Joe Szocik – Student

UMass Boston (UMB) 1970– A Pensee’

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel
Why 1970?

On April 30, 1970 President Nixon escalated the Vietnam war by invading Cambodia. Mass protests took place throughout this country and the world. As part of the anti-war protests student activists across the country started to shut down their colleges. Eventually over 450 colleges were “on strike”-classes and the academic routine were suspended. Some of my friends and I discussed how we could make a contribution to the strike/protest effort that went beyond participating in demonstrations. We decided to write a pamphlet that analyzed the role/power of the Board of Trustees in controlling the educational experience at UMB; how that educational experience was designed to prepare students for certain roles as workers/citizens; how higher education in general and UMB specifically contributed to a social/political system that supported both what we viewed as an unjust war as well as a society that condoned and perpetuated exploitation, inequality, social injustice, racism, and the use of violence against its own citizens.

Why UMB?

Two reasons…

I started UMB in 1966 the second year it was opened. In looking back I realize that my experience there was one of the most formative of my life. I received a first rate education both in and out of the classroom; formed many of my most valued friendships; and made decisions that determined my future, e.g., refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam war, becoming a conscientious objector……..

Boston was one of the leading centers of the anti-war movement and many UMB students and faculty were actively involved in anti-war activities.

Why a Pensee’, why now?

A professor in graduate school once assigned my class to write a pensee’ on any aspect of organizational development that we found interesting. He described a pensee’ as a “think piece”. I’ve found the format to be a flexible way to write about a topic in detail without the constraints of a conventional academic paper, journal article, etc.

In 2010 UMB Professor Paul Atwood, and colleagues at the Joiner Center, organized an exhibit on the 40th anniversary of the 1970 strike at UMB At one of the anniversary events friends and I were asked if we would write up our recollections of the strike and our experiences.

Think of the following as a related set of reflections on my experiences during this time and place rather than a treatise on the anti-war movement-social history of the sixties, etc.

Background-Time and Place

Setting the time and place within which events take place is critical to understanding the events-
so I’ll briefly sketch out some of the salient aspects of 1970 and UMB as I experienced them.

The Time

• The times they WERE a changin……

In describing the 60s the media always focused on the hedonistic holy trinity of drugs, sex, rock
& roll. However all three were part of a larger phenomena of experimentation, rejecting conventional behavior and more importantly choosing what appealed to US not our parents or “respected” authority figures. My teenage years coincided with the birth of the 60s and it’s hard to convey how quickly the world changed. When I started UMB I entered a place that was near my home turf of Roxbury and Brighton but was as different “culturally” as could be. More striking to me than the visible features of the counter culture e.g., long hair, bell bottom jeans, mini-skirts, etc. was encountering people that were passionately engaged in trying to understand the world and openly questioned many of the beliefs and values of my home environment.

• War

It’s also hard to convey how important the Vietnam war was to shaping the world view of my generation. College students today have come to young adulthood with the experiences of 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but a major difference is the absence of a draft. Today, with the all volunteer military, it’s predominantly the poor and working class students that go to fight. Another major difference reflects that the fact that the cost of the current wars have been put ‘on the credit card”. The combined result is that the immediate costs of the war are borne primarily
by military families while the long term costs have been deferred from my generation to the future.

The draft and the real possibility of being forced to go fight was a constant source of anxiety and a critical factor in the spread of anti-war sentiment from ‘radicals’ to the mainstream of society. Another major difference in the ‘war” experience has been the role of the media. During the Vietnam war graphic pictures/images were broadcast daily on the news and in the papers. By and large the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been sanitized by the military’s control of the media such as refusing to allow coffins of dead troops to be photographed when they are returned home or by the embedding journalists with troops during the invasion of Iraq and whose governing ground rules provided a “Disney” version of war as video game……

• Social Unrest/Protest

For many people the Civil rights struggle was the domestic version of the Vietnam war in that racial discrimination was clearly unjust; mass protests were organized to oppose it; and the same power structure that sent Americans to kill Vietnamese and their allies also sent Americans to
kill American citizens who happened to be civil rights activists and their allies.

So called “radical groups” such as the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, Students for a Democratic Society, and many others were active on or near UMB. Nationally Cesar Chavez organized farm workers and won unprecedented concession for migrant workers. Peter Flynn, one of the pamphlet’s authors worked on the “grape boycott” organized by Chavez.
UMB also had an active Feminist movement and I can vividly remember discussions that ranged from socialization, sexism, to the societal values/significance involved in deciding to shave or not to shave legs…..

Alternative media such as the Rolling Stone, the Old Mole, The Real Paper, the Boston Phoenix provided visible examples of how “young people” could develop new ways of reporting and redefining what was news.

• Violence and Mainstream Politics

A constant message from established academics and politicians to student activists was that the way to change things for the better was not to protest but to work within the system.
As counterpoints to working within the system we had experiences such the “police riot” in Chicago at the Democratic convention when anti-war protesters were openly attacked by massed police; the killing of students at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970; and the assassinations of people who did work within the system, John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

• A world in turmoil…. question EVERYTHING authority, convention, values………. To sum up…….. the times were characterized by change, experimentation, unrest, violence, and
challenging the status quo’s fundamental values and social norms……
it was US versus THEM ……. WE were RIGHT and THEY were WRONG and,
WE were going to WIN!!!!!!!!!

UMB-Why it was a special place
• Mission

Supposedly when the Legislature authorized the creation of UMB they intended it to provide working class students with an affordable, Ivy League quality education, and, to this end, established faculty salaries at a higher rate than the prestigious private universities.

• Faculty

The faculty that came to start UMB came from Colleges and Universities from all over the country. I remember someone observing that the initial faculty had the highest proportion of PhDs of any faculty in the country. Many professors were in their late 20s or early 30’s and were actively involved in anti-war protests and other forms of social activism.
Many of my classes were small, 15 or fewer students, and all were taught by professors…..I don’t recall if teaching assistants existed but if they did they didn’t teach any classes.
Small classes provided the opportunity to engage in in-depth discussions with students and faculty, for faculty and students to get to know each other, and for students to receive special assistance. Marjorie Collins, my freshman English teacher, drew me aside after I submitted my first paper and told me that A) she thought I was bright, B) no one had taught me to write and C) she would review as many drafts of an assignment as needed until it was acceptable. I rewrote some assignments seven or more times before she was satisfied. Many faculty were very supportive of student activism whether it was criticizing the administration of UMB or participating in anti-war protests, e.g., Gordon Zahn, a sociology professor, was my adviser on seeking classification as a conscientious objector. Other professors collaborated with colleagues from other area colleges to organize demonstrations, ‘teach ins” etc. As a consequence students knew that they could draw on faculty support to think through issues, organize protests, demonstrations, etc.

• Administration

Many students have fond memories of the staff in the Financial Aid, Admissions, and Student Affairs offices. They assisted students to get work study jobs; helped non-traditional students to get enrolled; provided tutors and other forms of support to students struggling to adjust to college life. The Student Affairs office was source of low –priced tickets to the Boston Symphony, Museum of Fine Arts, etc., which made these and other cultural events affordable to all.
A critical resource was a program that assisted non-traditional students, e.g., veterans, working adults, minorities, to improve their reading, writing and math skills before enrolling. This infrastructure of resources played a critical role in UMB attracting the diverse student body that played such a vital role in shaping the UMB’s character and enriching the educational
experience-it’s much harder to engage in “academic” discussions involving politics, philosophy, history, current events and even literature when so many students had such differing points of view…..

• Students

It was the students that really made UMB a special place.
As a freshman right out of high school I was struck by the number of older students. The combination of low tuition, ($200.00 per semester!), convenient location and support services attracted working adults, people with families, Vietnam veterans and some foreign students. Class discussions, and all other forms of “college life”, reflected this diversity. The presence of numerous veterans, many of whom had experienced combat in Vietnam, provided an especially important perspective to discussions on the war and to organizing anti-war demonstrations. I never remember hearing anyone who served in Vietnam express anything positive about the experience or any optimism about the war effort. Many veterans played a leading role in organizing anti-war demonstrations and their presence was a visible rebuttal to the pro war advocates who claimed that all protestors were anti-American traitors.

• Location, Location, Location………….

Our physical environment was as diverse as the student body and could be summed up with the words dynamic, elegant, gritty and sleazy.

• Location, Location, Location-Dynamic

UMB was located in downtown Boston, and Boston, along with Berkley California, were two of the counter cultures acknowledged capitals. The presence of tens of thousands of college students from dozens of colleges located within a couple miles of each other created a dynamic environment of music, culture, as well as support for the anti-war effort. Harvard Square, a short T ride away, was loaded with coffee shops, bars, and music clubs such as the Idler, Casablanca, Blue Parrot, the Hofbrau, Passim’s and students and drop outs from all over the country were a constant presence.

Some of the biggest and most important anti-war demonstrations and protests took place in Boston. Students and faculty from other colleges, e.g., Howard Zinn, etc.,provided support and energy for organizing workshops, “teach-ins”, demonstrations, etc. In addition to Harvard Square students from all over Boston meet at clubs such as the Boston Tea Party, the Jazz workshop, the Rathskeller….. Given UMB’s downtown location and access to the T it was easy for UMB students to go to hear speakers at other colleges, sit in on classes, etc.

• Location, Location, Location-Elegance

Elegance is NOT a word that would come to mind to many people who were at UMB but consider…. A couple blocks away were the Public Garden with its iconic swan boats and the Boston Common…. A few blocks further was the Charles river and the Esplanade… up the street was the Boston Public Library with its gorgeous open courtyard…a bit further were Symphony Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Fenway, and the Gardner Museum-all were either within an easy walk or a short T ride and most were either free or, almost so with student discounts and passes.

As students at an urban school housed in old office buildings we had access to both some of the most lovely, open, urban green space in the country and to world class cultural institutions.

• Location, Location, Location-Gritty/Sleazy

Gritty and sleazy are words that WOULD come to mind to many of the people who were at

The UMB “campus” consisted of a number of non-descript office buildings located in, or near
Park Square. One side of Park Square bordered the Combat Zone with its strip clubs, porn stores, and semi-public prostitution. Another side of Park Square bordered the South End which, in its pre-gentrification era, featured cheap apartments (I had a 7 room apartment, heat included for $200 a month), decaying buildings, trashy streets, a few cheap restaurants like the Red Fez, liquor stores, dive bars, easily accessible drugs.

Park Square was also home to the Greyhound Bus terminal, and Police headquarters. The Hayes Bickford cafeteria was frequented by the denizens of the demi-monde going to or getting off work, e.g., hookers- customers from the adjacent Mouse Trap Cabaret strip club & the Hillbilly Ranch, a red neck country and western bar-Boston’s best known gay bars, Jaques and The Other Side in Bay Village right next to UMB’s main building-and the bellhops and maids from the Park Plaza Hotel which took up an entire block and dominated the square.

The UMB library was on old armory known to all as the Castle. It’s ironic that the armory aka Castle, which was built, along with the many others in the USA, to provide a rallying point for police and soldiers in the event of a worker insurrection became a study hall for student radicals. Across the street was a coffee shop/restaurant known as Flash’s that was one of the main student hangouts. You would always look in the windows as you walked past to see who was around.

• Location, Location, Location….. Dynamic AND Gritty AND Sleazy……

And then there was My Brother’s Place a bar/sub shop next to Flash’s that for a few students
became an auxiliary classroom and primary hang out.

Most students and faculty frequented Sullivan’s, a bar on the other side of the square. My Brother’s Place attracted an older much more eclectic clientele, construction workers, on-duty & off-duty cops, on-duty & off-duty postal workers, hustlers, a sprinkling of gangsters and a few students who tended to be older and or veterans. You could tell which cops were on –duty by the civilian jackets they wore over their uniforms.

We got to know the owner and the bar tenders well and several of us worked there at lunch time busing tables. There probably wasn’t another place in the city where people on the opposite ends of the political spectrum came together on a daily basis. The non-UMB regulars, e.g., construction workers, cops, postal workers, etc. hated hippies in general, and particularly despised anti-war protestors as anti-American, “commie lovers” and traitors. Several things contributed to an uneasy co-existence 1) many students were older and their background didn’t fit the traditional student profile; 2) many students were not just veterans but were combat veterans and were respected for serving their country as well as for being “real men” 3) we shared a love of sports, drinking, turning a blind eye to gambling and other illegal activities and everybody was baffled by women……………

Many afternoons were spent discussing and arguing over events of the day, extending class discussions, telling stories, etc. Interacting with the non-students provided a constant reminder that much of society totally disagreed with the radical and/or counter culture world view while also providing daily opportunities to sharpen our positions on the issues of the day.

• Socializing……

UMB was a commuter college. There were no dorms, no “Student Center”, and most students left the area after their classes were over. However the physical layout resulted in a high degree of interaction that facilitated students and faculty getting to know each other. The campus buildings were within a few blocks of each other. The upper floors of the main building required taking an elevator and waiting for an elevator and riding the elevator provided many opportunities for talking to people from different classes. The lounges on the first floor of the main building, the Sawyer building, the library, along with walking from one building to another all promoted socializing.

Why a strike?

The invasion of Cambodia on April 30, 1970 occurred against a backdrop of increasing protests against the Vietnam War, civil rights demonstrations, political assassinations and violence directed against protesters by the authorities

The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 was followed, chronologically, by the murder of civil rights workers, the assassinations of Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., the police riot in Chicago in 1968.

On May 4, 1970 four student protestors were shot and killed by National guardsmen at Kent
State. Ten days later two more students were killed at Jackson State.

The invasion and the killing of students at Kent St and Jackson State were taken as signaling that a line had been crossed-that our government was ignoring world and domestic critics and was resorting to turning its weapons on its own people as an admission that it lacked legitimacy and could retain power only through violence.

I personally never liked the term “strike” but for lack of a better alternative it quickly became the accepted way to refer to shutting down “business as usual” on campuses-continuing “business as usual” was simply not an option

Why a pamphlet?

When UMass went on strike students began to discuss what they would do. Neither the decision to go on strike nor the desire to engage in some form of meaningful action were unanimous. Many students opposed the strike. And once the strike was declared many students simply wanted to do what they had to do to graduate; others viewed the strike as an opportunity to take an early vacation; others with jobs began work early.

It’s important to note that there were many different strike related activities that were proposed and initiated at UMass and that UMass was only one of the colleges on strike in the Boston area, e.g., art students at the Museum School produced posters for demonstrations and for strike activities at other schools. Some UMB students served on a committee to coordinate action among all the striking colleges.

My friends and I decided that we wanted to do something that could make a lasting difference beyond taking part in protests. After much discussion we decided, as noted earlier, to write a pamphlet that analyzed the role/power of the Board of Trustees in controlling the educational experience at UMB; how that educational experience was designed to prepare students for certain roles as workers/citizens; how higher education in general and UMB specifically contributed to a social/political system that supported both what we viewed as an unjust war as well as a society that condoned and perpetuated exploitation, inequality, social injustice, racism, and the use of violence against its own citizens.

What did we hope to accomplish?

As I remember it our goals in producing the pamphlet included:

• Spark a dialogue on the power structure of UMB and how our education was shaped by the power elite’s need to prepare people to conform to social roles that perpetuated the elite’s power
• Have that dialogue lead to changing UMB’s education to promote critical consciousness with respect to understanding social conditions, power relationships, and how to be informed, responsible, politically active citizens.
• Provide future UMB students with an example of how they can take action to make a positive difference in UMB and society at large.

How did we produce the pamphlet?

• The authors organized the work through a series of meetings and planning sessions. We knew we had to work quickly in order to produce the pamphlet before the end of classes when all the students that hadn’t already done so would leave.
• Important support was provided by Hugh Jessup, the Africa Research Group and the Old Mole which has assisted student activists at other colleges to produce critical studies of their colleges, e.g., Harvard, Yale, Columbia.
• Each member of the UMB research group took responsibility for writing a particular section, research, etc. Some members could work on the project full time others, like myself, balanced working with their assignments.
• One of the janitors gave us a key to a classroom where we could meet, make notes on the blackboard, leave materials. Several of the janitors were regulars at My Brother’s Place where we got to know each other.
• Early on we realized that none of us (all men) could type. Some one had the idea of advertising on school bulletin boards for some who could type and was willing to volunteer their time. We were fortunate that Kathy Teehan, now a UMB administrator came forward. As I remember it we encouraged her to write material for the pamphlet but I don’t remember if she did.
• A major challenge, in this pre-computer and internet era, was getting the pamphlet
printed and distributed. A professor came up with most of the money that was needed and distribution consisted of dropping bundles of pamphlets off at strategic locations in the various buildings.

What do we think we actually accomplished?

I don’t think that we could realistically claim that the pamphlet, BY ITSELF had any particular impact then or now on UMB’s approach to education.
However the many student protests and demonstrations advocating for change and reform did result in the creation of the Black Studies program, Women’s Studies, etc.
Also the act of going on strike put our protest on the historical record and the pamphlet constituted tangible proof that some students tried to make a difference rather than take an early vacation.

Current Realities-The Strike’s legacy

Students and citizens are facing major challenges involving the economy, the environment, the conservative assault on social programs serving the middle class and the now (9/20/10) 1 in 7 persons living in poverty.

• Concentration of wealth in USA is unprecedented
• Concentration of power is increasing e.g., media conglomerates, etc
• Wealthy individuals are fleeing the public realm for private institutions e.g., private schools, gated communities, private clubs, etc.
• Domestic politics-wealthy individuals can buy election-gerrymandering results in safe districts that guarantee safe seats-the % of registered voters and voters is declining
• USA’s economic and political power world wide are declining-we increasingly live in a multi-polar world
• USA debt/tax policies/spending priorities will have profound economic and social disruption

What is to be done? Goal?

To paraphrase the key demand of the “velvet revolution”, aka the Prague Spring, I think the
central challenge of our time can be framed as “Can we have capitalism with a “human face”?

• Efficiency of market economy
• Respect for and safe guards for democracy and individual liberties
• Safety net for all re: housing, health insurance, work, quality public schools
• Economic development policies that are non-polluting and wasteful
• Egalitarian access to the resources and opportunities that form the foundation for developing an emotionally rich, full, prosperous, healthy life as a citizen actively engaged in making a humane, democratic, society where the overall quality of life at least equals the highest global standards.

What is to be done to achieve Goal? Action

I believe that current and future members of the UMB community will face the same three
critical challenges that we attempted to address both in writing the pamphlet and in related forms of protest.

• Advocating/fighting for a just, humane society
• Acting as responsible/politically active citizens
• Advocating for an education that assists in developing authentic, fulfilling lives as opposed to an education that focuses on preparing us as workers, consumers and unquestioning supporters of the status quo.

1. Creating social options for All is a key challenge in creating a just and humane society aka capitalism with a human face….. Garver reminds us that our options are determined more by society than our individual talents.

• “Perhaps denying options would not do violence to people if each individual person were an island unto himself and individuality were the full truth of human life. But it is not. We are social beings: our whole sense of what we are is dependent on the fact that we live in society, and have open to us socially determined options. What access we have to the socially defined options is much more important than what language or what system of property rights we inherit at birth. The institutional form of quiet violence operates when people are deprived of choices in a systematic way by the very manner in which transactions normally take place. It is as real, and as wicked, as the thief with a knife.” What Is Violence? Newton Garver

2. WE THE PEOPLE CAN and DO remake our society through politics. Only if we act as citizens can we counteract the power exerted by the elite few . . Yankelovich and Harman remind us it’s “the political will of the many” that is the critical factor in any effort to improve society.

• “The technical cleverness of the few is no substitute for the political will of the many”
Starting With the People, Yankelovich, Harman

3. Finally, we all have the challenge of developing authentic, fulfilling lives that includes work but so much more. If we don’t strive for a multi-dimensional life our likely future is as a One-Dimensional Man as so memorably described by Herbert Marcuse, echoing Cicero and Schiller.

• Cicero famously referred to slaves as ‘tools with a voice” to illustrate the Roman elite’s view that to spend your life defined by labor and a lack of autonomy was to be less than human.

• A slave is a “tool with a voice”, instrumentum vocale –Cicero

• Centuries later Schiller reminded us of the dangers of “becoming the imprint of our
occupation” (FYI, check out “The Human Condition” Hannah Arendt)

• “ Eternally chained to a fragment of the whole, Man himself grew to be a fragment…..Instead of imprinting humanity upon his nature, man has become the imprint of his occupation”-On The Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller

I hope you read the pamphlet, and related material describing this extraordinary time at UMB, and that the pamphlet and other examples of student activism help you to take action to improve UMB, make the world a better place, and resist being reduced to “a tool with a voice”; “an imprint of your occupation”…….

I’ll end with tone of my favorite poems, and an article entitled the College Admissions Scam which illustrates the subtle and pervasive power of the class system to reinforce the privileges of the wealthy elite…. the parallel with Graver’s observations is striking.


One day
the apolitical intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked what they did
when their nation died out
like a sweet fire, small and alone.

No one will ask them about their dress
their long siestas after lunch,
no one will want to know about their sterile combats with “the idea

of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.
They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,

or regarding their self-disgust when someone within them begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing about their absurd justifications,
born in the shadow of the total lie.

On that day
the simplest men will come. those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals, but daily delivered
their bread and milk, their tortillas and eggs,
those who mended their clothes, those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens and who worked for them,
and they’ll ask:
What did you do when the poor suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out in them?

Apolitical intellectuals of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence

Will eat your gut. Your own misery
Will pick at your soul. And you will be mute, in your shame.
Otto Rene Castillo

The college admissions scam

By Neal Gabler

NOW IS the winter of high school seniors’ discontent. But then every winter is one of discontent as seniors file their college applications with a mix of dread and hope – mainly dread. Those applying to the most selective schools have the odds stacked against them no matter how sterling their high school records, though college admissions officers typically offer the cold comfort that rejection is not equivalent to failure and that, as one Yale admissions officer put it, “It matters far less which strong college admits you than it matters what you do with your opportunities once you are there.’’ To which most high school seniors would say, “Hogwash.’’

They know that it does matter where you go to college, if not educationally then in terms of social recognition and opportunity. They know that America, for all its professions of meritocracy, is a virtual oligarchy where the graduates of the Ivies and the other best schools enjoy tremendous advantages in the job market. They know that Harvard or Stanford or MIT is a label in our “designer education’’ not unlike Chanel or Prada in clothes.

So here is another, more realistic comfort to those anxious seniors who will soon be flagellating themselves as unworthy: The admissions system of the so-called “best’’ schools is rigged against you. If you are a middle-class youth or minority from poor circumstances, you have little chance of getting in to one of those schools. Indeed, the system exists not to provide social mobility but to prevent it and to perpetuate the prevailing social order.

Of course, colleges loudly deny this since it undermines their exceptionality. Instead, universities will protest that the system is meritocratic; that they consider every applicant objectively; that the admissions process is “need blind,’’ which means that financial support plays no role in whether an applicant is admitted or not.

Most of these assertions, however, are nonsense. Of course the odds are stacked against every applicant since the best schools admit only a fraction of them (less than 10 percent for most of the Ivies and just above 25 percent for selective schools like Northwestern and Emory), but as Daniel Golden demonstrated in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the Wall Street Journal and then in his book, “The Price of Admission,’’ the so-called “best’’ schools give heavy preferences to the wealthy; as many as one-third of admissions, he writes, are flagged for special treatment at the elite universities, one-half at the elite liberal arts colleges, and the number of open spaces for the non- privileged is reduced accordingly. As Golden puts it, the privileged take so many spots that the “admissions odds against middle-class and working-class students with outstanding records are even longer than the colleges acknowledge.’’

Golden’s focus was on legacy admissions, which are essentially affirmative action for the rich and
which provide huge advantages for applicants; on what are called special “development’’ applicants
– those who do not qualify for admission under the ordinary criteria but whose parents have pledged large contributions to the school; and athletes who are, contrary to popular belief, not all poor ghetto kids adept at football and basketball, but are primarily wealthy white kids who are adept at lacrosse, rugby, crew and polo.

But while these are overt ways to provide advantages for the wealthy, there are far more insidious and subtle methods of skewing the admissions process. Take early admissions. Early admissions account for 35 percent of the incoming class at Duke this year, 20 percent at Brown, 50 percent at Yale and 40 percent at Stanford. Under most programs, early admittees are obligated to attend that school should they be granted admission. But early admissions favor the wealthy – in part because they are able to forgo weighing options for financial aid.

Then there is the “well-rounded student body’’ argument, which any parent accompanying his child on the college tour rounds has heard ad nauseam. According to this approach, colleges are not looking for the well-rounded individual student. They are aiming instead for a diverse student body: an exceptional athlete, an exceptional musician, an exceptional scientist, an exceptional poet. Except that exceptionality, as most parents can attest, doesn’t come cheap. Athletes require coaching and often traveling teams; musicians require lessons and instruments; scientists require labs and internships; poets require classes and opportunities for publication. None of these things is readily available to the average middle-class family, to say nothing of the high school student who must work at McDonald’s to earn spending money (even though colleges say they take this into account). Nor does diversity extend to racial composition. Of course every college boasts about its efforts to
enroll a more racially diverse student body. But here are the facts: A New York Times article in 2004 revealed that Harvard’s incoming freshman class was 9 percent black, but between one-half and two- thirds of those black students were actually West Indian or African immigrants or the children of immigrants, and many others were biracial. In short, they weren’t African-American. Another 2004 study, conducted by Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, also found that 41 percent of blacks at 28 selective colleges and universities identified themselves as immigrants, underscoring the West Indian and African component.

The prognosis is equally poor for economically disadvantaged students, whether black or white. According to Golden, economic diversity counts the least in admission considerations, and only 3-to-
11 percent of admittees come from the lowest economic quartile. In fairness, some universities, including Harvard, are offering full scholarships to financially strapped families, but this does not necessarily affect the admission of those students.

A counselor told me when my daughters were applying for college admission that the first thing I had to do was withdraw my application for financial aid. When I said that colleges professed to be “need blind,’’ she laughed. Any admissions officer, she said, could tell from your zip code whether you were likely to need aid or not, and students needing aid were much less desirable than those who
didn’t need it.

But perhaps the most pernicious means of maintaining the status quo was devised, ironically, in the name of making the system more meritocratic. No one disputes that once upon a time elite schools were the preserve of wealth and influence. When the SAT was instituted in the 1920s it was done precisely in the name of changing the admissions process to a more egalitarian one. By providing an allegedly objective measure of a student’s intellect, the best schools could no longer be castigated as impregnable. Do well, get in. At least that’s what middle-class Americans dreaming of their children’s social advancement have been told.

In truth, the SAT, which is thankfully being phased out at many schools, has had the opposite effect. Far from opening the doors of elite schools to outstanding students from ordinary backgrounds, it has wound up giving an objective patina to an unjust process. In some ways it is the great subterfuge. That’s because SAT scores correlate highly to family income – an average of 12 point increments for every $20,000 of income, which this year amounted to a 130 difference on critical reasoning, 80 points on math and 70 on writing between the lowest income and highest income groups. While correlation isn’t always causality, economics professor Jesse Rothstein of Berkeley has called it a proxy for other demographic components and for high school resources. And, not surprisingly, Professor George Kuh of Indiana University, has found that the US News list of best colleges has an almost 100 percent correlation to SAT scores, which means that the so-called best schools could just as easily be ranked by family income.

So here’s the bottom line for all those exceptional middle-class and lower-class high school seniors who will doubt their own worth when the near-inevitable rejection letters arrive: The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in you. The fault lies in the system, and the system isn’t going to change, because it benefits the people it is designed to benefit – people who understand how much a real meritocracy would threaten their power.

Neal Gabler is the author, most recently, of “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American

One Comment

on “Joe Szocik – Student
One Comment on “Joe Szocik – Student
  1. I was born in Cambridge. Mass. 1943 and designed build the RTSS at the Pentagon in1992,because I was paid $300 a day and no one could figure how the pentagon was built. I was arrogant and hostile but GTE my employer and supervisors allowed me complete control of what I was doing. The more you screw up the more you go up in BIG BUSINESS. My father managed Long Wharf, Central and India Wharf 1946 to 80. I never went in the military and I am now banned in Boston. Working for Buckminister Fuller during his lectures at Harvard in 1962 I was doubting the validity of my education. I had no intentions of ever fifnishing Tufts,where I felt I was studying math, physics and other things I had already processed.The police in Cambridge along with unscrupulous lawyers and family have denied me rightful inheritance. My mother raed the ticker tapes in 1929 as the markets crashed. My Grandfather from Donnegal Ireland built 12 three family homes in Cambridge all lost to the banks. I have designed DEEP SPACE TRACKING CENTERS from Japan to England. In 1971 I went to Kingfield, Maine Sugarloaf running away from my efforts to stop the war in Vietnam. I walked and hitchiked to Greece via England to meet my buddy a capatin on a 73ft sailboat that had to be taken. Eygpt, Crete, Morrocco, Argentina, Sweden I have lived for months. I am apppaled at what my countries professes. I live¨öut of country and have a difficult time when I return.

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