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Will Colleges Admit A Problem?

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Originally from Gus Van Horn,

The Wall Street Journal has been doggedly pursuing the story of Yale's admission of a Taliban official and today stops just short of naming the larger problem of which this is merely a symptom -- and giving it its proper moral appraisal.

Today, John Fund starts off by comparing the Taliban student Yale chose to admit with one it did not.

In February, former Yale admissions dean Richard Shaw was explaining why the university had admitted Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi [the Taliban -- ed]. Yale once had, as the New York Times put it, "another foreigner of Rahmatullah's caliber" who applied. "We lost him to Harvard," Mr. Shaw told the Times. "I didn't want that to happen again."

...

Masood Farivar, a 1994 Harvard graduate who now works for Dow Jones Newswires as an oil markets reporter ... At first glance, one might view Mr. Farivar as a "Taliban-type applicant," but his background is actually quite different from that of Mr. Hashemi. Born in 1969, he left Afghanistan with his family in 1983, during the Soviet occupation. He was educated in a refugee school set up by the International Relief Committee, although he also attended an Islamic religious school. In 1987 he returned to his native land and spent two years fighting the Soviets as a mujahideen warrior. "I wanted to fight for my country because so many around me were," he told me.

...

If Mr. Farivar is indeed the student "who got away" from Yale, his friend Mr. Heller says, any comparison to Mr. Hashemi would be bizarre. "If [Farivar] is who Shaw is referring to, then he is full of crap," College friend Benjamin] Heller wrote the Harvard Crimson. "Farivar was not some agent of a criminal regime like Rahmatullah Hashemi."

Besides noting their different paths to the Ivy League -- the Taliban has a fourth-grade education whereas Farivar had to attend a year of high school before being admitted -- the article notes their different perspectives on the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Mr. Hashemi told Tim Reid of the Times of London that he had done poorly in his class "Terrorism: Past, Present and Future," something he attributed to his disgust with the textbooks: "They would say the Taliban were the same as al Qaeda."

Mr. Farivar says the Taliban were almost the same as al Qaeda. "What really turned me against the Taliban were their links to al Qaeda, who had Taliban officials on their payroll. [Taliban leader]Mullah Omar even gave Osama bin Laden the title of 'Commander of the Faithful,' a term fraught with deep meaning in Islam."

In his interview with the Times of London, Mr. Hashemi also shifted blame for many of the Taliban's brutal practices onto its Ministry of Vice and Virtue, even though he had defended its actions during his infamous U.S. tour in 2001, a few months before 9/11. As for the infamous filmed executions before crowds in Kabul's soccer stadium? "That was all Vice and Virtue stuff. There were also executions happening in Texas."

"That statement is inexcusable, an old, tired rehash of Taliban-era arguments," says Mr. Farivar. "The Taliban would also respond to claims that they oppressed women by saying that they were also abused in the West through domestic violence." [bold added]

Does that statement in bold not sound exactly like the kind of leftist context-dropping and moral relativism one might expect to hear from -- oh, an Ivy League professor? And might such moral relativism at least partially explain how Yale could say that these two men were of "similar caliber" and keep a straight face?

After discussing the various ways Yale continues trying to spin the controversy rather than admit a mistake, so to speak, the article then passes on the following interesting observation concerning the rationale behind Hashemi's admission.

The real story of Taliban Man at Yale is the mindset it exposes among Ivy League admissions offices. After the New York Times broke the story of Mr. Hashemi's admission, Haym Benaroya, a professor at Rutgers, wrote to Mr. Shaw expressing disbelief that Mr. Hashemi, who has a fourth-grade education and a high school equivalency certificate, could be at Yale. Mr. Shaw replied that his Taliban applicant had "personal accomplishments that had significant impact" and insisted those accomplishments had been "positive."

"There you have the moral blind spot," Mr. Benaroya told me. "On the margin, admissions officials go for the 'exotic' over the well-grounded, and we aren't well served by that. They love to brag among themselves about the 'special' students one or the other has landed. The Taliban student shows some are special in ways we wouldn't want." [bold added]

This precedes an account of two Hispanic students -- one with a solid record and another with a criminal one -- that suggests that academic criteria are no longer such a big deal in some admissions decisions. Indeed, the fact that the lousy student was regarded as a more "authentic" Hispanic suggests that academic standards have been trumped by multiculturalist (read: anti-Western) dogma. This isn't just a "moral blind spot" and the students we're talking about aren't merely "exotic". This is a deliberate elevation of the undeserving into prestigious positions, and an attack on the whole concept of academic standards.

Interestingly, the story also reveals, perhaps, some developing fault lines within the left.

Even some who defend the right of Yale to make its own admissions decisions now say it went too far with its Taliban Man. Mark Oppenheimer, a Yale grad who edits the New Haven Advocate, an alternative weekly, says he has "finally come to the conclusion" that "Yale should not have enrolled someone who helped lead a regime that destroyed religious icons, executed adulterers and didn't let women learn to read. Surely, the spot could have better gone to, say, Afghani women, who have such difficulty getting schooling in their own country." [bold added]

While Oppenheimer is not exactly rallying 'round the flag, he at least deserves credit for noticing that Yale's decision flies in the face of many things the left claims to hold dear.

Keep it up Yale! It appears that you may be providing a few people with an education despite your best efforts.

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Since the big-name universities get so much funding from wealthy alumni, I've often wondered if there was an activism opportunity there or whether the alumni-tie is too strong. For instance, can the top 100 contributors to Yale be convinced enough that that university is doing the wrong thing that their overall contribution is significantly reduced?

Alternatively, can they be convinced to change the way they provide funds, doing so in a way that ensures that the funds are spend for what they want, not to educate a Taliban sympathizer?

"Yale rated worst user of alumni donations: A study conducted by the non-profit Van Horn Center for the Study of Education Initiatives, shows that ..." (fiction)

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For instance, can the top 100 contributors to Yale be convinced enough that that university is doing the wrong thing that their overall contribution is significantly reduced?
One impediment would be identifying the contributors. A second would be persuading a substantial portion of them. The problem is that the guy doing something, Clinton Taylor, is a standard National Review radical, which doesn't make him an exactly sympathetic proponent of the cause. I just don't think he'll reach the million dollar contributors.
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