Harvard touts public good — for teens

Elite colleges should encourage applicants to care more about the common good than their personal achievement, advises Turning the Tide, report from Harvard’s Making Caring Common project.

Many praised the report, but Robert Pondiscio, writing in U.S. News, is dubious. He wonders why prioritizing the public good is only for teenagers, not for the elite colleges they aspire to attend.

By my calculation, the schools that employ the top administrators who have endorsed “Turning the Tide” have amassed combined endowments of approximately $225 billion. I need to be convinced that these institutions are maximizing the public benefit of those funds, which grow tax-free, before I’m asked to accept that careerist kids and ambitious parents pose a significant challenge to society.

Harvard’s endowment is $35 billion. Spending less than 5 percent would provide a full scholarship for every undergraduate, estimates Pondiscio.

very small subset of U.S. high school students are competing for slots at elite colleges, writes Pondiscio. Some are “overloading on Advanced Placement courses they’re not interested in and larding up on extracurriculars they don’t care about, merely to impress the admissions office at Brown.”

Stanford will build more housing so it can expand the number of undergraduate seats.

Stanford will build more housing so it can admit more undergraduates.


Rather than the report’s recommendations — discouraging applicants from taking SATs more than twice or submitting “overcoached” applications — he suggests an admissions lottery to choose among qualified applicants.

The elite colleges already provide generous scholarships to their students, few of whom come from low-income or working-class families. I think the only thing that will ease competition — a little — is to create more seats for undergrads as Stanford and Yale are doing.

Harvard serves up ‘social justice’ mats

Harvard has laid an egg with “holiday placemats for social justice,” with talking points for students to use on their families on winter break.

The Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion distributed the mats at dining halls “to provide a framework to help first-year students with potentially difficult conversations during their first visits back home.”

For example, if Mom or Dad asks why black students are complaining about racism on campus, the placemat suggests: “I hear young people uplifting a situation that I may not experience. If non-Black students get the privilege of that safe environment, I believe that same privilege should be given to all students.”

Pajama Boy is back

Pajama Boy is back

Except for the section on Syrian refugees and “Islamaphobia,” the content was taken “word-for-word” from a holiday placemat by Showing Up for Racial Justice, pointed out Idrees M. Kahloon in the Harvard Crimson.

Giving students “poorly written, straw man questions followed by seemingly official and definitive ‘responses’” stifles debate, argued Kahloon.

In response to complaints, two deans apologized for the mat’s suggestion that “there is only one point of view” on these issues.

Harvard “has the First Amendment right to try to politically indoctrinate students, and to indoctrinate them in how to politically indoctrinate others,”  responds Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.  “But that doesn’t make political indoctrination a good idea, at a university ostensibly committed to teaching students how to think for themselves.”

Oberlin students are complaining that the Asian food isn’t authentic — General Tso’s chicken is steamed rather than fried, sushi rice is undercooked — and is therefore culturally appropriative.

Black students want fried chicken on the menu every Sunday night at Afrikan Heritage House, an on-campus dorm. They also want more vegan and vegetarian options.

‘Diversity’ keeps Asians out of top colleges

Do Diversity Initiatives Indirectly Discriminate Against Asian Americans? asks Andrew Giambrone in The Atlantic.

I’m not sure “indirectly” is accurate, but otherwise the answer is “yes.”

Students for Fair Admissions has filed a federal suit charging that Harvard’s admissions practices violate Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of “race, color, and national origin.” A similar suit targets University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The suit cites an Asian-American applicant who was turned down despite perfect SAT scores and AP Scholar status. The applicant was the captain of the varsity tennis team, a volunteer fundraiser for National Public Radio, and tutored classmates.

Highly qualified applicants are routinely rejected,” writes Giambrone.

The Harvard complaint notes that Asian Americans comprised more than 27 percent of applicants at the three most selective Ivy League colleges between 2008 and 2012 but represented only 17 percent to 20 percent of their admitted students . . .  according to the complaint, Asian Americans made up roughly 46 percent of applicants in 2008 “with academic credentials in the range from which Harvard admits the overwhelming majority of students.” That threshold was defined as an SAT score higher than 2200, out of 2400 total points.

According to No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, published in 2009, Asian-American students need about 140 more SAT points than white applicants, 320 more than Hispanics and 450 more than African-Americans to get into elite, private colleges.

“Asians are the new Jews” at elite colleges, writes Charles Murray.  In the mid-90s, when the Ivies limited Asians to 16 percent of enrollment, plus or minus 2 percent, Asians at meritocratic CalTech rose from 28 percent to 39 percent of enrollment.

If Caltech is too narrowly science-oriented for you, consider the comparison between Stanford, which uses the same “holistic” admissions procedures as the Ivies (“holistic” means considering the whole applicant, not merely academic achievement) and Berkeley, the most elite of California’s public universities, which is required by law to have a transparent set of criteria for admission. Stanford’s Asian enrollment averaged 23% from 1995–2011. Berkeley’s Asian enrollment averaged 41% during the same period—almost double Stanford’s.

Stuyvesant, one of New York City’s nine specialized (elite) public high schools, admits students based on test scores: 73 percent of  “Stuy” students are Asian, 22 percent are white, 2 percent are Hispanic, and 1 percent is black. And the admissions process is under attack as a result.

Rejected Asians sue Harvard for bias

Asian-American students are suing Harvard, charging they were rejected because of affirmative action policies that discriminate against Asians.

According to a 2009 Princeton study, the average Asian American applicant needed a 1460 SAT score to be admitted, a white student with similar GPA and other qualifications needed a score of 1320, while blacks needed  1010 and Hispanics 1190.

Project on Fair Representation, which filed the suit,  also has filed suit against University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for discriminating against both whites and Asians.

“The College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences: background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations,” wrote Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel in a statement.

“Asian-American students benefit greatly from attending the racially and socio-economically diverse campuses that affirmative action helps create,” said Julie Park, assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland and author of When Diversity Drops.

It reminds me of the quotas against Jews back in the day. Ivy League schools feared they’d end up with too many Jewish students if they admitted based on academic qualifications.

Is it legal? asks Slate? “In remanding the case of Fisher v. University of Texas to a lower court in 2013, SCOTUS held that schools have a responsibility to attempt race-neutral means of achieving diversity (giving a leg up to low-income applicants, say) before turning to race-conscious means, and it’s not clear whether the Court would agree that Harvard and UNC have met that test.”

What’s the best college for the country?

Washington Monthly’s 2014 college rankings show the most “public-minded” institutions based on social mobility, research and public service.

We all benefit when colleges produce groundbreaking research that drives economic growth, when they put students from lower-income families on the path to a better life, and when they shape the character of future leaders. And we all pay for it, through hundreds of billions of dollars in government-financed financial aid, tax breaks, and other spending.

. . . Instead of crediting colleges that reject the most applicants, we recognize those that do the best job of enrolling and graduating low-income students. Our rankings measure both pure research spending and success in preparing undergraduates to earn PhDs. And by giving equal weight to public service, we identify colleges that build a sense of obligation to their communities and the nation at large.

Only two of U.S. News‘ top ten schools, Stanford and Harvard, make the Monthly‘s top ten, which is headed by the University of California  at San Diego.

Categories include the best bang-for-the-buck schools, which looks at value for the cost most students will pay, not the sticker price. That’s how Amherst makes the top five.

The Monthly also lists the affordable elites (the University of California campuses do well).

America’s Worst Colleges have high tuition and high dropout and default rates. Of the worst 20, 11 are for-profit colleges and nine are private nonprofits. Art schools and historically black colleges do poorly in the ratings.

The 13 most ridiculous college courses include Skidmore’s Sociology of Miley Cyrus, Tufts’ Demystifying the Hipster and Rutgers’ Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyonce,  according to Thomas K. Lindsay on See Thru Edu.

Occidental has a course titled Stupidity, which teaches that it is “the double of intelligence rather than its opposite.” I don’t follow the math on that. I may not be stupid enough.

Ivies get the ink

The New York Times wrote more about Harvard last year than about all community colleges combined.

Cost is #1 college worry

Stanford is the number one dream college for students and parents with Harvard in second, according to the Princeton Review’s annual  conducts our annual College Hopes and Worries survey. Respondents are readers “Best Colleges” guidebook readers and users of the Princeton Review website.

 The number one worry is college costs.

Half of students and parents say the biggest benefit of earning a college diploma will be a better job and higher income, while the rest are split between “education” and “exposure to new ideas.”

How to get an A+ at Harvard

The most frequently award grade at Harvard is an A, reports The Harvard Crimson. The median grade is an A-, according to Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris.

Harvard’s grading rubric was leaked to the New York Times.  (It’s possible this is a parody.)

“The A+ grade is used only in very rare instances for the recognition of truly exceptional achievement,” the dean tells faculty.

For example: A term paper receiving the A+ is virtually indistinguishable from the work of a professional, both in its choice of paper stock and its font. The student’s command of the topic is expert, or at the very least intermediate, or beginner. Nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes. Content from Wikipedia is integrated with precision. The paper contains few, if any, death threats.

A few things can disqualify an otherwise worthy paper from this exceptional honor: 1) Plagiarism, unless committed with extraordinary reluctance. 2) The paper has been doused in blood or another liquid, unless dousing was requested by the instructor. 3) The paper was submitted late (with reasonable leeway — but certainly by no more than one or two years).

. . . Finally, the A+ grade is awarded to all collages, dioramas and other art projects.

For students who haven’t committed assault, the lowest grade is an A-.

The A– grade is awarded to work that, while very good, is nevertheless diminished by a significant flaw that cannot be completely overlooked. For example, a final examination receiving the A– might be impeccable, except for having been left blank. Or the student filled in the test, but did so according to no discernible pattern, while screaming like a maniac. An A– term paper might offer an original analysis of a complex topic, but exist only within the imagination of the instructor or the student, or, in some rare instances, both.

Grade inflation has been an issue at Harvard — and elsewhere — for 20 years.

Ivy League shuns teaching — except for TFA

Nearly one in five Harvard students apply to Teach for America, but very few want to train as teachers, says Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan. “He hopes that eventually between five and 10 percent of the class will go through the undergraduate teaching program,” reports Eleanor Barkhorn in The Atlantic. 

There’s “a long-standing institutional snobbery” about teaching writes Barkhorn.

As Walter Isaacson put it at this year’s Washington Ideas Forum, there’s a perception that “it’s beneath the dignity of an Ivy League school to train teachers.”

Teach for America has helped change that perception. “I think TFA has done a lot in terms of elevating the profession of teaching and elevating the importance of public education and education generally,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in conversation with Isaacson, CEO of The Aspen Institute, and Ryan.

Cornell has dropped undergraduate teacher-training, said Weingarten, a Cornell alum. “We say education is really important, but here you have the land grant institution of New York State that has eliminated teacher-training programs. If we don’t actually have real preparation like Finland and Singapore do that really teaches teachers how to teach … then what are we doing?”

In Finland and Singapore, only the best students can qualify as teachers. Finland combines master’s degree studies with supervised practice. In Singapore, master teachers mentor novices for several years.

EdX will ‘blend’ with community colleges

Two Boston community colleges will partner with edX, Harvard and MIT’s online learning venture, on a “blended” computer science class. Three MIT professors will teach the online course; community college professors will provide classroom instruction and support.