The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton

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9780618773558: The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton

A landmark, revelatory history of admissions from 1900 to today—and how it shaped a nation

The competition for a spot in the Ivy League—widely considered the ticket to success—is fierce and getting fiercer. But the admissions policies of elite universities have long been both tightly controlled and shrouded in secrecy. In The Chosen, the Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel lifts the veil on a century of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. How did the policies of our elite schools evolve? Whom have they let in and why? And what do those policies say about America?

A grand narrative brimming with insights, The Chosen provides a lens through which to examine some of the main events and movements of America in the twentieth century—from immigration restriction and the Great Depression to the dropping of the atomic bomb and the launching of Sputnik, from the Cold War to the triumph of the market ethos.

Many of Karabel’s findings are astonishing: the admission of blacks into the Ivy League wasn’t an idealistic response to the civil rights movement but a fearful reaction to inner-city riots; Yale and Princeton decided to accept women only after realizing that they were losing men to colleges (such as Harvard and Stanford) that had begun accepting “the second sex”; Harvard had a systematic quota on “intellectuals” until quite recently; and discrimination against Asian Americans in the 1980s mirrored the treatment of Jews earlier in the century.

Drawing on decades of meticulous research, Karabel shines a light on the ever-changing definition of “merit” in college admissions, showing how it shaped—and was shaped by—the country at large. Full of colorful characters, from FDR and Woodrow Wilson to Kingman Brewster and Archibald Cox, The Chosen charts the century-long battle over opportunity—and offers a new and deeply original perspective on American history.

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About the Author:

JEROME KARABEL is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow of the Longview Institute, a new progressive think tank. An award-winning scholar, Karabel has appeared on Nightline, Today, and All Things Considered. He has written for the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, the Nation, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
Elite Education and the Protestant Ethos

On a clear fall morning in late September of 1900, a lanky young man with
patrician features and pince-nez glasses stood among the more than five
hundred freshmen gathered to register at Harvard. Though neither a brilliant
scholar nor a talented athlete, the young man had a certain charisma about
him — a classmate later described him as "gray-eyed, cool, self-possessed,
intelligent . . . [with] the warmest, most friendly, and understanding smile."1
The freshman had been given a strong recommendation from his Latin
teacher, who described him as "a fellow of exceptional ability and high
character" who "hopes to go into public life."2 His name was Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, and in 1933 he became the fourth graduate of Harvard College to
serve as president of the United States.
Franklin's acceptance at Harvard had been taken for granted.
Having attended Groton, the most socially elite of America's boarding
schools, he was sure to be admitted to Harvard; in 1900, 18 of his Groton
classmates (out of a class of just 23) joined him in Cambridge.3 There the
Groton boys — along with their peers from St. Paul's, St. Mark's, Milton, and
other leading private schools — dominated the upper reaches of campus life.
Even then, however, the children of the elite did not constitute the
entire freshman class. Harvard, far more than Yale and especially Princeton,
took pride in the diversity of its student body. In his address to new students,
President Charles W. Eliot denounced as a "common error" the supposition
that "the men of the University live in rooms the walls of which are covered
with embossed leather." The truth, Eliot insisted, was quite the contrary: "the
majority are of moderate means; and it is this diversity of condition that
makes the experience of meeting men here so valuable."4
Though Eliot was downplaying the heavy representation of children
of privilege at Harvard, there was in fact a surprising degree of heterogeneity
among the students. More than 40 percent of Roosevelt's freshman class
came from public schools, and many were the children of immigrants.5 And
of Harvard's leading feeder schools, the top position in 1900 was occupied
not by Groton or St. Paul's (18 students) but by Boston Latin (38 students),
a public institution that had long since lost its cachet as a school for the
sons of Boston Brahmins.6
Yet the Harvard attended by public school boys was separated
from the Harvard of Roosevelt and his friends by a vast social chasm. Its
physical symbol was the divide between Mount Auburn Street's
luxurious "Gold Coast, where the patrician students lived," and the shabby
dormitories of Harvard Yard, some of which lacked central heating and
plumbing above the basement, where the more plebeian students stayed.7
Roosevelt was, by birth, a natural member of the Mount Auburn group; even
before he enrolled at Harvard, he visited Cambridge with his future roommate,
Lathrop Brown, to select a suitable spot on the Gold Coast. Their choice was
Westmorly Court (now part of Adams House), an elegant structure that
provided the young men with a high-ceilinged suite complete with two
bedrooms, a sitting room, an entrance hall, and a bath.8
As the scion of a prominent family with long Harvard ties — his
father, James, had graduated from Harvard Law School in 1851, and his
distant cousin Theodore, then running for vice president of the United States,
graduated from the college in 1880 — Roosevelt fit smoothly into the Gold
Coast atmosphere. Though he had pledged to make a "a large acquaintance"
at Harvard, young Franklin remained firmly within his milieu of origin. Taking
his daily meals at an all-Groton table in a private dining hall, he spent many
of his evenings at Sanborn's billiard and tobacco parlor, where he could
meet "most of the Groton, St. M[ark's], St. Paul's and Pomfret fellows. "He
was also a regular on the Boston social circuit, attending teas, dinners, and
debutante parties.9
Though Roosevelt's distinguished lineage guaranteed him a
certain social success, it did not free him from the need to compete for a
place in Harvard's rich and highly stratified extracurricular life — a realm of
energetic activity that occupied a far more central place in the lives of most
students than their studies. Occupying the apex of the extracurriculum at
turn-of-the-century Harvard was football, and Roosevelt dutifully went out for
the team. He was joined by 142 other students — well over a quarter of the
entering class.10 Trying out for the position of end, he stood 6'1" but weighed
just 146 pounds. On October 13, 1900, Roosevelt — who had been a
mediocre, if eager, football player at Groton — was notified that he had failed
to make the team.11
Within days of being cut, Roosevelt decided to try his hand at
another prestigious activity — the Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper. On
October 19, he wrote to his parents, informing them that he was trying out for
the newspaper and expressing the hope that "if I work hard for two years I
may be made an editor."12 But at the Crimson, as in football, he did not
survive the fierce competition; vying for a slot among 86 candidates, he was
passed over when the first crop of freshman was selected in February.13
Yet Roosevelt persisted in his efforts to make the paper, scoring a
coup in April when his cousin Theodore, by then the vice president, visited
Cambridge and told him that he would be lecturing the following morning in
Professor Lowell's class in constitutional government. Franklin broke the
story in the Crimson, and the following morning a crowd of 2,000 was milling
about in front of Sanders Theatre, trying to attend the lecture. From this point
on, Roosevelt's star began to rise, and in the autumn of 1902, he became the
Crimson's assistant managing editor.14
As Roosevelt advanced at the Crimson, his success owed more
to his doggedness than his journalistic talent, for he was an unremarkable
writer. His family name was perhaps his greatest asset; in September 1901,
after the assassination of William McKinley, Cousin Teddy became president
of the United States. In Franklin's February 1903 campaign for managing
editor (a position that led automatically to the presidency), a poster
read: "For Managing Editor — Cousin Frank — the Fairest of the Roosevelts."
Roosevelt won the election, ultimately serving as president of the Crimson
from June to December of 1903.15
The Crimson valued hard work and talent, yet some of the same
social cleavages that divided the campus were nevertheless visible.
Remembering his days on the newspaper, Roosevelt's classmate Walter E.
Sachs, later of the Goldman Sachs investment firm, recalled that he lived in a
very different world from Roosevelt's. Whereas FDR ate at the Groton table
on the Gold Coast and went to fashionable parties in Boston, Sachs and his
friends lived in the Yard and ate cheap and disagreeable food at table 30 in
Memorial Hall, which served 21 meals a week for $4.25.16
Yet Roosevelt got along with his fellow students on the Crimson.
Though hardly a crusading president (he devoted his editorial energies to
such issues as the deficiencies of the football team and the need for wider
walkways in the Yard), he revealed a talent as a leader. Recalling that
Roosevelt "liked people . . . and made them instinctively like him," his
classmate and successor as Crimson president, Walter Russell Bowie,
observed that "in his geniality was a kind of frictionless command."17
Though the Crimson presidency was a prestigious position, the
pinnacle of social success at Harvard resided in membership in the
Porcellian, the oldest and most exclusive of the "final clubs." On the face of
it, Roosevelt seemed a perfect candidate — his father had been named an
honorary member of Porcellian, and Cousin Theodore had also belonged.
Roosevelt had also attended the right boarding school; of the sixteen juniors
and seniors in Porcellian, five were Groton alumni.18
The Porcellian stood at the summit of Harvard's elaborate and
rigid social hierarchy, which began to sort students from the moment the new
freshmen arrived in Cambridge. By sophomore year, the class was officially
divided into the social elect and the outsiders by the venerable Institute of
1770, which identified the one hundred members of the class most fit
for "society." Elections were organized into groups of ten, with the first group
chosen by the previous class, the "first ten" choosing the second, and so on
until the tenth and final group had been selected. So exalted was election to
the Institute that the Boston newspapers and the Crimson published the
names of the students in the precise order in which they were admitted, a
practice that continued through 1904.19
Roosevelt, however, was bypassed not only by the "first ten" but
also by the four groups that followed. In late November, his roommate Lathrop
Brown was chosen, and Roosevelt was in a state of intense anxiety. Finally,
on January 9, 1902, he received word that he had been picked as "the first
man among the 6th ten."20 His election, albeit late, would give him automatic
entrance to Delta Kappa Epsilon (also known as DKE or "the Dickey"), a
secret fraternity that required its members to undergo arduous initiation rites
that have been aptly described ...

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Book Description Mariner Books, United States, 2006. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. A landmark, revelatory history of admissions from 1900 to today and how it shaped a nation The competition for a spot in the Ivy League widely considered the ticket to success is fierce and getting fiercer. But the admissions policies of elite universities have long been both tightly controlled and shrouded in secrecy. In The Chosen, the Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel lifts the veil on a century of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. How did the policies of our elite schools evolve? Whom have they let in and why? And what do those policies say about America? A grand narrative brimming with insights, The Chosen provides a lens through which to examine some of the main events and movements of America in the twentieth century from immigration restriction and the Great Depression to the dropping of the atomic bomb and the launching of Sputnik, from the Cold War to the triumph of the market ethos. Many of Karabel s findings are astonishing: the admission of blacks into the Ivy League wasn t an idealistic response to the civil rights movement but a fearful reaction to inner-city riots; Yale and Princeton decided to accept women only after realizing that they were losing men to colleges (such as Harvard and Stanford) that had begun accepting the second sex; Harvard had a systematic quota on intellectuals until quite recently; and discrimination against Asian Americans in the 1980s mirrored the treatment of Jews earlier in the century. Drawing on decades of meticulous research, Karabel shines a light on the ever-changing definition of merit in college admissions, showing how it shaped and was shaped by the country at large. Full of colorful characters, from FDR and Woodrow Wilson to Kingman Brewster and Archibald Cox, The Chosen charts the century-long battle over opportunity and offers a new and deeply original perspective on American history. Bookseller Inventory # APC9780618773558

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Book Description Mariner Books, United States, 2006. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.A landmark, revelatory history of admissions from 1900 to today and how it shaped a nation The competition for a spot in the Ivy League widely considered the ticket to success is fierce and getting fiercer. But the admissions policies of elite universities have long been both tightly controlled and shrouded in secrecy. In The Chosen, the Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel lifts the veil on a century of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. How did the policies of our elite schools evolve? Whom have they let in and why? And what do those policies say about America? A grand narrative brimming with insights, The Chosen provides a lens through which to examine some of the main events and movements of America in the twentieth century from immigration restriction and the Great Depression to the dropping of the atomic bomb and the launching of Sputnik, from the Cold War to the triumph of the market ethos. Many of Karabel s findings are astonishing: the admission of blacks into the Ivy League wasn t an idealistic response to the civil rights movement but a fearful reaction to inner-city riots; Yale and Princeton decided to accept women only after realizing that they were losing men to colleges (such as Harvard and Stanford) that had begun accepting the second sex; Harvard had a systematic quota on intellectuals until quite recently; and discrimination against Asian Americans in the 1980s mirrored the treatment of Jews earlier in the century. Drawing on decades of meticulous research, Karabel shines a light on the ever-changing definition of merit in college admissions, showing how it shaped and was shaped by the country at large. Full of colorful characters, from FDR and Woodrow Wilson to Kingman Brewster and Archibald Cox, The Chosen charts the century-long battle over opportunity and offers a new and deeply original perspective on American history. Bookseller Inventory # APC9780618773558

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