Harvard Alum Wins Pulitzer Prize

When a delivery person dropped off a carton of champagne at The Wall Street Journal’s Boston bureau Monday, Daniel L. Golden ’78 suspected he may have won a Pulitzer Prize.

“I had been pessimistic about my chances because I thought that I would hear early if I won,” said Golden, the Journal’s education reporter. “But then I came into the hallway and noticed the delivery guy.”

The bureau soon officially learned the news when colleagues gathered around Golden’s computer to watch the names of winners scroll across the screen. Golden had won a Pulitzer for his series of four articles on “white affirmative action.” The prize comes with a $10,000 award.

Golden’s articles, published in The Wall Street Journal during the first six months of 2003, examined the non-academic preferences that help privileged white students gain acceptance into prestigious universities. Golden summarized these preferences, including legacy and wealth, as “the importance of money to higher education.”

He looked specifically at several top institutions, including his alma mater.

“Harvard came up in a couple of the stories,” Golden said. “[At Harvard] there is a sizeable proportion of legacies. The people who fall under this category are more likely to be white and get treated differently.”

Golden pointed out that Harvard’s dean of admissions reviews every legacy profile personally.

While at Harvard, Golden chose not to write for The Crimson, but spent his summers working at a local newspaper in his hometown of Amherst, Mass.

The four front-page articles in the series were strategically published before the Supreme Court’s June ruling on affirmative action.

According to Golden and Gary Putka, the Journal’s Boston bureau chief and Golden’s editor, the articles may have influenced the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of affirmative action. Putka said the stories had been credited for making it difficult for the Court to vote against affirmative action. “[A justice] gave backhanded compliments to the stories,” Putka said. “I think the story may have had something to do with [the ruling].”

Despite the series’ time-peg to the Supreme Court decision, Putka said the inspiration for the articles actually came from years of writing about the issue.

“There was an abiding interest [at the Journal] for a couple of years in writing about this subject,” Putka said. “As we got closer to the [Supreme Court’s] decision, a couple of things started coming into focus.”

It was at this point that Golden started writing.

Golden’s colleagues spoke highly of their co-worker’s accomplishment.

David A. Armstrong, who has worked with Golden for almost a decade, cited the qualities that he said made Golden worthy of a Pulitzer.

“Dan conceptualizes stories better than anyone I know,” Armstrong said. “He rightly sensed that affirmative action was going to be a big deal in the education world, and what he did which was so brilliant was look at it from a different angle.”

Golden has been a reporter for the Journal since 1999. Before that, he worked as a reporter for the Boston Globe.

After his award-winning series, Golden is moving on to examine another aspect of education: the education of gifted minority students from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Golden will examine why there are not more minority students who can get into prestigious universities without affirmative action.

—Staff writer Claire G. Friedman can be reached at cfriedm@fas.harvard.edu.