Opinion | The College Admissions Process: No Easy Answers

To the Editor:

Re “Let’s Smash the College Admission Process,” by David Brooks (column, June 2):

Mr. Brooks is right to call for the elimination of legacy and wealth preferences in college admissions. Unfortunately the educated elites will fight this change tooth and nail.

Unlike affirmative action, eliminating these preferences cuts to the very core of their huge advantage in the admissions process. I thank Mr. Brooks for his clarion call to change but can only be pessimistic about its chances.

Daniel Gonneau
Rockland, Maine

To the Editor:

David Brooks wisely suggests that selective colleges and universities should be considering alternatives to the current college admissions process. What’s missing in the column, however, is the major constraint: the need to commit significantly more resources to need-based financial aid.

Affirmative action admissions policies have been needed only because these well-resourced colleges and universities relied on admissions criteria that privilege high-income white applicants and disadvantage talented lower-income students, including many students of color.

Instead of treating a seat at one of these institutions as something that applicants have earned and are entitled to, admissions should be based on expectations of future benefits to society from educating talented students from all backgrounds, evaluating them on what they have accomplished given their backgrounds and the opportunities available to them. This would better justify the large public subsidies that these institutions receive.

But lower-income students need more financial aid to attend, and every dollar spent on aid can’t be spent on other things valued by faculty, administrators and students who don’t need financial aid. Many of these selective schools currently actually reject talented students based solely on this financial need.

To create incentives for alternatives, access to those large public subsidies should be contingent on colleges and universities serving talented students from all backgrounds, with talent measured by applicants’ potential to contribute to the public good, not by accomplishments at age 18 made possible by their families’ wealth.

Catharine B. Hill
New York
The writer, president emerita of Vassar College, is managing director of Ithaka S + R, which offers strategic advice for academic and cultural institutions.

To the Editor:

David Brooks tries to bolster his argument by quoting the organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who wrote: “Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years.”

I am a scientist, and I want to comment about this statement as it pertains to STEM. For most of the last 28 years I have hosted four to five undergraduates per year who have done basic research in my laboratory. Some have been visitors from other universities and some have been from my institution. I have noticed that most of my most highly successful former students were, in fact, those who were academically at the top. I strongly suspect the same is true for many students in STEM fields.

We are in urgent need of excellent students to solve pressing problems. Mr. Brooks does a disservice to these students and society by dismissing the relationship between subject mastery (evidenced by top grades) and the future potential of these students to be important contributors.

Jean Greenberg
The writer is a professor of molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago.

To the Editor:

The exclusionary divide David Brooks laments from the college status/admissions syndrome is likewise revealed by the obsession that its pursuit commands.

Families give it far more attention than they accord to other important life events and decisions. It contributes to the proliferation of student cheating, suspect donations and even explicit bribery. Attending or graduating from an elite college is no longer deserving of a presumption of distinctive achievement — if ever it was.

Edward Abahoonie
Sparkill, N.Y.

To the Editor:

David Brooks wants to smash the college admissions process because it favors the rich.

He seems to favor giving preference to students whose families are economically underprivileged. This would serve only to shuffle the tiny percentage of people going to “top” schools. The actual societal impact would be nearly zero.

Solutions to the real problems are more challenging. First, make sure that all Americans have access to quality high school educations. Second, make sure that state universities can offer quality university educations to our now well-prepared students. Finally, make university education financially accessible. If these things happened we wouldn’t have to worry about how few people go to Ivy League schools.

Robert Carlson
Colorado Springs
The writer is emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

To the Editor:

Re “Kyiv Walks Fine Line as Fighters Embrace Use of Nazi Symbols” (news article, June 6):

We jail murderers of unsavory victims, not because we love such victims, but because we hate murder. Same with aiding Ukraine, its unsavory elements notwithstanding. The right to be free from aggressive war, like the right to be free from murder, is universal.

Kuwait in 1990-91 was not a model democracy; that didn’t stop a wide coalition from aiding it against Iraqi invaders.

There is a time for nuance, and there is a time for bright lines — like the line against wars of conquest.

Ilya Shlyakhter
Belmont, Mass.

To the Editor:

Re “Tennessee Anti-Drag Law Is Ruled Unconstitutional” (news article, June 4):

We applaud this ruling by a federal judge in Memphis. If we must live with the Supreme Court’s judgment that corporations are persons and that corporate money is the equivalent of speech, then certainly a giant audacious wig and lots of makeup on a performer should also qualify as speech, even before they sing or joke or read from a book.

Martha Goetsch
Linda Besant
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

I find it interesting that throughout all the coverage of the debt ceiling little has been said about corporate welfare. Why are politicians debating food assistance to vulnerable Americans without mentioning the billions handed over to huge companies every year?

A 2016 study found that repealing tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies would save the U.S. about $39 billion over 10 years. Billions more in subsidies go to pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers, agribusiness and more. Ending tax loopholes and subsidies would bring in much-needed revenue, help pay off debts and make our society more equal.

While corporations claim that the subsidies enable them to create jobs, in reality corporate welfare primarily benefits C.E.O.s and shareholders. Congress plays along, allowing the rich to grow richer off the backs of ordinary people.

Rather than playing political games with Americans’ ability to meet their basic needs, let us solve our problems by reclaiming our money to put it where it is needed.

Rebecca Siegel
Brevig Mission, Alaska



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