Gifted students
April 11, 2003 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Gifted Students Despite her boarding-school education and a personal tutor, Maude Bunn's SAT scores weren't high enough for a typical student to earn admission to Duke University. But Ms. Bunn had something else going for her -- coffeemakers. Her Bunn forebears built a fortune on them and, with Duke hoping to woo her wealthy parents as donors, she was admitted. Afterward, her parents promptly became co-chairmen of a Duke fund-raising effort aimed at other Duke parents. "My child was given a gift, she got in, and now I'm giving back," says Maude's mother, Cissy Bunn, who declines to say how much the family has contributed to the university.
posted by orange swan (59 comments total)
This is fine with me. A lot of schools depend heavily on such donations. Anyone who wants to build a library so my scholarship-student loan ass can study in it is fine by me, I don't care how dumb their kid is. This is part of the system just like affirmative action, which I also have no problem with.

And I'm a white girl who worked my ass off and had perfect grades and damn near perfect test scores, and was POOR, and didn't get into some schools I was very well qualified for. And I still don't care. I don't mind the way this corner of the world works one little bit.

Also, Maude Bunn is a funny name.
posted by padraigin at 10:37 AM on April 11, 2003

I'm sure Duke, like most prestigious schools, offers grants and scholarships to students who have the qualifications, but don't have the money. If a few underqualified people are admitted to keep the grease in the wheels of the machine, who is hurt?
posted by monkeyman at 10:41 AM on April 11, 2003

What? Rich people exchanging wealth for goods and services? Bartering goods and services for other goods and services? Good heavens!

Seriously, though, as a recent Stanford Grad school reject myself, I understand the position of anyone who might feel like it's not fair that when it comes to leaping the walls of a vaunted academic institution, large sums of money are a better pole than a decent showing on tests and/or classwork. There's also the ideal that some things just shouldn't be bought and sold.
posted by weston at 10:44 AM on April 11, 2003

I completely agree with Padraigin.

College admissions is such a crapshoot any way, where you have to take what you get, and not bitch about it.

I got into Harvard and Dartmouth, but was rejected by Princeton and Penn (Penn!!). It doesn't bother me that Brooke Shields got into Princeton (the year before I applied) with far inferior SAT scores. After all... her extracurricular activities were far more impressive than mine. And it also doesn't bother me that I was passed over in favor of (theoretically, at least) candidates whose backgrounds were not of an upper-middle class white suburban male.

And besides, the Bunn-o-Matic kicks ass! That's one hell of a legacy.
posted by psmealey at 10:46 AM on April 11, 2003

On what should have been preview: what monkeyman said sounds pretty good.
posted by weston at 10:47 AM on April 11, 2003

When did Captain Obvious start working as a reporter for the College Journal

And why focus on some obscure heir to a coffemaker fortune when the current president never would have gotten into Yale on grades and scores alone
posted by bitdamaged at 10:48 AM on April 11, 2003

I'm just curious if anyone is surprised by this. I'm currently attending an ivy league school and its amazing to see the amount of wealth that is on this campus (freshmen driving brand new z3's, mercedes, etc). I'm sure that many of these students did have the qualifications to enter the university but I know that a few didn't. In the race to be one of the top schools in the country, Cornell needs the money to keep improving its research and educational facilities to attract the top professors in the world (and Cornell also needs to support their fairly large paychecks). So, if a few students are allowed into cornell due to their parents wealth, and their parents are able to help fund a nobel prize winner and great professor to come to cornell, I welcome that because the better the professors, the better my education.
posted by Stynxno at 10:48 AM on April 11, 2003

I don't see how it's much different than accepting people who don't have the test scores or the grades, but who happen to be good at sports.
posted by witchstone at 10:58 AM on April 11, 2003

yeah, on top of all this, duke's a private university with minimal public funding, so they can pretty much do what they want anyways. the university is putting their reputation on the line by admitting these students because of their money. if the students end up becoming less superior, they'll suffer at some point down the line anyways, so i see this as just part of the workings of a private university.
posted by oog at 10:59 AM on April 11, 2003

Interesting that when an under-qualified white student gets into a prestigious school it's a feature piece in the newspaper, but when it's a black student it becomes a Supreme Court case...

on preview -- oog's public/private point is a good one, though...
posted by herc at 11:00 AM on April 11, 2003

Um, I would have to disagree guys. Cornell's endowment is $3.4 billion. Princeton -- where I went -- has an endowment of nearly $8 billion. The income from that endowment is nearly $57 million a year -- and that is only part of what funds the university, because it also gets grants and tuition income.

These institutions are not poor. Admitting applicants who are underqualified becasue their parents are rich is inexcusable. For every rich kid who will probably never have to work in their lifetime admitted to Princeton, Cornell, or Duke, there is in all likelihood one 'regular' kid for whom that admit could have made a much larger difference. Obviously, better professors are better for students, but the recent, enormous stadium Princeton built with alumni donations, for instance, isn't about academics -- it's about the pissing contest taking place among the top schools.
posted by josh at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2003

BTW -- The Atlantic Monthy has run some interesting stories recenlty on the insanity that has become college admissions.
posted by herc at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2003

Witchstone, oog -- it is different in both of those cases. People don't 'happen to be good at sports' -- being good at sports is hard, and it takes hard work to succeed both academically and athletically. There are also dividends and lessons to be taken from athletics. Being rich isn't hard; it's easy to be successful and rich at the same time!

And sure, these institutions are private in the corporate sense. They're public, however, in that they are at the top of America's educational pyramid -- they train the 'best and brightest' and they have a responsibility not to become old boys' clubs and to provide the best education they can. The best universities should be public in their actions even if they're private in terms of funding. I can think of little less civic-minded than passing over poorer applicants for richer ones as a matter of policy, which is what this amounts to.
posted by josh at 11:07 AM on April 11, 2003

Ain't affirmative action for rich kids great? I'm sure, however, that there are many non-rich & white kids who applied at the same time as Ms. Bunn who didn't get admitted to Duke. Some of them may have been able to afford tuition; some may have needed loans; some may have relied on some other form of financial aid. I imagine they'd all have a different take on this story.
posted by luriete at 11:11 AM on April 11, 2003

As a believer in equal opportunity and entry based on merit, it disturbs me a bit. But I'm a crank -- I often wonder why we allow some schools be better than others. Shouldn't all schools be as best as we can make them?

Of course, it also disturbs me that a large number of people see higher education as simply a prerequisite for getting a good job as opposed to something to be done to make one a better, more-rounded and enlightened person. But like I said, I'm a crank.
posted by moonbiter at 11:12 AM on April 11, 2003

And let me tell you, the President of the United States read this story and was shocked! Just shocked I say!
posted by ilsa at 11:13 AM on April 11, 2003

It'd be interesting to see how much money actually comes from contributions made as 'payment' of admittance.

When I was going to school, I'd hear about a wealthy donor contributing a few million every once in a while, but they were usually alumni. I wouldn't think families would donate large (read: millions) JUST because their kid went to school there. Am I wrong? Isn't it true that most universities get their money from research anyway? Can anyone shed some light?

psmealey - don't be going after Penn. I know you're just jealous. Harvard and Dartmouth will always be bush league and you know it. ;)
posted by gwong at 11:15 AM on April 11, 2003

If kids in college learn their Darwinis stuff they learn that many people of one gender will marry up (money) by locating a guy with big bucks--and that's love. So, too, institutions also evolve and get into more competitive positions by seeking wealth. And that's Admissions.
Why is it ok for a school to admit the children of a graduate, as most prestitiough schools do, preferentially, and not ok to snag a wealthy sucker to fund their operation?
posted by Postroad at 11:16 AM on April 11, 2003

And let's not forget either that, in the context of those huge endowments, one big reason colleges go after donations is to raise their rank with U.S. News and World Report, which takes donations (weirdly) into account. Is ranking a good reason to admit rich kids over poorer ones?

And postroad -- legacy admits are not okay either. The college admissions process is messed up. It should be more egalitarian and democratic.
posted by josh at 11:26 AM on April 11, 2003

So what about this, say Ms. Bunn gets in and because of her parents donations 10 more deserving kids get to go to Duke that year or a couple of kids who coulnd't afford it get scholarships.

Isn't that worth it?
posted by bitdamaged at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2003

josh... while no doubt athletes work hard than trust fund babies, their reasons for getting into programs despite poor academics are still mostly financial. Athletic programs raise millions of dollars for schools
posted by bitdamaged at 11:34 AM on April 11, 2003

Athletics requires effort, but a great deal of it is genetic. And the point is that good athletes are admitted because their presence will bring the school money.

I don't know -- it's an impossible process. I'm beginning to think there's no way it could be fair. Standardized tests have their flaws, high school grades are incredibly unreliable, since different schools (and different teachers) have different standards, many teachers play favorites or have prejudices, etc. So I don't know -- what's left, really?

The fact of the matter is that a lot of people get into colleges for weird reasons: athletic ability, money, race, being from an underrepresented county, being the child of an alumnus/a, since they think that makes it more likely you'll give money. Ha, little do they know...
posted by dagnyscott at 11:44 AM on April 11, 2003

~waits for conservatives to decry admissions based on something other than supposedly unbiased test scores and grades~

what about...Ms. Bunn gets in and because of her parents donations 10 more deserving kids get to go to Duke that year or a couple of kids who coulnd't afford it get scholarships.

Sounds like it'd be a hit among the wealthy, although I'm not sure about the effect on minor issues like student incentive to excel.... or even simple justice and equality. How 'bout we let you off from that drunk driving charge and give you your license back if you contribute a hundred thousand dollars to MADD?
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2003

I'm in favour of a more egalitarian education system, but I'm also a pragmatist. If rich kids are getting in and stealing spots from poor kids, that's bad. But what if, as bitdamaged says, rich kids are getting in and Mommy is creating spots for poor kids? I'm pretty sure whatever whack of cash the Bunns donated/raised in exchange for Maude's education, it was more than it will actually cost to educate their daughter. If they pay the entire cost of educating her, she isn't really taking someone else's spot because the money that would have been spent on that other person is still there. If they double the cost of educating her, then they've actually created a new spot.

And the difference between getting into a school, where you can better yourself and pay to better others, and getting let off for committing a felony is vast, fold_and_mutilate. What you've pointed out is not a slippery slope, it's an avalanche on a frictionless surface in a vacuum.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:50 AM on April 11, 2003

I'm shocked that Trinity College would make a decision based on a wealthy person's donation.
posted by yerfatma at 11:56 AM on April 11, 2003

Putting aside the admissions process being skewed there's still the little thing about trust fund babies having their diplomas purchased as well.

We all know the prime example.

So, can the practice of "buying diplomas" also be justified? Hmmm?
posted by nofundy at 12:13 PM on April 11, 2003

I'm also in favor of more meritocratic admissions policies, alas, I am not so much a pragmatist as I am a cynic.

We all love to talk about democracy and meritocracy, and other such locke/rousseau-ian ideals, but these really have nothing to do with the way our society actually functions. At its core not what our society is about. American society is a highly stratified and not so subtle plutocracy, where the rich get welfare and everyone else gets capitalism and the free market for goods and labor.

This particular story is an apt microcosm of how things really happen in life and business in this country. That rich kids often get preferential treatment in college admissions illustrates precisely why affirmative action is essential. There is so much fundamental unfairness in our culture that is merely winked at, that it is sometimes necessary to be equally unfair in an opposite direction to make some effort to level the playing field.

I wished we lived in a world where college admission were (and could be) completely fair and merit-based, but wishing won't make it so. Given this, if you let a few rich kids in, qualified or not, maybe it helps provide more dough for the school to help everyone else. But you can't show favoritism to the rich and not have affirmative action at the same time.

gwong, true, I am jealous ;-) I was hoping that comment would get a rise out of someone.

For every rich kid who will probably never have to work in their lifetime admitted to Princeton, Cornell, or Duke...

I think these kids all go to Bennington, no? :-) I kid. I kid because I...
posted by psmealey at 12:15 PM on April 11, 2003

Okay, I think that the pragmatists have made lots of good arguments, and it's definitely legit to be fairly cynical about college admissions. But . . . it doesn't bother you at all ? The thing that kills me about this type of thing is that spots at any college are a limited commodity. Yeah, Ma Bunn might provide the money for 10 students to go to Duke, but it's not 10 MORE students. It's 10 students out of the allotted class that will get better aid. But perhaps one fewer qualified student got in in the first place. And sure, athletes are brought in for money reasons. But at least they put in the time and energy to excel themselves. That's an important distinction. On some level, they're being rewarded for their own hard work, not just what their parents did. Now if a kid who built a multimillion dollar business was accepted to a school based on his own money, I wouldn't blink. But then he really would have proven their own merit anyway.
posted by synapse at 12:16 PM on April 11, 2003

. . . his own merit. Damn pronoun agreement.
posted by synapse at 12:18 PM on April 11, 2003

Isn't it true that most universities get their money from research anyway? Can anyone shed some light?

here's a nice little layout of how much money cornell received for research in 2000 and 2001.

here's [pdf] the financial report for cornell university from 2001-2002.

You'll noticed that cornell received 363 million dollars in 'gifts' in the year 2001-2002 and contributions made up 14% of the money that cornell received. The federal government's contribution to cornell provided 19% of cornell's revenue and New York State's contribution provided 9%.
posted by Stynxno at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2003

oh don't get me wrong I was mostly throwing out a hypothetical, this practice leaves me with a real bad taste in my mouth.

nofundy I thought getting their kids into good schools were how these people bought their diplomas.

My understanding was that basically once you get into an Ivy League school, what with grade inflation and all you practically have to work at NOT getting a degree.
posted by bitdamaged at 12:28 PM on April 11, 2003

We are not talking about token gifts...these are material gifts and they do benefit huge numbers of students by providing scholarship money to those who would not otherwise have been able to afford Duke and by funding facilities (like a new business school, a spectacular law library, and new dormitory space among other projects) that could not be paid for from tuition and endowment income alone. I went to Duke and although I remember joking about the kids who had won the sperm lottery, I don't remember being bitter about it. I am also certain that I knew dozens more students whose education was paid for by the generosity of alumni and parent donors than students who were part of that contributing elite. To be fair, that was more than twenty years ago and unfortunately my perception is that the student population is less economically diverse now than it was in my time. I am amazed at the sophistication of the twenty-two year old students that I meet now in interviews and during campus visits, (at least relative to my contemporaries) but they also seem to be from a uniformly higher economic strata than I recall from two decades past. But then again, maybe I'm just getting old.

(on preview) Grade inflation or not, if you think the kids in these schools don't work for what they get, you are kidding yourselves. There are ways to skate through any institution, but the skaters are a small minority. I knew very few students among my peers who didn't deserve to attend Duke (not to say that the serendipity of the admissions process didn't leave out some more deserving students) and most of those students understood and took advantage of the opportunity that they had.
posted by cyclopz at 12:47 PM on April 11, 2003

Not only is this an unfair practice of admitting for illegitimate reasons, but it adds to a concentration of money among an elite class of colleges. This top crust of colleges ends up swimming in money because they woo those who will bring huge donations along with them. In turn, those colleges beneath that top tier are left to scrap for their funding from less abundant sources. Perhaps those generous donations by the Bunn family would have been much more needed by a college that Maude was actually qualified to attend. (Like my own, which cut library hours this year to save money, and which is looking at a projected 15% cut in state funding for next year) Although I suppose if Maude was attending a normal, not super-elite school, her parents wouldn't feel compelled to help out so much.

If this type of thing is allowed to take place, then certainly affirmative action should be allowed as well, as it's pretty impossible to argue that a college should be able to pad it's pocketbooks with admission decisions but not increase it's diversity. However, I'd maintain that both are inexcusable.
posted by Wingy at 12:49 PM on April 11, 2003

Locke? Rousseau? I've never heard of them. As my parents paid for my college admission and subsequent graduation, I didn't feel it necessary to pay attention in class.

Poor Maude Bunn. Now everyone at Duke will be on to her inferior academic skills. Of course, I don't imagine this will impede her acceptance into an upscale sorority - they need rich donors too.
posted by aladfar at 1:15 PM on April 11, 2003

I don't mean to offend any of those getting into a good school on merit with the grade inflation post, my biggest point is that for virtually any college it seems it's harder to get into the school than to graduate from it.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:23 PM on April 11, 2003

Unqualified rich kids getting into school? I guess the system does work...

Actually, though, poor kids don't belong at Ivy League State anyway. They'll only become envious of snots motoring around campus in $50K cars... they're better off at the Jockocracy U.
posted by drstrangelove at 1:40 PM on April 11, 2003

Duke ain't nothin' but a name. But I live in North Carolina, and we're just dripping in colleges.
posted by konolia at 1:54 PM on April 11, 2003

This, kids, is what class warfare looks like.

The fact is, someone inheriting a boatload -- nay, a yachtload of cash is not going to have a very hard time making more money. Wheras a poor or middle-class student could actually see some material benefit from having ivy paper framed on their walls instead of toilet paper, which is all the degrees at most 2nd and 3rd tier colleges are worth (save for the thousands of dollars of debt you acrue).

Yes, there is also the lovely benefit of learning something. So go buy a book.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:23 PM on April 11, 2003

This is off topic (file it under a curmudgeonly kids today rant) but I thought this was interesting:

I am amazed at the sophistication of the twenty-two year old students that I meet now in interviews and during campus visits...

This is completely at odds with my experience, as I conduct interviews on behalf of my own alma mater (AB 1989). Definitely, I have found them to be much more media savvy then we were, but not nearly as eloquent or as well read as my own fancy eastern college educated peers. I hear this all the time in the media today as well, about how "sophisticated" kids are today, but I've just found them to be lazy, jargon-prone and hamfisted with regard to discussion and debate. Or, as I like to call them, the Fox News Generation.

Having said that, I am glad someone else has a different experience with this. I was starting to fear for our future. On the other hand, damn, I'm turning into a geezer.
posted by psmealey at 2:35 PM on April 11, 2003

Really, how many people are actually being admitted each year because of their family's connections/wealth/generosity? I'd bet it's less than a handful at each of the elite colleges. Do I like the fact that this is happening? No, but it is laughable to compare this to something like affirmative action, where tens of thousands of kids with mediocre academic records are admitted to elite Universities mostly due to their skin color.
posted by gyc at 2:36 PM on April 11, 2003

y'know, there's definitely a connection between things like this happening and the upward wealth transfer issue being discussed over in the soaking the rich thread.

perpetuating the cycle or some such, you could call it.
posted by dorian at 2:37 PM on April 11, 2003

Honestly, to take it to an extreme, if colleges were to revert to a completely merit-based system of college admissions based solely on standardized test performance, extracurricular activities and GPA, we would end up with every top school in the country chock full of suburban white boys from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and maybe a couple from California. The lack of any kind of policy in admissions that doesn't push for some kind of diversity does a disservice to the institutions and the country as a whole.
posted by psmealey at 3:01 PM on April 11, 2003

At my school, we pay for our fancy new buildings with 4500 full-tuition paying foreign students. No "unfair" admittance necessary.
posted by Kevs at 3:02 PM on April 11, 2003

Stats on Ivy League enrollments.

At Yale in 1999-2000, the percentage of minority students was 31.3%. The percentage of legacies admitted was somewhere around 12%. Roughly 1400-1500 minority, 500 legacies.

There are no statistics as to what percentage of minority students were admitted under affirmative action policies.
posted by furiousthought at 3:13 PM on April 11, 2003

if colleges were to revert to a completely merit-based system of college admissions based solely on standardized test performance, extracurricular activities and GPA, we would end up with every top school in the country chock full of suburban white boys...

I'm against affirmative action because of comments just like this. Merit-based admission is color blind. Your statement, on the other hand, reaks of racist undertones. If we were to make admission merit based the top schools would be loaded with white people? Are you fcuking joking? What, dem colored folk don't have the merit to accomplish it on their own without help from us kind overseerers who generously take on the White Man's Burden?

Bullshit. One of the best systems I've heard of is ditching SAT's and going simply with GPA and extracurriculars. That way, if you go to a really terrible school because you're poor, you probably won't have as much intellectual competition than rich, white folks attending Exeter or Shoate. And this way, it's more socioeconomically just.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:14 PM on April 11, 2003

And what psmeasley said. Admissions offices at such selective schools pick students for diversity, believe it or not. Once whatever standards are met that extra 100 points on your SAT is just gravy. The thought is that a diverse student body is an educational resource in and of itself. It's not like choosing a track team.
posted by furiousthought at 3:19 PM on April 11, 2003

If you donate enough money, they'll move the college for you. Wake Forest College was established in (sensibly enough) Wake Forest, North Carolina in the 1830s. "In 1946 an offer was accepted of financial support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation on the condition that the College be moved to Winston-Salem." That's Z. Smith Reynolds of the Reynolds tobacco barons; [danger: hilarious RealPlayer 1960s cigarette commercials] Winston and Salem are also cigarette brands.
[commercials via TV Party]
posted by kirkaracha at 3:25 PM on April 11, 2003

To say that any university with blind, merit based admissions would only admit white males is pretty insulting to all of the women and minorities who are busting their asses to get into a good school.

I've worked so hard to get into a good graduate school and now I'm wondering whether I was judged by skills or by my gender and hispanic last name. It sucks to wonder whether you're really cut out for something or if you're just being used to pad admissions statistics.

Anyway, we'll never know if merit-based admissions work unless someone actually tries.
posted by Alison at 3:45 PM on April 11, 2003


No, what I was saying was that if you conducted admissions based on the measureable data you've got, SAT's, GPA, relative quality of school system, etc., you would end up with a fairly specific population sample.

When I was actually doing this kind of work, I could cite specific examples of the research that backs this up, but I am years removed from that, unfortunately. The data I've seen on academic performance shows demonstrably that white upper middle suburban boys - who for reasons I don't even begin to understand, seem to fare slightly better than girls in the same demographic, and are also overwhelmingly white - score higher on SAT's and by and large have higher GPA's, then other demographics.

At that point, I don't think I suggested, or even meant to suggest the reverse determinist argument (the implication that they perform better because they're white, or boys) which is utter nonsense.

At any rate using these stats as admission criteria, and coupling that with national rankings of public high schools (Chicago's North Shore, Fairfield County CT, Westchester Cty NY and northern and central jersey)... this is the demographic you would overwhelmingly end end up.

As far as the rest of it goes, what I do suggest is that someone that went to a crappy, overcrowded urban high school in Queens, NY or a rural one in Jackson, MS might have a mediocre academic record and test scores, but could be far brighter and more driven to succeed (thereby reflecting better on any school) than a kid who grew up in Scarsdale who was given every advantage and no distraction.
posted by psmealey at 3:52 PM on April 11, 2003

psmealey - before I kneejerk response, when were you doing the type of work that gave you that answer? Was there a significant asian population when you were doing this work? 'Cause I don't have stats, but there seem to be a LOT of asians maxing out MIT and Caltech.
posted by synapse at 3:59 PM on April 11, 2003

To continue on that last thought, the problem with not having an affirmitive action or diversity program, is that the bright kid from the crappy high school is given no chance to compete against his or her privileged counterparts if an exclusively merit and numbers-based system is employed.

And thus, the status quo is maintained.

I admit that affirmative action is flawed, I just can't think of anything better right at the moment.
posted by psmealey at 4:00 PM on April 11, 2003

synapse- I was doing data analytics for an economist at the University of Chicago in 1985-1987. The divisions we worked were done largely on socioeconomic lines rather than cultural or racial ones, so I couldn't answer that.
posted by psmealey at 4:07 PM on April 11, 2003

Good point, kirkaracha. I believe part of the Reynolds Foundation offer to Wake Forest was that they gave them all of the old Reynolds family land, right when Wake Forest was in need of expansion.

(I'm from Wake Forest, NC -- there's a Southern Baptist seminary now where the old Wake Forest College used to be.)

Incidentally, a few weeks ago I read a really good book about the college-admissions process. It focuses not on the people rich enough to buy their way in, but the dynamics among the admissions people, the guidance counselors, and the students being recruited. It's not just a numbers game, and it's a good look at how admissions officers assemble a class.
posted by Vidiot at 4:11 PM on April 11, 2003

My University (Oxford, UK) interviews just about all of the candidates (I've only met a couple of foreign students who were both exceptional) over a 3-4 day period. This is meant to allow them to assess on ability rather than just grades and suchlike. Of course, nobody believes that they can possibly do this correctly, so allegations of bias fly about during the admissions time.

For instance, there was the case of Laura Spence a couple of years back - state school educated, but still got 5 As but wasn't admitted, ended up going to Harvard. Oxford were accused of bias against state schools etc etc

Then there was the case last year of the son of a guy who had donated millions, had excellent grades and went to a private school being rejected (his dad quit the funding board). People got pissed off at that too.

Still, interviewing everyone is better than affirmative action in my opinion (mind you, I'm poor and in a minority, although I did go to a posh school) - but there will always be accusations of bias/favourtism. Best the unis just be honest about it.
posted by Mossy at 4:38 PM on April 11, 2003

I read the first twenty replies to this thread and almost had a heart attack. This thread is suprisingly pragmatic and un-leftist for similar discussions here on MeFi. :-) Bravo!

I can't contribute too much here, because the UK's educational system works on socialist principles that favors the poor. Still, can't complain, I never went to university, I couldn't afford it.
posted by wackybrit at 8:26 PM on April 11, 2003

I am anti organized education, because I see it as a social construct and a sham, but...

Any school that has a nationally recognized basketball team is not worth paying to get into in my book. I bet a majority of Americans could draw at least a recognizable semblance of the mascot. That's just pathetic.

If you want to brag about your education, you should go to a school where the sports teams are only known at other elite schools. Nobody else watches them, just the alumni.

I'm not a big sports buff, but I'm picturing something like the rivalry between the two schools in School Ties, only on a college level. Harvard vs. Yale may not be accurate, but I know my father never watched either of those schools play any sport on TV. Only "elite" people care who wins. That's where the real status is.
posted by son_of_minya at 12:21 AM on April 12, 2003

the bright kid from the crappy high school is given no chance to compete against his or her privileged counterparts if an exclusively merit and numbers-based system is employed

I disagree. If GPA, for example, were the only factor (just for the sake of argument), you would automatically be factoring in for the school's crapiness or prestige. Private schools or high schools in upper class neighborhoods are not only racially homogeneous (white, that is), they also tend to have highly competitive students that would fight to the death over the second decimal in a grade point average. Poorer urban schools (or worse, poor rural schools) have a student body that is generally less concerned with GPA and AP exams and the like, and thus it would be easier to stand out in the crowd with less effort than it would take at the more affluent counterpart institution.

Of course, to be fair, you'd have to cut out the grade inflation that is rampant among "nicer" schools. Many high schools rank an 'A' grade for an Advanced Placement course equal to a grade point of 5.0; honors classes are frequently counted as 4.5. AP classes aren't offered as much or pushed nearly as hard in poorer schools, so to be fair, a common system would have to be employed to let an A be an A. For the crying GPA whores, they would have to be reminded that there are already benefits to taking AP exams apart from the GPA (college credit, for example).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:36 AM on April 12, 2003

You know, if public education was still worth a damn, you wouldn't need a college degree to "make it". I'm reading The House of the Intellect by Jacques Barzun, so forgive me if I sound like a crusty hundred-year-old Frenchman living in Texas, but one of the points he was hammering home back in 1959(!) was that as high school and elementary school became less and less focused on training people to memorise facts, to read their native language well and to write cogent arguments in it, and instead emphasised "educating" them (evidently the two tendencies are opposed in modern educational though), the need to get into college would be greater, since it would become the primary institution of instruction.

It's a truism now that neither college nor high school prepares you for "real life", but that one goes there to demonstrate to an employer that you know "how to learn". At the same time, it's another truism that no one learns anything in college or high school, thus evidently defeating the whole point of "learning how to learn". So why is anybody going, outside of the relatively small percentage of the population who has little interest in either "real life" or "learning how to learn"?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:39 AM on April 12, 2003 [1 favorite]

I work at Duke. My favorite part of the staff orientation was the part where the Jack Lemmon-esque guy in the blue blazer with a crest explained to us the Duke was not a particularly wealthy school. "In fact, when you compare our endowment to schools like Harvard and Stanford, it's tiny". Was this so we didn't get cocky when it came time to ask for a raise?

I also attended a not quite Ivy and I think these schools strive a bit more than the Ivys to bring in the money. I call them the Robber Baron League. Even after a hundred years, they still are trying to prove their in the same league as the old money.

The Robber Baron League: Carnegie-Mellon, Chicago, Duke, Stanford and Vanderbilt. Steel, oil, tobacco, railroads, railroads.

I think being around people who have been promoted in life for family wealth was an important part of my education. Really, it prepared me for the world as much as meeting people from other countries or underprivileged minorities- it's the kind of people you're going to be around when you graduate, so what the heck, let's call it another component of diversity.
posted by bendybendy at 6:42 AM on April 12, 2003

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