More me on Harvard admissions

Now consider that America’s top universities are among the most ideologically “left-wing” institutions in the country. At Harvard, for instance, 84% of faculty donations to political parties and political action committees from 2011 to 2014 went in the Democratic direction. The Democrats, of course, are supposed to be the party opposed to income inequality. So what has gone wrong here? Why should these elites be trusted?

If any institution should be able to buck social trends, it is Harvard. It has an endowment of about $39 billion (circa 2018), its top administrators are employable elsewhere, and most of its significant faculty hold tenured positions. It might also have the world’s best academic reputation, and it could fill its entering class with top students even after taking a big reputational or financial hit.

Here is the rest of my Bloomberg column, some parts in full mood affiliation mode.


'More me'


It must be or you wouldn't keep coming back for more.

Well, as a comment below, with an earlier time stamp, makes clear, I did not waste any of my time reading the column.

But this web site is immensely entertaining, so of course I keep coming back.

Would the comment's intent have been more clear if 'Self-recommended' had been written beneath 'More me' instead?

Also, I have nothing better to do.

You are right, of course. Even if the time stamps just might provide a hint that this is a great place to visit to be amused while doing other things, this being the MR comments section, obviously MR is the focus of my entire existence.

"obviously MR is the focus of my entire existence."

Points for honesty.

And here I was, thinking it was obvious hyperbole.

But welcome to the MR comments section.

Since you live here, I appreciate your hospitality.

On the plus side the Tiger mom's daughter got accepted after all that hard work... Oh, wait, Amy Chua is a Yale Law Professor.

"The most shocking number in the paper is this: Of the white students admitted to Harvard, more than 43% are in the so-called ALDC category ... Furthermore, in the model constructed by the authors, three quarters of those applicants would have been rejected if not for their ALDC status."

Good insight, Tyler, big if true. Harvard has the biggest endowment of all universities but it posts the worst returns. 4.4% over the past decade. Your average index fund beats Harvard. Wonder if the staff at the endowment is full of ALDC grads.

Harvard, with its $39 billion endowment, undoubtedly builds multiple regression models of what type of student is most likely to make a big donation to Harvard down the road. Have any of these internal studies ever been published or leaked?

My impression from reading newspaper articles about huge donors is that the kind of person who writes a 9 figure check to a university tends to be a white male who was a legacy and who was on a sports team and was in a fraternity and whose kids have gotten in as legacies too.

Basically, Haven Monahan.

Here's one example: David Dornsife, who was the shotputter on USC's 1965 national championship track team. His parents and kids were also USC grads. He gave USC $200 million.

My guess is that fairly high IQ jocks in minor sports (not big time football or basketball) tend to make the most money and are most loyal to their alma maters.

This is a pretty fascinating subject. For example, are team sports jocks more generous than individual sports jocks? That seems like an interesting question and I would imagine that Harvard has researched it in detail. But this topic of donations never seems to come up in public discussions of Harvard's admissions policies.

I'm going to guess yes. Sports, like say the crew team, are a mechanism for elites to bond and make social connections. If the elites really are a kind of "old boys club", fraternity and team membership at Harvard is one way that the club inducts new members. Obviously, if you're a member, you want your kids to be members, so you make big donations to Harvard so your kids have the opportunity to join the same crew team / frat that you were in.

Personally, I've always found the idea that people give a crap what fraternity you were in or what college you went to matters kind of ridiculous, but at least in film and television there appear to be people that actually go around wearing class rings and having secret handshakes and stuff. So maybe it's actually true and elites really do favor people that went to the same college or fraternity. I do know there is a "Harvard Yale Princeton" club down the street from my office, although I don't know how many people actually hang out there.

Professor Cowen, why not break the internet and have a Conversations with Tyler episode featuring Steve Sailer?

"Your average index fund beats Harvard."

Average beats Ivy League. Just like the 2016 elections. Average is not over, you libertarian CUCKS!

"Harvard has the biggest endowment of all universities but it posts the worst returns. 4.4% over the past decade."

I recall that in 2007, Harvard had had the highest ROI over the previous decade of any Ivy League college. Harvard attributed this to investing in timber.

I noticed that there was a near perfect correlation in 2007 between ROI on the endowment and how desirable it was to get into that Ivy League college: Harvard #1, Yale #2, ... Cornell #8. That suggested to me that perhaps Harvard was exchanging admissions for insider information.

But, clearly, I was wrong!

Too bad those timber investments didn't pan out for them. Not. In East Texas, there were some very special places that actual timber companies never logged, indeed Temple-Inland celebrated them in a glossy corporate coffee table book. But along came these TIMOs with their "non-profit" institutional investors including Harvard and they mismanaged our timberland, fragmented it only to flip it for a loss; and forced conservationists to come up with the dough to save a few of those places that had long been considered "saved." A combination of questionable financial practices, decided harm to our culture - and also to our timberland! From our perspective, Harvard is a triple threat!

Amazing story but not surprising. I don't see why we should pay wealthy people to give money to themselves - they are basically reinforcing their privaledge and passing it on to their progeny tax free.

Tax those endowments!


Their investments in Romanian timber worked out well and they only sold their position when their local guy was indicted for shady stuff and they decided to not get caught up in this. They sold their forestland to IKEA.

Interesting. Their PR failed then - the readily available media reports spin the Romanian investment as a loss.

Of course, a gain for Harvard must be reckoned a loss elsewhere on the ledger.

Might the large percentage of white legacy students reflect a kind of intersectionality effect working against non-legacy whites? Racial balancing (which Harvard denies doing) limits the number of merit-based slots for whites and Asians. To the extent that legacies are disproportionately white, however, the number of merit-based slots for whites is reduced even more. That seems like an intersectionality between non-legacy and non-underrepresented race.

Separately, if the issue is perpetuation of privilege, then athletes (A) should probably not be grouped together with LDC. Athletes have special abilities, just not in a traditional academic dimension. One can debate the importance of non-academic achievement, but athletes do help universities achieve excellence in those non-academic arenas. They are admitted on their own merits rather than on the basis of being related to someone else. There seems to be much less objection to admission of students with non-academic talents in art and music and, indeed, many universities have actual degree-granting programs and even entire schools/colleges devoted to fine and performing arts. Singling out the "athletic arts" for special scrutiny might itself reflect a type of cultural privilege.

"There seems to be much less objection to admission of students with non-academic talents in art and music and, indeed, many universities have actual degree-granting programs and even entire schools/colleges devoted to fine and performing arts."

That IS the point. Those are related with the universities' mission because universities teach arts. Football teams are not.

'Football teams are not.'

You know how football was invented, right?

'What is considered to be the first American football game was played on November 6, 1869, between Rutgers and Princeton, two college teams. They consisted of 25 players each and used a round ball that could not be picked up or carried. It could, however, be kicked or batted with the feet, hands, head or sides, with the objective being to advance it into the opponent's goal. Rutgers won the game 6–4. Collegiate play continued for several years with matches played using the rules of the host school. Representatives of Yale, Columbia, Princeton and Rutgers met on October 19, 1873, to create a standard set of rules for use by all schools. Teams were set at 20 players each, and fields of 400 by 250 feet (122 m × 76 m) were specified. Harvard abstained from the conference, as they favored a rugby-style game that allowed running with the ball. After playing McGill University using both Canadian and American rules, the Harvard players preferred the Canadian style of having only 11 men on the field, running the ball without having to be chased by an opponent, the forward pass, tackling, and using an oblong instead of a round ball.

An 1875 Harvard–Yale game played under rugby-style rules was observed by two Princeton athletes who were impressed by it. They introduced the sport to Princeton, a feat the Professional Football Researchers Association compared to "selling refrigerators to Eskimos." Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia then agreed to intercollegiate play using a form of rugby union rules with a modified scoring system. These schools formed the Intercollegiate Football Association, although Yale did not join until 1879. Yale player Walter Camp, now regarded as the "Father of American Football", secured rule changes in 1880 that reduced the size of each team from 15 to 11 players and instituted the snap to replace the chaotic and inconsistent scrum.'

Might not be part of mission, but it is certainly part of the history of the Ivy League, which of course comes from the formation of the NCAA Division I athletic conference in 1954.

That is not what universities are for. As famous professor Boris Sidis pointed out, university sports are manifestations of philistine savagery writ large.

To say sports are part of universities' history is like saying that getting drunk at parties is part of the history of universities and universities should make an effort to recruit the greatest drunkards!!

'That is not what universities are for.'

Well, the Ivy League, along with the service academies, would argue that you are wrong, that athletics are part of the education that one expects a well rounded scholar will receive from their alma mater, for almost a century and a half when it comes to football.

That would be a stronger argument if all the sports teams were walk ons by regular students.

Effectively hiring some players who would otherwise never be admitted doesn’t do much to produce well rounded scholars.

'That would be a stronger argument if all the sports teams were walk ons by regular students'

Well, I don't care that much about the Ivy League and its recruitment policies for athletes (because the Ivy League does not really spend a lot of time recruiting athletes, at least to my knowledge), but the service academy sports teams are pretty much exclusively walk-ons.

'That would be a stronger argument if all the sports teams were walk ons by regular students'

Again, to the best of my knowledge, this does not describe the Ivy League, and definitely does not describe the service academies, two of which have a comparable historical existence to the Ivy League schools.

Harvard and the Ivy League in general are serious NCAA Division I schools with real recruiting. This article talks you through some of the sacrifices made to get recruited athletes in. Don’t focus too much on the admit rate, because the likely non-admits in the recruiting process don’t get as far as submitting a regular college application in Division 1. Basically successful athlete admits get to be one standard deviation below prevailing Harvard academic standards.

Interesting. This section stands out - 'At Harvard, the student body index is roughly 220—approximately equivalent to a SAT score of 2200 and near 4.0 GPA, according to a 2014 Crimson report. Students who walk-on to teams are not included in the Athletic Department’s estimate.' Sounds like the sort of athletes recruited to Harvard could basically attend any school.

This however is obvious - and one could likely extend this to include those with other talents without requiring too much imagination (think performing arts) - 'Arcidiacono noted that athletes with an academic rating of 1 or 2 on Harvard’s scale of 1 to 6—with 1 being the highest and 6 the lowest—had a markedly higher admit rate than non-athletes with the same academic scores.'

And bingo, there it is - '...whether they are recruited athletes, academics, or musicians.' Assuming they mean musicians being admitted as students, of course.

I can hardly wait to read the outrage that high talent musicians are given preference when being looked at for admission to Harvard.

Huh? Is bingo supposed to mean gotcha? Sure. For every 20 athletes there's an elite musician. I don't know where you think the outrage is coming from, but as a parent I don't see it as being any different. It's all part of the admissions arms race and a desire on the part of the schools not to have the school population they'd have if they focused on academic merit. So we have to waste time and effort on signals that we belong to certain populations or can spend certain amounts.

I recall reading from an elite admissions person how they disfavored certain instruments as boorish and liked others, and lo and behold it lined up with disfavoring the kind of things Asian kids did.

Even D3 schools, who don't offer athletic scholarships, still take athletic performance into account when considering admissions. So simply eliminating scholarships won't eliminate the practice of admitting otherwise un-admittable students.

The Ivy League doesn't offer athletic scholarships. For that matter, most DI athletes are not on scholarships and certainly not full scholarships.

It's important to separate football from other sports. And arguably women from men when considering sports.

Wasn’t Socrates reputed to be legendarily good at holding his liquor, among other things?

He couldn't hold his hemlock.

I would say that he held down that hemlock too well.

He was not famous as a drunkard, he was famous as a philosopher, a thinker, an i tellectual, if you will.

No, that doesn't sound right. I think he was a footballer; one of those guys who was famous enough he just went by one name, like Pele, Ronaldo, or Neymar.

This is a false simplification. Aristotle's schooling was done at the Lyceum gymnasium in Athens. The ancient Greeks, not to be confused with your moniker here, linked athletics, education, and health. All were needed to properly educate and grow the next generation. The ancient Chinese taught chariot riding and archery alongside with mathematics, calligraphy and the classics. The ancient Indians taught martial skills with fine arts, math, astronomy, and politics. Given that war and physical harm could come at any moment, it was necessary for the royal families and other nobles/elites to build up their war-making abilities to protect their realms.

The disconnect between the training of the body and the mind occured in large part due to medieval European universities which evolved from monastic and cathedral schools taught by monks and nuns. With more emphasis on the metaphysical, the physical became less important.

To your comment, this doesn't mean that it is automatically wrong, as certain institutions like religious schools might not want it. But there is definitely a long and ancient tradition of tying together the athletic and academic pursuits. As Socrates once said:

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

The NBA and the NFL can recruit their players and pay for their training. It is ridiculous that good students are being denied university spots and scolarships so that jocks can get them. American universities should train students for the demands of America's future instead of being obsessed about winning stupid games!!!!!

'The NBA and the NFL can recruit their players and pay for their training.'

Pretty sure that the NFL and NBA don't do a lot of recruiting from the Ivy League or service academies, even if both have very long traditions of sports. Such as inventing American football, as noted above.

So there is no reason to give athletes an easier ride.

They aren't getting an easier ride. They are still expected to perform for their sport. What do you think your grades are going to be with another full time commitment on top? Jeremy Lin was a smart student but could only manage C's for his major in economics while juggling basketball.

Brazilian state universities have no athletic scholarships. Recruiting is by merit and race only.

Yes, his initiative has moved ahead of schedule. Thank you for the update.

Brazilian universities have never had athletic scholarships.

It is a lie! Brazilian universities have not just had athletic scholarships, they have had the best scholarships for the best athletes!

I think that is the impersonator.

No, YOU are the impersonator!

No, I am not. I am myself.

That would be at least somewhat relevant today if the schools mandated physical education classes for undergrads. Make them all do intramural sports. But they don't, and in fact you will find coaches telling their athletes that they cannot be part of the team and study a demanding major: I was told to either abandon Engineering of Basketball.

So given that this is how institutions act, the peripatetic school is as relevant to modern school as sexual practices of ancient Greece to modern Greece.

I was simply told, quite emphatically, to abandon basketball. And singing, I might add.

I suppose all of you racists have considered that college athletics is a major entry point for low-income athletes of color to get an education.

I see, it is bread and circus, but for the gladiators' sake. What about low-income "people of color" who want an education? "To Hell with them! What universities have to do with education?" I say it is outrageous!!!!!!!!

It’s not low-income students who are benefiting from Harvard athletic recruiting. The athletes are disproportionately white and disproportionately wealthy; they fill the varsity sailing team, squash team, lacrosse team. Athletics at Harvard reinforces the social order.

College athletics provides people a way to go start college. How many manage to graduate -- and how many manage to get a real education while they are there -- is a sad and sorry tale.

If you're trying to ask whether Harvard discriminates against low-income white applicants, yes, that seems like an obvious conclusion.

Harvard is not discriminating against low-income white students. They receive a 3-5x boost in the probability of admission. If anything, they are discriminating against low-income African-American students, who receive no different admissions boost than non-low-income African-American students.

This seems testable. What’s the admittance rate by SAT score for low income blacks vs whites vs Asians ?

People are trying to obscure with data rather than illuminate. That one chart would put this to rest.

At Harvard, the athletes being admitted are disproportionately white and disproportionately wealthy. They fill out the squash, skiing, lacrosse, sailing, crew, etc. teams.

Whether or not one believes these are valuable skills to have represented, the net result is that it means Harvard is packed with more wealthy white people with weaker academics. That isn’t a social mission I want my alma mater pursuing.

Also, if you are a recruited athlete, the probability of your being accepted is on the order of 90%. That’s crazy.

Getting to be a recruited athlete is ridiculously hard. And the kids who are recruited have gone through a screening process ("pre-read") to make sure that those who actually apply with coach support are already likely admits based on the athlete standards. And sure, the standard is lower, but not that much lower.

From the college admissions scandal, I believe they get information from consultants about obscure, noncompetitive sports that increase their chance of admission and then find a corrupt coach to vouch for their kids. Stanford fired a sailing coach a few months back for taking bribes.

Sure, and the fact that that path cost hundreds of thousands of dollars suggests maybe it's not a common way in and maybe it's not that easy to do on merit.

Those suckers just greased the wrong palms. As the Harvard lawsuit revealed, there's an entirely above-board way to bribe your kid in.

"Also, if you are a recruited athlete, the probability of your being accepted is on the order of 90%." Curious. I would have said 100%, but what do I know?

Couple weeks ago MR linked a post regarding how highly successful people tended to have more stamina. It's possible that athleticism is an important component of developing young adults into successful people, since entraining the habit of staying in good physical health may lead to improved stamina and job performance.
I do know that athletic ability has long been considered an important component of being a "well rounded" student.

I think it depends on the sport in question. Sports performance that is a reflection of health, stamina, teamwork, etc good. Sports that reflect that your parents paid a lot of money to help you fill out a weird niche sport...not so much.

Trying to think of a 'weird niche sport' that doesn't reflect health, stamina, and teamwork. Golf? Chess?

Long distance running - heavy on health and stamina, but teamwork not so much.

Division III private school hockey players are heavily recruited by business because they are team-oriented people that are able to manage their time and get decent grades.

I also think the athletes don’t deserve the same criticisms the other special admit categories get. I mean, I’d argue we shouldn’t be reserving such large fractions of the admissions pool for something so far away from the supposed mission of universities, but that’s a different point.

The actual kids who get those athletic slots have more in common with the regular white and Asian pool, the “Unconnected and Unprotected.” They have to get in by fighting in a ruthless competition for slots based on ability. Bully for them. They’ve accomplished something other than having the right parents.

Isn't the recently college admissions scandel specifically about rich patents paying off colleges to get their kids admitted as athletic admissions?

And as noted something like 43% of Harvards althletes, legacies, and children are richer white kids who wouldn't have gotten admitted otherwise.
So it seem to me like athletic admissions are largely used to sneak connected white kids into Harvard, not unconnected ones.

Depends on the particular sport involved.

Many of the minor sports are played only at private high schools or wealthy public ones. Giving extra consideration to lacrosse players generally means giving extra consideration to a group of well-off to wealthy applicants.

The recent scandal is abhorrent. But it's also about large enough amounts of money that you know it's not typical.

The categories mostly serve to replace one set of white kids (those with academic merit) with another set of white kids (those with connections and those with athletic merit). They lower the number of Asians, but my understanding is it doesn't much change the number of whites, just the composition of the white pool.

I don't think a preference for athletics at universities makes sense and I've argued against it. But I don't think it's right to do so by beating up on the kids who make it in that way. They aren't in the same category as the other favored admits.

This article is racist, sexist and anti-revolutionary

Leftist ideology is the device these personalities use to form a group identity, maximising status and keeping away outsiders. An attack to the ideology, like an attack to a member, is an attack to the whole group. Acquiring the ideology is a signal of conformity to the group rules, not so much about intellectual ability or critical sense. Becoming a PhD is the admission test to the group, you prove to be a conformist, docile, have herd-behavior mentality and are predisposed to respect the academic liberal priests.

And no matter how much it hurts to hear, it's most often women that have the tendency to protect the group before fighting for the truth. They are gatekeepers of the group, choose what males are in, and will protest with likes, retweets, and a lot of crying to enforce the membership.

These three comments illustrate something nicely - of course intellectuals have drifted left, as the right has drifted stupid.

I am not the right, soyboy.

Of course not, the right rejects bigots, as the right often reminds anyone who listens to them.

I wonder why do you waste the time replying other commentators with stupidities rather than adding your 5 cents about the article in a separate comment.

'replying other commentators'

Because a comment section is for comments, and interaction among commenters?

Just spitballing.

(And really, why anyone would want to read more Harvard navel gazing escapes me - one hope you consider the time you spent reading it well spent.)

Sure, sure.

But it is an underrated point. Trump is an idiot. How many intellectuals are really going donate hard earned money to an idiot?

Even GWB, recognizing that he has developed some moral depth of late, piloted the idea of failson as president.

So it's kind of strange to put all the blame on the intellectuals .. for abandoning government by failson - exactly the kind of failson getting through Harvard on ALDC.

And Tyler's right. That's a contradiction.

Hey! I spent the past two days helping Grandma baby-sit our five month old granddaughter. I call her, Prince Grace.

Democrats Hardest Hit! Failson economic boom allows seven million Americans to get off Food Stamps.

I'm so old I remember when you clowns called GWB a "fascist," and much worse.

GWB on moral depth: Like, say, The Second Iraq War because Saddam H. tried to poison Papa?

Re: my granddaughter. She's brighter and more far more useful than the typical liberal. She knows when she's hungry and sitting in a dirty diaper. More than can be said for the left.

I started with GWB as a Republican, split with him over false evidence for the Iraq war. I said, truth must come first in a democracy.

So, you complain about leftists calling the Bush/Cheney regime "fascist" and then turn around and blame Hillary for believing them, and voting with them?

Have I got that right?


It is one of the strangest stories in modern politics, that Bush gets a mulligan for lying, but Democrats cannot be forgiven for believing.

Not one thing in this entire chain of comments is relevant to the post.

Bigot is an obvious troll. Ignore him.

The topic is Harvard admissions policies. Not the political shitshow de jour.

Talk to Tyler about his 84%

Yes. That’s not an excuse to derail the entire thread.

You know better than to reply to someone that uses the term soyboy. Come on. This is all heat and no light.


Maybe you should think more carefully about what I wrote.

I was harsh, but I answered Tyler's questions:

"So what has gone wrong here?"

Intellectuals contribute left because they face an increasingly anti-intellectual right.

"Why should these elites be trusted?"

Not really, they seem confused, if they support equality at ballot box and inequality in their actions.

You throw out this heat and light nonsense, but this is actually important and it can be said succinctly:

How can an anti-intellectual movement demand that it be equally represented in intellectual circles?

Be better.

You led off with Trump and responded to an obvious troll with further derailment.

Sorry, got to push back on that.

It can only be described as a malignant centrism that demands we not talk about the President of the United States.

You're saying he should get a free pass because we all know he's bad?

No. He has remade conservatism in his image and it is not in real centrism or moderation to ignore that.

And of course he's not gone yet.

Four more years!

6 more years, at least. At least if one believes what President Trump has said he is entitled to, of course.

What does the POTUS have to do with Harvard admissions ?


You’re reaching I Blame Obama Meme level of sheer absurdity and irrelevance.

Walking up to a group of people discussing the admissions policies of a university and autistically screeching in their faces about the president. Yeah, opposing that is not ‘giving the president a free pass.’

It’s sanity.

Go to R/AskTrumpSupporters. Have at it. You can comment about Trump 24 hours a day. And every post is actually about the one thing you comment about.

You’re welcome.

i am very interested in your point that woman protect the group more than men. do u have any literature or proofs backing this up? thank you!

Here are 14k proofs:

And to think she used to be a regular commenter here, of all places.

Only one commenter has been here since the beginning of the blog, lovingly participating, giving Mercatus clicks, seeking attention: that's you, prior. Time to stop worrying and love the blog.

'has been here since the beginning of the blog'

Not even close.

'lovingly participating'

Well, you always mock what you love, right?

"Well, you always mock what you love, right?"

I'm sure your wife is thrilled

Cowen at least acknowledges he's "in full mood affiliation mode". One might speculate that Cowen's opinion of Harvard would shift to positive from negative if 84% of faculty donations to political parties and political action committees from 2011 to 2014 went in the Republican direction. I may have agreed with the latter assessment at one time, but today's Republican Party is at best a cult, at worst a group determined to undermine democracy if necessary to maintain power.

I have concerns about the division of higher education between the "elite" schools and the rest, with the former a ticket to the best paying careers and with the latter a ticket to mediocre careers. But I wouldn't blame Harvard and the way it conducts business. After all, the way Harvard conducts business helps it maintain the elite status it enjoys, including the largest endowment. Giving legacies an admissions preference is just a form of investment in Harvard's future, by targeting those most likely to rise up and to give back. In most contexts, Cowen favors policies that promote investment. Why does he oppose it when it comes to higher education? As for the endowment's relative low rate of return, good for Harvard: it likely means Harvard hasn't succumbed to "alternative investments" to jack up the rate of return as have many endowments. "Alternative investments" are fine when asset prices are rising, but not so much when they aren't. Again, my complaint with Harvard is the same as my complaint with all of the "elite" colleges: the "elite" colleges divide America into the haves and the have nots. I don't have a solution for this, but I do know that "tuition-free" higher education at public colleges will likely make matters worse, not better, as will forcing the "elites" to change their highly successful way of doing business.

Harvard did succumb to alternate investments. The losses in Brazilian sugar, tomatoes, and timber is costing at least $270 million. Remember Yale's CIO David Swensen? The press sung his praises a decade ago for making those kind of bets. Harvard copies the strategy and ten years later the chickens come home to roost.

Good, solid, common-sense column. If I was the internet referee I would award it 10 points.

The internet referee texted me, he said we are authorized to award up to six points before he has to sign off on it.

I have to deduct 5 internet points for revealing our private correspondence, but you misunderstood. Regular commentors can only award up to FOUR points, five or more has to come from me or one of my colleagues.

It was a good column, but 10 points is too high. I will award 5 internet points to Cowen for this one.

Mood affiliation?

It seems to me that you tried to write with moral authority, and it was good.

Maybe mood affiliation is ironic at this point.

Bush Jr. was famously a 'C' student at Yale. It was obvious he was ALDC. Bush Sr. was a smart guy who got his Yale econ degree in 2.5 years. Both Clinton and Obama came from more humble backgrounds and earned their spots in the Ivy League. What's Trump's story? He wasn't a good student at Fordham so how did he manage to transfer to the more prestigious Penn?

Why do we know Bush's grades but not Obama's?

"Why do we know Bush's grades but not Obama's?"

I don't know how many people have asked Obama what his grades were. He seems like the kind of guy who would remember.

When David Maraniss asked Obama in 2011 what his college grades were, the President said he had a B+ average at Occidental and an A- average at Columbia. That would imply roughly a 3.5 GPA overall.

Dubya openly released his college transcripts; I wonder why Obama, as part of the "most transparent administration in history", did not. Perhaps for the lack of college grade truthers out there...

Trump has threatened to sue anyone who leaks his Wharton transcripts. Why doesnt he release them?


Given how the media and TDS left have handled the Ukraine transcript, I'm guessing because they'd run "TRUMP'S GPA '...1...'" the next day, 1 being the page number.

"Given how the media and TDS left have handled the Ukraine transcript.."

You mean the whole printing it nonsense?

Gosh, if only they had just printed it. No, was thinking more about how they deceptively excerpted from it, including the infamous ellipses that cover 500 words of the transcript, all the while insisting that it was probably falsified anyway and that the complaint was the real bombshell (spoiler alert: it was not) after demanding the transcript for the past week.

You want to be mad about, if not their duplicity, their laziness; but on the other hand, if I knew that most of my customers would uncritically eat up anything I said on the subject of Orange Man Bad, I'd half-ass my job too.

Gore, Kerry, and W all suffered the indignity of moles at their respective alma maters releasing their transcripts on the qt. Gore supposedly tests well, but had poor grades, abandoned one effort at graduate school, and failed at another. Kerry and W test about the same - somewhere around the 88th percentile.

In 2004, I dug up GW Bush's and John Kerry's scores on the Air Force and Navy, respectively, officer's exams. Both scored middling with Bush doing slightly better. When Tom Brokaw asked Kerry about my research on the NBC News, Kerry said he must have gone out drinking the night before the test.

It had been leaked during the run-up to the 2000 election that Bush had a C+ GPA of 77 at Yale in history in 1964-1966.

After the 2004 election it turned out that Kerry had at Yale in political science from 1962-1966 a 76 average.

As their test scores and GPA show, both those guys were pretty similar. E.g., both were in Skull & Bones at Yale.

If Yale's prestige is deserved then Bush Jr.'s mediocre academic record there surely puts him far above an "A" student at the University of North Dakota or Fort Lewis State. In fact, Ivy League schools must have access to secret knowledge that other, lesser diploma mills are unable to effectively transfer to the dolts that they must admit in order to remain in business and employ tenured academics that graduated from the Ivy League. Of course those academics are of a lower caste, their superiors being movers and shakers in business and government.

I received a BSEE from a state university and a Master's from Cornell.

Cornell is not Harvard, but, it is considered an Ivy. And my perception was that the grading was much tougher at the state school and downright easy at Cornell.

I'm not sure why, but I suspect the assumption was that you wouldn't be there if you weren't smart, and from that flowed a massive "benefit of the doubt" benefit. Whereas at the less-selective school there was no such assumption.

Same. Went to both Berkeley and Stanford for a technical field. Found it easier, got way more breaks and hand holding at S but B was much more challenging and really forced me to grow up.

Isn't this what we should want, if we believe in the invisible hand, that Harvard should do what's right for Harvard, and devote its primary efforts to increasing its own wealth and prestige? Adam Smith was fairly critical of those who affected to trade for the public good. Given the misguided political beliefs and general ignorance of the Harvard faculty and administration, any attempt on their part to run the institution for the benefit of society would probably be a net social detriment.

Hmm. Should an institution focused on it's own wealth and prestige be tax exempt?

No. Let's tax the b*stards!

‘Now consider that America’s top universities are among the most ideologically “left-wing” institutions in the country. ‘

I suspect TC will get some grief for that statement. It’s obvious to many people, but the left doesn’t like to acknowledge the situation.

It is a labeling problem. There are things like truth, reason, even morality and ethics, that we just call "left-wing" these days.

Whereas the "right-wing" is reduced to "I had a great time at your hotel, and spent a lot of money."


Whatever you think of the right wing, and I may agree with some of it, truth, reason, even morality and ethics are antithetical to the left wing.
The Kavanaugh smears, fake russian dossiers, fake attacks all around are disgusting to anyone with any morality. If you want to attack Trump then come up with better ideas. And the number of people who fall for these tactics is amazing. You'd think there would be more people with greater than 3rd grade educations.

I'm obviously being harsh.

The gentler version would be that as populist movements become skeptical of intellectuals, this must necessarily push intellectuals away.

No one likes to be targeted as the bad guy, including the intellectual elite.

This is kind of a signal, a trend, beneath the noise of day to day rough politics.

Intellectuals = PhD in Physics used to design financial structures that end up turning mortgages to people with no income into AAA bonds.

Populists = You conjured up $14 trillion dollars by the Fed and close to $1 trillion from taxpayers to buy these idiots out of their catastrophic mistakes?

There is some truth to that too.

anon: “Truth, Goodness, Rationality and 99% of all that is Virtuous in the cosmos belongs to the left”

*upon reflection* “Maybe I’m being harsh. Only 92%... lol

You don’t get it. Trump is a vainglorious braggart. But we don’t expect him to be an unalloyed good. Look at you, anon, and your (presumed) heroes Liz Bernie and Beto: you know they are not perfect, but you’ll accept them because they are still going to advance a couple of the keys things on your agenda. So it is with Trump. He is, warts and all, for tens of millions simply seen as far better for our country than any of your collection of immoderate leftists.

Kavanaugh has a history. Trump has a long rap sheet. You want us to pretend they are perfect little angels?

Kavanaugh does have a history. It's exemplary.

The only serious blemish is allegations from a motivated lady who couldn't keep her uncorroborated story from contradicting itself--- which is to say, no blemish at all.

He will get flack for that because they aren't "left-wing" but conservative. Doesn't the system of legacy preferences remind you of the hereditary positions in the UK's House of Lords? This is more 'ancien regime' than 'viva la revolucion'. It just means that the people that run Harvard are good at hiding their true hand by publicly virtue signaling and feigning flirtations with the left only to bump another Asian out to make way for a less deserving child of privilege into their ranks.

For some people, "left wing" means they tolerate a couple bearded professors in cardigans. Never mind the actual functions, outcomes, and money flows.

You'll note that Harvard, despite all the alleged tenured Marxists poisoning young minds, doesn't seem to crank out cadres of zealots who dedicate their post-collegiate careers to tearing down the system.

The right wing cares mostly about the social axis.

The left wing cares mostly about the econ axis.

Both can see elite institutions as decidedly against them. And they’re both right.

Yet in both cases, the areas where issues actually move forward, are those where the majority of wealthy elite agree. ( With an occasional tactical retreat where populist demands can no longer be ignored.)

The average wealthy elite is modestly (if not generally passively) socially liberal, and economically (and decidedly actively) conservative, at least in terms of where they'll put their effort to advance/oppose policy.

And so that's why most institutions from corporations to universities tend to reflect those dual axis's.

Completely agree. Extend this to Congress as well.

It’s also what leads to insane partisanship. Both sides feel as if they’re losing and unheard. And that in turn leads to scapegoating and memetic violence.

Another “who gets to be in HAAAAARVard know, maybe Royalty by birth isn’t such a bad idea after all...

Harvard tries to perform two roles:

1. As a meritocratic institution for the 'best and brightest'

2. As a finishing school for scions of the political elite and ultra-wealthy.

Couldn't these functions be separated? Or is #1 necessary to whitewash the intergenerational propagation of privilege in #2? Does Harvard need to admit some number of University of Chicago-style strivers without great wealth or family connections to provide cover for the gentry? And is that the Asian role?

And note, too, that what both the ALDC and affirmative action students reveal (the vast majority of whom would not otherwise qualify for admission) -- namely that succeeding at Harvard isn't particularly difficult. Under-qualified students are admitted and go on to graduate in large numbers.

So what should the result be? As TC likes to think about things, shouldn't the status of a Harvard degree clearly be lowered? After all, if you have the right connections, it's not difficult to get in, and if you do get in, it's not difficult to get through.

Of course the whitewash is necessary. Much like Oz's curtain, even the slightest tug at the facade risks bring the whole edifice of elite lies and myths crumbling.

One of these roles is a marketing slogan, the other is not. Can you tell which is which?

In some ways, they are separated. Aren't the grad schools serving goal #1 and the undergrad school serving goal #2?

Because #1 and #2 benefit from being together. Talent needs capital, and capital needs talent. Without either one you either lack potential or the means to actualize that potential.

Also, keep in mind that

The real scandal is that Harvard reserve a very large portion of its class for minorities on purely representational grounds, but doesn't think non-elite whites (a majority of the population) should be represented much at all. It's almost like they want to put together a coalition whose purpose is to exploit that group.

I would also comment that most of these legacies aren't moron. They are merely above average. Is someone +1-2 SD in intelligence that much of a liability to Harvard.

Actually, admitting white athletes is a good way to bring in some non-elite whites. You don't have to come from money to play football, basketball, or the other sports and get an admission to an Ivy. White people can play all of those sports and get in.

My wife's cousin went to Stanford, full ride. White guy, lower middle class, he got free tuition because his family had income under $60K/yr. Good grades, not a genius, played water polo at his suburban public high school. The Ivies do this too.

"Talent needs capital, and capital needs talent. "

As undergrads? And don't forget Kruger and Dale -- the benefit for Ivy-qualified students of attending Harvard vs a state school is somewhere between negligible and non-existent. Which is why the Asian discrimination issue doesn't particularly worry me. Harvard looks terrible (as it deserves to), but the Asian students being excluded really aren't being harmed. I would be amused, though, if Harvard brought the Kruger and Dale results into its legal defense and argued that their admissions system isn't a problem because Harvard admittance wouldn't benefit these students anyway as compared to their other options.

How many Supreme Court Justices came from State U?

Look, if you've got a +3SD IQ I have no doubt you can go to State U and get an UMC professional job and have income levels roughly equivalent to going to State U and getting an UMC professional job.

But Ivy's are about choosing those who can become the elite of the next generation, and they are very good at that.

>How many Supreme Court Justices came from State U?

That's the grad school. The undergrad school is differently elite.

But Ivy's are about choosing those who can become the elite of the next generation, and they are very good at that.

I'd suggest you look at the capsule biographies of Fortune 500 CEOs. You see Ivy, but there's an ample population who attended state universities and also private universities that don't have gobs of cachet. If my rough perusal is representative, where you see a great deal of Ivy is among federal appellate judges.

Somewhat devil’s advocate, but:

That’s 500 people climbing the corporate ladder to the very top. At that level it becomes less relevant. That’s a lottery game over 30 years of millions of people, so on some level it introduces sufficient randomness.

A much better experiment would be :

Percentage of Federal Judges
Percentage of Managing Directors and above at BB Banks
Percentage of Principal / Partners and above at MBB
Percentage of top 5 levels at Department of State
Percentage of Federal Reserve Board members
Percentage of Council of Economic Advisors
Percentage of Hedge Fund workers earning > $500,000
Percentage of Deputy National Security Advisors
Percentage of authors of the most viewed political news articles on the internet in mainstream publications (Vox, the Times, Atlantic, New Yorker, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Economist, CNN, MSNBC, etc)

My experience in this world is that the vast majority of players I deal with (aside from clients) are Ivy League graduates. At least 80%. UVA and Haas makes up a large chunk of the rest. Sprinkle in Anderson and Ross and you’ve filled it out.

You’re right though. For the vast majority of Americans this is completely irrelevant. This won’t affect their non-zero chance at reaching CEO of a Fortune 500 company. For the top 10% Ivy League is the difference between a $700,000 a year job plus $1M in profit sharing at BCG versus a $300,000 a year at a boutique consulting group.

And as society falls apart, it’s more and more critical to leave your kids at least tens of millions. We have to be ready.

For the top 10% Ivy League is the difference between a $700,000 a year job plus $1M in profit sharing at BCG versus a $300,000 a year at a boutique consulting group.

If this were the case, it would show up in the Dale and Krueger numbers. But it doesn't. They were looking for differences in life outcomes for Ivy League level student who did and did not choose Ivies (e.g. students clearly in the top 10%) and found no difference.

All attention is always focused on undergraduates at Harvard. Does legacy status play into any of the graduate or professional schools, such as Harvard Law, Harvard econ grad school, etc.? I assume not on the latter, but am less sure on the former.

I vaguely recall a study of inbreeding of faculty by area and in most fields of the sciences and the social sciences Harvard and other elites do not actively hire their own Ph.Ds fresh out of graduate school and even counting those who return after stints at Chicago or MIT, the percentage is not high. In contrast for law school, some 80+% of Yale law profs are Yale grads and similarly most of Harvard law profs are from Harvard.

Twenty years ago, the practice at Harvard in arts and sciences was to deny tenure to about 80% of all applicants, a selection of whom would be hired-to-tenure some years down the road.

The fact that Harvard has “the world’s best academic reputation,” even though the non-meritocratic aspects of its admissions were already well-known when I was applying to college in the 90s, is strong evidence that its admissions system is working. We have top universities that don’t take legacies, such as MIT and CalTech, yet most people still consider a Harvard degree more prestigious than one from MIT, especially if one is from a background not traditionally associated with Harvard students.

Harvard is a university, intended to provide a good education for students, not a scheme to solve income inequality. With just 1500-ish undergrads a year, most of whom live out very normal middle-class adult lives, wouldn’t make a dent in income inequality even if it took only people from poor backgrounds like some Communist cadre.

Is that really Harvard's goal?

MIT has for over 20 years been aping the holistic system of the Ivies. The rigor of its required minimum math class has been diluted so the mediocre can get through.

I want to +1 this, because it certainly seems like we've been on a path to reduced rigor, but the kids are still primarily enrolled in the serious majors.

I'd like to be confident this was also reflected in graduations from each major. Even back in the day they'd do a lot to get someone who couldn't cut it through, by gradually moving them down the rigor waterfall to an easy degree taking six years.

Even Caltech has slightly reduced its Core courses as the once brutal 2 year physics requirement has been reduced to one year and supposedly its first year Math course isn't as purely proof based as it used to be when Apostol taught it out of his own textbook. But its required math and science classes for students from all majors are such that it's likely a quarter to a third of MIT's entering class would probably be unable to even pass Caltech's first year Core.

I understand how this is attractive to parents who want a high probability of their child receiving the sheepskin, but long-term it will dilute the brand.

A century ago, MIT enrolled 1,000 freshmen from the pool of 18-year-old US males when the US population was less than one-third its current size.

The number of admitted freshmen stayed at 1,000 after the school deigned to admit women students (doubling the pool), and as the country's population increased dramatically.

Today, MIT draws its 1,000-member freshman class from around the world, which means it has a much, much larger candidate pool.

Given this, one would expect MIT's freshman classes to have arrived better prepared over time -- more competition leading to greater selectivity and higher quality, after all.

Under those circs, one would expect MIT to be increasing, not reducing the rigor of its program. Why hasn't that happened? Does one of the most serious programs in the country really want to accommodate students who are less well prepared, even if they have rich daddies who will pay millions of dollars into the endowment?

Controversial take but increasing the rigor doesn't mean more successful alumni, assuming that is their goal. Successful here means to attain worldly riches and influence the way Harvard or Stanford has. I personally think MIT has Harvard/Stanford envy. Places like Caltech keep their rigor because they are producing the next top ranked professor/researcher and don't care about status games.

Producing the next top-ranked researcher or entrepreneur is not dependent on the minimum requirement or even the normal requirement. When I went through I skipped all the basics and even the higher level stuff had offerings for people with more ability. So, for example, you didn't have to take real analysis with future economists or differential equations with civil engineers, they had sophisticated versions of all that stuff. Besides, the real advantage of MIT or CalTech is early access to research jobs. If you interview a lot of these kids, that's what you should spend your time discussing, because it's the real differentiator.

So I don't think the minimum requirement really affects the elite-within-the-elites achievements. What it affects is the median graduate - the guy who's going to go work at Google and be compared to kids from Stanford.

>Harvard is a university, intended to provide a good education for students,

It might be a secondary or tertiary goal, but it's not clear it's the primary goal. e.g., Tyler's article.

One's conclusion on the priority order will also inform the other level of this discussion, whether or not there should be public support for that goal. That is, if Harvard's primary goal is "maximizing its own power and influence" or "self-replicating privilege," should we really be providing massive subsidies to it?

One could easily imagine an alternate system that says "if you want your students to be eligible for public student aid, you can only admit by lottery from qualified applicants." Easily to imagine b/c it is the system imposed on most charter schools.

Not clear why the author felt the need to gratuitously call those who object to race preferences in admissions "underinformed."

Virtue-signaling is an important part of academia.

It's ambiguous. He could be stating that the problem has existed for decades, yet the middle class is only now recognizing how bad things are.

I assume you put “left wing” in quotes to be ironic. Because the only thing left wing about wealthy Democrats and the Democratic party is that they listen to NPR on Saturdays and will try to recycle their plastic water bottles if a bin is handy.

So when you wrote about this the other day, there was a coy throwaway line about disproportionate admission of girls versus boys. What was the damage there?

Or are we picturing a cleaned-up admissions process where only the boys are there purely on academic merit?

Why the quotes around left-wing?

He cannot acknowledge common knowledge. What is the function of intellectuals, but to tell us that things are not as ordinary people perceive them?

Best Tyler column ever.

Legacy preferences are an inconsequential issue.

Here's a suggestion about how to handle private higher education.

1. Stop the subsidies. That includes the federally-guaranteed loans.

2. Compel any institution which recruits across state lines to issue audited statements on the stock and flow of the demographic segments among their students, faculty, administration, and staff. In particular to disclose the mean and standard deviation of the board and achievement test scores of each segment of their student body. Prosecute the corporation and specific officials therein if they lie.

3. End the applicability of anti-discrimination law to said institutions. Allow them to hire and fire who they care to and to admit and expel who they care to, limited by freely assumed contractual obligations.

4. Require any that recruit across state lines to bill their students according to a stereotyped format, limiting mandatory charges to tuition and room-and-board.

5. Insist that corporate governance of any institution which recruits students or faculty across state lines take a stereotyped form. If the state government won't provide for that format in law, tough.

6. Require any institution which recruits across state lines to use a controlled vocabulary to describe instructional programs.

7. Have a global limit on the issuance of temporary residency visas for students, teachers and their dependents. The limit would be derived from the number of temporary residents verified to have left the country during the previous half-dozen years less the mean number of diplomatic and refugee visas issued in that time. The visas would be distributed by multiple price auction and institutions would put un-used time up for auction on a secondary market (and buy as well as sell time on that market). (This provision would apply to public and private institutions alike).

All this ink being spilled on Hardvard is getting a little tiresome. I enjoyed the one time an MR link was about Arizona State. Could we occasionally take a close look at, like, UTEP, Middle Tennessee State or Texas Tech? Schools where normal people go?

I find UTEP very interesting and would go there if I could do it all over again. And you can't talk about UTEP without talking about Bhutan.

That is a fascinating relationship. I actually had to interview a couple of Bhutanese exchange students once, here in NY. And I am not at all good dealing with unusual accents!

This UTEP slideshow is pretty cool. More colleges should adopt some quirky architectural theme

(Obviously I can't type Harvard correctly because I did go to one of those schools.)

My only question is why has it taken you until 2019 to find out how significant legacies are in admissions to elite colleges? This is not exactly news to anyone in higher ed.

Comments for this post are closed