An expansion of Golden’s series of Pulitzer Prize–winning Wall Street Journal articles on college admissions practices.
Golden, deputy bureau chief at the Journal’s Boston bureau, names names and cites test scores with a vengeance, starting with Al Gore’s and Bill Frist’s sons. He loads each chapter in his easy-reading exposé with choice examples to bear out his assertion that elite universities give preference to well-connected but academically weak applicants. The first five chapters focus on a particular preferential practice at a top-tier private college or university. Thus, Chapter 1 documents how Harvard rewards its big donors by giving the nod to their children and grandchildren; Chapter 2 looks at Duke’s search for and special treatment of the children of prospective donors; Chapter 3 considers Brown’s pursuit of the children of celebrities, such as Michael Ovitz’s son and other Hollywood offspring; and Chapter 4 reveals Notre Dame’s preference for “legacies,” or the children of alumni. At the University of Virginia, the practice of recruiting athletes in such upper-class, prestigious sports as polo, riding and squash comes under scrutiny. Further, Golden questions the practice at many schools of the granting of tax-free tuition waivers to faculty children, and he charges that nonacademic admissions criteria once used to restrict Jewish enrollments are now being used to do the same to high-performing Asian-Americans. He praises Caltech, Cooper Union and Berea College for their selection of students based on academic merit, arguing that these private schools present an alternative admissions-system model that does not jeopardize the ability to build endowments. In his final chapter, the author presents the reforms he believes are necessary to eliminate the preferences of privilege and restore the opportunities for upward social mobility to academically qualified working-class and middle-class students.
While the fact that the rich and famous are treated differently is hardly news, this report’s abundance of juicy stories of outrageous favoritism makes for an absorbing read.