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Twenty-five years after leaving Harvard College, a large slice of the Class of 1978 gathered last week for a reunion. Of the 1,600 members of the class, more than 670 filed a response to a detailed survey on their lives since graduation.
Here are some of the findings:
Only one quarter of the respondents regularly attend religious services; 13 and 8 percent declared themselves to be agnostics and atheists, respectively. More than 70 percent earn six figures or greater, but only about a tenth gave more than $10,000 annually to charity.
Fifty-three percent identified themselves as Democrats, 13 percent as Independents and 6 percent as Green. Only 17 percent identified themselves as Republicans and only 22 percent voted for President Bush.
Although the survey did not make this inquiry, I know of only one member of the class of 1978 with military experience. Only one member currently serves in elected office.
The vast amount of the data is interesting only to the subset of America that cares about this or similar universities and colleges. But because elites in the country are drawn disproportionately from the graduates of Harvard and similar institutions, these results present a pretty damning indictment of admissions staffs circa 1978, and raise the question as to whether the bias in such offices has gotten better or worse since then.
While a few liberals may want to argue that high-school applicant credentials are stronger among liberals than conservatives, stronger among Democrats than Republicans, and stronger among the less religious then among the more religious, it is a very safe assumption that academic achievement and potential separate themselves fairly equally across ideology, partisan affiliation and religious belief.
But these stats clearly show an enormous over-representation of liberal-Democratic unchurched admittees in the Harvard class admitted in the spring of 1974.
The ideological imbalance of the faculties of colleges and universities, as with the reporting, producing and editing staff of elite media, has been obvious and widely acknowledged for more than 20 years. I have always assumed, however, that a great deal of self-selection was at work, with the equally numerous, but more conservative graduates of elite institutions heading off to the worlds of business and the law.
In fact, this small survey of my classmates suggests that systemic bias in the admission of students based on perceived ideology or perceived political affiliation may account for overrepresentation of liberal beliefs across all the professions.
After all, if three out of four admittees to Harvard going in are left-of-center, at least 3 out of 4 graduates hit the job market with left-of-center politics. No wonder elite institutions skew left: The talent mine upon which they draw for new gold has been salted.
Now this is a hard thing to image: Would admissions staffs consciously discriminate against young men and women on the basis of perceived political leanings? Of course, that question doesn’t have to be answered, because unconscious bias has long been an accepted tenet of liberal ideology.
Unconscious bias against disfavored minorities is assumed to flaw testing instruments and compensation systems, admissions processes and allegedly merit-driven promotion boards. Glass ceilings and disparate impacts are often explained not as of the results of intentionally discriminating exclusivists, but of deeply ingrained patterns of preferring the privileged and the familiar. This line of thinking needs to be turned to the question of college elites: Is the most disfavored minority a young, evangelical conservative?
Who, after all, administers these systems? In 1974, it was likely to have been a relatively young group of Ivy League graduates deeply impacted by the cultural upheavals of the ’60s and by the Vietnam War. It is fairly obvious that whatever talent they brought to the table, it was not mixed with fundamental fairness toward the applicants of 1974 who might have been pro-Nixon during the impeachment spring of 1974, or pro-military in the aftermath of American involvement in Vietnam, or even simply deeply religious or deeply traditional. Because the political climate of the mid-’70s was so tepid, it is also hard to image that a trend swept the class of ’78 then or since. The huge vote for Gore in 2000 from my class of 1978 was set in place long ago, and not the result of some political realignment since.
What’s done is done, of course, and I can write this as one of the 22 percent of my class that somehow got through the filter of ’74 and voted for W. I guess I should track down L. Fred Jewett, the Harvard dean of admissions of that long-ago era, and send him a thank you for not holding my Midwestern roots against me as a kind of marker of latent GOPism. Or perhaps I was just good at camouflage.