August 31, 2023
While I readily admit that my reflections and opinions about admissions to highly selective colleges and universities will not result in any changes to the recent affirmative action decision, I nonetheless decided to share with you once again my reactions to a recent article authored by John Thelin and Richard Trollinger who in their opening statement wrote, “The June 29 Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action … provided a wake-up call to higher education leaders that they could not afford to rely primarily on the examples set by a small circle of academically prestigious colleges and universities. In other words, selective admissions was on trial.”
In writing this response to the work of Thelin and Trollinger, I’ve selected specific sentences they wrote and shared with you my reaction to their positions. I’ll add my own experience as a Dean of Admission at Princeton from 1978 to 1983 in response.
“It is important to reconstruct historically how Harvard’s approach to admissions has sent many colleges on a fool’s errand in trying to recruit and then enroll a diverse student constituency that achieves both excellence and equity.”
I readily admit that Harvard played a leadership role in encouraging “many colleges” (no numbers were provided) on a fool’s errand to recruit and enroll a diverse student constituency that “achieves both diversity and equity.” From my perspective, Harvard deserves credit for encouraging the colleges and universities that had the financial resources to change a homogeneous culture (i.e. one that was all white and/or possibly single gender) to one that was more diverse. This cultural shift was not embraced by all universities, nor was this shift instituted quickly. While I do not have any data to support my position, I’m comfortable assuming that these institutions of higher education were led by men and women who were bright and dedicated to providing their undergraduates with an interesting and enlightening educational experience. Thus, referring to this cultural change as a “fool’s errand” could be perceived as an insult to these educational leaders who had the courage and the resources to change the culture of their respective institutions.
Later in the Thelin and Trollinger article: “Wealth like age cannot make a university great. But it helps.”
Harvard’s endowment far exceeded and continues to exceed the endowment of other universities, but in an effort to provide financial support to students admitted to…