How the ruling class reproduces itself, with the involuntary help of taxpayers
by Thomas Lifson
This is a huge scandal that will not get the attention it deserves. The Washington Post’s T. Rees Shapiro reports:
The University of Virginia’s fundraising team for years has sought to help children of wealthy alumni and prominent donors who apply for admission, flagging their cases internally for special handling, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The records from the U-Va. advancement office, which oversees fundraising for the prestigious public flagship, reveal nearly a decade of efforts to monitor admission bids and in some cases assist those in jeopardy of rejection.
U-Va. denies that the advancement office held any sway over admissions decisions. But the documents show the office kept meticulous notes on the status of certain VIP applicants and steps taken on their behalf.
Within U-Va., the records were known as an annual “watch list.” They provide a case study of what is regarded as an open secret in higher education: that schools do pay attention when an applicant’s family has given them money — or might in the future.
The 2011 list, for example, shows that one hopeful was initially marked as denied. Then an advancement officer scribbled a handwritten note on the tracking file: “$500k.” A typed notation said “must be on WL,” for wait list. A final handwritten note urged, “if at all possible A,” for accepted. The final decision on the applicant was not shown.
Statue of Thomas Jefferson at the university he founded
The University of Virginia is owned and funded by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia. They are subsidizing an institution that discriminates against the children of non-wealthy and non-influential taxpayers in order to hand out a highly-prized ticket into an elite college.
This is part of the deep rot within American higher education, which has assumed a critical role in keeping the ruling class comfortably in power, and keeping the “wrong” people away from access to opportunities to join the higher echelons of society. The reason why so many families are willing to go deeply in debt to finance college for their children (4 years at a private university easily costs more than a quarter million dollars) is that college plays the major role in sorting out people and justifying privilege through the concept of “meritocracy.”
The theory is that people who graduate from elite institutions are deserving of a rise to the top because they were meritocractically selected and performed well in elite schools. This is a critical ideological support for the privileges and power enjoyed by those at the top. In practice, bringing together the children of the elite for four critical years as adult patterns of behavior are forming allows what Charles Murray (whose speeches on campus are frequently disrupted) calls “assortive mating” – children of the elite meeting, marrying and producing progeny that have every advantage in the next generation going forward.
U-Va, along with a few other state-supported universities like Berkeley, UCLA, and the University of Michigan, are considered tickets into the elite, only at bargain rates if one happens to be a state resident, because admission is so competitive. Putting a thumb on the scale to favor the wealthy (who already could afford full fare at a private school) denies opportunities to equally or more qualified children of the non-elites. Especially the Caucasians and Asians among them, since black and Hispanic and other designated victim minority applicants receive their own affirmative action thumbs on the scale.
At least when a private university like Harvard discriminates against non-ruling class applicants, they are not abusing taxpayers (except, of course for the tax exemption they receive for their enormous endowments. The old joke in Cambridge, Massachusetts is that Harvard is a hedge fund that maintains an educational subsidiary.) Ed Lasky points out:
The endowments of these universities are huge but very little of those funds are used to lower tuition (let alone stop the inexorable rise of special – and mandatory — fees that administrators impose on students and their families). Yet at the same time the hypocrites decry inequality levels in America, while exacerbating them through favoring the wealthy at one of the institutions that are supposed to provide opportunities to climb the ladder.
They also employ algorithms to determine the minimum of financial aid to offer applicants that maximize what parents will be willing to borrow and pay to provide more funding for these “non-profit” colleges and universities. They often hire the same teams that airlines use to squeeze every dollar they can when pricing seats.
This is the dirty little secret of colleges. what a racket.
Higher education is arguably the biggest business in America. It is certainly the bigest expense for families with children, other than a house (a capital asset that can be sold). Educators pretend that they are morally superior to big business, but in fact they are every bit as profit-maximizing as Goldman Sachs, except that they pretend they heve no profits. They spend the profits not socked into the endowment on themselves, in the form of tenure, sabbaticals, mmanicured campuses, etc.
Richard Baehr points out:
The big state universities have started favoring out-of-state and foreign applicants, supposedly because they add to prestige (geographic diversity, national and international appeal), but in reality these students pay full tuition. As some states have cut back funding, state schools have become less open to residents of those states.
It is resource-maximimizing (profit, when businesses do it) behavior, serving the ubiversities, not those who pay the taxes.
The media have not been able to help themselves reporting on Jared Kushner’s admission to Harvard, noting that his father made a strategic
donation i nvestment pledge of $2.5 million before the acceptance letter came. Evidently, delegitimizing the ruling class’s privilege is acceptable when a rogue (non-liberal) member creates trouble for the class as a whole.
It would be comparatively simple to re-do college admissions so as to operate on strictly meritocratic lines, with test scores and grades determining admission. The problem with that is that the “wrong” people (too many Asians and Jews and not enough designated victim minorities) would gain access to the escalator into the ruling class. That is exactly what happened when California voters passed an initiative outlawing racial consrations in admissions, with Berkeley and UCLA undergraduates now more than 50% Asians.
TLB recommends a visit to American Thinker for other great articles.
About the author Thomas Lifson