Category Archive 'College Admissions'

26 Feb 2012

Smith Alumna’s Letter Provokes Outraged Response

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Smith’s College Hall

A recent letter from an upscale 1980s alumna to the Smith College newspaper, The Sophian, questioned Smith’s current admissions policies and provoked howls of outrage in response.

To the Editor,

I am the president of the Smith Club of Westchester County. I enjoy reading the Sophian online because it helps me stay abreast of developments at the school.

I read your article about [President] Carol [Christ]’s resignation and it had some interesting statistics. It mentioned the percentage increase in the population of women of color and foreign students. The gist of the article was that one of Carol’s objectives coming into the position was to increase diversity and the article gave statistics that showed that she did.

As someone who has followed admissions for many years, I can tell you how the school is viewed by students in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. First, these counties are some of the wealthiest in the country. The children have parents who are highly educated and accomplished and have high household incomes. The children are programmed from day one to get into Ivy League schools.

To this demographic, Smith is a safety school. Also, very few of these students want to go to a single sex school. With the exception of Wellesley, it is not hard to get into the Seven Sisters any more. The reason why Wellesley is more selective is because it is smaller than Smith and in a better geographic location – Boston beats Northampton.

The people who are attending Smith these days are A) lesbians or B) international students who get financial aid or C) low-income women of color who are the first generation in their family to go to college and will go to any school that gives them enough money. Carol emphasizes that this is one of her goals, and so that’s why the school needs more money for scholarships or D) white heterosexual girls who can’t get into Ivy League schools.

Smith no longer looks at SATs because if it did, it would have to report them to U.S. News & World Report. Low-income black and Hispanic students generally have lower SATs than whites or Asians of any income bracket. This is an acknowledged fact because they don’t have access to expensive prep classes or private tutors.

To accomplish [President Christ’s] mission of diversity, the school is underweighting SAT scores. This phenomenon has been widely discussed in the New York Times Education section. If you reduce your standards for grades and scores, you drop in the rankings, although you have accomplished a noble social objective. Smith has one of the highest diversity rates in the country.

I can tell you that the days of white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over. This is unfortunate because it is this demographic that puts their name on buildings, donates great art and subsidizes scholarships.

-Anne Spurzem ’84

The responses published in The Sophian are good for a laugh.


Drew Zandonella-Stannard, class of 2006, took personal charge of leading the angry mob brandishing pitchforks and torches to Ms. Spurzem’s email inbox.

Anne Spurzem: You Have Been Warned

Here at Vintage Smith, I try to keep an even temper. However, I’m not past putting anyone on notice. This week, that person is Anne Spurzem, the President of the Smith Club of Westchester County, who wrote a letter to The Sophian that can only be described as hateful, confused, bigoted and just plain mean. To read it, go here.

In these pages, I showcase the pieces of Smith College’s past that make us proud to hail from such a unique community. Sometimes it’s about Hilda Yen, the famed aviatrix who dedicated her career to teaching flight in China. Sometimes it’s about how one photo can encapsulate the bond felt by so many alums. Sometimes it’s about finding the perfect pair of saddle shoes circa 1949.

I was hoping some of you wonderful readers could pass along a message to Ms. Spurzem, telling her why you’ve been proud to call Smith home at one time or another.

I write all of this as a white, heterosexual alum who occasionally wears pearls, who accepted much-needed financial aid, who plans on giving to her school annually, and who hails from one big Lesbian family.

Please let Anne Spurzem know how much we love Smith College. Her email address is: [redacted –the college authorities intervened] and I think she needs to hear from you.


(being just a trifle dim) had actual difficulty understanding what Ms. Spurzem could possibly be going on about.

I’ve written Spurzem to ask her to clarify what she actually wants from Smith — does she think the college should admit fewer low-income and minority students, or does she have some other recommendation? Maybe there’s an interesting debate to be had here about how universities can keep their endowments healthy enough to offer scholarships while still serving low-income populations — but Spurzem’s letter hasn’t exactly gotten that debate off to a good start.


How amusingly self-entitled members of recognized victim groups are today. They understand that it is none other than themselves, in all their accusatory glory, that represent the ultimate goal and endpoint of civilization and human achievement. Their unique worthiness makes it possible for them to elevate and ornament any sphere honored with their mere presence with Diversity.

When some Devonian fish first crawled upon dry land; when the first human beings pursued the Wooly Mammoths amid the retreating glaciers; when the Spartans held the pass at Thermopylae; when the Pilgrim fathers crossed the ocean, cleared the forest and settled the New England Wilderness; when Washington crossed the Delaware and defeated the redcoats; when the wealthy spinster Sophia Smith decided to use her inherited fortune to found a women’s college (instead of an institute for the deaf), lesbians and persons of color were always the intended beneficiaries. Everyone knows that.


As to poor confused Jezebel: I suppose I need to explain that elite colleges function as a system of prestige exchange. They traditionally admitted representatives of wealthy, powerful, and influential families, leavening their student bodies with a percentage of outsiders distinguished by exceptional demonstrated academic talent.

One would go to such a school in order to bask in the reflected glory of a grand tradition of famous alumni and distinguished scholars and to be accredited oneself as a member in good standing of the national elite. Elite schools were founded to educate the children of the richest families, of the heads of major corporations, and of prominent officials and political leaders. These kinds of schools would graciously admit persons of obscure origin and humble background (like myself), and would even in essence pay them to go there, when such persons could offer potential future prestige in return.

The transformation of Smith College’s admissions criteria from a focus on academic talent evidenced by high scores on standardized tests to a focus on politically correct victimhood, as Ms. Spurzem notes, fatally compromises the prestige exchange, accepting the counterfeit currency of membership in privileged victim groups instead of the real gold of actual existing status and demonstrated superior talent.

Any elite college or university that follows Smith’s example will find that it has dramatically cheapened its brand and devalued its own currency of prestige. It will inevitably move downmarket, having less of exactly what matters most to offer potential applicants. Less qualified students with lower SAT scores translates directly to less prestige associated with the school’s degrees and fewer applications from the most competitive first rank students.

06 Mar 2011

The College Admissions Process

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If you want to go to naked parties, first you have to be admitted to the appropriate elite college, and even if you don’t want to go to naked parties, you are going to need to get your ticket stamped in our credential-obsessed society in order to get any kind of serious job.

In my day, places like Yale, in the aftermath of Sputnik, were scouring the country in search of anybody with good standardized test scores. All you had to do was ace the 9th grade Stanford-Binet IQ test, then do well on the SATs and alumni representatives of Yale would come and plead with you to accept a full scholarship. Things are a bit more complicated today.

Daniel Akst, reviewing Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College in the Wall Street Journal, has a lot of negative things to say about the process.

The most darkly humorous aspect of this often hilarious book is its depiction of an admissions process that corrupts everything it touches.

It’s a process that discourages reticence by requiring students to write revealing and disingenuous personal essays; discourages thrift by regarding parental savings as fair game in the financial-aid evaluation; discourages intellectual curiosity by encouraging students to pursue grades rather than knowledge; and discourages honesty by transforming adolescence into a period of cynical calculation.

“At its most intense,” Mr. Ferguson writes, “the admissions process didn’t force kids to be Lisa Simpson; it turned them into Eddie Haskell. . . . It guaranteed that teenagers would pursue life with a single ulterior motive, while pretending they weren’t. It coated their every undertaking in a thin lacquer of insincerity. Befriending people in hopes of a good rec letter; serving the community to advertise your big heart; studying hard just to puff up the GPA and climb the greasy poll of class rank—nothing was done for its own sake.”

This stressful process practically demands cynicism from all parties. To “climb the page” in the closely watched U.S. News & World Report rankings, schools solicit applications so that they can increase the numbers they reject, thereby appearing more selective. Elite institutions claim to be open to all but devote wide swaths of their entering classes to athletes, the offspring of donating alumni, members of minority groups and others with “hooks” that give them an edge.

Matters have been complicated in recent years by the success of girls, who persist in outperforming boys academically in high school and outnumbering them in college. But a university may admit so many girls that a tipping point is reached, making boys even less likely to apply or, as Mr. Ferguson notes, “attracting the wrong kind of boys for the wrong reasons.”

Admissions officers have tried to rectify this problem by making schools more appealing to male applicants, expanding math and science departments, adding sports—and lowering admission standards for males, most of whom are white. Asian boys generally don’t need any such help. “After several generations of vicious racism,” Mr. Ferguson says, “followed by protest marches, civil rights lawsuits, accusations of bigotry, appeals to color-blindness, feminism, and eloquent invocations of the meritocratic ideal, the latest admissions trend in American higher education is affirmative action for white men. Just like the old days.”

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