Dudley’s Folly

by Fred Schwarz

Jay, your mention of the professor who said that if Harvard had fair admissions it would be 80 percent Asian reminded me of a related episode from half a century ago.

When I was an undergraduate at Columbia in the early 1980s, people still talked about the famous class of ’64. What made them famous was that they were the only class chosen by admissions director David A. Dudley, who reasoned that Columbia was looking for smart people and the best indicators of smartness were grades and test scores. (His previous job was at MIT.) So he chose the class based almost entirely on those two criteria, and the results were what you’d expect: A class that was very Jewish and very New York, even by Columbia standards (I’ve heard estimates of 80 percent for each category). Here Philip Lopate, a member of the Class of 1964, recalls what Columbia was like for Jews in those days.

You’ll notice that I said 1964 was the only class Dudley chose. That’s because as soon as people noticed what had happened, there was a great uproar, and he had to resign. The class immediately became known as Dudley’s Folly. As the student newspaper summed up candidly in the spring of 1961, “Former Director of Undergraduate Admissions David A. Dudley’s policies were unpopular with College alumni, and it is no secret that many have expressed dissatisfaction with the geographical and religious content of the Class of 1964.” Critics complained of Dudley’s “disregard for non-academic factors in considering applicants.”

Of course, back then it was only a few decades since Columbia (like other schools) had first had to grapple with its “Jewish problem.” Starting in 1919, writes Benjamin Ginsberg,

Columbia, led by President Nicholas Murray Butler, introduced new admissions procedures designed to reduce the number of Jews in its classes. The new application process required a psychological test designed to measure character and included a form that asked for religious affiliation and father’s name and birthplace. The percentage of Jews at Columbia was quickly cut in half. Other universities soon followed suit.

Which is one reason why so many Jewish intellectuals attended City College in the 1920s and 1930s.

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