Okay, I’m only now beginning to catch up on some of the reading I missed during the high holy days. The October 10th issue of the New Yorker has an interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell that resonated with me in some ways.

It turns out Malcolm is Canadian, from Toronto, and when he went to university, he chose 3 Ontario universities in order of preference on a form and mailed it in. He subsequently learned he had been accepted into his first choice, the University of Toronto. He notes:

Am I a better or more successful person for having been accepted at the University of Toronto, as opposed to my second or third choice? It strikes me as a curious question. In Ontario, there wasn’t a strict hierarchy of colleges. There were several good ones and several better ones and a number of programs—like computer science at the University of Waterloo—that were world-class. But since all colleges were part of the same public system and tuition everywhere was the same (about a thousand dollars a year, in those days), and a B average in high school pretty much guaranteed you a spot in college, there wasn’t a sense that anything great was at stake in the choice of which college we attended.

Exactly. Many Canadians know that places such as McGill or U of T may have superior reputations, but you can find numerous exceptional departments at other universities and it is challenging to make the case that these schools are exceptionally superior to many other institutions of higher learning. It is also difficult to make the case that Canadians define each other to the same degree as Americans by their academic pedigree.

Gladwell, however, isn’t writing about Canada. He’s writing about the Ivy League schools in the U.S. Schools that have traditionally been among the most competitive in terms of entry requirements. There is no question that for many American students, admission to an Ivy League school is a prized and rare reward that immediately and permanently marks them (via their resumes, CVs, water-cooler chats, not to mention flirting tactics) as having reached the pinnacle of the American educational system, and perhaps by extension, the pinnacle of American society.

It appears, however, that there’s a dark side to elitism, although perhaps it has led to a system that is not as bad as it would seem. The problem began at the beginning of the last century when suddenly these elite universities began to worry about Jewish presence on their campuses – that is, having too many of them around. As a result, Key Ivy League universities such as Harvard precipitated changes intended to keep out too many of the little buggers from getting into their hallowed halls and classrooms. These changes, while maintaining some measure of institutional control over who may enter these desirable schools, have also defined, Gladwell posits, how we see elites and how they perceive themselves.

In 1905, Harvard College adopted the College Entrance Examination Board tests as the principal basis for admission, which meant that virtually any academically gifted high-school senior who could afford a private college had a straightforward shot at attending. By 1908, the freshman class was seven per cent Jewish, nine per cent Catholic, and forty-five per cent from public schools…

…The enrollment of Jews began to rise dramatically.By 1922, they made up more than a fifth of Harvard’s freshman class. The administration and alumni were up in arms. Jews were thought to be sickly and grasping, grade-grubbing and insular. They displaced the sons of wealthy Wasp alumni, which did not bode well for fund-raising. A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president in the nineteen-twenties, stated flatly that too many Jews would destroy the school: “The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate . . . because they drive away the Gentiles, and then after the Gentiles have left, they leave also.”

So what’s an elite college to do when the essence of the school – it’s elitism as partially defined by the characteristics of its graduates that were supposedly opposite those of the negative characteristics ascribed to Jews – comes under attack through those nefarious Jewish test-takers and strong high-school performers?

Lowell’s first idea—a quota limiting Jews to fifteen per cent of the student body—was roundly criticized. Lowell tried restricting the number of scholarships given to Jewish students, and made an effort to bring in students from public schools in the West, where there were fewer Jews. Neither strategy worked. Finally, Lowell—and his counterparts at Yale and Princeton—realized that if a definition of merit based on academic prowess was leading to the wrong kind of student, the solution was to change the definition of merit. Karabel argues that it was at this moment that the history and nature of the Ivy League took a significant turn.

The admissions office at Harvard became much more interested in the details of an applicant’s personal life. Lowell told his admissions officers to elicit information about the “character” of candidates from “persons who know the applicants well,” and so the letter of reference became mandatory. Harvard started asking applicants to provide a photograph. Candidates had to write personal essays, demonstrating their aptitude for leadership, and list their extracurricular activities. “Starting in the fall of 1922,” Karabel writes, “applicants were required to answer questions on ‘Race and Color,’ ‘Religious Preference,’ ‘Maiden Name of Mother,’ ‘Birthplace of Father,’ and ‘What change, if any, has been made since birth in your own name or that of your father? (Explain fully).’ ”

At Princeton, emissaries were sent to the major boarding schools, with instructions to rate potential candidates on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 was “very desirable and apparently exceptional material from every point of view” and 4 was “undesirable from the point of view of character, and, therefore, to be excluded no matter what the results of the entrance examinations might be.” The personal interview became a key component of admissions in order, Karabel writes, “to ensure that ‘undesirables’ were identified and to assess important but subtle indicators of background and breeding such as speech, dress, deportment and physical appearance.” By 1933, the end of Lowell’s term, the percentage of Jews at Harvard was back down to fifteen per cent.

Oy, the lengths they went to keep the Jews out.

In the nineteen-twenties, when Harvard tried to figure out how many Jews they had on campus, the admissions office scoured student records and assigned each suspected Jew the designation j1 (for someone who was “conclusively Jewish”), j2 (where the “preponderance of evidence” pointed to Jewishness), or j3 (where Jewishness was a “possibility”). In the branding world, this is called customer segmentation. In the Second World War, as Yale faced plummeting enrollment and revenues, it continued to turn down qualified Jewish applicants. As Karabel writes, “In the language of sociology, Yale judged its symbolic capital to be even more precious than its economic capital.” No good brand manager would sacrifice reputation for short-term gain.

Nice to read this, but not surprising. As far as I know there were artificial limits set in Canada as well at some institutions of higher learning. One can see, however, that after WWII, North American society had absorbed just how ugly this bigotry could become and while it took another couple of decades before one could see the impact of an era of social justice activism, there is no question that this has become one of the most open and, in fact and to the chagrin of some Jews, most assimilationist societies in Jewish diaspora history. Today, Harvard “boasts” about 25% Jews among its undergraduate population, has a large number of Jewish faculty, and its controversial but apparently very effective President, Larry Summers – who was prominent already when he was hired for the position – is openly and proudly Jewish.

The article points out that what had been intended as a strategy to maintain as much of the status quo as possible with respect to the characteristics of the student body, has taken on a much more profound meaning in the selection process for entry into these desirable universities and ostensibly into the elite circles into which they provide entry.

In the wake of the Jewish crisis, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton chose to adopt what might be called the “best graduates” approach to admissions. France’s École Normale Supérieure, Japan’s University of Tokyo, and most of the world’s other élite schools define their task as looking for the best students—that is, the applicants who will have the greatest academic success during their time in college. The Ivy League schools justified their emphasis on character and personality, however, by arguing that they were searching for the students who would have the greatest success after college. They were looking for leaders, and leadership, the officials of the Ivy League believed, was not a simple matter of academic brilliance. “Should our goal be to select a student body with the highest possible proportions of high-ranking students, or should it be to select, within a reasonably high range of academic ability, a student body with a certain variety of talents, qualities, attitudes, and backgrounds?” Wilbur Bender asked. To him, the answer was obvious. If you let in only the brilliant, then you produced bookworms and bench scientists: you ended up as socially irrelevant as the University of Chicago (an institution Harvard officials looked upon and shuddered). “Above a reasonably good level of mental ability, above that indicated by a 550-600 level of S.A.T. score,” Bender went on, “the only thing that matters in terms of future impact on, or contribution to, society is the degree of personal inner force an individual has.”

Of course, these schools also allow in many legacy children – the fruity offspring of alumni, who do seem to frequently land pretty far away from the tree – not in small part because of the financial support provided by their parents. Harvard didn’t just stumble on to its endowment and all of those donated Chairs. But the point Gladwell is attempting to make, I believe, is that while the reasons for the system may have been unsavory and rooted in injustice, there is a certain method to the system that has prevailed. Rather than focus on the best students, the system now seeks out exceptionally strong students who also possess other unique attributes which will theoretically provide them with an edge over others as they proceed through life.

Subjectivity in the admissions process is not just an occasion for discrimination; it is also, in better times, the only means available for giving us the social outcome we want.

Is it a biased and subjective system? Absolutely. But although these may be considered the top schools in the USA and can definitely provide, say, a job applicant an edge over another applicant from a less respected school, what they are also providing is the illusion of superiority to their “client base.” By the way, these days their client base is – to a degree quite disproportionate with our percentage of the overall society – heavily Jewish.

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29 Comments

  • As a Harvard alum, I find it very interesting. My Dad had applied to Harvard and was rejected. When his school counselor called the big H to ask why, he was told, “Next time, send us somebody who isn’t a Jew.” Over the next 35 years, things changed…and I think the main reason he wanted me to go there is because he was turned away.

    Yes, I could’ve gotten an education that was every bit as good from another college. Yes, having the name “Harvard” on my CV guarantees a “So, you went to Harvard?” in just about every job interview I’ve had. Yes, I know that having gone to Harvard doesn’t mean I’m better or smarter or special-er than anyone else. I’m proud of the fact that I went there and did well — but it’s not the only thing I’m proud of, and it’s not what defines me. It was only on my list at all because it’s 20-25% Jewish, actually.

  • Annabel, I think your story is not uncommon. Although I knew a Jewish woman several years ago who was upset because she wasn’t accepted into Harvard despite the fact that her mother was an alumnus and a very generous benefactor to the school over the years. Your father must have been very proud of you.

    In some ways I think any ivy league grad’s life is to some degree defined by their school. They, as individuals with particular ideals and ideologies, are probably defined in the same way that an education anywhere might influence who you are. However, while the schools may or may affect their day to day lives or “beings,” I’m positive that in our culture, a resume from Harvard gets them through the door much faster than a resume from, say, Penn State. That alone will have an impact on who they are. Gladwell was making the point that this is a different mind-set than he experienced in Canada where the parity – and especially the assumed parity – between schools is the prevailing common wisdom.

    Kelsey, I read those issues but felt this was the only article that deserved real estate space on Jewlicious. Funny how that works, huh?

  • Come on man! Kelsey is like, the king of all media! Take the hint TM! No one cares about the Ivory league or whatever. What they want to read about is boobies. Hang on, lemme show you …

  • Kelsey…
    You’re the kinda guy I’d like to punch in the nose…and I can’t say that about too many people.

  • CK/GM,
    You guys deserve a kick in the arse for sucking up so badly to folks who clearly…CLEARLY are making you grovel. Enough already, it’s gross.

    Damn…you guys are usually bad ass, stop disappointing.

    This is in reference to the apologies, psudo-apologies and “clearing things up” that have occurred on this site, Jewschool, and Kelsey’s redundant blog.

  • See, that’s what I also told ck, why exactly are we taking the high road here? People will think we’re grovelling or believe we’re in the wrong.

  • Well not boobies so much. More like filthy, filthy humor by that dirty, dirty whore Sarah Siverman… Oooh. If I had her in my hands right now why i’d spank… uh. Sorry got carried away there. Yeah, just posted it. I think it begins to address all your concerns. And uh, I really respect the integrity and hard work that Ms. Silverman has put into her carreer. She’s one funny and talented woman.

  • Yes, yes there are. Gratuitous boobies are not really gratuitous. They are a celebration of human form. And what greater way to celebrate god than to celebrate the human form? Every image we post with gratuitous boobies is indeed a celebration of…uh, never mind, they’re just gratuitous boobies.

  • Jezus…what’s the obsession with the female chestal area??? As a closet Freudian, I’d say you need more lollipops, a girl friend/wife/friend-with-benefits, and/or start biting your nails. Trust me…you’ll stop wigging out your female fans. Which in turn, may provide you with the very thing y’all keep clamoring on about?

    Agutten Shabbos

    GM: Have you seen that new metal doc? I know the woman how made the film. Supposed to be quite good if you once had a mullet and walked making devil horns with your hands.

  • Muffti would like to know exactly what makes something gratuituous. Isn’t the issue of gratuity relative to the goal? If the goal is to present interesting thoughts about events etc. etc. then they are gatuitous. If the goal, however, is to generally to presenting interesting thoughts and please our readers, well…

  • hehehe…well, Muffti has at least one of those requrements! Muffti hasnt’ seen it nro heard about it: what’s it called?

    Muffti should be hitting toronto some time this month or next. You ready?

  • for the record, we’re totally right, they’re totally wrong and thats the end of that. if i engaged them unneccesarily its because i’m morbid that way – you know like when you slow down while passing the scene of a gruesoem car accident. Also total delusion fascinates me. They really feel calling us bitches and brownshirts and telling us to go to hell and to disengage the way they did was totally justified and right. I thinkk its patently stupid, especially when you engage in the exact same behavior that inspired your offense to begin with. Ask muffti, I have always had a soft spot for and fascination with crazy people. OK mostly unhinged women, but you get the point.

  • I used to go drinking with Harvard admissions folk (who did not attend Harvard, by the way) when I was at Harvard Law School. They talked about how dull and repetitive the NY, NJ, LA Jewish applications were, all buffed to near perfection with the same hip urban leftist stuff: social activism (check), commitment to the underprivileged (check), musical ability (check), sports (check), quirky intellectual endeavor (check), feminism (check).

    One woman told me it seemed they were all written by the same $10,000 consultant. I mean, you’ve got to have “The Rap”, and so many applications just didn’t. So they didn’t get in.

    So instead of being 2000% or 3000% overrepresented at Harvard, Jews are only 1000% overrepresented. But don’t let it bother you too much since white goyim were 46% UNDERrepresented, and black goyim were 43% UNDERrepresented. And with goyishe numbers that low, you have to be careful how you scam the remaining slots or the natives are going to get restless, you know what I mean?

    So come us with a good Rap, something other than the same old hip urban leftist political crap that just bores the socks off anyone not from the Upper East Side or Hollywood, and see how well you do.

    Want ideas? Take a year off to hike and trout fish across Montana. Spend a couple summers as a bush pilot in Canada. Base jump off the Eiffel Tower. Work the salmon boats off Alaska. Spend some time working in the New York sewers with real working people. Hell, join ANY branch of the military. You know, do SOMETHING that shows you have b@lls as well as brains.

    Anything but that same-old-same-old nerdly intellectual lefty crap you put on your Harvard applications nowadays. Guys, when you are a flunky, with 500 of these applications in a pile and you have to make the first cut, they all start to sound like one giant broken record.

    To get your numbers up any further (or to beat out other Jews) you are going to have to show some testosterone. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the Sabras are right: American Jewish guys tend to be a bunch of law-abiding p*ssies.

    Think about it. Don’t you think there is a reason Reform girls get all wet when an IDF paratrooper shows up at Temple collecting pledges and telling stories of shooting (and getting shot at by) Arabs? Damn straight there is! They got b@lls.

    Hell, play your cards right, tough guy, and you and the Asians might be able to get white Christians down from 53% to only 25-30% representation at Harvard and blacks down even lower! Just think about it: a one-time Christian minister’s college with way more Jews than Christians! Wouldn’t that really chap their @ss!

  • SHIT! If I had known there going to be Paratroopers at Temple I would have gone this year!

  • A whole book just came out about this. Not just this article. Did you refer to the book? I could not find it, if you did.

    And the Yale shield has the Hebrew mystical reference on it! Ha ha!

  • Dudes, chill out! Muffti will probably be applying for a professorship (that he won’t get) at a certain institution y’all keep mentioning…could ya hold off just a li’l? 🙂

    (When Muffti doesn’t get the job, however…)

  • Esther knows that the Muffti will keep us all apprised of his embrace or non-embrace of clinging wall vines of any sort so that we can be sure to warn the indigenous female population send a congratulatory fruit basket.

  • Thanks, esther, you are a majour help. Apparently you can read through strike throughs.

  • The cost of education, particularly Jewish education, and some other demographic issues, are interesting at this link:

    http://www.everythingjewish.com/Education.htm

    I think we are just terrified of the pains of childbirth, now that it has to be organic and natural (no painkillers allowed, blah blah).

    Hey! It’s not that terrible, even with a C-section. You get past it and live. Really.

  • They should also provide family trips to Israel. It is interesting, my oldest, we did take her once to Israel. she wants to spend a year after high school. Her siblings who were never there, they emphatically do NOT want to do so.

  • I remember looking for a job on Wall Street (financial world) and i never got a call. I found some 2nd tier job out a 2nd tier accounting firm and another guy told me why Wall Street didn’t call. It was because they only hire IVY leaguers. Ivy leaguers are the most arrogant, snobbiest, elitists I have ever met. They think they are better then everybody else, restrict jobs to only IVY leaguers, and have a sense of entitlement. The worst part is that so many Jews are part of this cult. I can stand IVY leaguers are Manhattan Jews outside of the lower east side! The real Jews are NON-IVY Leaguers who live in the “outer boroughs”

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