Skip to comments.Amherst College's Policy of Discriminating Against Wealthy Applicants
Posted on 10/16/2006 9:18:07 AM PDT by brookwood
Why Granting Socioeconomic Preferences in College Admissions Is Wrong
I believe Amherst Colleges policy of granting admissions preferences based on socioeconomic status is wrong. It is wrong because it is inefficient, wasteful, and pointless; but I begin with a discussion of why it is morally and ethically wrong, because these considerations are paramount.
The history of discrimination against the bourgeoisie has been as pernicious as discrimination against any group in history. The wealthy have been exiled to gulags in the Soviet Union, suppressed and brainwashed during the Cultural Revolution in Communist China, and murdered by the millions in the killing fields of Cambodia under Pol Pot. In saying that we must take measure of the obstacles faced by the less wealthy, much as we credit those obstacles of race (1), Anthony Marx echoes the final sentences of the Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx workers of the world, unite you have nothing to lose but your chains. Karl Marx compares the condition of the worker to the condition of a slave- someone who is in chains. Anthony Marx compares the condition of the low-income worker to the condition of African-Americans, who, until 1865, were enslaved, and literally kept in chains. I dont believe we should support either of these exaggerated comparisons. President Marx, in this statement, is aligning himself with those who have committed atrocities in the name of communism Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Pol Pot. Discriminating against children based on high socio-economic status (SES) is wrong, because the children and their parents have done nothing wrong. In the case of preferences for minorities, as a race, those we discriminate against are tangentially held responsible for the evil of slavery and its consequences. In the case of a parent whose perseverance and effort allows them to afford private school for their children, socioeconomic reverse discrimination punishes the very behavior we should be trying to encourage the willingness to accept financial burdens so that children will be better educated. Minority preferences have been extended from the undergraduate level to the graduate level, and to the professional level through minority set-asides in contracting, and through diversity recruitment initiatives at major companies. Amherst now gives preferential treatment to low SES applicants on the basis of their lack of preparation. Graduate schools and employers will eventually follow this trend, as they have in efforts to advance minorities. This will immediately and directly damage the professional achievements of all Amherst graduates, who will be discriminated against because they are too well prepared. The hypocrisy of the faculty and administration on this point is noteworthy. Because of the generous compensation paid by the College, courtesy of hard-working parents and generous alumni, not a single member of the faculty or administration has low income. And yet the faculty and administration regret that there are not more low income students.
Which Students are Disadvantaged?
Under the new discrimination policy, if two students have the same qualifications (e.g. board scores), the candidate who has had fewer educational advantages is accepted. The premise is that this student is superior because he or she has reached the same level of achievement without the assistance provided by an excellent school system and educated parents. I disagree with this premise. I believe that two students who have achieved the same results on an intelligence test at age 17 are equally qualified. This belief is based on the fact that while intelligence tests show substantial variation during childhood, they are much more stable at age 15 and above (6). If a student from low SES and a student from high SES have equal intelligence at age 8, the one with high SES who receives the benefit of an excellent education will probably score higher on the SAT at age 17; and in fact this high SES student will probably be more intelligent at that point, and have more potential to learn and succeed academically from that point forward. The belief in the value of education is not foreign to wealthy parents. Now compare a low SES student who has an IQ of 140 at age 8 to a high SES student who has an IQ of 130 at age 8. The high SES student may be able to increase his or her IO to 140, (99th percentile), by virtue of receiving an intensive education. The low SES student may remain at the 99th percentile, but not gain any ground during this time. When these two students are compared, who has really overcome the obstacles? The high SES student has had the benefit of an intensive education, but has been at a disadvantage in terms of cognitive ability in early childhood. The high SES, intensely educated child has not inherited as much intelligence; but he or she has clearly overcome, by sacrificing some of the pleasures of childhood to a rigorous, tiring, and to some extent unpleasant course of education, a huge obstacle- the fact that this student was not initially as intelligent as some who were more fortunate in the genetic lottery. In this example, the high SES student is made (largely through their own efforts), and the low SES student is born; but they have equal intelligence and aptitude; and in my opinion, are equally deserving of admission to an elite college. An initiative which favors low SES applicants has a basis in the theory of class conflict, in which President Marx is a renowned expert, but not a basis in fairness.
Making Race and Nation; Cultural Relativism
President Marx has written a book, Making Race and Nation, which is a comparative study of "racial domination" in the United States, Brazil, and South Africa. To begin with, the term domination is a divisive exaggeration of a relationship among parties who are unequal. If my neighbor is richer than I am, or even better educated, he does not thereby dominate me. This exaggeration is designed to promote racial and/or class hatred. Those who misuse words in this way are extremists whose subsequent misuse of power can be (and should have been!) easily foreseen. President Marx concludes in this book that the North was "complicit" in the establishment of Southern segregation, and characterizes Abraham Lincoln as a racist. He also criticizes the Catholic Church, because it only took a position against slavery as late as 1822- forty years before the Civil War, sixty-six years before the abolition of slavery in Brazil, and one hundred and sixty years before the end of apartheid in South Africa. Interestingly, the terms "affirmative action" and "reverse discrimination" are never used in his book, even though President Marx describes events in South Africa leading to the end of apartheid which occurred after affirmative action had been practiced in the United States for thirty years. He nevertheless equates US racial relations and policies with those in South Africa. In his 2004 Convocation address, President Marx took issue with the positions taken by Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard, making the following statement: But when we cross the line from parsing ideals to prescriptions of cultural superiority, we have moved beyond what the Enlightenment or liberal arts can countenance, into a treacherous reasoning that has wrought horrors upon peoples for ages. This statement, and Professor Marxs entire address, is regrettable for two reasons. First, it is pure hypocrisy to assert that a culture which is not diverse is treacherous, on the basis that no culture is superior to another. For example, Americans believe that our culture is superior to that of England, because we do not have a hereditary monarchy. Or am I mistaken? Does anyone want to institute a hereditary monarchy in the United States, as a way of showing our respect for English culture? Slavery is practiced in the Sudan, but not in the United States. Doesnt that make our culture just a little bit superior? President Marx shows no compunction about criticizing Abraham Lincoln and the Catholic Church; how does this square with his alleged belief that all cultures are equally venerable? In addition to being internally inconsistent, this celebration of cultural relativism is unfortunate because debates about political and social theory belong in the classroom, not in a Convocation address. President Marx should be encouraged to write and debate; but not to preach his liberal religion to a captive audience of impressionable students. And most importantly, President Marx is extending his personal political beliefs, not only into his public discourse, but directly into the composition of the student body at Amherst, by instituting programs which limit the number of wealthy students who are able to be admitted. On reflection, I believe many alumni should be troubled by the agenda being advanced by President Marx. A policy of discrimination against the children of the wealthy has profound implications for Amherst alumni. Many may wonder what they have struggled for, if the consequence of providing the best education possible for their children is that they are rejected by competitive colleges because of their parents income or wealth.
In addition to these ethical concerns, I believe that using social status as a consideration in college admissions is pointless and wasteful, for the following reasons. 1. Intelligence is correlated with income and intelligence is hereditary (2,3). It is very likely that children of the wealthy will always be smarter on average. To attempt to correct this is futile. The Minnesota Study of Twins measured the IQ of identical twins raised in separate households, and found a strong correlation between the IQ of each child and its twin, establishing the genetic basis of intelligence. The Rowe/Vesterdal/Rodgers article found a significant correlation between IQ and income.
2. 75% of the students at the top 146 colleges are in the top 25% of income (4,5). As a top college, this disparity is present at Amherst. In order to make the Amherst Class of 2010 reflect the income distribution of the rest of the population, more than two hundred students, or 50% of the students in the Class, would have to be ejected and replaced with students from other income brackets. The College has embraced a principle which has this as its logical conclusion. The belief that this could be done without compromising standards is ridiculous. US News and World Report shows an economic diversity measurement for national universities and colleges, in addition to an overall ranking. The number one ranked university in 2006 was Princeton University. The lowest ranked economic diversity score for 216 schools was Princeton University. As Amherst struggles to regain its number one ranking among liberal arts colleges, why would we pursue a strategy of academic impoverishment which has been utterly rejected at our nations best-ranked university? Harvard and Yale are also in the lowest 5% in economic diversity and students who have the choice prefer them to Amherst by a wide margin.
3. While alumni may feel content based on the assumption that their children will not be discriminated against at Amherst, what will happen if other schools adopt this policy, as its proponents sincerely hope will occur? While we have recently increased the size of our student body, do all other elite colleges plan on doing so? Or will they simply replace a few Amherst alumni children with students from a lower socio-economic status? And if the college size is increased at Amherst, why should these openings not be made available based on the merit of the applicants, with traditional recognition of extracurricular talent and relationship to the College, rather than being reserved for students of low socio-economic status?
4. What precedent is being set by allowing class-based affirmative action at Amherst College? Jerome Karabel, a professor of Sociology at Berkeley and author of The Chosen, made the following proposal (8):
Karabel then turned to brand-new data from the College Board (which he acknowledged was imperfect, because of reporting flaws) that he said show how much the family background of students families can limit their likelihood of admission to elite institutions, at least as measured by standardized test scores. About 6 percent of students whose parents had only a high school diploma scored 650 or above on the SAT verbal exam, compared to 25 percent of students with parents with graduate degrees. The pattern was much the same for parental income.
Those statistics suggest, Karabel said, that colleges should be buttressing their existing policies on race-based affirmative action with a similar approach to not just economic but social class. You have to look at how well students have done given the opportunities available to them, he said. He proposed a several-step formula that would take into account the students family, neighborhood, and school:
The family measure would capture not just family income and parents education, but also, ideally, the parents occupations and the familys net worth. A neighborhood measure could be based on the average income of a students zip code or, better yet, his or her Census tract ("theres a good research project for ETS, Karabel said.) And the formula could account for the quality of a students high school through the creation of a national database on secondary schools, which could capture such information as the proportion of students who participate in the federal school lunch program, who take AP courses, and who go on to college, he suggested.
If you have these three things, you can build a comprehensive portrait of kind of opportunities that have been available to the student, Karabel argued.
Colleges, he suggested, should then give a boost in the admissions process to applicants who are shown under such a formula to have academically outperformed the likely outcomes based on their backgrounds. Institutions can rejigger their financial aid policies to help low-income students afford college, Karabel argued, but unless they also adjust their admissions policies to change the way they select among the applicant pool, the change will be minimal. Money is necessary, but its not sufficient.
The tragedy of adopting this proposal should be evident. It ignores the heritability of intelligence and would stigmatize and punish the hardest working, most competent, and most deserving members of society. It is essential that radical educational reformers such as Professor Karabel and President Marx are vigorously opposed in their effort to create animosity among social classes and undermine the meritocratic foundation of our society.
(1) President Anthony Marx, 2004 Commencement Address
(2) Bouchard T.J. Jr., Lykken D.T., McGue M., Segal N.L., Tellegen A. (1990). "Sources of human psychological differences: the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart". Science 250: 223228 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=2218526&dopt=Abstract
(3) David C. Rowe, Wendy J. Vesterdal, and Joseph L. Rodgers, (1998) Herrnsteins Syllogism: Genetic and Shared Environmental Influences on IQ, Education, and Income, Intelligence 26(4), 1998, pages 405-423 http://www.uam.es/personal_pdi/psicologia/pei/download/Rowe1999.pdf
The authors results are summarized, in part, as follows The model predicted a correlation of 0.63 between IQ and education and 0.34 between IQ and income. Sixty-eight percent of the former and 59% of the latter was genetically mediated This study concludes that If environmental equality were increased among families in the US, we would expect a reduction of social inequality. However, because of the high heritabilities of all three variables, we would not expect social inequality to be eliminated.
(4) Source: Carnevale and Rose, as described in http://ed.stanford.edu/suse/news-bureau/displayRecord.php?tablename=notify1&id=542
(5) President Anthony Marx, 2004 commencement address - Three-quarters of top college students come from the wealthiest quarter of society.
(6) Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, Simon and Schuster, 1994
(7) President Anthony Marx, The Charlie Rose Show, June 9, 2006 We have to demonstrate that we are part of a system that still has mobility intact, where the sides of the economy are not getting so separated from each other that we cant function as a society anymore.
(8) Lederman, Doug, Stanford University School of Education website, Faculty in the News, Shavelson says holding colleges accountable for student learning is decades old, June 2, 2006 http://ed.stanford.edu/suse/faculty/displayFacultyNews.php?tablename=notify1&id=542
I pride myself on being thoroughly bourgeois - hatred of the bourgeoisie and discrimination against them is the surest sign of an evil, repressive regime.
It may have been John Lukacs who made the argument that Hitler was able to whip up enough hatred against the Jews because the Jews - as successful and productive citizens - were overwhelmingly bourgeois as a group, so the anti-Semitic tendencies of the racial Left and the anti-bourgeois prejudices of the economic Left were combined in the perfect target for this evil ideology.
Wherever the bourgeoisie is strong, freedom triumphs.
I come from a state where the privileged are well cared for. Kennedy and Kerry come to mind as two of the most useless humans on the planet. Their wealth lifted them far above many useful and smarter people who came from meager means. I think the author is pretentious and full of crap.
Are you a student there?
The administration must go out of their way to avoid you on campus!
Purely as a devil's advocate, what about the fact that Amherst is a (nominally anyway!) private institution, and as such they should be free to educate whomever they feel like. If they wanted to become an all-Black, or all-Jewish or all-whatever institution, who am I to say that they shouldn't?
Of course they do receive, just because of being in the business they are in, a lot of government money, in the form of grants to faculty, and tuition grants and federally assisted loans to students, but still, why should I really care what they do with their spaces, especially if by pursuing these admissions policies they will tend to diminish the quality of their student body on average.
I went to a New England prep school with some very wealthy kids and they weren't none too bright.
Maybe they should just change their name from Amherst to "Meharry-North."
Why does any institution see the need to remake itself in the image of the rest of the population?
Amherst should require Spanish as the primary language of 30 percent of its applicants given the current demographics in the western states.
Amherst wants to look like what part of "the rest of the poulation"?
The majority of the USA is christian (80%) and a large part are red-neck southerners. Just how far are the bigwhigs at Amherst willing to carry out their ethnocentric goal of remaking their school in the image of the rest of the USA?
Ivy league type schools are no more than minority mills anyway.
You get a better education at State U or a school with less "edge" by staying away from the PC White-guilt ethnocentric, too light for heavy work and too heavy for light work institutions of indoctrination.
I encourage you to read the articles mentioned in the footnotes. Like it or not, intelligence is hereditary and correlated with income.
I think they can legally discriminate based on income but not on race, sex, etc. Up to this point we haven't had to have laws restricting employers from hiring based on income, because they've never wanted to. If it became a common practice, however, I think it should be made illegal because children are not responsible for the income level of their parents. Think of the Cultural Revolution in China; income-based reverse discrimination can be very ugly.
I was going to make your point that no one cares that Christians are probably un-represented, but it's a separate issue. Thanks for the post though.
It is a repugnant policy, but I hardly think its anything new. I have a family member who worked in an Ivy league admissions office in the 1980's and says that it was absolutely accepted fact that being a white male from a comfortable background was a strike against any applicant. Such people were considered uninteresting unless they were just stratospheric in terms of grades, scores or other achievements (linebacker, flutist, dad donated a building etc.)
The correlation is certainly not perfect. The question is do you want to be turned down for a job because your parents were wealthy. It's one thing to allow that for minorities, given the legal discrimination they suffered historically. Income-based discrimination is a dangerous new frontier.
BULLCRAP! Racism is not tolerable no matter which direction it's done.
Interesting implications here; if Amherst's class distribution is (roughly) 1/4 "URMs" (underrepresented minorities), 1/4 athletes, 1/4 alumni children and 1/4 applicants who have nothing going for them but hard work and brains...it's actually 1/4 upper-class URMs, 1/4 upper-class athletes, etc.
Full disclosure: my daughter was wait-listed by Amherst, I believe Amherst's wait-list is larger than the actual class size, and maybe 5-10 get accepted from the list on a good year.
also raises the question about what do you do with a wealthy black kid?
Why is this more important than, say, making the faculty reflect the distribution of political viewpoints of the U.S. population (60% say they are somewhat to very conservative, only about 20% say they are liberals).
If Amherst is rejecting liberal children of liberal Democratic
that would just be poetic justice.