The Long and Grinding Rhodes

The qualities Cecil Rhodes specified in his will as desirable in Rhodes scholars are wide open for interpretation. "Literary and scholastic ability and attainments; qualities of manhood, truthfulness, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; exhibition of moral force of character, and instincts to lead and to take an interest in his fellows; physical vigor, as shown by fondness for and success in sports." None of these are exactly standardized, nor have the will's executors standardized their definition of requisite qualities. Still, one thing is fairly clear about the will: Cecil Rhodes was not thinking of women.

Nonetheless, the Trustees of the Rhodes Trust asked the English Parliament this summer to pass an act that allows any endowed educational fund to petition to open the grant to members of both sexes, regardless of the donor's intention. When the act came before the House of Lords, Lord Blake, current warden of the Rhodes Trust, said, "I can safely predict that if this goes through the Rhodes Trust will be among the first single-sex educational trusts to make an application to the (English) Secretary of State."

Don K. Price, dean of the Kennedy School of Government and the first non-English member of the board of trustees for the Rhodes, says, "Everything had to be negotiated out before hand--if the members of the Rhodes Trust had made a lot of fuss about the changes it would have prejudiced their case badly." Price adds, smiling, that "it's a wonderful illustration of the way different countries do business,"--the Trustees had to be sure the government would accept the amendment to the Education Act before their proposal received any publicity.

The amendment passed, and the selection committees will begin to accept application from women next fall, But no one seems sure what kind of women the committees will be looking for.

Michael S. Rice, '63, secretary for the Massachussets Rhodes selection committee, says he feels the women who are chosen "will in effect select themselves--the selection committees are wholly dependent on who chooses to apply." Rice says he will look for women with "a good head, an active life in some important respect, a social role of some importance in some area, some evidence of achievement in other areas besides academics," and for women who are "honorable, compassionate, and principled."


Perhaps it's only natural that the qualifications for women are vague, since after all, those for men are equally unclear. The majority of Rhodes scholars have been in Group II as undergraduates, but they range from I to the bottom of Group III. The only definite specification is the emphasis on physical activity, and Price says the selection committees have "played down" even that requirement since the 20's.

"You don't have to be a great athlete," Price says, although he teases that "of course the committees realize that anyone who isn't disposed towards some pariticpation in physical activity is likely to die within two months in the Oxford climate." Joking aside, Price says he thinks athletics are "a good way to get to know people, to get involved in the Oxford community," and give the Rhodes scholars--there are 72 elected each year, only 32 of whom are American--something in common besides academic work.

One historian of the Rhodes Trust, himself an ex-warden of Rhodes House, calls the founder's vision one of "Oxford as a nursery of leaders, the energizing source of Empire and the womb of a thousand years of peace for mankind." Michael E. Kinsley '72, a second year law student and former Rhodes scholar, says that to the extent that Rhodes's idea was "to turn the future leaders of America into Anglophiles, it makes perfect sense for women to be admitted" to the foundation. Now that three Oxford colleges have gone co-ed, he says, there isn't really any reason for the Trust to remain limited to men.

And Kinsley admits that, well, he did in fact turn into an Anglophile while he was at Oxford. He confides that he felt miserable the first six months--his room was eight flights up with no bath, the people seemed unfriendly and the weather was awful, and he flooded the mail with unhappy letters. But in the spring, he began to get used to it, and, as he puts it, "it really did it--I don't see how you can live in a country for two years without liking it eventually." The application process for the Rhodes is gruelling, and the competition is intense. "You start out thinking it's made for me,--it's just whatI want, and I have all the qualifications; and then you realize how many people you're contending with, and how hard it is to make it all the way through," Lauren Zachman, staff assistant for fellowships at the Office of Graduate Career and Programs (OGCP), says--and she seems to be right. The Rhodes gives you two years at Oxford and a great deal of prestige, but everyone involved in the application process agress that it isn't worth going through unless you have a pretty good shot at the finals.

To start with, you send an application including a resume, three photographs, a copy of your transcipt and a 1000-word essay to the selection committee in either your home state or the state in which your college is located. A request for at least four and no more than eight names of "persons from whom information may be obtained concerning [your] qualification" is included in the application form. As an applicant who asked not to be named said, "Of course you don't want to give them less than eight names, and then you have to write to each of the people you're asking for recommendations to tell them what you'd like them to focus on--in effect, that's eight more essays."

Until this year, applicants needed the University's endorsement before they went on with the process. Last year 95 students from Harvard received endorsements, and five were among the final 32 who received scholarships. The Rhodes Trust eliminated this step this year, in response to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's Title IX bill, which says that any educational institution that helps a student receive scholarships limited to one sex must set up an equivalent fund for members of the other sex.

"Most universities were terribly embarrassed by the prospect of being held liable for creating fellowships for women to study and travel abroad if they recommended a man for the Rhodes and he got it--it seemed capricious, because if your man didn't get it, you didn't have to give one to a woman," Price says, so the Secretary of the American Rhodes Trust decided simply to bypass the University endorsement entirely.

Rice says that applications have not risen alarmingly this fall, but that he imagines they'll all arrive just before the October 31 deadline.

Getting your application in is only the first step for a prospective Rhodes scholar. Each state chooses around 15 applicants for interviews, perhaps the most important part of the process--it is the emphasis on personal contact that makes the Rhodes application unique. Only two of the fifteen will go on to the regional interviews-- each state belongs in a region that will select four finalists, a way, Rice says, of avoiding bias toward any particular area.

Applicants arrive the night before the interview for a cocktail party that Kinsley describes as "absolutely nightmarish." Applicants and interviewers are expected to mingle. Rice says he finds the parties a good chance to get to know the applicant's strong points, but a little book at the OGCP with comments from people who've gone the route is full of descriptions in a slightly different tone. The applicants try hard to appear manly by clearly not trying to impress the committee members, and the committee members try to draw applicants out. One disappointed applicant called the result "the most stilted conversation I've ever heard."

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