Tag Archives: Princeton

Princeton’s Women’s Center Is Biased and Deficient: Student Edit Board

Women’s centers on U.S. campuses are not often the subjects of controversy, but the Center at Princeton University is right now. The editorial board of the student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian wrote that the campus Women’s Center “is neither as inclusive nor as effective as it could be,” and is “so politically homogeneous” in its choice of political programming that women who hold different opinions on contentious issues, like abortion or police relations, may opt out of involvement with the Center altogether.”

Furthermore, the editorial said, “By over-emphasizing issues related to sexuality at the expense of other valuable programming, the Women’s Center could harmfully reduce Princeton women to their bodies.” In the third full week of classes at the University, the center focused heavily on sex, including “Developing a Self-Pleasuring Practice,” “Yoga for Better Sex,” and “Sex with the Lights on” (three sessions) with “crass” publicity posters, the board said, asking “Where is the male g-spot?” and “Anal Is His Favorite Thing – What’s Yours?”  In contrast, election-related events are rare. The Center held one this week, the first since December 15, 2014.

“The Women’s Center has a long history of hosting politically charged and overwhelmingly liberal events,” including such subjects as Black Lives Matter and “Battling Abortion Stigma.” “The Board said it “believes such events are important to host at Princeton, but …Politically diverse programming is essential to be inclusive of all female students and in the spirit of Princeton’s intellectually open environment.” It also urged the Center to reach out to and welcome male students, “a critical improvement, as men are invaluable partners in promoting gender equality.”

Some campus commentary on the controversy:

Will Princeton Change Its Name?

Elle Woods, the sexy Harvard Law School student from la-la land in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde, got a taste of what has become a daily diet of politically corrected speech.

In that movie, Enid, the super-smart lesbian in the study group from which Elle was excluded, was lobbying to change the word semester to “ovester.” The reason: semester sounded like semen, which was offensive to women.

Today, PC language is causing a ruckus at Princeton and many other private and public universities. Some administrators want to ban what they claim is sexist terminology from official campus communications. Fireman, freshmen, and policewoman become firefighter, first-year students and police officer.

“Manning” the front desk is unacceptable. Employees must “staff” the front desk. This language war dates back to the early 1960s when feminists began writing irate letters to the editor complaining about words such as mankind. Today, those letter-writers are college administrators, determined to change the language by decree.

princeton-man-out

At Yale and Harvard, the undergraduate residences are overseen by faculty members known as “masters of residential housing.” Oops. Not anymore. The term master offended people of color, even though it was derived from schoolmaster or headmaster — the latter a term derived from Oxford and Cambridge.

One of two things are apt to happen next: abolishing the Master’s degree or implementing the Mistress degree. Wait. That doesn’t sound right.

There is a glimmer of hope for Princeton, as The Daily Princetonian is fighting back. A recent editorial said, “Censoring the English language through the dissemination of lists of acceptable vocabulary is contrary to the values of the University and a sinister first step towards Orwellian restriction of language and speech.”

In previous outbursts over this issue, some worried about what to do with terms such as “manhole.” Somehow person hole doesn’t sound right. “Mankind” should yield to “humanity,” but the word man is embedded in humanity, just as “son” is right there in “person” and “male” is buried in “female.”

And how about the sexist “Prince” in Princeton?

What if you are on a ship, maybe a Princeton cruise, and someone falls overboard? It would be sexist, of course, for Princetonians to shout, “Man overboard!” A quick poll among people on deck could settle whether most observers thought the unlucky person was male or female.  Couldn’t they just yell, “Person overboard”? Not really.

A generic shout for help could be taken as a subtle rejection of the falling person’s private gender choice. Not everyone who appears to be a man considers herself a male, even during a fall overboard. “Possible male or female overboard” wouldn’t work either, since everyone knows there are somewhere between two and 32 genders and failing to acknowledge them all before attempting a rescue would surely be seen as non-inclusive and therefore micro-aggressive.

Since nomenclature is so difficult in this case, it might be just as well to let the individual drown and get the gender right later. The Princeton administration would know.

Why Not Use Endowments to Lower Tuition Costs?

Connecticut is going through the motions of trying to tax Yale’s $25.6 billion endowment to help relieve the state’s $266 million shortfall. That effort will fail, but public opinion is starting to question the appropriateness of government-conferred tax benefits for university endowment funds. At Harvard, alumni as politically diverse as conservative Ron Unz and progressive Ralph Nader are running for the Board of Overseers on a “make tuition free” platform.

What legitimate public purpose do endowments serve? The co-authors of this article spent several months exploring this question, looking at roughly 800 university endowment funds on which good data are available and concluding that, with some exceptions, endowments do little to make colleges cheaper and more accessible to students.  Suppose a wealthy donor gives a school funds to endow $100,000 annually in scholarships. Our research shows that probably on net $100,000 in endowment income leads to a student tuition fee decline of only about $13,000. As more endowed scholarship money flows in, universities typically either raise tuition fees more aggressively, or allocate less of their own resources to scholarships.

Related: Endowments Are Still Massive, So Spend

Princeton University had more than $2.8 million in endowment per student as of last June 30-enough to generate $112,000 in spending per student if four percent of the endowment were spent annually.  Princeton’s tuition fee for this year is $43,450. More typical schools have modest endowments generating at most $1,000 in per-student annual revenues.

Yet the more typical school likely has a sticker price at least $25,000 a year less than the highly endowed institutions. The average amount students actually pay after taking account of scholarships is only $3000 lower at the 20 highest endowment schools, compared with schools with more typical modest endowments. That is despite the fact that the high endowment schools have over $20,000 more endowment income per student.

If endowments only modestly make college more affordable, where does endowment income go? A goodly portion (we estimate about 37 percent) goes to support instruction, both by hiring lots more professors and by paying them a lot more. While there are about 12 professors for every 100 students at highly endowed schools, there are only half as many (6) at more typically endowed institutions. Similarly, while full professors at the poorer school average about $90,000 a year in salary, at the highly endowed schools, the figure is more than $155,000.

Related: Is an Endowment a Nest Egg or a Gambler’s Stake?

Some of this increased instructional money probably leads to smaller classes and more contact between students and professors, some of whom are both well-known scholars and fine teachers. Yet as any keen observer of higher education knows (one of us has been a professor for more than 50 years), the highly endowed school faculty mostly have very low teaching loads so they can write papers on often obscure academic specialties, and the more highly paid teachers not only live quite well (particularly when consulting and other income is considered), but often avoid undergraduate students like the plague. As Adam Smith said of professors 240 years ago after Oxford started paying them from endowments, they had “given up altogether the pretense of teaching.” Additionally, the statistical evidence also says about 25 percent of endowment income goes directly for research.

Not all schools behave the same way. Berea College, in relatively poor Appalachian Kentucky, uses its endowment to essentially make college free, foregoing high salaries and extremely low teaching loads to promote student access. A few other schools (College of the Ozarks in Missouri, and, historically, Cooper Union in New York City (now charging tuition) have done the same.

Do big endowments promote prestige and perceptions of high quality? Looking at the relationship between endowment size and rankings on the Forbes Best College list (which we help compile), we find some positive relationship between endowment size and rank, but it is not the dominant determinant.

Still, the five schools with the highest per student endowments (Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Pomona College and Harvard) are all very highly ranked.

Related: Another Bad Idea-Mandatory Endowment Spending

Universities argue endowment allocations are determined by the intent of thousands of donors, many of whom wish to promote things other than low tuition. Yet the Berea example demonstrates that colleges poorer than the Ivy League schools can use alumni support to make college free. Why hasn’t Harvard, Yale or Princeton ever mounted a capital campaign with a-goal of providing no-cost undergraduate education? A no-cost Harvard would set a powerful example and encourage other schools to forego the expensive university arms race in order to reduce financial burdens of attending college.

As tuition fees and student debt loads soar, and as doubts grow about the true return to students of a college education (total enrollments have actually fallen over the past four years), scrutiny of endowments is likely to grow. Pell Grant data reveals that highly endowed schools typically have a much smaller proportion of low-income students. Should they continue to be incentivized to strengthen their academic gated communities for the affluent by accumulating ever larger endowments, largely financed through special tax breaks to donors and capital gains tax exclusions? There are arguments for doing so, but our research suggests that if special tax privileges for endowments are curtailed by Washington policymakers, the colleges have only themselves to blame.

WHY ELITE STUDENTS GET ELITE JOBS

The conventional meritocratic recipe for success is simple enough: study hard in school, get good grades, be involved in one’s community, find an appropriate college, apply for jobs in your field of study, and everything else falls in place. But that’s not how it really works says Lauren A. Rivera, author of Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs.

The path to success she sees is this:  Be born to upper-middle-class or wealthy parents. Know what academic tracks to be on by the end of middle school — knowledge that one acquires from well-educated parents and school counselors with low caseloads. Get involved early in the competitive sports favored by elites, such as lacrosse, tennis, sailing, skiing, golf, cycling, climbing, soccer, and running. Test well enough to get into an elite university.

Apply for a first job in an Elite Professional Services Firm (EPS), the “finishing school” for American elites. They include Wall Street, top management consulting, and exclusive law firms. After you’ve demonstrated that you’re “one of us” in the interview get on the EPS launching pad, which eventually leads to a high-status career in corporate America, politics, or the nonprofit world. Eventually, have children with a spouse of a similar class background, raise them in fine neighborhoods with top schools, sent them to elite universities, and the “virtuous” cycle of elite reproduction continues.

The book offers a rare glimpse into the hiring practices of EPS firms and how they differ from “the dominant theory of hiring” in the United States. The dominant model holds that employers hiring decisions are based largely on “estimates of human capital, social capital, gender and race. But that model is inadequate, she argues, because it fails to account for the increasingly powerful role that one’s class background plays in the recruiting and hiring practices firms that prepare one for leadership roles in society.

Rivera, a management professor at Northwestern University, acknowledges these trends with alarm. Her book goes further than most in that she looks beyond elite college admissions to how elite students find high-status jobs. As a direct observer and participant in the hiring process at an unnamed EPS firm, Rivera shows that elite education is a virtual prerequisite for entry into high-status jobs — jobs that according to the commonly viewed ideal of meritocracy should be available to any competitor on the basis of ability and experience. She demonstrates, convincingly, that’s not the case.

Raised working class in Los Angeles by an immigrant single mom while her father was in prison, Rivera says she was able to penetrate this rarified atmosphere due to her own experiences attending elite prep schools, colleges and graduate school.  She describes being “checked out” by the insiders of the firm in which she carried out her case study, who determined that she was “one of us,” before agreeing to be interviewed for her study.

The author says she did not set out to prove any particular theory, but allowed the data to drive her interpretations.  She concludes that the hiring practices of certain employers — ones that are pivotal in shaping the nation’s future leaders — are driven by considerations of class status. Class, she argues — and the social capital associated with class, is more important than virtually any other factor in whether certain high-statues employers will even consider an applicant for a job.

The key word is pedigree: the array of background traits, including the cultural, social, and educational capital passed from one generation to the next, which EPS candidates bring to the competition for elite jobs. But it’s a closed competition.  One must get through the gates first.  A candidate’s pedigree determines whether his or her application to an EPS firm is legitimately considered in the competition, or tossed in a slush pile of candidates who have no realistic chance to even compete for such jobs.

Of course, pedigree has always been influential in hiring decisions for first jobs at elite professional service firms.  While Rivera acknowledges this, she contends that the rules surrounding pedigree have changed over the generations.  Although elite employers have always hired on the basis of pedigree, the mechanism is now far more indirect. Finding young talent to fill society’s most important and highly paid jobs once was based on descent, the handing over of familial economic power from one generation to the next.

Today, elites have modernized the rules of entry. Rather than explicit bloodlines being the determining factor, the outcome biased toward elites is interpreted as just the rational outcome of the “meritocracy” at work.  Now, just as elite colleges contend that they admit students on the basis of cognitive talent, elite employers claim their highly competitive hiring practices lead to finding the best and brightest young employees.

But the way elites choose talent is hardly an open competition, Rivera argues. Rather, EPS hiring is a “sponsored contest.” While any college graduate is free to apply for a position, only those who are pre-qualified are actually permitted to compete.  The most important pre-qualification is earning a degree from one of two types of schools.  Generally, EPS firms maintain two lists of colleges from which they draw the applicant pool.  First is small list of so-called “core” schools that have fed firms’ talent requirements for decades.  The relationships are historic, steadfast, and habitual. Think Ivy League, especially colleges that are within a few hours drive from power centers of finance, banking and law.

Next is a list of “target” schools that firms have relied on for talent, but to a far lesser extent than core schools.  The pivotal difference between a sponsored and an open competition is the behavior of gatekeepers in seeking talent.  EPS firms go to great efforts to seek out the kinds of college graduates that fit the firm’s culture.  The firms go to the students, spending valuable time and money traveling to the listed campuses and recruiting for their applicant pool.

There is one noteworthy exception, Rivera says.  If a highly regarded EPS firm happens to occupy a booth at a “diversity” job fair, that’s likely no more than a show and tell, serving the firms’ needs to convey itself as an equal opportunity employer, which enables them to compete for federal contracts.  An open competition for jobs is far different: in almost no instance does a gatekeeper for an open contest seek out applicants. In this sense, then, a competition for jobs at the post office is far more competitive than hiring the chosen candidates for any EPS firm.

Then comes the sorting of resumes and the interview process.  At these stages, evaluators at EPS firms, often busy staffers and analysts who work with high workloads, are pretty much left to their own preferences without any firm guidelines from lowly valued human resource departments.  A typical evaluator will spend no more than 60 seconds per resume. In that brief moment, the evaluator scans resumes for positive signals of fit with the firm or red flags that suggest a bad fit.  These decisions are often based on personal biases, reflecting the evaluators’ own background.  Rivera calls this “looking glass” merit: evaluators choose candidates like themselves, with similar family backgrounds and cultural habits, down to the sorts of recreational activities and sports they might share in common.

For example, in the off-chance that a candidate at this stage had graduated with high honors at, say, the University of North Carolina, that would be considered a red flag.  “State schools,” as public universities are called in this competition, would be considered a sign of “intellectual failure.”   Candidates who’ve graduated form a core school are presumed to have the cognitive ability to do the job — although no actual evidence of this presumption exists, Rivera says.

One example stands out.  Rivera interviewed a hiring consultant named Natalie, who examined an application from Sarah, a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business.  Natalie noted that Stern was a top ten business school, but not a top three school. “She’s there either because her husband is in New York or she applied to business schools and she didn’t get into Harvard or Stanford.”  For Natalie, Sarah’s graduating from NYU’s Stern School of Business was a red flag, indicating some kind of intellectual failure.

Another red flag is whether the candidate happened to participate in the wrong types of sports in school. Evaluators often looked for similarities in recreational activities as a signal for shared interests and comfort level. One evaluator told Rivera he always asked a job candidate what he or she did for “fun.” The answer wasn’t acceptable if the activity were not something that was fun to him.  One candidate told the evaluator that he liked reading the Wall Street Journal for fun. An EPS evaluator told Rivera, “Nobody reads the Wall Street Journal for fun. And if they are unable to come up with something they do for fun, they are done.”

The classed-based hiring practices of EPS firms might not be so unsettling if such firms had not achieved the level of status, economic power, and influence that they currently enjoy in American life, Rivera contends.  Owing to the high pay and high status that EPS firms use to tantalize graduates, significant numbers of elite college graduates have turned to EPS firms for their first jobs out of college, ignoring opportunities at other types of employers such as manufacturing and educational institutions.  At Harvard alone, more than 70 percent “of each senior class typically applies to investment banks or consulting firms,” Rivera says.  In addition to the highly skewed demand for EPS jobs, this “holy trinity,” has become a well-traveled springboard to leadership positions in all aspects the United States.

Rivera cites research that America is unique among other advanced nations in the extent that people care about the reputation and prestige of one’s alma mater. In few other countries has one’s potential for leadership been so closely tied to where one attended college. As Rivera demonstrates, that has become a self-fulfilling prophesy of the new meritocracy. Exceedingly influential firms have uniquely positioned themselves as “finishing schools” for America’s elites, and yet there is virtually no evidence to suggest whether the system selects for the best, or simply the more well-positioned and well-polished.

For the most part, Rivera’s analysis is believable and compelling. We’ve always known such discrimination along class lines exists at elite professional firms, but she may be the first to inspect the detailed mechanisms that perpetuate the practice.  She fails, however, to address other types of superficially open, but actually closed competitions in which insiders are known to have unfair access to certain jobs in the United States.  The practice is not uncommon. These jobs would include children of police officers, firefighters, union tradesman and similar careers.  Remember?  “It’s who you know, not what you know.”

What’s more, one could argue that EPS firms are selecting candidates most equipped — intellectually, socially and behaviorally — to succeed in jobs that require an unusual ability to communicate and be comfortable with high-status clients in the corporate world.  Evaluators would naturally doubt, for example, whether a first generation college or professional school graduate attending a modestly selective university would have the polish to succeed.

Still, the classed-based hiring practices of EPS firms is unsettling, compared to the semi-open competitions for, say, police or union jobs.  EPS firms are unique in that they occupy far greater status, economic power, and influence than many careers. Owing to the high pay and high status that EPS firms use to tantalize graduates, significant numbers of elite college graduates have turned to EPS firms for their first jobs out of college, ignoring opportunities at other types of employers such as manufacturing and educational institutions.  At Harvard alone, more than 70 percent of each senior class typically applies to investment banks or consulting firms, says Rivera, quoting Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker.

In addition Americans love a competition that’s open to all comers, like the “Open Championship” in Great Britain and the U.S. Open here. The purpose of these tournaments is to identify the best golfer on the planet during a week’s competition, based strictly on performance.   The opportunity is open to any golfer, not just to those from private country clubs. Indeed, a competition rigged to pick the privileged few is abhorrent to our collective sensibilities. Exclusion based on the conceit that graduates of certain American colleges and universities are intellectually deficient is reminiscent of the days when the U.S. Army rated recruits on the basis of IQ tests.  Those tests purportedly demonstrated the intellectual superiority of immigrants from Arian nations over cognitively deficient immigrants like Jews and Italians.

“Because of the way they hire,” Rivera writes, “these employers end up systematically excluding smart, driven, and socially skilled students from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds from the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the United States, positions that serve as gateways to the country’s economic elite.”

Shirley Tilghman Leaving Princeton

Shirley Tilghman, who has just announced that she will step down as president of Princeton at the end of the academic year,  was chosen as the successor to former president Harold Shapiro in part because the powers that be thought it about time that the university had a female in that office.  She was the first president of Princeton not to have been a former student (graduate or undergraduate) and she didn’t come with extensive administrative experience.

Among her accomplishments is the increased financial aid package that Princeton now offers to students from lower and middle income circumstances.  Undergraduates at Princeton overwhelmingly come from upper-middle-class and affluent families, and there has been a push under Tilghman’s watch to bring in students (including whites) from less affluent backgrounds student body. The idea is a good one and Princeton has enough money in scholarship aid to pull it off.

And under her presidency the undergraduate student body expanded by over 500 through the addition of Whitman College (named after benefactor and Princeton grad Meg Whitman).  The big advantage of this is that the ratio of recruited athletes to other students goes down.  While racial affirmative action still prevails, in keeping the number of athletes constant while increasing the total number of students admitted, a higher proportion of students who get into Princeton now make it on their brains, not athletic ability.

One of her biggest mistakes: Her claim in the face of the Larry Summers affair that “the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences is nonexistent.”  This is ludicrous.  Textbooks (e.g. Diana Halpern’s Sex Differences in Cognition, and Doreen Kimura’s Sex and Cognition) have provided exhaustive data. Only the wilfully blind could ignore the facts.

Another dubious decision: her refusal to allow the student Love and Chastity group to set up a center on campus that would be comparable to the feminist-oriented Women’s Center and the LGBT center.  The purpose of the center would be to present a haven from the campus hook-up culture and a place for students of traditional values regarding sex and marriage to have a place where they could share ideas and feel comfortable talking with students of the opposite sex.  The students even offered to pay for the center with donations from supportive alumni but Tilghman nixed the idea.  Her response, an open letter printed in the student newspaper, seemed remarkably weak. Shirley Tilghman is a nice person without a strong political or ideological compass. In academia, this indicates someone who will almost automatically absorb the secular leftism of the dominant campus ethos and the New York Times editorial page.

Ten Reasons to Ignore the U.S. News Rankings

USNWR.jpg

There are certainly some good reasons for
some people to take the U.S. News college rankings seriously. Presidents of
schools that went up a notch or two can trumpet the fact to their trustees
while noting modestly, of course, that “we don’t really pay them any heed.” But
if you are a college-bound student or the parent of one, there are lots of
reasons not to give them any
credence. As a starter, and in the spirit of my editorial friends at U.S. News,
here are my Top 10:

Continue reading Ten Reasons to Ignore the U.S. News Rankings

Let’s Be Frank about Anti-Asian Admission Policies

Asian students.jpgOn February 2 Daniel Golden, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of a highly regarded book on college admissions, reported in Bloomberg’s Business Week that Harvard and Princeton are being investigated by the Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for discrimination against Asians.

It’s not the first time. In fact, for the past decade or so there has been a rising tide of accusations that the Ivies and other selective institutions treat Asians as the “new Jews” (referring to quotas on Jews in the Ivies and elsewhere early in the 20th Century, and often beyond), holding them to much higher admission standards than applicants from other groups in order to prevent their “over representation” and thus make room for the “under-represented” blacks and Hispanics admitted under much lower affirmative action standards. Harvard and Princeton, of course, deny the accusation.

Harvard “does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants,” spokesman Jeff Neal told Business Week. “Our review of every applicant’s file is highly individualized and holistic, as we give serious consideration to all of the information we receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our vibrant educational environment and community.” Princeton read from the same script: The college “doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race or national origin,” claimed spokesman Martin Mbugua. “We make admissions decisions on a case-by-case basis in our efforts to build a well-rounded, diverse class.”

Do Admissions Officers Really Believe What They Say?

Of course, despite all the smoke they blow (and, it would appear, inhale) about “holistic,” “highly individualized,” “case by case” evaluations, if admissions offices did not allow race to be the determining factor in many cases, how would they know whether any particular applicant would contribute to the pigmentary “diversity” they so diligently seek? It is simply a fact, as Roger Clegg has cogently pointed out, “if you consider race, then in some instances it’s going to make a difference in whether a person is admitted (otherwise, why bother to consider it?), and when that happens, you have racial discrimination.”

Extensive evidence that Asian American applicants must jump a much higher bar to gain admission to elite universities than applicants from other groups and that they have been the big gainers where affirmative action has been dropped has long been available and should no longer surprise anyone. For example, in a widely discussed Wall Street Journal article back in 2006, Is Admissions Bar Higher for Asians At Elite Schools? Daniel Golden (the author of last week’s Business Week article linked above) noted a Center for Equal Opportunity study finding that Asian applicants to the University of Michigan in 2005 had a median SAT score that was “50 points higher than the median score of white students who were accepted, 140 points higher than that of Hispanics and 240 points higher than that of blacks.” That study also found that “among applicants with a 1240 SAT score and 3.2 grade point average in 2005, the university admitted 10% of Asian-Americans, 14% of whites, 88% of Hispanics and 92% of blacks.” Golden also reported that after California abolished racial preference the percentage of Asian-Americans accepted at Berkeley increased from 34.6% in 1997, the last year of legal affirmative action, to 42% entering in fall 2006.

Although it is widely thought, especially by defenders of affirmative action, that whites benefit when racial preferences are eliminated (indeed, those defenders frequently accuse critics of being racists whose purpose is to benefit whites), that is not the case. As I noted here, citing this data, the proportion of white freshmen entering the University of California system “fell from 40% in 1997 to 34% in 2005.”

A 140-Point SAT Disadvantage for Asians

Similar data abound. In 2005, for example, Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist (more on him below), and a colleague published an article demonstrating that if affirmative action were eliminated across the nation “Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African-American and Hispanic students, with an acceptance rate rising from nearly 18 percent to more than 23 percent.” In a 2009 Inside Higher Ed article based on his book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, Espenshade and another colleague wrote that

[c]ompared to white applicants at selective private colleges and universities, black applicants receive an admission boost that is equivalent to 310 SAT points, measured on an all-other-things-equal basis. The boost for Hispanic candidates is equal on average to 130 SAT points. Asian applicants face a 140 point SAT disadvantage.

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Summarizing Espenshade’s findings, Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, gingerly concluded that “[s]ignificant advantages and disadvantages exist for members of some racial and ethnic groups with regard to the SAT or ACT scores they need to have the same odds of admission as members of other groups.” Since Espenshade concludes that black applicants to selective universities receive a 450 point “boost” compared to otherwise similarly qualified Asian applicants, I’d say that Jaschik’s statement oozes with obfuscatory politically correct understatement. That same tone suffuses Jaschik’s long article last week on the recent charge of anti-Asian discrimination at Harvard and Princeton. Because affirmative action is grounded (notwithstanding all the transparent claptrap about “diversity”) in a desire to help minorities, evidence that it significantly harms an ethnic minority makes its academic supporters as uncomfortable as a skunk at a garden party. Since they can’t refute the evidence, they try to argue that it doesn’t mean what it obviously means. Perhaps the Asians, they insinuate, are overly sensitive, imagining discrimination where it doesn’t exist. Here’s how Jaschik frames the issue (emphasis added):

What does it say about college admissions that a group achieving considerable academic success believes it is being held to unfair standards? Is there really proof to back up the widespread perception of bias? Are those who are convinced of bias relying solely on certain numeric measures? Are colleges hiding behind codes (such as the desire for someone who is “well-rounded” or concerns about “grinds”) to discriminate against Asian applicants?

Real Bias or Just ‘Belief in Bias’?

Jaschik’s article is characterized by this trope of a “belief in bias.” A few examples:

– Admissions counselors and advocates for Asian-American students say that belief in bias is widespread — and that the belief alone should be cause for concern…. – David Hawkins, director of public policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said “he is aware of (and concerned about) the way many applicants see this issue … ‘but I suspect it’s much more complicated.'” – “In some cases, colleges have adopted policies that some see as hurting Asian-American applicants — without necessarily violating the law.” – “Debates over the relative merits of standardized tests also tend to be viewed by many through their impact on different applicant groups.” – “Many advocates for Asian-American students believe that some elite college admissions officers use phrases like “well-rounded” to favor white applicants of lesser academic quality over Asian-American applicants.”

In addition to implying that the “belief” in discrimination reflects little more than overheated Asian-American imaginations, Jaschik’s article also argues through its quotations of various defenders of affirmative action — and, as we shall see, through misleading summarizing by Jaschik himself — that treating Asian-American applicants significantly worse than other applicants does not amount to discriminating against them and should not be used to discredit affirmative action. Robert Teranishi, associate professor of higher education at New York University and author of Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education, is “worried about efforts to link alleged bias against Asian-American applicants to broader debates over affirmative action.” According to Teranishi, “many Asian-American students in the United States” — such as poor recent immigrants — “deserve and benefit from affirmative action.” Really? That sounds doubtful to me, but perhaps Prof. Teranishi’s book presents data on vasts numbers of Asian-American applicants who are given preferential treatment in admission. The most dramatic, and unconvincing, denials that the data of Prof. Espenshade and others demonstrating the significantly higher hurdles faced by Asian-Americans amounts to discrimination against them comes from … Prof. Espenshade himself, who combines the mistaken Asian “beliefs” discussed above with outright denials of discrimination. In an interview last week with Jaschik,

Espenshade said that “all other things equal, Asian-American students are at a disadvantage relative to white students, and at an even bigger disadvantage relative to black and Latino students.” But he was quick to add that “this doesn’t mean there is discrimination.”

He noted that the modeling he has done is based on quantifiable measures such as grades and test scores. “We don’t have access to all the information an admissions dean does,” he said. “We don’t have extracurriculars. We don’t have personal statements or guidance counselors’ recommendations. We’re missing some stuff.” Those who assume that average scores indicate bias may not understand the many factors that go into college admissions at elite private colleges, he said. “The fact that these institutions are looking for a multiplicity of talent is more understood in some communities than others,” he said. “There might be a tendency of many Asian-American students to think that academic credentials are going to carry not only the most weight, but all the weight, in who gets admitted, and that isn’t so.”

The Ever-Handy Excuse of ‘Soft Variables’

asian students walking.jpgProf. Espenshade has been running from the implications of his research findings for years, as I argued here on Minding The Campus nearly two years ago. In a 2009 interview, for example, he told the Daily Princetonian that he did not use the word “discrimination” in discussing his study because “he did not have access to what he called ‘soft variables,’ like extracurriculars and teacher recommendations.

“The data we had is only part of the data that admission deans have access to,” Espenshade said. “If we had access to the full range of info, it could put Asian candidates in a different light. This so-called ‘Asian disadvantage’ does not necessarily mean that Asian applicants are being discriminated against.”

Leaving aside the awkward assertion that Asians have “a tendency” to “think” or “assume” or “believe” things that are not true and “may not understand” the complexity of the admissions process that is “more understood” in other “communities,” Prof. Espenshade doesn’t seem to recognize the clear implication of his reference to “soft variables” to deny discrimination: if there’s no discrimination, it’s because blacks and Hispanics are so much better at writing personal statements and performing extracurricular activities and securing outstanding letters of recommendation that their superior performance in these areas, compared to the hapless Asians, balances out their deficits in grades and test scores. Prof. Espenshade leans over so far backwards in attempting to deny discrimination against Asians that he stumbles well past lame or silly into territory, as I wrote on this site back in 2010, that “is almost humorously dumb, and offensive.”

The only person in Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik’s article who tries even harder than Prof. Espenshade to escape to the implications of Prof. Espenshade’s data is … Scott Jaschik. Referring to Prof. Espenshade’s book, Jaschik writes that “Asian-American applicants need SAT scores of about 140 points higher than students from other groups with equivalent academic qualifications to get admitted to competitive private institutions.” But that’s not at all what’s in Prof. Espenshade’s book or even what Prof. Espenshade wrote on Inside Higher Ed back in 2009. As we saw above, Espenshade wrote there that Asians must score 140 higher on the SAT than similarly qualified whites, not “students from other groups,” and that they must score 450 points higher than similarly qualified blacks.

Sometimes in the defense of affirmative action simple obfuscation isn’t sufficient. Those times call for outright denial, and editor Jaschik proves he is up to the task.

The Way Princeton Behaves

The strange case of Antonio Calvo,  the Princeton lecturer who slashed himself to death last April, is the subject of  long front-page article in the July 1 Chronicle of Higher Education. After his suicide, Princeton put out a formal statement saying that Calvo had been on leave from the university. That was not true. Princeton had suspended him with three weeks left in the semester, relieving him of all duties and banishing him from the campus. He was cut off from the email system and told not to talk to faculty or students before clearing out.

Calvo, 45, had been a senior lecturer up for renewal in the department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures. In a suicide note, Calvo said that months of waiting to hear from Princeton about  his job renewal was “emotional torture,” and that  being suspsended had taken away his credibility.”I’ve got nothing left,” he wrote.

What had Calvo done to deserve this treatment? The Friday before his death he received a note from his department chairwoman accusing him of “troubling and inappropriate behavior.”  There had been some friction between Calvo and a few students and he had made two startling statements, which a colleague, Professor Ricardo Piglia, said were cultural misunderstandings– common Spanish expressions had been mistaken for insults and threats

The issue now is the apparent brutality of Princeton and  its procedure, which in this case looks somewhat like the star-chamber methods that Harvey Silverglate denounced here.  Why was Calvo thrown off campus, clearly humiliated, then  told he could phone an associate dean to get a hearing and learn what the charges were? University president Shirley Tilghman told a group of complaining students that all appropriate procedures had been followed in Calvo’s suspension. To us, that sounds like a confession of  institutionalized incompetence.

Why Can’t a Princeton Woman Be More Like a Princeton Man?

seal.jpgForty years after co-education came to Princeton, the campus has been in a tizzy because, Inside Higher Ed reported a few days ago, “female undergrads tend to eschew high-profile executive positions at the most prestigious student organizations in favor of less glamorous — but often equally labor-intensive — leadership roles.”

In the decades after Princeton went co-ed in 1969, women regularly rose to high-profile leadership positions in student government, student media, and the university’s venerable “eating clubs,” and won many coveted fellowships….

But since 2000, female students with leadership aspirations have shifted their energies to less exalted pursuits as leaders of service organizations, advocacy groups, residential councils, dance troupes, academic clubs, and a cappella choirs. Women still flock to The Daily Princetonian, the student government, and other longstanding extracurricular meccas…, but they have tended to land in positions —  both in those organizations and in more peripheral ones — where responsibility is high and visibility is low.

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Tell Me Again—Why Is He at Princeton?

Van Jones, the Oakland, Calif.-based radical activist and author who was forced to resign his post as the Obama administration’s “green jobs czar” in September after it was revealed that he had signed a “truther” petition in 2004 calling for an investigation of President George W. Bush’s supposed collusion in the massacres of Sept. 11, 2001, now has a new post: on the faculty of Princeton University.
Jones will be a visiting fellow at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public International Affairs for the 2010-2011 academic year, where he will be teaching a graduate seminar on environmental politics—quite a coup for someone who put his name onto a “9/11 Truth Statement” that aired zany government cover-up conspiracy theories worthy of the UFO festival in Roswell, N.M,–if not of a Michael Moore movie. The statement declared that the Bush administration “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war,” and included such queries as: “Why did the Secret Service allow Bush to complete his elementary school visit [on 9/11], apparently unconcerned about his safety or that of the schoolchildren?” “Why haven’t authorities in the U.S. and abroad published the results of multiple investigations into trading that strongly suggested foreknowledge of specific details of the 9/11 attacks, resulting in tens of millions of dollars of traceable gains?”
Jones’s fringe-left career, which began with his arrest in one of the riots over the 1992 acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers for beating Rodney King (the riots left 53 people dead and wreaked more than $1 billion in property damage after six days of looting, arson, and assaults) has led critics to blast Princeton for welcoming onto its faculty someone almost as “nutty” (in the words of an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily) as Ward Churchill, the former University of Colorado ethnic studies professor (since fired for plagiarizing from other scholars) who famously called the 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns.” Jones once boasted that the Rodney King riots had made a “communist” out of him. He says he has since repudiated his youthful Marxism—but not enough to prevent him from issuing a thundering call, in a speech given just two weeks before he started his White House job last March, for forced redistribution of capitalist profits to minorities and Native Americans: “Give them the wealth!…No justice on stolen land!”

Continue reading Tell Me Again—Why Is He at Princeton?

Princeton’s Victory Over Grade Inflation

princeton_university_fort.jpgGrade inflation is one of those realities of the post-60s academic world that most college teachers bemoan but feel powerless to do anything about. It is virtually impossible for any single faculty member to do much to stem the tide of ever rising grade distributions. If a faculty member refuses to go along with the upward shift in grades and gives his students lower grades than they would have received for comparable work in other courses, students will rightfully complain that to those reading their official transcript it will falsely appear as if they have done lesser work or achieved at a lower level in the hold-out grader’s course than in other courses. Such faculty members will find many fewer students taking their courses — including many conscientious and competitive students whom the teacher does not want to scare away. Worse still, since tenure and promotion decisions are often partially based on student evaluations and student enrollments that frequently reflect past satisfaction with a professor’s grading policy, university teachers today pay a heavy price for bucking the inflationary trend.
Perhaps the best that a lone academic can do is represented by Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield. Mansfield can remember a time when the average GPA at Harvard College was around 2.5 on a 4.0 scale — today it is about 3.5. The transition from C+ to B+ as the average grade has produced the ludicrous result that in some years nine in ten Harvard seniors graduated with official honors. For Mansfield the idea that grades should mean what grading keys still often say they mean — i.e., that an A means “Excellent,” “Truly Outstanding,” a B “Very Good,” “Above Average,” and a C “Average” — carries a good deal of weight. But implementing such a grading policy is impossible in a grading environment in which C grades have practically disappeared from most humanities and social science courses (representing less than 5 percent of the grades in some departments), and more than half of students in many Harvard courses receive A range grades. Mansfield came up with a creative solution that enabled him to avoid what would have been a bitter and ultimately futile struggle against the inflationary flood waters of the times without having to sing praises to the river gods. Mansfield has for many years now given his students two sets of grades, one for the official Harvard transcript, the other representing what the students really deserve on a non-inflated grading scale.
Does It Really Exist?
Some deny that grade inflation exists. According to these people — usually students or their parents — students are simply getting smarter these days, especially at the most prestigious colleges and universities which draw from a huge talent pool. The higher grades obtained at such places reflect genuinely higher achievement, these people say, just as the superior performance in track and field events at the Olympics represent genuine advances over earlier competitors, not changes in the evaluation metric.
But no college teacher with hands-on experience of the rising grades at the better colleges over the past several decades can take such claims seriously. Term papers of a quality that would have received a B or B+ in former times are now routinely given an A-, and with the near elimination of C range grades in many humanities and social science courses (except for failing or near-failing work), the B and B- grades have come to absorb everything that previously would have been awarded a C or even a D. To anyone with knowledge of an earlier period, it is clear that there has been both protracted grade inflation (higher grades overall for work no better than in an earlier period), and grade compression (almost all grades compressed into the A+ to B- range).

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Robertson V. Princeton — Who Really Won?

The nearly six-year-old lawsuit between the heirs of donors Charles and Marie Robertson and Princeton University over who controls the assets of the Robertson Foundation has been settled. Princeton has now acquired most of the Robertson Foundation’s endowment, enabling it to exercise control over the foundation’s assets, which amount to between $600 and $700 million, or six percent of the university’s endowment.

But the case may well send a signal to other donors to be extremely wary of the gifts they make to colleges and universities. We’ll never know what would have happened at a trial. But the evidence clearly shows that Princeton was increasingly brazen in its efforts to use the Robertson Foundation’s wealth for causes other than which it was intended. Princeton’s conduct shows that universities want donors to have as little say as possible about how their contributions will be used.

As part of the settlement, Princeton agreed to pay $40 million between 2009-11 to the Banbury Fund, the Robertson family foundation who paid the Robertsons’ legal fees. In addition, Princeton has agreed to donate $50 million between 2012-19 to a new nonprofit designed to fulfill Charles Robertson’s intentions in helping to train students for government service. In return, the Robertson Foundation will be dissolved, and its funds will be fully integrated into Princeton’s endowment.

Continue reading Robertson V. Princeton — Who Really Won?

Princeton Settles With Robertson

The details of the suit are not entirely clear from early reports, but the 6-year suit between the Robertson family and Princeton over the alleged misuse of their endowment has come to and end in a settlement. Princeton is providing $40 million to pay the legal fees of the Robertson family, establishing a $50 million foundation to prepare students for government service, and has pledged to dedicate the remaining funds to the support of the Woodrow Wilson school. The endowment will be dissolved, and replaced by a new university-controlled foundation (for fears about that, read our piece from last year) but substantively it looks like a victory for the Robertson family’s contentions about how the money was being used.

Want A Freshman Servant? Try Princeton.

Princeton is taking a cue from fraternity practice and indentured servitude in urging freshmen to become “thesis buddies” for seniors – essentially, asking them to perform work for them. Princeton Seniors face a considerable thesis requirement, and Whitman, the new residential college, has come up with a convenient solution to their potential labor troubles: impress the freshmen into service. This isn’t theoretical, they’re talking about labor, specifically – Ivygate printed the email announcing the program. Here are some choice bits:

Each participating Whitman senior will be assigned 2 underclassmen who will be “on call” during the final thesis push. If you are working away in your room and feel like you need a midnight snack all you have to do is contact your thesis buddy and he/she will bring you a hot dog and a red bull or whatever else you need to burn the midnight oil.

Obviously, the idea isn’t to take advantage of your buddy, but to have him or her help out in a pinch. Other examples of acceptable duties include: taking care of a load of laundry, picking up/dropping off some library books, or proofreading a chapter for typos. Unacceptable duties would include: attending a class in your stead, cleaning your room, doing your homework, or getting your thesis bound.

How do you sign up?

How do you sign up, indeed! Princeton – bringing Tom Brown and Roald Dahl’s schooldays to an American College near you – for $44,200 a year.

A Conservative Hate Crime Hoax

It is slowly dawning on the public that fake hate crimes, like the one just perpetrated by Princeton student Francisco Nava, are quite common on college campuses. Perhaps some aspiring academic, casting about for a PhD. thesis, will try to explain why these hoaxes – mostly imaginary rapes or fake attacks on black students – have come to seem so routine.

I have been following the phenomenon and writing occasional columns on the subject for ten or twelve years. When my eldest daughter was at Oberlin, the campus was propelled into uproar by anti-Asian graffiti in the campus quad. Someone had written “Death to Chinks” and other racial slurs on the monument to members of the Oberlin community who had died in the Boxer rebellion in China. Anger, various demands and a few scuffles went on for weeks until an Asian-American student announced that she had written the graffiti to make manifest the racism she thought was inherent in the monument. This turns out to be a popular rationale for faking hate crimes – the need to create a fictional outrage adequate to express the feelings of an angry student. The more campus voices are raised against “institutional racism” and the alleged sexual dangerousness of all males, the more fake race crimes and fake rapes there will be. Look into the hoax reports and you will see an endless parade of students painting racist graffiti on their own cars, tearing their clothes and writing hate phrases on their own bodies or sending themselves politically useful death threats.

Many campus hoaxes turn out to be teaching instruments of a sort, conscious lies intended to reveal broad truths about constant victimization of women and minorities. At a “Take Back the Night” rally in Princeton in the 90s, a female student told a graphic story of her rape on campus. When the alleged rapist threatened to sue, she recanted the story and a spokeswoman for the Women’s Center said, “Listen we can’t hope to find truth in all these stories,” meaning that the story line was important, not the truth of any one rape.

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Donors – Remember Princeton

The case of the Robertson Foundation versus Princeton University has not, after nearly five years of litigation, yet come to trial. But it’s already shaping up to be the most expensive donor intent case in history. Reports of spending by the Robertson family differ, but news reports indicate the family may have spent as much as $20 million trying to sever their foundation from Princeton University control.

As for Princeton, an article that appeared in the Daily Princetonian in October stated that the university had, so far, committed $22 million to defending itself. Princeton is so deeply committed that in June the university won a suit against its insurer, a subsidiary of the giant firm American International Group. The insurer, according to an article in the Newark Star-Ledger, balked at paying more than $5 million under Princeton’s policy. The courts ordered AIG to give Princeton another $10 million. (AIG, however, plans to appeal.)

The stakes are high because the Robertson Foundation constitutes around eight percent of Princeton’s endowment with a value of $850-900 million. But the case also involves the issue of what rights the donor has over whether his gift would be used or misused.

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Robert George and Cornel West: Partners.

Robert George and Cornel West have teamed up in an unlikely enterprise – co-teaching a Freshmen Seminar, “Great Books and Arguments” at Princeton. You can find the full story in the June issue of the Princeton Alumni magazine.

George and West seem to radiate enthusiasm about the collaboration, and, particularly, about the challenges to their ideas that it posed. It’s a fascinating example of genuine intellectual diversity at work. Here’s a piquant excerpt:

After alluding to certain groups that feel alienated on the Princeton campus, West finally identifies one such group as African-Americans.

“Ahhh,” says George, as if finally seeing the light. “I thought you were talking about conservatives.” Everyone laughs.

“We had a wonderful dialogue about it,” recalls West later. “And we began to see that actually there was significant overlap [in our views]. Robby wanted colorblindness precisely because he wanted to affirm humanity.”

Do read the whole piece.