Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Winds of Change?


The New York Review of Books features a long review/essay by Andrew Delbanco on higher education in its issue of March 29. Rather astonishingly, the piece doesn’t mention race until page 3 — and cites a sobering statistic otherwise. For all of the continued hand-wringing about minority admissions at elite schools, there have no doubt been significant increases in recent years. Yet, as the article notes,

Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, in a sample of eleven prestigious colleges, the percentage of students from families in the bottom quartile of national family income remained roughly steady – around 10 percent. During the same period the percentage of students from the top quartile rose sharply, from a little more than one third to fully half.

Perhaps some will refocus their efforts? Well, reviewed author Walter Benn Michaels might, but, judging from the tone of the article, this seems cause to add yet more buttresses on to the hoary old cathedral of diversity, with “class-based admission preferences” as “a supplement, not a substitute, for race-based preferences.” Oh dear.

The piece is a generally good one in pointing to the very substantial variations in university attendance on the basis of class. That access to better universities seems highly class-related moves Delbanco to a revealing comment:

The American University tends to be described these days by foe and friend alike as the Alamo of the left . . . But how persuasive are testimonies of devotion to equality and democracy when they come from institutions that are usually beyond the reach of anyone without lots of money?

Equity? Who believes that about elite universities? In recent navel-gazing, quite a lot of academic types have been realizing that poorer Americans are not attending. This comes as a great surprise to them — it should shock no one that affirmative action has provided a veneer of “concern” thick enough to blind academics to the affluent drift of their universities.  But enough of that — there must be some “Recruiting a Diverse Faculty Panel” to get to.


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