Thursday, August 16, 2018

Efforts to defuse meritocratic competition will all lead to more competition

Ok, we are back to fighting the meritocracy. Do you know what the ultimate democratic and anti-meritocratic selection mechanism is? A lottery. When we select something by lottery, we give up all pretense of selecting for the best. So no one will have to compete to be the best anymore. Will this not solve all our problems with university admissions? Yes! Yes! No more squabbling and lawsuiting over who deserves to get in, because it will no longer be about desert. Except, of course, if we condition admission to the lottery on meeting certain pre-requisites and those pre-requisites are themselves a little subjective, such as...
After a cull using this automated scoring — applicants would need, say, a combination equivalent to a 3.7 grade-point average, 4 out of 5 on the essays/activities and 1500 on the SATs — the final selection for acceptance would be done purely by lottery.
But what if Harvard created a fixed set of criteria that it deems desirable—say, an SAT score of 1470 or above, a 3.5 or higher GPA, a demonstrable interest and aptitude in particular non-academic activities, a record of overcoming obstacles, and so on? To continue to promote diversity, the school could give extra weight to certain applicants depending on, say, their zip code, the kind of high school they attended, their income, and their race. 
Then what will happen? Will we perhaps turn all our energies toward squabbling and lawsuiting over the precise calibration of qualifications for the lottery instead? What makes a "4 out of 5" on an essay or an activity? Why was my essay a 4? Why not? Just how many obstacles does an applicant need to overcome to clear the bar? How much interest is "demonstrable interest"?

So many questions, so many lawyers to raise them in court...

H/T Joanne Jacobs.