Saturday 2013-07-20

Admission a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, derived on The Gatekeepers and The Chosen

I saw the film version and figured the book version might avoid some failings; the book leaves the question of parenthood open-ended, is far more moralistic (note the cover's huge scarlet ivied A), and covers more of the state of the art in collegiate admissions.

Which is to say that they've not changed much since I went through the process, i.e. yet again we have these "adults" who don't know what they are doing. Admission tempers this by analogizing the process to casting a film, limited by money (administration's concern), status and legacy (alumni's), and campus aesthetic (profs').

Let's suppose you did have a single, reliable testing system, that isn't going to solve the problem of who's going to play tuba in the marching band, and who'll be writing the songs for The Triangle Show. Princeton is a community of many parts. We don't just need molecular biology majors and tennis players. We need Gregorian chanters and break dancers. We need people for the math club and the mime troop and the Nepalese student association. We need somebody to chair the gay Republicans group and somebody to lead the Democrats for Fiscal Responsibility.
-- Inspiration Way

Were one to run it strictly by test scores, it wouldn't leave any wiggle room for rationalizing the acceptance of important alumni's middling offspring, or more kids who can pay when the finance committee gets tight, or for allocating more students approved by the winner of the school's politicized admission process.

With now-plentiful numbers of applicants for an unknown number of roles, the old methods of preparing for college don't work reliably anymore. Which means admissions staff get beat up intellectually for running a capricious show.

last year's scholarship girl, the daughter of the schoool janitor, who had gone off to Harvard and was a lovely, lovely girl, of course, and certainly a wonderful little flute player, but had scored over one hundred points lower on the math SAT than the class salutatorian, who had been rejected not only by Harvard, but by Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Williams, Amherst, and -- can you believe this -- NYU...
And how -- how? -- could it be fair?
-- Fair is Kind of an Imprecise Concept

While finance has a similar that-was-unexpected problem, most financial risk comes from either other organizations or the never easy to predict future. Whereas the risk is internal to schools that fill roles without an expressed unified stable directorial vision.

In the face of such risk, some players simply raise the game to a new level. In the book, the founder of a new school seduces an admissions officer, then plays on her emotional loss due to having given a child up for adoption roughly 18 years ago. The admissions officer then unwittingly (she never catches on) works very diligently to ensure that one of the kids from the new school is admitted to Princeton.

But that's what happens when you run an opaque game; the Machiavellian intrigues multiply, the worst is rewarded, and you win a place in the Ninth Circle of Hell.