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Ranking responses

Earlier this week, U.S. World News and World Report released its comprehensive rankings for the best colleges in America. To the surprise of Duke students—who likely submitted their application to the university whose hallowed halls they now walk, only after first referencing the famed list—, their beloved school had fallen one spot.

Congratulations, Duke!

Evidently, the university, headed by its newly appointed president Vincent Price, has taken steps to increase diversity of experience on campus. According to a POLITICO review, also published earlier this week, the U.S. News Rankings directly correlate with—and even create incentives to increase—the percentage of wealthy students at a given university. In 2017, Duke separated from the University of Pennsylvania, and defined itself as a more inclusive institution.

Also in 2017, Duke twice expressed its commitment to diversity in the form of written response to actions taken by the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. In March—under former university president Richard H. Brodhead—, Duke joined an amicus curiae brief opposing Trump’s travel ban with 30 other universities, and, in August, Price penned a letter to Trump, urging the President not to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Ironically, though, only the expression of said commitment to diversity has been celebrated, while the actual achievement of diversity—the drop to No. 9 in the U.S. News Rankings—has been lamented.

The difference in reception can be credited to the relationship between intention and result. In both Brodhead’s and Price’s written declarations, Duke intended to convey disapproval of what it considered to be close-minded policy, and succeeded, whereas, in the U.S. News Rankings, Duke intended, most assuredly, to rise—or at the very least stay the same—, and failed. However, these intentions are only ostensibly true.

According to the POLITICO review—which was shared ad nauseam in the days prior to the U.S. News Rankings’ release—, Duke’s intention, by seeking to climb in the rankings, was in effect to curb the diversity of its student body—an intention, which contradicts that expressed in the two presidents’ written statements.

By subscribing to a system of rankings, which preferences performance on standardized admissions tests, having a lower acceptance rate, performing well on surveys of high school guidance counselors and alumni giving, Duke creates barriers to entry—rather, admission—for socioeconomically diverse candidates. The commitment also makes clear that presidents’ intentions were not as stated in the formal objections to the travel ban and the repeal of DACA, especially considering that Duke does not provide needs-blind admission to international applicants, and only recently provided such accommodation to undocumented U.S. residents.

The true intention behind the letters was not moral concern, but rather political, just like the decision to extend needs-blind admission to undocumented students within a month of Trump’s election. Although the university has stated that the reasons for its public condemnations of the current administration’s policies are the value it places on “diversity,” its endeavors to maximize the factors in the U.S. News Rankings’ formula states otherwise. 

Duke’s public stances against the executive’s policy decisions are an expression of a contemporary ideology prevalent in liberal and academic communities, of which Duke is both, —opposition to Trump no matter what. Certainly, there are specific policies of Trump, which are relevant to the university, and with which the university may fundamentally disagree, but the travel ban and the repeal of DACA are not examples. The university’s actions differ from its words. Duke voices a commitment to diversity, but strategizes to effectively attain a less economically diverse student body, which runs counter to realizing the “great diversity of backgrounds,” which Price desires to protect in his letter to Trump. Duke claims to treasure diversity above mores and law when doing so presents an opportunity to criticize the President, yet systematically pursues results, which would create a more culturally homogenous campus. 

Duke typically grants admission only to those with qualifications, which traditionally wealthy, white and American candidates are more likely to possess, as evidenced by the New York Times study, which I referenced in my previous article, and the university’s lofty placement in the U.S. News Rankings.  Although the drop in the rankings is a step in the right direction, to paraphrase Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag, Duke is simply unattainable from a socioeconomic standpoint for many. Despite Duke successfully increasing its percentage of minority students on campus, the “access to higher education,” which Price seeks to expand in his letter to Trump, is still limited in practice. 

The university abides by a system in which becoming more elite—as it pertains to academics—means becoming more elite—as it pertains to the background of its students. While complicity in this system is neither necessarily bad nor good—as trade-offs have been established between diversity of background and institutional prowess—, it does preclude Duke from claiming a moral high ground when pronouncing concern for diversity, and makes its political objectives apparent. 

If Duke is as committed to diversity as its two most recent presidents have purported it to be, it should celebrate our fall in the U.S. News Rankings. Only then could its objections to Trump’s policy initiatives be thought of as ethical, and its claimed commitment to diversity be truly genuine.

Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.

Jacob Weiss

Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.


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