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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: The arguments for ‘affluence-based’ college admissions don’t make sense

An aerial view of USC’s main campus near downtown Los Angeles.
An aerial view of USC’s main campus near downtown Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: At base, Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks’ argument for affluence-based college admissions amounts to the proposition that given regular infusions of cash from dependable donors, institutions of higher learning will simply do the right thing.

While Banks’ faith in human nature is admirable, given the sordid admissions scandals that he cites, it’s difficult to identify the well from which he draws that faith.

Banks also ignores the fact that roughly 17 years pass between the birth of a wealthy individual’s progeny and the date when said progeny’s intellectual rubber meets the admissions department’s road, leaving more than enough time for the well-endowed parent to establish an admirable record of generous donation.

Finally, Banks argues that it doesn’t matter whether colleges and universities take formal account of parents’ largess because the institutions already have informal access to, and use, such information. In other words, if doing the right thing isn’t going to make a difference, why make the effort?

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Mark Steinberg, Los Angeles

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To the editor: I disagree with Banks’ defense of aristocracy when he argues, in effect, that stupid rich kids should be admitted to prestigious private universities.

Admission should be based on standards of merit, providing weight to applicants that overcome hardships to pursue higher education. I earned my doctorate from Stanford with the help of a National Institutes of Health fellowship and food stamps.

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The problem with admitting stupid rich kids is that flunking them turns off the donor spigot. They graduate with the assistance of ethically compromised professors and become stupid rich alumni. Stupid rich alumni damage the reputation of these institutions.

Banks’ argument boils down to a variation of GOP “trickle-down” economics. Let rich folks keep all their money and buy their way into elite universities. Rich donors with unqualified children will help “float the boats” of meritorious students of modest means who have nothing but their brains and work ethic.

It’s time for Stanford to change its business model to something less aristocratic and more American.

David M. Dozier, Cardiff, Calif.


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