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Last month, representatives from two conservative advocacy groups threatened to file a complaint against Harvard Business School (HBS) if it does not rectify what they called racial discrimination in an affiliated program. The Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP), which the groups targeted, is a one-week seminar for 60-80 college juniors, and only admits students from racial or ethnic minorities. In recent months, both MIT and Princeton have bowed to pressure aimed at similar programs. But HBS must not allow itself to be bullied by the prospect of a lawsuit into changing a program as vital and as valuable as SVMP.
Some have alleged that SVMP’s admissions policy is illegal. Analogies have been drawn to the hard quotas ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 1978 Bakke v. Regents of the University of California. But what would be unacceptable as a policy for admission to the college, HBS proper or any other institution of higher learning, is completely appropriate for this type of specialized one-week program.
More fundamentally, the SVMP admissions policy denies no opportunities to non-minority students; it only opens up doors that would otherwise be closed to these talented and exceptional minority leaders. Today’s business world is still, unfortunately, haunted by the very real specter of racism, and superficial nods to colorblindness can only hinder progress. SVMP serves as an irreplaceable booster to qualified minority students, helping them to prepare for a world in which they will almost certainly be victims of deep-seated prejudice and bias.
To succeed in business more than talent is needed—personal connections can often prove to be deal clinchers. In the absence of programs such as SVMP, minority students often lack the opportunity to establish these personal relationships before entering the corporate world—placing them at a severe disadvantage for years to come. The opportunity to spend productive time networking during college will inevitably be a boon to their subsequent careers and will help to subvert the good old boy networks that dominate many sectors of American business.
Targeted programs, such as SVMP, are beneficial in that they can correct the specific inequalities that remain in the professional world. HBS should keep the SVMP as is and preserve an important opportunity for business-minded college seniors from minority backgrounds.
Dissent: Discrimination is Discrimination
The exclusion of all but black, Hispanic and American Indian applicants is blatantly discriminatory. The exclusivity of the business community, a problem which Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP) seeks to remedy, does not only affect members of the black, Hispanic and American Indian communities. Socioeconomically disadvantaged students of all races—black, Hispanic, white, Asian and others—face similar obstacles to entering the world of finance. Excluding them from the possibility of admission to the SVMP program serves only to reinforce and amplify the difficulties that such students have in gaining access to highly lucrative jobs and highly coveted degree programs.
Furthermore, attending SVMP confers a significant advantage towards admission to Harvard Business School’s (HBS) regular two-year MBA program. Restricting access to this advantage based upon race is in clear violation of Harvard’s anti-discrimination policy, and should not continue under University auspices.
Only by opening SVMP’s admissions process to qualified applicants of all races will the program truly achieve its goals of leveling Wall Street’s playing fields, and ensuring equal access to America’s business institutions.
—Duncan M. Currie ’04, Zachary K. Goldman ’05
and Travis R. Kavulla ’06
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