February 11, 2007

How the college prestige racket works

Here's my new VDARE.com column:


Dr. Faust at Harvard
By Steve Sailer

In January 2005, mistaking a feminist pep rally for a serious academic conference, Harvard President Lawrence Summers, the former Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary, committed a notorious "gaffe" (i.e. he told an unpopular truth).

Summers was no doubt expected to lay on the sonorous soft soap demanded from such an august personage about how we must all redouble our efforts to overcome the persistent plague of discrimination. Instead, Summers, a brilliant but socially maladroit economist, offered a sophisticated data-driven analysis of why women are fairly rare on the science, engineering, and mathematics faculties of Ivy League colleges …

Desperately trying to keep his job, Summers quickly appointed female historian Drew Gilpin Faust, head of Harvard's Radcliffe Institute For Advanced Study, to lead Harvard's Task Forces on Women Faculty and on Women in Science and Engineering. …

Dr. Faust brought back a $50 million wish list of payoffs to feminist interests, which the beleaguered Summers immediately agreed to fund. Hey, the money wasn't coming out of Larry's pocket, so why not?

Despite his craven surrender to Dr. Faust's demands, it didn't save him. Last year, Summers resigned under pressure from the faculty. …

So whom did Harvard pick last week as its new President? A prophetic clue appeared back in January 2005 in the Harvard Crimson: "Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust said Friday that the fallout from University President Lawrence H. Summers’ remarks on females in science had generated 'a moment of enormous possibility' for the advancement of women at Harvard."

Yes—Larry's little miscue has indeed proven "a moment of enormous possibility" for women at Harvard, such as, oh, to pick a totally random example, Dr. Faust herself…who has just been named the new President of Harvard University!

Apparently shaking down the last president for $50 million can help you build your political base for becoming the next president…

You might wonder: how Harvard can risk its reputation by dumping a social scientist for telling the truth and appointing a self-serving feminist apparatchik in his place?

Don't be silly. Colleges are among the least competitive institutions in this country. Their reputations are almost foolproof.

If you want to understand status and power in modern America, you need to grasp how the college prestige game works. …

The point of getting into Harvard is to be able to say you got into Harvard. … In effect, Harvard is hard to get into because everybody knows it's hard to get into. So, no matter what embarrassments happen on campus, it will remain hard to get into for, roughly, ever. [More]


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

39 comments:

SFG said...

"IQ upper class?" Yeah, that's why they kept the Jews out in 1920 and why they're keeping Asian numbers down now.

Harvard sells prestige. Smart people are a part of this, but only a part. The rich want to be with their own kind, so you can (indirectly) buy your way in by donating money. And the whole bit about sports and club leadership? They're looking for personality too.

It's more than just IQ, and too high an IQ can be detrimental.

Anonymous said...

Oh c'mon Steve. Isn't that the kind of behavior that you'd expect from a 'Doctor Faust'?

Dave

Steve Sailer said...

Right, between two applicants with 1500 SAT scores, they'll pick the high school football player every time because football players are more likely to go to Wall Street and make a lot of money and donate to Harvard.

But 97% of the population has no chance to be considered at all.

Gaurav Ahuja said...

Your articles always seem to peak my interest, Mr. Sailer. Thank you for writing about such controversial and being steadfastly courageous.

Anonymous said...

re: 96% graduation rate. I remember looking at a college ranking system and finding it ludicrous that they counted a high graduation rate as a positive!

Meanwhile my high end private school (Carnegie Mellon) was grade inflating much less than its peers and betters and was dinged for a crappy grad rate of 75%.

I don't remember if MIT and Caltech (high end engineering centric schools as opposed to liberal arts) had the same "problem".

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, you don't really learn a whole lot of important stuff in college anyways, especially if you're in a humanities major, but even in a lot of quantitative majors. So it's not a huge loss. They can try to brainwash you into Marxism for four years, but you're still probably going to have to get a job at some point, and then you'll learn.

Editor Theorist said...

I agree that the new Harvard Presidential appointment is mediocre. I also suggest that it will probably increase the objective evidence of relative decline of Harvard as a top-level scientific research institution - http://modernizationimperative.blogspot.com

I believe that - over the long term - a university's international reputation depends on its scientific reputation, and that Harvards reputation will therefore decline.

Harvard's great strength is in its graduate schools - probably it has the best set of graduate schools (medicine, law, business etc) of any university. But there are better (smaller) colleges for undergraduate education (eg the best liberal arts colleges), and there are better colleges for top-level science (MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Princeton, Chicago, Columbia).

This is normal in modern societies - specialization improves perfomance, and you can't be the best at everything.

Contrary to Steve's comments, there is real competition in US higher education - with winners and losers. Places go up and down (eg. Columbia was up, went down after the sixties debacle, and is again up very high). Places like UCSF and University of Washington, Seattle are now among the world elite medical research centers, but this is new.

But academic reputations change on a timescale of decades or generations, so we may not notice it for quite a while. And the public are the last to know. But even among the public, Yale's reputation has declined - who would now rank it second among US universities? Surely that would have to be Stanford now?

I believe Harvard will continue to decline due to appointing Faust, and I also believe that its reputation will decline. And once its reputation has declined, it will take decades to rebuild.

Steve Sailer said...

There is certainly more direct competition among graduate schools because the outputs are more easily compared. Undergraduate education, however, is much harder to develop an intelligent opinion about, if only because the experience varies so much for each student. Some of my roommates in college never took a course that I took in our four years. Moreover, very few people transfer from one top college to another, so there aren't many people at all who have experienced, say, both Harvard and Yale as undergraduates.

That doesn't mean the problem is hopeless. I recently discovered that the College Board provides SAT data to every high school. (On VDARE.com, I analyzed SAT scores for every public high school in Los Angeles County.) I imagine it does the same for every college for GRE, LSAT, GMAT, and so forth. Participation rates would be different for each college and each test, but a sophisticated analyst could adjust for that, then compare to the SAT scores of incoming freshmen at each college, and rank them on value added.

David Hume said...

Harvard's reputation has been declining for at least ten years. It is now a by-word for grade inflation and less than stellar faculty. The Summers' Affair has merely spread word of this decline to anyone who cares to know. The momentum downhill will continue for decades, perhaps until it reaches the current level of Yale.

Editor Theorist said...

Re Steve Sailer's comments about the difficulty of evaluating undergraduate education.

Yes you are correct. I think the proposal you describe for statistical comparisons would also be very worthwhile. Another angle was taken by Thomas Sowell in comparing the proportion of college graduates which went on to graduate school - www.leaderu.com/alumni/sowell-choosing/toc.html - this analysis picks out the excellence of some of the small, intense liberal arts colleges such as Harvey Mudd, and smaller research universities such as Chicago.

Another approach to evaluating college is to look at the staff student ratio and class sizes, and the proportion of classes which are taught by professors (rather than teaching assistants). Again this favours the best liberal arts colleges over big research universities.

A further analysis is the 'moneyball' approach (referring to Michael Lewis's genius book). This is taken by Marty Nemko on his web pages. The moneyball approach would factor in the amount of money you have to pay for education, and look at how best to spend the money to get the best outcome.

Moneyball uses an arbitrage approach to avoid paying for currently overvalued colleges (eg large, third tier research universities) and build on currently undervalued colleges (which you find by analyzing statistics such as those above). You don't try to buy 'the best', you try to buy the best value - which enables you to pay for more education and reach a higher level.

Superdestroyer said...

Steve,

If you look at the Princeton Review for colleges, there is any interesting data point that you are overlooking. The Princeton Review reports the top three declared majors for most universities. I am amazed that when you look up every Ivy league or Ivy like the same three majors are at the top: Economics, Political Science, and Psychology.

Remember, that Chelsea Clinton majored in history after discovering that organic chemistry at Stanford in a lecture hall full of asian students was much harder than her high school class at Sidwell Friends.

If you look at the Duke lacrosse team, they were virtually all Economics majors. I doubt that anyone who

I wonder if people would look at the Ivy's differently if they knew that there degree will probably be worthless unless they go to graduate school/Professional School. I guess that is why when I read the graduation annoucements in Chevy Chase, Md or Langly, Virginia that every prep school, Ivy League graduate is either going to Law School, B School, or graduate school in International Studies.

Anonymous said...

I agree, and I'll relate one thing that always struck me about my college (Stanford): They never checked for ID at lectures. So it would be possible -- even easy -- to get a Stanford education for free simply by attending classes and doing the assignments. Heck, they probably would even grade your exam if you submitted one.

Why doesn't Stanford check for ID at lectures? Because they aren't selling the education, they are selling you the right to claim you were admitted to Stanford.

tggp said...

Speaking of attending class for free, I go the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in the last semester my partner in one of my programming courses had been unable to pay for even her previous semester, and as a result was unregistered, but the T.As and so on were willing to ignore that on the assumption that it would all get sorted out before the end of the course. She ended up dropping the half-semester quantum mechanics course we were both enrolled in after having completed everything except the final exam, and went for a good while longer in other courses before dropping out completely. If education was especially valuable in its own right there'd be a lot more people free-riding, but the relative lack of people doing so indicates it primarily has signalling value.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if people would look at the Ivy's differently if they knew that there degree will probably be worthless unless they go to graduate school/Professional School."

A degree from an Ivy can open doors that would be closed otherwise. For instance, an econ degree from an Ivy can get you a job on Wall Street, whereas, an econ degree from a local State U will probably get you nowhere.

However, I do agree with you that some of the degrees that are popular at Ivy's are pretty useless unless you go to grad school.

Anonymous said...

"If education was especially valuable in its own right there'd be a lot more people free-riding, but the relative lack of people doing so indicates it primarily has signalling value."

This is true. Most professors at large universities don't check (and probably don't care) if you go to class. Someone who is not a registered student could easily sit through all of the lectures if he or she wanted to. The fact that a lot of people don't do this is telling.

So, you are right. A degree from a university mostly acts as a signal.

Rosie MacDonalds said...

Notice the "feminist" Dr. (Catharine) Drew Faust is so proud to be a high ranking woman that she takes a man's name. Kind of like successful black men marrying white women.

Why do women allow lesbians to inaugerate themselves as generals in the crusade for feminism? Oh yes, because public leadership is a male activity...

Half Sigma said...

"They never checked for ID at lectures. So it would be possible -- even easy -- to get a Stanford education for free simply by attending classes and doing the assignments."

While I attended Penn, some guy was actually arrested for doing just this at Penn's law school. He stole several months of free education before he was caught.

Anonymous said...

regarding ivies as status- I see a woman or minority with a degree from there and i automatically think 'affirmative action'
since most get financial aid as well its no longer a wealth symbol either
they are really riding off a reputation that ended around 1960 or so.

Anonymous said...

one positive on Summers was that he was steering the entire university (discretionary endowment funds, undergrad coursework, etc.) in the direction of science. Liberal arts and soft social science faculty insecurities over the elevation of hard science (and its value, relative to their subjects) probably contributed to his downfall.

rob said...

A Harvard education is valuable because everybody wants one,and everybody wants one because because it's so valuable.Its intrinsic value is forgotten as this vicious circle continues, with the logic of a dog chasing its own tail.This reminds me of those speculation crazes like the Dutch tulip craze or the South Sea Bubble.Trouble is,the Harvard bubble looks like it's never going to burst.

Floccina said...

So if you get into Harvard, to save money you CLEP whatever you can pass and then on the classes that you need more knowledge to CLEP, you sit in on the class for the semester and study it and work on it and then you CLEP those too.

Unfortunately most classes cannot be CLEPed. Maybe if you give a sob story to those leftist professors, just kidding.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Another "colleges gets away with abuse" article. If Vdare keeps printing these articles, we will no longer have to read that stupid, shrill, propaganda website FRONTPAGE MAGAZINE.

James Kabala said...

Rosie McDonalds:
Drew Gilpin Faust is married to a man.
I suspect Drew could be a last name in her family heritage (as it is in Drew Barrymore's family). Can anyone who knows more about upper-crust Southern culture tell me if it is common for a woman to have an ignored female first name and a male-sounding middle name that is really a last name that she uses as a first name? Drew Barrymore is not Southern (and Drew is her real first name), but (Catherine) Drew Gilpin Faust is from Virginia, actress (Laura Jeanne) Reese Witherspoon is from Tennessee, and reporter Campbell Brown (who I believe has an unused female first name, but I had a hard time finding it via Google) is from Louisiana. I believe all three come from well-off backgrounds.

joshrandall said...

Drew is married?Ha ha ha! I thought for sure she was...er,-single.:) At least she wont be wasting Harvards dough on getting any of her lesbian lovers a fancy job,like "Vice-President of Multicultural Sensitivity",or something,at 250K! Look for much more discrimination against white men. Oy...

Chief Seattle said...

I graduated from Harvard college 10 years ago. Even then the PC was stifling. There was a group/club for every ethnic/religious/misfit - except regular middle class white males.

And education wise, professors were no where to be seen. Instruction was done by foreign teaching assistants.

F*ck Harvard. If my son is talented in science/math I'll try to get him into one of the top engineering schools. Otherwise, it's going to be a small liberal arts college like Williams.

James Kabala said...

Actually, she has been married to two men, according to the New York Times: her first husband, Stephen Faust, and her current husband, Charles Rosenberg. Her mother was also named Catharine and the article claims "she was always known as Drew," perhsps, although it doesn't say, to distinguish her from her mother.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/12/education/12harvard.html?hp&ex=1171342800&en=e3ba4a73b0dfc617&ei=5094&partner=homepage

Adam said...

Don't worry, friends. The best and brightest like-minds will form virtual online communities and wallow in our own obvious superiority. A comforting thought as we rest on our laurels.

Mal said...

Re. the new, i.e.,latest husband. He's a Jew, she's a Drew.

Anonymous said...

"While I attended Penn, some guy was actually arrested for doing just this at Penn's law school. He stole several months of free education before he was caught."

I'm a little surprised they caught him. In my 3 years of law school, my status as a student wasn't questioned even once in any class, as far as I can remember.

However, my bar review course issued an id card that was checked carefully at each and every lecture. This shows that bar review classes are actually selling education. Nobody puts on their resume that they are a graduate of Bar/BRI. The value of a bar review course is purely in the lectures and/or what they teach you.

DYork said...

When Summers was taken out my replacement prediction was that Harvard would hire someone who was -

1. a female/feminist/possible lesbian

2. a Jew

3. someone with ties to the Clinton administration.

So Gilpin Faust is a female/feminist non-lesbian, married to a Jew who no doubt at least voted for Clinton over Bush/Dole.

Well I was close.

Half Sigma said...

"This shows that bar review classes are actually selling education."

No they're selling test preparation services, not education. A useful service for sure.

Education is worthless, however, without a degree.

Anonymous said...

Been there! At Rutgers I remember an engineering lab TA (Chinese grad student) that lasted only one week before he was replaced due to complaints that nobody could understand him. I couldn't understand a single word he said. I had an Indian linear circuits prof who was hard to understand initially, but after a month or so of classes one's ear "re-calibrated".

Moving on to grad school (engineering) at Stanford I was struck by the lack of any real difference in instruction or course material. The only real difference I noted was it was a lot harder to get "A"s.

The other real difference was the intellectual quality of the people. I remember my off campus roommates over the years at Standford (two from Harvard, one from Wellesley, one from Brown) and acquaintances, mostly grad students, as being much more cosmopolitan, worldly and intellectual, than the people from my undergraduate years and my provincial middle class background. Now looking back after 25 years, with marriage and two kids, it seems even these people seem provincial.

This was all in the late '70s and early '80s. Since my education was/is mostly technical, I think I was spared a lot of the "PC"ness that accompanied many less objective subjects. In my college years I was focused like a laser beam on math,(hard) science and engineering and regarding most everything else as gibberish (that I was occasionally forced to take). Curiously, now that I'm in my late 40's I'm much more interested in non-technical issues such as politics, European history and "Sam Francis", Vdare, Isteve style stuff. It's like a different module of my brain has come online.

-bwb

Rutgers '81 BSEE
Stanford '83 MSEE

Anonymous said...

Floccina said...

So if you get into Harvard, to save money you CLEP whatever you can pass and then on the classes that you need more knowledge to CLEP, you sit in on the class for the semester and study it and work on it and then you CLEP those too.

Unfortunately most classes cannot be CLEPed. Maybe if you give a sob story to those leftist professors, just kidding.

---------------------------------

Sorry, eet don't work that way. Most colleges require you to have paid a minimum amount of tuition, irrespective of having satisfied any academic requirements, before they will confer a degree on you. I remember people at both Rutgers and Stanford, who thru combinations of AP courses, CLEP and taking extra class loads, satisfied their academic requirements "too" early. In both instances I know of the students had to take at least one extra semester to get a degree even though they had satisfied all the official academic requirements.

-bwb

Nibs said...

In my college years I was focused like a laser beam on math,(hard) science and engineering and regarding most everything else as gibberish (that I was occasionally forced to take). Curiously, now that I'm in my late 40's I'm much more interested in non-technical issues such as politics, European history and "Sam Francis", Vdare, Isteve style stuff. It's like a different module of my brain has come online.

In the words of the youthful Bobby Fischer, 'All I ever wanna do, is play chess.' If only...

Riot Nrrd said...

About once a year I go to KU or WSU and walk into class like I belonged there. I take a old Leica or Robot camera and take pictures. I've sent contact sheets to profs with a note and they usually invite me back anytime. But if it was an everyday thing I'm sure I'd be disinvited.

Riot Nrrd said...

Faust is a hell of an ugly broad, too, which is something else no one is talking about.

joshrandall said...

Any day now she may don a diaper and go on a killing rampage...

uofigrad said...

TGGP, I also went to the University of Illinois, and my roommate junior yearone year got kicked out of the engineering program, and subsequently re-enrolled in LAS, but was forced to remain out for a semester. He worked in the evenings as a bartender and during the day that semester would sit in on classes he would later be taking in his new major. Lectures and discussions. I'm not sure if he took tests too. Everyone who says that colleges are in the business of selling you their name for credentials are absolutely right.

Cato said...

I recently read of one survey that measured what college students know about American history and basic civics. On average, the ivy leaguers knew slightly less their senior year than they did as freshmen. This seems to strengthen Steve's point, that it's not what you learn in college that matters, but the fact that you got in, and how well you fared in competition with them. Of course, the competitive factor has a limited shelf life (nobody cares what your GPA was if you've been in the work force for ten, even five years), but having that Ivy credential will almost always move your resume to the top of the stack.

I hear that Japan's academic system has been in similar shape for at least 15 years now. High school kids obsessively bust their tails to get into the best colleges. But, once there, the expectations are pretty low.