The arrival of the class of 2009 at Harvard produces a certain sense of excitement for me, as I think of the remarkable, interesting, and varied people it must surely include. They are almost certainly thinking—like many before them—about why they were chosen to be a part of this group of promising young men and women.
One of the achievements that they may believe they have to live up to is Harvard’s record-equaling achievement of 14 Ivy League titles. Not only should this be of little concern to students at an institution like Harvard, however, they can also be assured that they have been carefully chosen with this in mind. This conscientious effort in recruiting and admissions is, at best, wrong, and at worst, immoral.
To any who believe that Harvard admissions are based purely on academic merit, I would assign incredible naivety. The Harvard admissions process seeks to select a diverse group of interesting and talented people in a variety of areas: music, drama, public service, background, business, writing and, yes, sports. This broad emphasis is not at all a bad thing and it is a part of what makes Harvard the amazing place it is. Universities that accept students based on pure academic ability alone can never offer the environment that allows Harvard students to grow and develop the way they do outside of the classroom.
The problem that I have with the recruiting and admission of athletes is that they do not add to this diverse group and this environment in the same way in which others do. I am not against taking sporting activity into account during admissions (I myself played numerous sports in high school, as did most Harvard students). I simply believe that we should not be admitting a student who would not otherwise be admitted had he not been a nationally ranked squash player or had a sports coach not suggested that she would make a good addition to whichever team. These forms of recommendations give them an unfair advantage that they do not deserve.
My roommate last year remarked to me that the athletes are some of the only normal people at Harvard. My feeling, however, is that you can go to numerous other colleges to have contact with normal people—I came to Harvard to be surrounded by the exceptional people. The admission of people whose primary distinguishing feature is athletic ability takes up the place of people who will add more to the college environment than those who win sports games that few, if any, go to watch.
If—as I am sure the admissions board says—there are no compromises on academics made, then admitting people without particular emphasis on sporting ability should still be able to produce a healthy athletics program. I will admit that we may not pull in 14 Ivy League titles again, but we don’t need to. Harvard is not a university that needs to be recognized nationally for its sports. We are (perhaps arguably) the top university in the country, if not the world, and concerns about our athletics program that extend to our admissions are simply wrong.
I definitely do not suggest a reduction in our athletic programs, but I would rather the programs were not filled with people who were admitted to Harvard with athletics in mind and who thus only consequently fill the classrooms. Rather, students should be chosen with the classroom in mind, and perhaps also play sports. If people suggest that Harvard may not be able to field as many teams as we currently do without recruiting, then they are suggesting that Harvard is simply providing a sports club for many students who then also have the chance to go to the college. This is not the way it should be. With Harvard applications rising and the competition increasing, choosing athletes is simply unconscionable.
I would now actually like to retract the title of this piece. We certainly do have something to be proud of. A record-equaling haul is astonishing and our athletes deserve great praise. I would just like to suggest that in the future we aim for athletic achievements with a student body chosen without such a goal in mind.
Andrew P. Schalkwyk ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Winthrop House.