Let's drive the elites out of our elite colleges

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Evan Mandery
Op-ed columns are written to rock our world. The authors clearly believe they're delivering insights that—if properly attended to—will open the eyes of all decent people and change the course of America. But as having one's eyes opened half a dozen times a day is taxing, it's always a pleasure to come across an op-ed column that is completely unpersuasive. I'm not as smart as most of these pundits, you think, but at least I'm not as dumb as he is.

In Friday's New York Times, an educator named Evan J. Mandery goes on and on about colleges whose admissions policies favor legacies. To say Mandery is perturbed is putting it mildly. "It's disastrous public policy," he thunders. "Because of legacy admissions, elite colleges look almost nothing like America."

I would say that's where he lost me, but the truth is I was already lost. Though this line nicely captures the quality of Mandery's analysis, suggesting the questions he neither answers nor that even occur to him. Who, after all, expects our elite colleges to look like America? Unless America is Lake Wobegon writ large, in which all our children are not only above average but well above, an elite college will look like an elite anything else, a conglomeration of people skewed by whatever it is that makes them special.

What has Mandery honked is what he thinks skews college admissions beyond all human decency: the line on the application that asks where the applicant's parents went to college. "Education has great potential to combat inequality," he thunders (I know I used that verb before, but he's still at it), "but progress simply isn't possible if legacy exists."

Reading a completely unpersuasive op-ed column, one has the bracing sensation of being the first person to consider the points the author is making, as the author clearly hasn't given them any thought himself. Making his case, Mandery tells us that the advantage of legacy has been found "to be worth the equivalent of 160 additional points on an applicant's SAT, nearly as much as being a star athlete or African-American or Hispanic." Further making his case, he accuses legacy of further contaminating "a system where the deck is stacked at every level in favor of rich, white students."

It will occur to the reader, though it didn't to Mandery, that legacy wreaks its havoc on American society only to the extent children are willing to go to the very same colleges their parents went to, a considerable bridling of their aspirations. It will also occur to the reader that Mandery is a flaming elitist, arguing circularly that America's elite colleges are the colleges America's elite attend. "College is a ticket out of poverty . . . Few investments yield a greater return than a college degree," he writes, but apparently only a handful of degrees are worth the effort. He mentions Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia by name, declaring that they can afford "to end this abhorrent practice with the stroke of a pen." Their advantage over other degree mills appears limited in Mandery's eyes to the elites that attend them, at least until he can do something about that.

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