Among my favorite memories of cinema is the bitter-sweet low-budget Canadian sleep of 1977, Outrageous! The work of a gay camp, based on the real story of Canadian writer Margaret Gibson, in the film Craig Russell plays a drag artist and Hollis McLaren as a pregnant schizophrenic who recently escaped from a psychiatric hospital.
Outrageous? Only in the context of his time. The film, the first gay film to be widely distributed, will break your heart from the abuse of the main characters.
If you want to experience a completely different kind of outrage, you should read Evan Mander’s upcoming issue Poison ivy: how elite colleges divide us. The book offers the most systematic, highly accessible critique of elite colleges and universities you are likely to encounter.
Written by criminal justice professor John Jay and author of fiction and nonfiction, himself a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, each chapter of the book begins with an inspiring biographical essay that highlights a deep challenge in higher education: unfair treatment of students. socio-economic composition.
You can say to yourself, “Be there, read this.” But let me assure you: this book is different. Nothing but controversy, the author draws on the best sciences in the social sciences and his own research to offer a fervent and destructive critique of the mechanisms, rationales, and concessions that elite private institutions use to justify a system that recreates class order.
In one area after another the author cites examples of systemic bias.
In the reception:
The problem, as he illustrates, is not limited to focusing on athletes, heritage, and the children of teachers and donors, but
- Restrictions that SAT and ACT impose on waiving testing fees.
- 504 designations that provide unlimited time for standardized testing, which are much more commonly used by wealthier students.
- The policy of early decision-making on admission gives privilege to students who do not require financial aid.
Mandera argues that many of the most valued experiences of entering elite colleges are strongly correlated with wealth: extracurricular activities, esoteric sports, music, dance and theater, some social services and, yes, the UN model . But not at McDonald’s and not at the bard.
The book offers particularly harsh criticism of Judge Alison Burroughs ’remarks in a recent trial at Harvard. “Elimination tips for ALDC [athletes, legacies, dean’s interest list, and children of employees of Harvard employees] entrants would open up places in a Harvard class that could then be filled through a more favorable admission policy for non-white students, she wrote, but Harvard would be much less competitive in Ivy League interuniversity, which would negatively affect Harvard and the student experience. ». The judge added that he added that the abolition of special preferences for children of teachers and staff would “negatively affect Harvard’s ability to attract high-quality teachers and staff” and that the number of child donors admitted was “too small to stop any practice”. make a significant contribution to campus diversity. ”
The book draws on the Kirsten Hextrum Scholarship to dispel the myth that the College of Sports increases student diversity. He shows that outside of basketball and football, inter-university sports are dominated by white athletes. In Division I, more than 60 percent of sports scholarship recipients are white. Among women, two-thirds of fellows are white.
In the field of career services:
However, even worse than admission bias is how elite educational institutions distort the career aspirations of their students. Many educational institutions that serve a much wider group of students have the most common career choices in education, health and social services, but at Harvard the vast majority (61 percent in 2020) go to finance (23 percent), counseling 22 percent), or the technology sector (18 percent).
As Mandera notes: “Only 4 per cent of Harvard graduates in 2020 went into the healthcare industry and another 3 per cent – into the legal profession. Only 4 percent said they would work in the civil service or in a non-profit organization. ” He shows that these figures correspond to elite institutions.
The drift towards finance and consulting is not accidental. Career services in elite institutions work hand in hand with the financial and consulting sectors. Beginning with Stanford in 2003, elite universities began to establish corporate partnership programs in which career centers act as bounty hunters. In return for the fee, employers get access to email lists and help set up personal interviews.
On campus culture:
Elite campuses, Mander argues very convincingly, cultivate a kind of complacency among their students, who are repeatedly reminded without irony that they are the best and brightest and that their success depends entirely on merit. According to the author, “Elite colleges simultaneously recreate class inequality and believe in the justice of this inequality.”
What’s worse, the campus ’elite cultures, Poison Ivy argues, fuel a“ perverse set of aspirations, attitudes, and behaviors ”. “Doing good” through official activities is largely seen as instrumental, as a way to improve your resume. Strong alcohol consumption is also recommended.
Common beliefs – that the reception is meritocratic, that the diversity of the campus is real, that the college is a melting pot and that life on campus is a democratic egalitarian experience – are all myths, truths, perhaps to a limited extent, but in fact quite misleading.
How can we, as a society, combat the lack of socio-economic diversity as well as racial diversity in our most electoral institutions? Note that while the number of Harvard undergraduate students is about 15 percent black, in other Ivy Plus institutions this figure is around 8 percent. And in high-end institutions, most Pell recipients were from families with incomes slightly below the federal limit (with very few individuals slightly above the income limit); and most black students are children of mixed races or recent immigrants from the Caribbean, the UK or Africa, or come from preparatory schools.
Mandera is a supporter of what he calls “1 percent solutions” – relatively small measures that, taken together, can really turn the needle in the direction of greater justice. These include:
- Final admission preferences for children of graduates, teachers and donors, as well as athletes in esoteric or elite sports.
- Cancellation of early admission.
- Require institutions to accept a minimum percentage of students eligible for a Pell Grant, or to allocate a certain percentage of income from funds to financial aid for low-income students.
- Building better pipelines from high-resource-poor high schools and widening pathways from public colleges to highly selective institutions.
Mander agrees with Bill Burnett, director of the Stanford Design Program, who warns listeners of the dangers of obsession with perfection. “The unattainable best,” says Burnett, “is the enemy of all available best.”
Elite colleges exist in a whirlpool of contradictions. Take Harvard as an example. The university has taken a number of initiatives – for example, to allocate $ 100 million to repair slavery – even if inheritance and elite sports are preserved. This promotes elitism and encourages a completely non-transparent revenue system and causes completely unhealthy competition among elite institutions. It produces “leaders,” including many consultants and bankers, but not necessarily thinkers.
And yet, one would have to possess a stony heart so as not to be impressed by what Harvard did. $ 100 million is a big deal anyway. Some of his proposals are vague, but the university came forward, was transparent and revealed many of the institution’s mistakes and moral failures.
Certainly Harvard is one of the few institutions that has the wealth and resources to spend so much time and money on transporting its past. However, this is a strong first step that will hopefully encourage other institutions to take steps to confront their history.
The Harvard report reminds us that colleges and universities are not located on a hill, separate and distinct from the outside world. Harvard has also been exposed to the currents of history. However, it is a win-win and perhaps a harbinger of heightened readiness to coordinate and consistently address equity issues.
Stephen Mintz is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.