How the Ivy League Jewish Quota Shaped Higher Education


In his new podcast series, Gatecrashers: Hidden Jewish History and the Ivy League (tablet), Mark Oppenheimer, writer and podcast co-host unorthodoxexamines how elite institutions tried to limit the number of Jewish students a century ago, and how the advent of that quota system has shaped US higher education ever since. talked Inside higher education on the phone. An excerpt of the conversation follows. Edited for length and clarity.

Q: Your podcast is very timely given that the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Harvard and UNC affirmative action cases next month. What if anything has changed since the Ivy League first tried to impose quotas on Jewish students a century ago?

A: We were literally exactly a century ago, when Columbia, Harvard, and Yale all first tried to artificially limit the number of Jews incarcerated, even if it took them a year. Simply put, the big difference was that diversity was undoubtedly seen as a bad thing back then. And now diversity is definitely considered a good thing. At the time, restricting admission was an attempt to sabotage some kind of ethnic diversity. And today there are probably implicit quotas aimed at increasing some kind of diversity.

The same devices that were used then are now in use. Think about geographic diversity. Seemingly harmless on the surface, the university says he has students from all 50 states. But the idea was invented by Columbia and quickly adopted by other Ivy League schools. One way to limit the number of Jews is to send these newly created recruiting units to Western and Southern states with sparsely populated Jews, instead of saying, “We recruit gentiles.” , was considered an incredibly good thing just to say, “Recruit Southerners or Westerners.” All of these factors (geographic diversity, interviews, heritage preferences, etc.) incorporated into today’s admissions process are expressly devised to keep Jewish numbers down.

An ivy-covered wall titled Q: Isn’t it better to impose quotas to increase diversity than to impose quotas to limit diversity?

A: I mean, it’s very tricky. On the one hand, I think it is progress that no one is currently sitting in the admissions office discussing the ‘good’ kind of Jew and the ‘bad’ kind of Jew, the assimilable and the non-assimilatable Jew. increase. Asking Jewish alumni to consult admissions offices on how to get the “right” kind of Jew out of their own people, as Dartmouth did, is a way to get them to no longer have the conversation. It is progress that has not been made.

On the other hand, the way schools like Harvard now seem to achieve a more admirable kind of diversity inevitably turn on mechanisms that reduce individual candidates to stereotypes. The same stereotypes that admissions officers had of Jews in 1920 – they are geeks, they are grinds, they go home at night and study, so they take full advantage of all of their extracurricular activities. Didn’t have character. but is still harmful. And the other thing they do in both cases is to inject elements of fraud into the process.

Q: Why?

A: These universities were founded with the intention of being little islands of truth in our society, tax exempt, but the admissions office is probably the most dishonest place in these universities.Transparent lacks sexuality. They can’t talk about how they got to the numbers they got. They can’t talk about what they are aiming for in class. All the top schools that can afford to recruit, for example, have African Americans in their freshman class close to her 12% of African Americans in the United States, and probably the same for Latinos. You must be hoping for something.

No one talks about how different groups score on different metrics that admissions officers come up with, such as grade, SAT, subjective markers of character, bravery, etc., if they can avoid it. , or respectable. But they should be discussed and spoken openly. We shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist. I am not necessarily against these measures. What I think we should scrutinize more is why there are so many secrets around them.

Q: Each of the eight episodes in the series looks at how Jews were accepted and treated by one Ivy League institution. In what ways were the experiences of Jewish students at each university similar and in what ways were they different?

A: The Ivy League schools of the 1920s were very similar in many ways. Because all the schools were in the process of becoming bastions of highly competitive status. Fifty years ago, all Ivy League schools were fairly rural schools, doing relatively few things, whether they trained students for clergy or, like Cornell University, for agriculture. I was. By 1920, they had all developed this desire to become a competitive place to enroll for students who wanted to succeed and enter the upper classes. They were all becoming nationally attractive in different ways.

Columbia, in New York City, began attracting huge numbers of applicants from its public schools, but never before. But remember, these colleges were pretty cheap back then. So if you’re a good boy who graduated from Stuyvesant or Bronx Science in his 1920, and your family has a little money, you can apply not only to Columbia University, but also to Citi’s College or his NYU. increase. , financially. Suddenly, the number of applicants from New York City began to skyrocket. Princeton at the time was much more Southern oriented. It was considered more of a Cavalier school and was not appealing to Jews. Also, schools like Princeton and Dartmouth didn’t have many vocational schools. So if you were a Jewish boy trying to get into the middle class, you couldn’t imagine having a place for yourself in Papa’s Banking Company. I had to go to law school, medical school, and dental school. Princeton University and Dartmouth College weren’t attractive, so urban schools like Harvard and Columbia, with many vocational schools, were really very popular at first.

Q: Many of the Jewish students who attended Ivy League schools in the ’20s were children of immigrants. How much of the discrimination against them was rooted in religion, and how much was it rooted in class?

A: In particular, it had little to do with Jewish adherence to the Torah. No one said, “We need more followers of Christ and fewer sons of Moses!” He had three elements to it. One was that there were ethnic prejudices that accepted certain stereotypes of Jews as lacking class, being too strict and ambitious. Second, at a time when America was going through a period of anti-immigration, it was prejudice against immigrants. The 1920s were a time when immigrants were as fearful as they are today. Many of them were basic native his tivisist concerns about Jewish immigration, Italian immigration, Irish immigration, and so on. And his third part was a simple question of socioeconomic status. It is whether poor children can or should be allowed to mingle with wealthy children who know which fork to use.

Q: You basically pointed out that you were kind of athletic and knew, like you said, which fork to use was socially acceptable.

A: The Princeton Eating Club has always had a place for “good Jews.” There was always the feeling that Jews from wealthy families and proper private schools could enroll. In the Princeton episode, the Jews who did not join the eating club were public school Jews who were not on sports teams.Also, if you believe [my interview with] One of the sophomore Jews in 1958, not well dressed, not tall, and at worst, an intellectual. We must remember how anti-intellectual these schools were. They were deeply concerned about being seen as a school where everyone was always interested in studying and learning. That was bad. Leadership qualities were thought to require a kind of balance, almost indifference to the life of the mind.

Q: How did geopolitical events at the time affect the Ivy League Jewish quota?

A: There were two moments when world events really invaded American admissions. One is that, after the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II had been fully assimilated, it really became unacceptable in the mid-to-late 1940s to continue talking about people with crude and crude ethnic stereotypes. And nominally anyway, in the 1950s these schools developed the rhetoric of civil rights and tolerance. did not. But in the late 1940s and 1950s, they began to feel embarrassed about the racial and religious prejudices that characterized the interwar period.

the second moment [1957] When Sputnik was launched, Americans became very concerned that Russia had won the War of the Worlds and was lagging behind technologically. At Yale, for example, squash pretty clearly decided that he had to start acknowledging his racket skills and good tenor voice, as well as an intellectual burden.

Q: You note that there are fewer Ivy League Jews than there were 20 or 30 years ago. why is that?

A: Several factors are involved. Indeed, a search for more students from historically underrepresented groups has to some extent squeezed out the number of Ashkenazi Jews who are considered white. The increase has certainly reduced the proportion of Jews. By and large, these students are not from Israel, nor are they Jews from other countries. Very often they come from East Asia, South Asia, the Arab Gulf, etc. A third possible reason is that the further away any group is from immigrant industriousness, the more it reverts to the average American average. By and large, now that most American Jews have reached the middle and upper middle classes, I believe there are many Jewish boys and girls working hard or hungry to break into the middle class. There is no reason.

Q: at Inside higher educationDo you think it’s somehow related to the old Jewish quota system or something else? do you think it comes from

A: The problem is that stereotypes remain, right? Wherever you see anti-Semitic posters, anti-Semitic graffiti, and anti-Semitic memes on the internet, there’s a pretty good chance they’re conjuring up some of the same old stereotypes. Nothing new under the sun.

Q: One difference is the creation of the State of Israel, which did not exist in the 1920s. Today, much of the anti-Semitism on campus seems to be related to Zionism.

A: That’s true, but what’s interesting is that the idea of ​​dismissing Jews for hating them because they’re supposed to have some sort of connection with a foreign government doesn’t seem like the kind of Jewish people you saw in the 1920s. It’s a terrifying reminder of the old trope: the thirties. In the 1930s, the idea was that they were untrustworthy. They are trying to lure us into war on behalf of foreign powers. And how is much anti-Zionism now made, except that Jews can’t be trusted?