Please print Mr. Hargadon’s reply to Karabel. It is concise,
informative, and non-inflammatory. Karabel is trying to sell his
book and make himself an instant authority. Hargadon is telling
what has happened. Swarthmore looks like a good place to get your
ROBERT LEACH ’53 Weston, Mass.
Editor’s note: Several readers have written to request
that PAW print former dean of admission Fred Hargadon’s response
in the magazine, and we are happy to report that it will run in
our April 5 issue.
Having read the article/excerpt from Karabel’s book, I think it
absolutely necessary that Dean Fred Hargadon’s response be published,
in its entirety, in the next PAW. Dean Fred’s rebuttal, which is
not only eloquent but poignant, also serves to remind readers that
the college admission process is a game of sorts. To say that Dean
Fred had ulterior motives in his admission practices is, in my opinion,
much like blaming a tough loss in a sporting event on the referees.
I believe that any alumnus (or non-alumnus, as is the case with
my parents) would agree that having spent any time with Dean Fred,
you would wholeheartedly support his intentions, methods, and, most
importantly, his character, when it comes to the admission process
at Princeton. Every university and college is a unique and diverse
place, and Dean Fred had a vision for the type of student body he
thought would best espouse the pillars of Princeton. No doubt this
vision will change with every dean of admission, and the effect
will be that different groups will alternate through the spotlight
of admission’s favor. But to criticize a Dean Fred of doing anything
less than selecting exceptional classes of students, in the best
manner he knew, is in my opinion, offensive.
How many college alums can claim that their dean of admission attended
their sporting, dance, or singing event? Or that their dean of admission
addressed them by name and stopped to have conversations with them
on campus? Or that their dean of admission sent them a happy-birthday
e-mail seven years after admitting them? In my opinion the previous
examples are minute (yet meaningful) illustrations of an exceptional
person who played a major role in creating a sense of community
on the Princeton campus by setting a very high bar through his own,
I found this chapter of Karabel’s book offensive to Princeton in
general and Dean Fred in particular. Princeton alumni should be
reminded what an exceptional addition Fred Hargadon was, and continues
to be, to the Princeton community. Lastly, alumni should take heart
in Dean Fred’s response. The game of admissions, and one person’s
spin on it, should not taint our own accomplishments and experiences,
or our vision of Princeton.
ANNE OLSON ’04 San Francisco, Calif.
I hope that readers of this article go to the Web and read Dean
Hargadon’s excellent response/rebuttal. Having been an ASC representative
over the last 28 years, I had the opportunity to meet Dean Fred
on several occasions. I don’t think there is a more straight-shooting,
down-to-earth guy in the world. He did great things for Old Nassau
and knows of which he speaks!
ADRIAN WOODHOUSE ’59 Reno, Nev.
Thank you for the fascinating article by Jerome Karabel about Ivy
admissions. It was refreshing to see one aspect of Princeton’s recent
history from an outsider’s viewpoint. Unfortunately, Karabel’s observations
are focused so tightly on the admission process that he fails to
take into account significant changes in the larger world the
nation’s economy and culture. The economic and entrepreneurial lure
of Silicon Valley and the cultural and recreational lure of the
Bay Area certainly influenced the growing attractiveness of Stanford
to top college applicants over the last 10 to 20 years. When New
Jersey (or Philadelphia) becomes a magnetic center of innovation,
creativity, and cultural change, Princeton will easily draw more
top students with or without the University’s vast wealth, savvy
admission policies, and improved programs. In the meantime, I’m
glad to see Princeton thrive!
CAROLYN BROWN ’83 Oakland, Calif.
I applaud PAW for publishing this article, though I consider the
quantitative arguments flawed and pseudo-scientific at best. I regret
that you did not publish Dean Hargadon’s thoughtful, point-by-point
refutation in paper form. I’m glad you made it available online, but
I think you did your readers a disservice by not including it in
the same issue.
Jerome Karabel’s book title echoes the name of the book by Chaim
Potok about a young man’s journey to adulthood in the context of
a Hasidic Jewish community. I wonder about a link between this
and Karabel’s focus on admission statistics for Jewish applicants.
As Dean Hargadon points out, religious affiliation is hard to ascertain
and is not an admission criterion. More troubling is Karabel’s implication
that there is a desirable percentage of students of a particular
religion represented. A less-than-careful reading of his presentation
could easily lead to the inference that the admission office had
an anti-Semitic bias. In fact, the writer of a recent letter in
another PAW issue drew exactly this conclusion. Here, Dean Hargadon’s
comments really are needed in rebuttal.
The sad and unavoidable truth is that socioeconomic background
plays a bigger role in determining any student’s likelihood of admission
to selective colleges than just about any other criterion. It’s
more important to me that a deserving student goes to college than
worry about why she chose to go to Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. If
one has earned the distinction of admission to any one, let alone
several, schools of this caliber, the ultimate decision will depend
on subjective factors. Here is where the Alumni Schools Committee
can make the most impact.
One of the few points that Hargadon did not refute, tellingly,
was the deliberate weakening of the Alumni Schools Committee’s effect
on the admission process. As an ASC volunteer for 25 years, I often
wonder if ASC exists just as a feel-good enterprise to make us feel
useful, maintain our ties with the University, and motivate us to
keep our AG participation up. ASC work, taken seriously, requires
a commitment of time and effort. Its only apparent measurable reward
is whether a candidate we interviewed gets admitted and chooses
to matriculate at Princeton.
For achievement-oriented people like alumni, we need to get past
that single criterion and aim for something different to find ASC
work satisfying: doing a good job representing Princeton, serving
as a mentor for talented young people contemplating their future
lives, and recruiting the heck out of those admitted to persuade
them to matriculate. It's not enough to get them in (they’re getting
in other places too, for sure!): We want them to enroll!
I’d like to know where the ASC stands in Dean Rapelye’s view of
the admission process, compared to Dean Hargadon’s view. It would
be interesting to have PAW publish a brief interview with her on
KABIR MAHADEVA ’81 Bald Head Island, N.C.
Since when did the Princeton Alumni Weekly aspire to be
the Utne Reader? Eight pages of the Feb. 15 issue are devoted
to an excerpt from UC-Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel’s The
Chosen eight pages of a “weekly” print magazine, published only
15 times a year due to budgetary constraints, are lavished on one
scholar’s facts-fit-the-theory argument without offering another
point of view.
Under its masthead, PAW promises to “review without partiality
the achievements and problems of the administration.” How can reprinting
this excerpt, replete with unsubstantiated bias, exercise impartiality?
In her editor’s note, Marilyn Marks *86 states she invited Dean
of Admission Janet Rapelye to comment, but Rapelye declined, “because
of demands of the application season.” Next, Marks turned to former
dean Fred Hargadon for a response, but then buried his rebuttal
on the PAW Web site.
Where’s the discourse in this “independent magazine by alumni for
alumni”? How difficult would it have been to prompt a precept-like
discussion on “the meaning of merit” among former deans of admission
Jim Wickenden ’61, Tony Cummings *80, and Hargadon? At the very
least, Marks could have given equal bandwidth to the very perpetrators
of the bias and gamesmanship Karabel alleges. They would have handily
dismissed the notion that Princeton introduced a “no-loan” policy
in 2001 in order to become “an institution on the make” and compete
with rivals Harvard and Yale.
Better yet, Marks could have referred to former president Harold
Shapiro *64’s new book, A Larger Sense of Purpose: Higher Education
and Society (Princeton University Press, 2005). Shapiro, president
from 1988 to 2001, highlights the moral imperative of universities
to serve society, rather than to pillage the spoils of America’s
secondary schools for a perfect elite, as The Chosen purports.
Editor’s note: An excerpt from former president Harold
Shapiro’s book was published in the Jan. 26, 2005 issue of PAW.
The excerpt from Jerome Karabel’s book, The Chosen, contains
lots of numbers. A couple of them in this assertion make me skeptical
of all the others and of the rest of his piece: “In 1990, Princeton’s
endowment stood at a healthy $2.475 billion; by 2000, it had risen
well over 300 percent, to $8.649 billion.”
A rise of 100 percent would have taken the endowment from $2.475
billion to $4.95 billion. A rise of 200 percent would have taken
it from $2.475 billion to $7.425 billion. A rise of 300 percent
would have taken it to $9.9 billion. Even if Karabel’s endowment
numbers are correct, his claim of a “well over 300 percent” increase
is a rather flagrant misstatement.
That this specific type of “innumeracy” is pretty common, even
among professional communicators, doesn’t make it any less damaging
to the author’s credibility. The damage is compounded by the fact
that not only did Karabel blow it, but his book’s editor(s) at supposedly
respectable Houghton Mifflin let it slide, and PAW’s editors did,
I used to tell my employees who created computer reports that they
could not give clients reports that had typos, incorrect
dates, misspellings, or other gaffes in the report titles and headings.
That was because the client would have to wonder, “If they got the
easy stuff wrong, how can I believe they got the rest of it right?”
How are we to believe that Karabel got the rest of it right?
TERRY WINTROUB ’69 Mountain City, Tenn.
The excerpt from Jerome Karabel’s book, The Chosen, raised
several unanswered questions and begged two others.
The concentration of attention on acceptance rates of legacies,
athletes, minorities, and academic 1s made it appear as though each
entering class were comprised primarily of those groups. It made
it appear that academic 1s were the only subgroup capable of contributing
significantly to both the University’s intellectual life and the
general welfare of the nation. And it failed to consider overlaps.
How many of any one of the four subgroups also were members of one
or more of the other? The degree of overlap would tend to lower
the proportions of a class represented by the subgroups.
Karabel argues from a narrow historical range. Any Princetonian
knows that the University changed greatly under the presidency of
Woodrow Wilson 1879 a century ago. World War II and the GI bill
revolutionized the University, forcing a democratization that placed
more primacy on intelligence and perceived potential for achievement
than on money and family connections. Those changes might not have
been as great as elsewhere. And they may have been relatively late
historically. But they were significant changes nonetheless. And
they created the environment that people like Karabel could argue
along the wider real-world lines of what Princeton does for the
world at large.
Perhaps most significant, Karabel bases his argument on two assumptions,
neither of which can be made with any certitude. He assumes that
Princeton and its three main competitors get the lion’s share of
the nation’s brightest high school graduates. A simple look at the
mathematics says this is absurd. Fewer than 6,000 students enter
the first-year class of those four undergraduate divisions each
year. Close to 1.5 million members of the nation’s high school class
of 2005 took the Scholastic Assessment Test last year. The top percentage
of that class would thus number nearly 15,000 young people. There
is simply no way that the four universities could accommodate all
those students, assuming they all wanted to go to Princeton, Yale,
Harvard, or Stanford.
Karabel also assumes that the four universities provide something
desirable. He assumes that the four institutions give their undergraduate
something they didn’t have before, something that guarantees success,
accomplishment, and contribution to society later in life. Enough
anecdotal evidence and one major study suggest otherwise. Success
and contribution later in life are accomplishments predicated more
on hard work, intelligence, ambition, vision, achievement of goals,
personal charm and, yes, luck the attributes that got students
into Princeton and its clones in the first place than they do
with having gone to Princeton, Yale, Harvard, or Stanford.
At the risk of being cynical, the article’s primary virtue may
have been to encourage readers to buy the book. Then they could
see if Karabel deals with the wider questions. So the heart of the
matter after all is money.
CHARLES SAYDAH p’99 Nanuet, N.Y.
It’s really a pity that Dean Fred Hargadon wrote his reply to Jerome
Karabel’s The Chosen without reading the whole book. Admittedly,
it’s not a quick read, and some reviewers have found it excessively
detailed, but I think anyone associated with Princeton, Harvard,
or Yale (HYP, as Dean Hargadon calls them) will find it fascinating,
as I did.
Possibly due to the title’s double meaning, Dean Hagadorn calls
The Chosen “a history of the discrimination once faced by
Jews when applying for admission.” It is not. Karabel’s book is
about how HYP developed our multifactorial selective admission system
in the early 20th century to deal with “the Jewish problem” the
problem being that purely academic criteria let in more Jews than
the institutions felt comfortable with. Karabel argues that the
system HYP developed, characterized by discretion and opacity, has
allowed the elite colleges to follow what he calls “ ‘the iron law
of admissions’: a university will retain a particular admissions
policy only so long as it produces outcomes that correspond to perceived
So much is obvious. What I found most illuminating in the history
Karabel recounts are not just the conflicts Dean Hargadon alludes
to in his letter among the various constituencies competing for
places at Princeton’s table (faculty, alumni, coaches, etc.), but
those between Princeton’s short-term and long-term institutional
Princeton's short-term goal is to admit a selective, motivated,
brilliant group of students and for a substantial number of them
to pay their own way. Fortunately for Princeton, our endowment has
burgeoned, which reduces the pressure to admit what used to be called
Princeton’s long-term goal is even more challenging: to both choose
and to predict a disproportionate number of young people who will
be America’s (and the world’s) leaders a generation hence. Intellectual
or scholarly leadership is fairly easy to predict: That’s what SATs
and grades are for.
The real problems come in predicting economic and political leadership,
the future distribution of wealth and power. How much weight should
admission officers give to an applicant’s wealthy, powerful family?
It would be unrealistic to say “none,” because the children of wealthy,
powerful people often become wealthy and powerful themselves. It
will decrease the elite universities’ prestige a generation down
the line if the bearers of inherited status the aristocrats, to
put it bluntly are seen to rise to the top without having to go
to a top school.
It would be interesting to hear Dean Hargadon’s take on these issues:
whether he thought about Princeton’s long-term goals while he was
dean of admission, and what he thought those goals were. In particular,
what feedback was there from admission results into the admission
process? One reason people on the outside tend to obsess about the
US News rankings and other “trivia” is that at least it measures
something. How did (or does) Princeton admissions measure
their success? To what extent do they look back at the admission
policies of a generation or more ago, when the leaders of today
were applying to Princeton, to figure out what worked and what didn’t?
I hope that other Princetonians do take the time to read The
Chosen and discuss it here, and the interesting and important
issues it raises about education, meritocracy, American society,
and the (real or ideal) roles of elite universities in a democracy.
In particular, Karabel thinks the elite universities should drop
any preference for legacy applicants. That preference matters insofar
as a Princeton education matters: If education is a road to power
in a democracy, favoritism toward the children of the powerful is
Karabel also argues that HYP and their peers need to figure out
a way to increase the real, economic diversity of their student
body. It’s not just that the enormous expense of a school like Princeton
turns many applicants away: As Dean Hargadon says, Princeton has
made great efforts to ensure that anyone admitted can come, regardless
of family means. The problem is that becoming a successful applicant
today requires an enormous investment of time, energy, and cultural
capital over many years. Basically, it’s extremely difficult for
low-income families to give their children the training necessary
for them to get into Princeton and do well.
Princetonians are not going to solve the structural problems of
meritocracy on our own, but we can at least acknowledge and discuss
them in the nation’s service.
MARY ELLEN CURTIN ’78 Pennington, N.J.
During the past decades, nearly all college-bound young people
who have asked me for an opinion about schools to which they might
apply have been interested in the strength of individual departments
not in evaluations of institutions as a whole. Your (fascinating)
article, “Chosen for Princeton,” didn’t discuss this group of applicants.
The students with whom I have talked are probably atypical, but
I think they represent a group that’s important to keep in mind
when looking at small percentage differences among institutions.
Most high school graduates are not yet sure in which department
they want to major at college, it is true; but those who already
are thinking of careers in medicine or engineering or international
affairs (usually as a result of family influence) want to find colleges
that will give them the best possible preparation.
Even though this group of “early deciders” may be small, it is
sufficiently large to affect the distribution of applicants among
the most prestigious universities by several percentage points. I
think this fact works in favor of large institutions and against
smaller ones that have many departments with only a few faculty
members. A student contemplating a particular career, say, in astronomy,
is more likely to favor a college with a dozen star-gazers over
one with only two or three.
You probably have already guessed my conclusion. Admission office people
are wasting time looking at small percentage differences among institutions
unless they also take into account the perceived quality of individual
departments and schools. Obviously (to me), the gains of Princeton
in recent years have been due to the rapid and impressive quality
increases in several units of the University’s component parts. The
fact that Princeton is so much smaller than Harvard or Yale makes
these modest percentage increases even more significant.
W. PHILLIPS DAVISON ’39 Washington, D.C.
The excerpt printed in the Feb.
15 PAW from The Chosen, Jerome Karabel’s book
about Ivy League admission policies, mentions nothing about Princeton’s
initial outreach to high school juniors or seniors, perhaps because
it is nonexistent. (I have no experience with athletic recruiting,
and so cannot comment about that.) And if Princeton wants to compete
for the best students, it has to communicate to distinguished applicants
that the University is a welcoming and inclusive place to live and
Through the good graces of the College Board, my son had received
brochures from many fine institutions by the end of his junior year
in high school, but not from Princeton. On the one hand these marketing
tools aren’t much more than an expensive bag of glossy recyclables,
but they do get kids thinking about the possibilities, and Princeton’s
policy — at that time, at least — of sending information
only upon request, and only in the fall of an applicant’s
senior year, may discourage some outstanding students from thinking
seriously about applying.
Perhaps my son would still have picked Harvard over Princeton
even if the University had taken a more active approach in identifying
and appealing to prospective applicants. But with what seems like
studied disinterest, Princeton seems not to understand the consequences
of failing to recruit academically gifted students. When someone
doesn’t feel wanted, they may decide to go elsewhere.
SUSAN POST LICHTENSTEIN ’77, s’72 Belmont, Mass.
I found Professor Karabel’s article on admissions fascinating,
challenging, and a bit disturbing, even though I have long felt
that Princeton, the other Ivies, and, yes, Stanford and perhaps
three dozen other outstanding undergraduate colleges across the
country have so many first-rate applicants that they cannot possibly
admit them all. In that sense there’s a tempest-in-a-teapot
quality to the issue.
Nevertheless, I am glad that you have invited Fred Hargadon to
respond (at www.princeton.edu/paw), and I would urge that you print
his comments in PAW and not only on the Web. I ask partly in fairness
to him and partly as a concession to old-timers like me who prefer
the printed page to a screen.
REDWOOD WRIGHT ’50 Shaw Island, Wash.
Former dean of admission Fred Hargadon’s long ramble still
fails to answer two questions. Why has the percentage of Jewish
students remained basically static since I attended in 1960–64,
when there was an apparent 10 percent quota? Why are other minority
groups who suffered from discrimination being sought in large numbers,
and indeed being given preferential treatment under the rubric of
“diversity,” while Jews are not? For too many years
Princeton has had the reputation of being relatively inhospitable
to Jews, and, unfortunately, Mr. Hargadon did not see the need to
remedy this perception during his long tenure.