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A lawsuit reveals how peculiar Harvard’s definition of merit is

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Admission of gilt

ABBOTT LAWRENCE LOWELL, the president of Harvard from 1909 until 1933, thought the university had too many Jews. In the first year of Lowell’s presidency, they made up 10% of the student body. By 1922 their numbers had more than doubled. To address what he called “the Hebrew problem”, Lowell proposed an explicit Jewish quota of 15%. When that proved controversial, he set about making “a rule whose motive was less obvious on its face” to deny admission to students suspected of being Jewish. Admission to Harvard, previously granted by meeting a clear academic cut-off, became more nebulous—based more heavily on the “character and fitness” of applicants. The new “holistic” admissions policy worked as intended, successfully suppressing Jewish admissions.

Harvard, like many of America’s top universities, retains a holistic admissions process. Unlike elite universities in most other countries, American colleges do not simply…Continue reading

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