Taking Chicago’s Director of Admissions to Task

A letter writer in today’s Wall Street Journal takes the University of Chicago’s admissions director to task for his notion that Barack Obama’s daughters should be given a “break” because they supposedly would have “interesting things to say about America.”
Here’s the letter: 

’Admissions Break’ for the Wrong Reason
While I enjoyed Naomi Schaefer Riley’s commentary about the difficulty of gaining admission into the University of Chicago, a single comment in this struck me as outrageous (“The College Try May Not Get You Into College,” de gustibus, Taste page, Weekend Journal, Sept. 28). This was the statement by Theodore O’Neill, admissions director of the University of Chicago, to the effect that he would give Barack Obama’s daughters “a break” in the admission process. He stated, “Those children, for all their privileges, will have interesting things to say about American society based on what I’m assuming their experiences are.”
I’m not sure which is worse, the brazen admission that he would grant racial preference to applicants, or his assumption that Mr. Obama’s children would have had “interesting things to say about American society” based on their race.
Wouldn’t it be better for him to test his assumptions, rather than act on them? Isn’t it offensive to assume that one’s race enables a person to make “interesting things to say about American society?” At least he didn’t say, “Since they’re black, they must be good at basketball or track and field,”

but the underlying logic (or lack thereof) is the same.
Mr. O’Neill’s statement reveals what is so profoundly wrong with higher education in America, and why so many people are mistrustful of our elite learning institutions. He does not mention the character of potential

students, or their educational accomplishments to date, or even their potential for future accomplishments, but singles out the importance of having “interesting things to say about American society.”
It would seem to me that any student accepted with such an admission criterion would be at high risk for failure, since an ability to learn and a willingness to work hard would take a back seat to having interesting things to say about American society.
I can imagine the day when a University of Chicago graduate applies for his first job in the real world and lists his greatest skill as “having interesting things to say about American society”!
William E. Jones

Pasadena, Calif.

Bravo, Mr. Jones.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. He holds a B.A. from Carroll College (Waukesha, Wis.) and a J.D. from ...