120,000)
  10. University of Pennsylvania ($60,000 / $118,000)

This year wasn’t the first that Dartmouth topped the list; though its graduates start at one of the lower top-ten median salaries, their rise in earnings over the subsequent ten years is largely due to an alumni network legendary for its loyalty.

Al Lee, PayScale’s Director of Quantitative Analysis, doesn’t give much credence to his report, though: “Even more than where you go to school, the degree you get is a bigger influencer of your pay for the vast majority of Americans.” True, Mr. Lee… but then again, the vast majority of Americans didn’t go to any of these schools.

Dartmouth wins again.


Hockey: Dartmouth 6, Harvard 2

November 30, 2009

Harvard University fell to Dartmouth College in a hockey game for the first time in ten years this past Sunday, by a score of 6 – 2. That same week, Dartmouth built on its momentum to defeat Providence 4 – 2. Other collegiate hockey games happened also, apparently.

Dartmouth hockey.


Deserving Purple Hearts

November 6, 2009

Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s book Justice is a scrubbing-down of his popular university course of the same name. George Will called reading the book “like taking his… course… without the tiresome parts, such as term papers and exams.”

On the back of the dust jacket, Will also promises that Professor Sandel “is a liberal, but not the annoying sort.” Though he may be on point in regard to the book’s similarity to the undergraduate course, Will misses the mark here: the first twleve pages of the book quickly disgorge an annoyingly misguided discussion of what types of wounds suffered by American soldiers should be worthy of a Purple Heart: mainly physical ones, or psychological ones too?

Sandel, though he doesn’t say it clearly, advocates inclusion of psychological wounds, like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, in the canon of deserving injuries. He quotes retired Marine captain Tyler E. Boudreau: “Sadly, as long as our military culture bears at least a quiet contempt for the psychological wounds of war, it is unlikely those veterans will ever see a Purple Heart.” There is no balancing quote from the other side of the argument, only a paraphrased argument that pointedly doesn’t “explain why bloodless injuries shouldn’t count.”

The explanation is this:

As Professor Sandel correctly notes, the Purple Heart is given for sacrifice, not bravery, and although the two are often paired in practice, such pairing is not necessary for awarding of the honor. It is given for sacrifice, and the most important quality of sacrifice is intent. There is no such thing as an unintended sacrifice. To wit: a man of modest means is walking down a street with twenty dollars in his pocket, sees a vagrant, and gives him the money. This is a sacrifice worthy of honoring because the man, though of modest means, is willing to make his own lot a little worse so that his neighbor, the vagrant, might be a little better off. In another scenario, the same man is walking down the same street with the same money in his pocket, and our vagrant quietly steals it. The man walks on, unaware. There’s no sacrifice here because that key quality of intent is absent. The man had no intent to make his lot a little worse so that he might help his neighbor. Rather, his loss was inflicted on him without his approval or knowledge. There’s honor in charitable giving, but not in being robbed, even if the ends are the same.

For this reason, soldiers who suffer psychological harm which they do not intend to place themselves in the way of should not be honored in the same way as those who suffer physical harm which they intentionally place themselves in the way of. As above, the difference is intent.

While it may be argued that all soldiers intend to place themselves at risk of psychological harm merely by joining the military and agreeing to go to war, this is a general threat. It is not immediately staring them in the face, and psychological wounds accumulate over time. Suffering mental wounds is more similar to slowly drinking contaminated water over many years without knowing it, than it is to being shot at. Similarly, firemen assume the risk of a general threat of being burned in a fire, but such assumption is a far cry from the specific threat of pulling alongside a burning house and running inside and up the stairs.

Conversely, suffering physical harm requires the intent of the harmed to place himself or herself in that harmful situation. While psychological harm is a general threat which comes along with the general threat of war, particular bullets and bombs being launched at a soldier are specific threats. The intent to step in front of them and return fire is thus a specific intent lacking in other types of wounds.

Unknowingly accumulating enough mental baggage to develop a disorder is tragic and regrettable and is a serious and real injury, but it is not a serious and real injury which is come by intentionally. Physical wounds are.

Soldiers intentionally place themselves in the line of enemy fire; they do not intentionally develop psychological disorders. The point of the Purple Heart is to honor sacrifice, and there can be no sacrifice without intent. There are no accidental sacrifices, and so accidents should not be honored with Purple Hearts.


Rugby: Dartmouth 31, Harvard 0

October 5, 2009

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club shut out Harvard University by a score of 31 – 0 Saturday morning, to remain the only undefeated club in the Ivy League.

“The conditions were wet and sloppy,” says Harvard captain Johnny Miller ’10, presumably of the game. Heavy rains had soaked Dartmouth’s Brophy Field for hours before kickoff and both clubs struggled to keep possession of a slippery ball and make effective passes. Hard-fought scrums and line-outs proved the order of the day, and Dartmouth’s forwards won and kept possession consistently.

“Harvard played aggressively,” said Dartmouth Head Coach Alex Magleby ’00. “We tip our hats to them, they are a well-coached and tough side.”

The win positions Dartmouth well in contention for the newly-formed Ivy League Championship Series, and also to take its tenth Ivy title in 13 years. This match was Dartmouth’s second shutout of the season; the team has outscored opponents by an average of 66 – 3.

Dartmouth, in green.

Dartmouth, in green.