The failed fantasy of pure meritocracy

From a post on a New York Times blog specifically about college admissions:

My daughter is a senior from a public school with a class size of 589. She has a 4.0 GPA with mostly advanced and AP classes, except required classes. She has an SAT of 2,250, ACT 36. So she is a National Merit finalist, President Scholar candidate, and a winner of MI Southeast Conference All Academy Award (only five students in her school win). She is a cellist in symphony orchestra and a varsity crew member on the rowing team.

Yet she was rejected by four Ivy schools and put on the waiting list for the University of Chicago. What went wrong? Her counselor was stunned by her rejection. What should she do to get off the waiting list?

Answer:Your daughter sounds like a terrific scholar, musician, and athlete. The world of selective college admissions is so hyper-competitive that trying to read the tea leaves about why decisions were rendered is almost impossible…

One feels sorry for the daughter, she is such a quantitatively perfect person. Her SAT score is higher than most graduate students’ monthly incomes. She has perfect grades. She has perfect stats. She has more honors and decoratations than a military veteran. She comes from a public school, so she isn’t too marked by obvious badges of class status. She appears, at least to her parent, as a completely flawless unit ready for insertion into what was, evidently, expected to be a flawlessly meritocratic system.
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Abandoned labs as recycled academic space

If you go into the Enrico Fermi Research Institute on campus, the center doors are made of stainless steel like an old diner. And if you go up the stairs and then down the creaky elevator, you emerge in a warren of white corridors and wooden doors. The basement is full of abandoned science labs, labs that have been empty for ten years maybe, with equipment scattered everywhere, old notebooks, chemical residue, dust, dirt, soot, stacked furniture, whining ventilation. Acids left over in gallon jugs of thick glass. A bottle of wine left as if it had been opened to celebrate the last experiment just before the whole place was summarily deserted. Dark trees shone through the high windows.



The university is planning to renovate it all, they say, but what with the economic crisis, that might not happen next year. So some of the space has been borrowed.

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