Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and conservative activist, recently had his admission to Harvard rescinded for using racist language in a private online discussion two years ago. This has prompted a variety of responses among conservatives; by contrast, leftists are mostly amused at the conservative outrage.
Most people have pointed out how unfair it is that Harvard should condemn a teenager for typical immature behavior. Some have brought up the hypocrisy of Harvard, which itself discriminates against Asian applicants, yet feels entitled to judge Kashuv for being racist. And others have questioned the political motives behind the move since Harvard, a leftist institution that accepts plenty of morally and academically flawed individuals, has decided to repudiate an outspoken conservative with sterling academic credentials.
Whether one agrees with Harvard or Kashuv, there is something disturbing in the kind of power and influence Harvard has. More than issues of meritocracy, racism, or teenage culpability, this episode reveals the exploitative and predatory nature built into higher education. Society has effectively enabled a power imbalance between higher education and American teenagers that is inherently unfair and counterproductive.
Giving Too Much Power to Colleges
Like predators, Harvard and most colleges unfairly take advantage of America’s best and brightest. For the most part, they hold all the power while applicants have none, and this allows them to make all kinds of demands while applicants must comply or be shut down.
People will object and say that these students have a choice. If Harvard discriminates against them because they’re Asian or conservative and happen to demand a perfect SAT score, a more than perfect GPA, and enough volunteer hours to solve world hunger just to make it to the waiting list, those students can always attend another school. This is true, but wouldn’t it be better if Harvard simply acted fairly and rewarded merit? And, don’t these students who have worked so hard deserve the chance to follow their dreams?
To be fair, what colleges request of applicants is meant to be honorable and praiseworthy. Nevertheless, the problem of who holds the power and who profits still remains. Whatever personal gains a student may make in jumping through so many hoops, the real winner will always be Harvard. In return for merely validating a student’s accomplishments, it will have yet another already successful student who is likely to pay them back in money and reputation.
Anyone who has encountered a first-year Harvard student can attest that they are excellent writers, very well-read, and supremely versatile -- or incredibly wealthy and well-connected. Any undergraduate program, including Harvard’s, partly serves as a 4-year summer camp that keeps students busy, allows them to network with others, and above all develop a massive ego. Harvard will then take credit for its students’ assured success and thereby gain clout, resulting in more donations, grants, and students eager to apply.
Something similar happens in high level college sports in which a university enrolls star athletes, profits in ticket sales and reputation from their preexisting talent, and then repays them with a label of respectability. In other words, the college allows semi-professional athletes to play ball with their peers while the students agree to essentially work as indentured servants and pray that they avoid a serious injury.
Overall, this imbalance lets colleges gain money, power, and influence while students receive a dubious token of credibility. When it becomes apparent that political correctness has devalued this token, it loses its value. A lie can only work so long before society starts inevitably feels the consequences.
Rethink Higher Education and Make Things Fair for Applicants
Therefore, society should reject the lie and replace it with the truth. In concrete terms, this means denouncing universities like Harvard specifically, and reconsidering the basis of a college’s reputation in general -- that is, judging it by what it actually does instead of who it takes in.
In calling out the lie, movements like #MeToo offer hope for victims and whistleblowers who feel intimidated by the system. Kyle Kashuv’s story, along with the many applicants who faced racial discrimination, should be made known and continually discussed. The same should be done for every university that treats its students unfairly and engages in corruption.
In rethinking the way higher education is judged, people should follow the example of the MLB and NBA. Instead of relying on colleges to act as a holding area for upcoming baseball players, Major League teams recruit new players from the Minor League. Although the NBA still leans heavily on colleges for their drafts, they will still allow the very best high school players (like Kobe Bryant or Lebron James) to skip college and start playing professionally.
Americans should take the same approach to assessing colleges. For the majority of students who require continued growth, college should help them, not just agree to vouch for them after so many years and dollars spent. In order to do this, all colleges should have an exit exam to serve as proof of learning, and students should be eligible to take it after two years of coursework, not four. Students who could pass these exit exams as high schoolers (the intellectual equivalents of Lebron James) should have the chance to do so and immediately go to professional or graduate school or enter the workforce as recognized college graduates.
Considering that there are similar kinds of exams that already determine a student’s eligibility for graduate level learning (GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.), introducing this kind of change would be more feasible than one might think. The exam would have to assess one’s learning as an undergraduate and account for an accumulation of knowledge and writing proficiency. It would not assess mere aptitude and potential—as multiple-choice tests assessing logic and reading skills normally do—but actual retention of knowledge relevant to a certain discipline like the bar exam for lawyers or board certification for doctors.
To all this, some might recommend simply replacing the whole college apparatus altogether with online learning, which is already making inroads in many college campuses. However, this would be like replacing Minor League baseball with, well, some kind of online work-from-home equivalent. Although online learning works in theory (one could theoretically train himself to be a good baseball player watching Youtube videos and practicing), in practice it is fraught with accountability issues and acts as little more than a hoop-jumping exercise for students wanting their piece of paper.
Generally speaking, the goal of testing for undergraduates for colleges to meet is to help recover a sense of purpose in higher education. Too often, it becomes more of a patron to young people, taking their money and making them eligible for adult-life, and less a teacher, earning their money and realizing their potential.
If not for the sake of building up the minds of American youths, these reforms should be made for the sake of ending the current injustice of the college system. People can call it fair trade learning: colleges hold up their end of exchange by offering talented, paying students something beyond the superficial marker of achievement.
At the very least, people should know better than to blame or ignore young people like Kyle Kashuv, particularly conservatives who encounter the same double-standard themselves—they can have their own version of #Metoo and share their own stories. The truth is that Kashuv is better than Harvard, far better. He does not need the school’s approval; he needs the chance to prove himself and become a leader. Only then will the predator be tamed.