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Monday, May 24, 2004

24 May 04

[[[Pls. note: "Gated" correspondence]]]

TO: Undergraduate Oligarchs Consortium [For background, see Gated Correspondence post, UD, 23 April 04]

FROM: Josh, for the Steering Committee


Number of unsettling developments to report, I'm afraid. Our main message in today's communication to members is -- stop a bit. Hold on. Watch what you do and watch what you say. Keep your head down.

I. Politically, the most pressing issue we've been discussing as a group is the increased attention being directed toward so-called economic diversity issues on American campuses. Along with everything mentioned in our last correspondence, we have to add a PBS report ("Elite Universities Eye Economic Affirmative Action. Top Universities Look to Boost Enrollment of Low-Income Students.") which begins in this way:

"May 22, 2004 -- Research suggests less than 5 percent of students at America's top colleges and universities come from low-income families. Many of these elite institutions are considering class-based affirmative action programs -- such as full scholarships for underprivileged students -- aimed at boosting economic diversity on campus.

But some education researchers suggest there aren't enough college-ready low-income students graduating from public schools to raise these numbers appreciably."

The piece goes on to offer some statistics:

* Nearly three quarters of students at the nation's top 140 schools come from the wealthiest families; 3 percent come from the bottom economic quartile. (Source: Richard Kahlenberg, Century Foundation)

* A study of 19 selective universities found privileged students are six times more likely to end up in the pool of applicants than underprivileged students. (Source: William Bowen, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation)

* Research suggests that if admissions departments gave low-income applicants the same credit based on their economic status as they do to the children of alumni, the percentage of disadvantaged students at elite schools would rise from 11 percent to 17 percent. (Source: William Bowen, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation)

II: Then there's the situation at Columbia University:

"Tuition at Columbia's School of the Arts will reach $39,144 a year in the next three years, significantly higher than the tuition at competitors like Yale and Stanford. And while the number of applicants for graduate arts degrees has hit a record high, some Columbia officials say the school is losing top candidates to less-expensive programs. ..."I don't want to see a rich-kid program," [said an administrator]. "You find as you go deeper and deeper into the waiting list, you are starting to take students who can pay." ... Peter Smith, who was the dean of the School of the Arts from 1987 to 1995 and is now retired, said that if something does not change soon, the consequences could be dire. "The school will be in danger of becoming a place where only the wealthy and the foolhardy will decide to go." [New York Times, 24/5]

III. Finally, and most disturbingly, there is this:

"Authorities say Princeton University students are increasingly being caught shoplifting from the school store, with 10 Ivy League students arrested since March.

Twelve students have been arrested since the installation of new security cameras in the Princeton University Store several months ago, according to a published report.

Municipal Prosecutor Marc Citron told The Times of Trenton that the shoplifting is the university's "little secret."

"Everybody wants to hide it. Nobody wants to think that a Princeton University student, a future secretary of state ... would dare to commit a shoplifting," he told the newspaper in Sunday's editions.

University spokespeople did not comment on the arrests.

Students have been charged with misdemeanors for stealing items such as razor blades, clothing, sushi and cosmetics from the shop, which is partly a bookstore and a 24-hour convenience store. It is independent of the university.

Citron said the arrests have made him add to his explanations of why people shoplift. He said he used to have two reasons: people stealing to buy drugs and people with psychological problems.

"And No. 3 is the Princeton University student and I am not quite sure what category they fall into," he said. "What troubles me is that some of the students feel that they are so privileged, that they have the privilege (to steal)."

He said students during their court appearances have been unapologetic." [Newsday [23/5]

One of the students actually talked to the press:

"The (N.J.) Times sent an e-mail to 10 of the students charged with shoplifting requesting any comment. Three responded and only Brian Cochran agreed to comment.

The 20-year-old from Ohio was arrested April 2 for allegedly stealing magazines worth $15.44.

Cochran said he was not shoplifting, but putting items he intended to buy in a crate and mistakenly left the store with the crate. He said the magazines were clip art for the campus magazine BAMN! he publishes and that the university reimburses him for costs.
"I had no incentive to steal these magazines," Cochran said. He plans to fight the charges. But what really upset Cochran, he said, was that during his arrest the police found a fake Ohio driver's license in his wallet.

He was charged with possession of a fictitious driver's license, a felony. "I was on probation already and this on top of that, my housing (is in jeopardy) and they're talking about suspending me." [ 23/5]

We are least concerned with II, except as it reflects an increased willingness to indulge in something rather close to hate speech when it comes to us ("don't want to see a rich-kid program," ... "only the wealthy and the foolhardy."). But the PBS report should remind all of us that our values, and the values that have shaped historically-affluent institutions, are under siege as special scholarships are devised to lure middle and lower middle class people to campus. And the news out of Princeton is disgraceful. We're aware that many of us were raised never to carry money; we're aware that the transition from the family and from the familial prep school setting to the larger commercial world of the university can be bumpy. But please - do carry money with you at all times. You will be needing it. The Princeton students have apparently been fingerprinted and had mug shots taken.

Members will recall, we hope, that when Jamie Johnson tried to find subjects to interview for his documentary film, Born Rich, "there was just one problem," as New York Magazine put it. "No one would talk to him." Yes, eventually he did find a handful of people willing to go on camera; but for the most part we kept mum. We are, as Paul Fussell, in his very intelligent book Class calls us, the "upper-out-of-sight." We keep quiet. We don't appear. But we do have to come out of the shadows long enough to recognize threats and defend ourselves.