The Collegiate War Against Merit

Richard Vedder:

A story in Inside Higher Ed last week revealed that two more Ivy League schools, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, have stoppedpublishing “dean’s lists” that recognize high levels of academic achievement. As one anonymous Penn alumnus put it, “The war against individual achievement continues unabated.” Other Ivies (e.g., Brown and Harvard) had already abandoned—or never really embraced—the concept of recognizing merit in this manner.

Why is this happening? As Inside Higher Ed interpreted it, “Some universities are working to address a culture of perfectionism on campus, where students feel pressured to earn the highest grades, participate in the most extracurriculars or land the most elite internships.”

Much of higher education is contemptuous of the values that produced American exceptionalism.Let’s stamp out excellence, the pernicious act of striving to do better, learning more, and becoming more productive students and citizens. In short, let’s show disdain for the attributes that made the United States the most prosperous nation in the world and attracted millions of Americans to its shores.

Additionally, if we reduce published indicators or even our knowledge of student success or potential, we can better disguise our efforts to get around the Supreme Court’s mandate, in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, that colleges stop employing blatant racial discrimination in admissions. This no doubt is a factor in many elite schools abandoning the SAT or ACT as a requirement for admission. (Kudos to Dartmouth and Yale, however, for recently restoring test requirements.) To some college administrators, ignorance is bliss.