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Letter Box


Letters from readers about admissions and affirmative action

October 13, 2003

So far, all the comments regarding legacies and admissions have dealt with the morality of parents passing their academic credentials along to their children. But what about the self-esteem of the recipients of these legacies? Where is the pride in doing something on one's own merit?

My father could have gone to Yale, because his father did, but he chose to attend Harvard, because he would be admitted on his own merits. I was admitted to Harvard, but chose Princeton, and my son continued the tradition of taking pride in making it on one's own by going to Dartmouth.

On the other hand — I am, after all, an economist — there is Yale's most infamous legacy: George W. His self-esteem appears to be impervious to the fact that his father's accomplishments, wealth, and reputation paved his way though college, helped him avoid military combat, bailed him out of business failures, and provided the national name recognition that led to political office. Well, so much for my argument for "doing the right thing!"

Michael V. Olds '62
Irvine, Calif.

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October 12, 2003

Richard Golden's letters on the subject of his daughter's rejection from Princeton have laid bare his sense of entitlement, and I find it incredulous that he challenges others "critical thinking." Dr Golden apparently cannot see the huge difference between being a Princeton legacy and being a poor person or disadvantaged minority.

Dr. Golden himself states that his daughter attends a rigorous (i.e. expensive) private school, presumedly in or near Boca Raton. Ms. Golden is to be commended for taking advantages of her opportunities. But surely even Dr. Golden can see that she has had opportunities that others, and in particular the disadvantaged, have not.

The admission committee does not simply accept those with only the highest grades and test scores from the best high schools; a computer could do that. Their job is far more difficult: they must factor in all of the aspects of the individual — including grades, extracurriculars, interests, personal achievements, obstacles overcome, and future potential — and decide who is the best and brightest. Being deemed "the best and brightest" is not synonymous with being able to afford the best schooling.

It seems clear from much of what Dr Golden has written — "Princeton leaves room for disadvantaged minorites who, in fact, may not be the best and brightest" — that he holds the intellectual capacities of certain groups of people suspect. Thankfully, the admissions committee and the bulk of the alumni community feel otherwise.

An even more offensive aspect to these letters, and others like them, is the idea that the University owes the alumni spots for their children, particularly if they have written fat checks over the years. One writer ponders, "I wonder which candidate took her [Ms. Golden's] place in the Class of 2007 and on what grounds." Did she truly have a reservation?

Dr. Golden waxes poetic about loyalty, and his sense of betrayal at the University only admitting one of his daughters. How frustrating it must be that he could not secure his younger daughter a spot! Perhaps if he had just given more money.

Keith Wolter ’93 M.D.
Ann Arbor, MIch.

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October 9, 2003

Neither Mr. Golden '60 nor his critics in the October 8 PAW seem to have a balanced view of this issue. It's not as clear-cut as either side wants it to be.

Universities, including Princeton, favor alumni children for a very pragmatic reason. It makes alumni feel warm and fuzzy toward them, whether said children attend or not. Warm and fuzzy feelings translate into donations. Donations, in sufficient aggregate, make it possible (e.g.) for Princeton to offer grants instead of student loans — thus increasing the chances that someone from a disadvantaged background can actually attend Princeton, as opposed to framing his or her admission letter and heading for a state school. So it's not "utterly indefensible", as one correspondent put it.

The claim that legacy preference amounts to indirect racial prejudice doesn't hold water either. The Civil Rights movement happened 40 years ago, and the beneficiaries of that opening up of elite universities have their own legacy applicants now.
Overall, given several times more qualified applicants that it can possibly admit, Princeton's current modest legacy preference seems about right to me as one factor among many.

Rick Mott '73
Ringoes, N.J.

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October 7, 2003

I'd like to propose a solution to the legacy controversy raised by Richard Golden '60. In the future, all children of black alumni should be admitted automatically, if it can be ascertained that they can do the work. That should satisfy everybody.

Paul Kolodner '75
Hoboken, N.J .

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September 15, 2003

John Kimble, in his longwinded response to me letter, pointed out that this country has a long history of virulent racism, which has tilted the playing field of life in favor of majority whites. This is true, but beside the point.

The remedy to this historical truth, he apparently believes, is to victimize contemporary white children.

My main point was that affirmative aciton is a hodgepodge of race, ehtnicity, geography, and democgraphy.

For example, there is currently raging a debate among those how their government calls "Hispancis" for census purposes since the 1970s. Thos who see their group as coming from an African origin demand the mantle "Latino."

Those who see themselves as coming from the Hiberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal historically insist on being called "Hispanics." Though the Latinos see them as conquerers only.

There is now a newer group who want to be known as "Chicanos," a slang word from the Mexican Revolution.

In the meantime, I have a Jewish friend who came from Eastern Europe by way of Venezuela and married a woman from New England. Their kid applied to college and marked "Hispanic" on the application.

Richard Golden ’60

Boca Raton, Fla.

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September 5, 2003

Mr. Golden, I'm afraid it's you who doesn't know what he's talking about. The idea that race is socially constructed in no way precludes the reality of racial discrimination.

Imagine that I created a new racial category for elderly Floridians (we'll call them Dimpled Chads) and then characterized members of that race as being too stupid or lazy to vote properly in presidential elections. I then used that characterization to justify disenfranchising the whole lot for the next few hundred years or so. After a few centuries, when Dimpled Chads (living in squatter settlements in the Everglades with no medicare, no social security, or retirement funds) seek redress for having been prevented from asserting their own interests as equal members of the polity, their doing so doesn't signify that "Dimpled Chads" are actually a race with its own unique genetic qualities. It simply acknowledges that they have been treated as such and that there have been major social and political consequences to that treatment.

This point ties in with your other (deeply flawed) assertion that wealth in this country is distributed to those who are not lazy and stupid.

I wrote my senior thesis on the history of governmental involvement in the mortgage market in the U.S. (more or less focusing on the time that you were born, growing up, and attending Princeton.) When the housing and real estate industries collapsed during the Depression, the federal government stepped in to revive them by developing a new mortgage product and insuring it against loss to encourage lenders to offer it. To get one of these new mortgages, however, you had to be white and live in an all white neighborhood. That was on the books. The Federal Housing Administration actually mapped where African Americans lived in 250 cities across the country and planned ways to contain those neighborhoods to prevent them from expanding into new, federally insured, all-white suburbs (including requiring that a restrictive covenant be attached to the deed of the house that prohibited it from being sold to a non-white person as a condition of receiving the mortgage. The FHA also encouraged building high-speed traffic arteries around African American neighborhoods to contain them.) When your parents purchased a home as you were growing up, they were able to do so because they were white, not just because they were hard-working and smart. Think about how much wealth and stability that investment created for them, for you, and for your community (as tax revenue for funding good public schools for you to attend.) They could use that asset (your home) to take out a new loan to send you to college or start a small business or any number of other things to leverage themselves and their loved ones financially. They were able to pass on the profit made selling the house to their children, even if those children were lazy and stupid.

Your African-American contemporaries, however, were excluded from this crucial market (real estate investment) and forced to rent homes in deteriorating areas with poor public schools and other municipal services. Their income could not be converted into growing wealth the way your parents' was. Instead, it evaporated out of the communities they lived in, and their children had to start at square one. And this was only two generations ago — the grandparents and parents of current college students. And to a large degree it’s still happening in the private market. Upper-income African Americans are over three times as likely to receive a subprime (high interest) mortgage than their white counterparts.

Even if race doesn't exist, racial discrimination does, as do the consequences of racial discrimination. The only people who clamor about ending government aid are those who've already gotten theirs.

John Kimble ’02

New Orleans, La.

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July 11, 2003

I would like to respond to all those whose mindless mantra is diversity, whatever that means.

At a dinner with Dr. Tilghman, I asked her what she would do if Michigan lost its Supreme Court case re affirmative action. She replied that Princeton would use a racial surrogate or proxy " like income."

It occurs to me that people are poor in America for a variety of reasons, but aside from divorce, illness, or just plain bad luck, clearly the two most representative subgroups are stupidity and laziness.It seems to me bizarre that a young person whose parents are stupid or lazy should have a leg up on someone whose parents are smart and have worked hard, possibly with large doses of delayed gratification.

The problem, of course, is the open-ended and undefined definition of diversity. What is a Hispanic. Does a blond-haired blue-eyed grandson of a German-Argentinian billionaire qualify?

Why is it that after admission of an applicant who checks African-American on his application, the same student is told by his sociology professor that there is no race, it is just a social construct, by his anthopology professor that there is no race, just a continuum around the globe, and by his biology professor that there is no race because there is more genetic deversity within groups then among groups.

Should Opreh Winfrey's daughter be admitted before my daughter because she is an oppressed minority? Diversity? I am sure I don't know what you are talking about, and, sadly, neither do you.

Richard R. Golden ’60
Boca Raton, Fla.

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July 5, 2003

I don't think the Supreme Court's June 23 decision upholding the University of Michigan's admisssions program supports the March letter of Frank Schaeffer.

On the contrary, the Princeton, Harvard, etc., amicus brief has been vindicated in that the Supreme Court supported the struggles to gain affirmative action and said there is a compelling "state interest in diversity."

As an alumnus who played a small role (we invited women to classes — wasn't much, really) in opening Princeton to women, I would hope that the February back-tracking Princeton did in regards to the affirmative action summer program for minority students in the Woodrow Wilson School will now be promply rectified.

Denis Hoppe ’69
Ann Arbor, Mich.

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June 28, 2003

The Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Schaeffer. However, what indirect will be used now?

Kerry Brown ’74
St. Petersburg, Fla.

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April 25, 2003

How many Princeton students are left handed, short, have a North Jersey accent, or stink at pool? Why this fascination with "groups."

After declaring one's race in the admission process in order to get a leg up, the admittent finds that in Academia, the genetic biologists and anthropologists will teach him or her that there really is no such thing as race because the genetic variation within the group is greater than that among groups.

At the same time, the sociologists will insist that race is merely a social construct. I thought that Martin Luther King Jr. yearned for a color-blind society. And besides, what in heaven's name is a Latino? How about a blond haired blue-eyed billionaire's kid from Argentina. Do you diversity people realize how silly you sound?

Richard R. Golden M.D. '60
Boca Raton, Fla.

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March 17, 2003

The line between public and private institutions of learning has become blurred by the flow of taxpayer money to private institutions. Therefore we are told that private institutions are governed by the same rules regarding race as public institutions. Private universities should be allowed to increase diversity however they wish, answering only to a university's board of trustees, unlike public institutions, which should never pit one racial applicant against another.

"Top ten percent" (A Moment With, March 12, 2003) plans and similar efforts increase economic, sociological, and racial diversity without practicing racial discrimination. To the rejected nonblack or non-Hispanic applicant who just might be from a working class background, affirmative action is just as discriminatory to him or her as the Jim Crow laws of time past. Let us move forward toward a race-blind society.

Kerry H. Brown ’74
St. Petersburg, Fla.

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March 14, 2003

I was saddened to read that Princeton was supporting the discredited University of Michigan admission process.

Surely even the most ignorant educators would admit that giving blacks a 20-point advantage over whites is unfair, irrational, and counterproductive.

The result of the Michigan plan is to lower educational standards. It’s that simple.

Frank Schaffer ’45
Former Chairman, Alumni Council
Greenwich, Conn.

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