Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cody's and The Price of Admission

I was in Berkeley over the weekend and saddened to learn that the Telegraph Ave location of Cody's Books has closed after 41 years. I spent countless hours there as a grad student, broadening my intellectual horizons thanks to the impeccable and wide-ranging tastes of their staff.

At their 4th street location (still in business, and right next to a Peet's Coffee), I had a chance to look at Daniel Golden's The Price of Admission, which I mentioned in an earlier post. Although most of the attention has gone to his expose of celebrity and super-rich admits, he devotes an entire chapter to the discrimination against Asians (the chapter is entitled something like Asians: the new Jews, recalling the Ivy League Jewish quotas in place as recently as 50 years ago). He recounts numerous cases of accomplished immigrant kids of humble origins (particularly a lot of Chinese or Korean strivers), inexplicably denied admission to top schools. He even collects crypto-racist quotes from anonymous admissions officers, to the effect of "these Asian kids are all alike -- strong scores and grades, science and music, but I can't really tell them apart." When will Asian-Americans wake up and defend their rights? There is enough evidence for a strong class action lawsuit.

Golden, a Harvard man, also devotes an entire chapter to extolling Caltech as a paragon of merit-based admisisons :-) The only problem is, he refers to it at the beginning of the chapter as just a small engineering school :-/


Anonymous said...

Caltech's admissions policy was one of the things that really impressed me. I mean, they sent an actual physics professor to my school to interview me (and a couple other candidates) and my teachers. The other places (even MIT) only seemed to use professional admissions people, who seemed to enjoy their rolls as gatekeepers a little too much.

steve said...

I was interviewed by a high energy experimentalist, who flew all the way to Iowa during a cold winter to talk to a handful of kids in the state.

In the book, Golden describes how seriously admissions is taken at Caltech, and quotes physicists David Politzer (Nobel prize in theoretical physics), Michael Cross and Robert Mckeown, all on the committee when he was researching the book. Politzer (almost certainly exaggerating) says that he would have had trouble as a student at Caltech, because the pace is too fast.

Apparently they have a hard time finding professors willing to take time from their research to do the interviews, so the tradition may not continue.

Dave Bacon said...

Did they at least spell Caltech correctly? :)

Sadly Caltech doesn't do interviews anymore. Some, including myself, would claim that this is part of a long slide in which Caltech has slowly caused more and more separation between the faculty and the undergraduates.

An interesting Caltech statistic I saw the other day: 42 out of every 100 undergraduates from Caltech get a PhD. The next closest undergraduate institution is MIT which has 22 out of every 100 undergraduates go on to get a PhD.

dave s said...

'unhooked kids'

not an attractive look at admissions!

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