Julie R. Posselt, an assistant professor in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan, has written a new book, Inside Graduate Admissions, about what she observed after obtaining permission to sit in during the meetings of the graduate admissions committees of six highly-ranked departments at three research universities and interview some of their members. I haven’t yet read the book, but it sounds interesting.
One of Professor Posselt’s themes is widespread discrimination in admission in favor of everyone but East Asians, against East Asians. I don’t know whether the author herself is upset about this, but some of the reviewers are; they seem to view it as a blow against “diversity.” That’s nonsense, of course. In my experience, the professors on graduate admissions committees really do believe that they should admit grad students of many different ethnicities and colors, and that’s why they discriminate against Asians. They don’t want lower-scoring non-Asians to be squeezed out. I am against double standards too, but for a different reason: Merit. If Asians dominate college admissions so that non-Asians are squeezed out, so be it. Maybe it will motivate non-Asians to work harder.
The one kind of diversity that does have some claim to consideration in admissions is diversity of thought. However, this is the sort of diversity that professors don’t believe in. One of Posselt’s anecdotes is most revealing. Admissions committees give enormous weight to GRE scores, and the applicant under consideration certainly looked good by that criterion. The committee also acknowledged that her personal statement reflected the capacity for rigorous independent thought. However, she came from a small religious college. One committee member complained that its faculty were “right-wing religious fundamentalists.” Another joked that the school was “supported by the Koch brothers.” The committee chair said “I would like to beat that college out of her” and asked whether she was a “nutcase.” She wasn’t rejected during that round, but she was during the next.
I have found this sort of thing to be all too typical. It may seem bizarre that even though the members of the committee were being observed, they made no effort to conceal their malice against religion. But this is easy to explain. A great many university liberal arts professors view religion as the very definition of bigotry, and dogmatic rejection of faith as the very definition of open-mindedness. It would never occur to most of them that they might seem narrow-minded to an observer. The notion of a bigoted secularist would seem to them a strange paradox.
That is why when religious students write to me for advice about getting into grad school, I tell them don’t mention your faith. They can’t be saved from battles, and shouldn’t be; but with luck, the battles can be delayed until they get their foot in the door. Then cry reason and let slip the dogs of argument.