daniel golden column

Here’s my column from today’s paper, on the unfair advantages children of the rich and famous get in college admissions:

For instance, at Harvard the admissions rate for legacies is four times the rate for the hoi polloi. Is it because those kids are unusually smart? Nope – they actually have lower average SAT scores than other admitted students…

[Author Daniel Golden] shows how Al Gore’s son earned a questionable admission to Harvard, and how presidential niece Lauren Bush got into Princeton despite below-average SAT scores, mediocre grades at her Houston prep school and not bothering to apply until a month after the deadline. I’d like to see a working-class kid from South Dallas try that trick…

Mr. Golden writes about how, beginning in the 1970s, Duke – which comes out of this book looking awful – targeted the wealthy parents of Dallas prep schools because the university was looking for rich families to turn into donors, no matter how mediocre their kids’ academic records were. “We really worked Dallas,” a former Duke associate director of admissions told Mr. Golden. It was all part of Duke’s hunt for members of the “socioeconomically high-end.”

It’s also easily the most personal column I’ve written. (Not that there’s much competition for that title.)
Golden’s book, titled The Price of Admission, is really quite terrific. I say that as a reader, but even more so as a journalist — it’s remarkable how much he gets people to open up about some fairly nefarious things. (I guess they don’t give Pulitzers to people who can’t report.)
In case you think Golden can do this sort of reporting because he’s “of the rich” — what you might call the Dominick Dunne Theory of Reporting on the Aristocracy — it ain’t so. I’ve met him a number of times, and he’s kinda schlubby.

4 thoughts on “daniel golden column”

  1. I remember a couple of girls from my school days who were just as you describe, the prep-school kids with B-minus minds who coasted to an Ivy on the family name. This is thought-provoking work, JB, one of my favorite things that you have written.

  2. I was always astounded, classmate, at how stupid some of the athletes were. Wild generalization! But it’s true. Most athletes were as smart as everyone else. But there were more than a handful that I was just staggered by how they got in through the athletic departments ability to tag them through the admissions process.
    I do disagree with you about giving back to the institution. Since I attended starting, I think, seven years earlier than you, my four years cost about $80,000. My grandfather had stuck $1,000 away in 1970 that he managed to turn into $25,000 by the time I hit college. Yale gave me about $35,000, I had $15,000 in loans, and the rest was family contribution (books and travel, mostly). I would get a cheap plane ticket home to Oregon for spring break and work solidly for two weeks. I worked term time and every summer.
    And I do feel Yale deserves something back from me for the trust it put in me that I’d get through it. The institution is dysfunctional, like, I’m afraid, every institution of any kind that persists over time. And I don’t feel the need to dollar-for-dollar, adjusted for inflation, to repay the grants. However, I got a lot out of Yale, and giving something back — despite the legacies, who don’t typically get any grant money or benefit except generally as all students do from Yale’s endowment — makes me feel like I’m returning that trust.

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