Harvard’s challenge from within to affirmative action

A week ago Friday, the New York Times featured a front-page story on a challenge that could end up ending affirmative action once and for all at the most prominent university in the United States, Harvard.  Ron Unz, an alumnus, decided to use the university’s own system of alumni voting (there are currently 320,00 living holders of Harvard degrees eligible to vote) for the Board of Overseers to propose a slate of candidates pledged to end all preferences – racial, alumni, athletic – in the admissions process and go to pure meritocracy.  The candidates would also pledge to end tuition entirely at Harvard, using its vast endowment instead, so as to make payment – and especially debt -- not a consideration. If this strikes you as fanciful, check this out:

The Times account is worth reading, but on Ron’s own website, The Unz Review, you can find a lot more.

The genesis of the project:

Earlier this year the New York Times had solicited a piece from me on my suggestions for improving higher education, and I merely reiterated my argument that elite colleges should immediately abolish tuition. Response at the time was overwhelmingly positive from all ideological quarters, but Mighty Harvard paid not the slightest notice to my words, leading me to consider what possible means might exist to impose necessary reforms upon such an enormously wealthy and rather solipsistic institution, now rapidly approaching its 400th anniversary. This Overseer campaign was the ultimate result.

Ron assembled an amazing slate of five candidates:

Adding to the attention of our bold campaign has been the strange-bedfellows ideological alliance of our slate of five candidates for Harvard Overseer. Both I and Lee Cheng, co-founder of the Asian-American Legal Foundation, are generally characterized as conservatives. Stuart Taylor, Jr., who has spent decades as a prominent journalist and legal commentator, is usually considered a political moderate, although the Brookings Institution with which he has long been affiliated perhaps leans a bit more liberal. Stephen Hsu, Professor of Theoretical Physics and Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State, is very much a moderate academic liberal, whose blogsite has for years proudly featured photos of his meetings with President Obama. And Ralph Nader, headlining our slate, is surely one of the most renowned political progressives of the last half century.

The challenge faces some peculiar obstacles:

We now have little more than [five – as of 1 24/16] remaining days to obtain the valid signatures of 201 Harvard alumni, holders of either undergraduate or graduate degrees, and although those numbers are small, our time is very short. Furthermore, the traditions of such an august institution, set forth in the antique English of its mid-17th Century charter, require that all such signatures be provided in physical form and only written upon the elegant petitions printed by the University itself.

With the East Coast blizzard slowing the mails and express services, the deadline is even tighter. I am awaiting delivery of my own copy of the petition to sign and return via Fedex.

If you happen to own a Harvard sheepskin:

…email us at petitions@FreeHarvard.org, and include your mailing address to obtain a petition for signing. If you can commit to quickly gathering an additional signature or two and also include your phone number, we will fedex you a petition.

If Ron succeeds, he could change the face of elite higher eductaion and end an abominable system of racial preferences. He provides data showing that Harvard is not the only elite school that could easily do without tuition:

...if we succeed with this effort, the reverberations will echo far and wide, given that so many of Harvard’s near-peers possess balance sheets and institutional proclivities that are nearly indistinguishable. Anyone who looks at a chart of the sources of income for Yale, Princeton, and Stanford would notice an uncanny resemblance to their Cambridge sibling. So if Harvard falls to the “Free Tuition Movement,” many other academic dominoes will surely soon topple as well.

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