Last week, Michael Cappucci — a senior vice president at the Harvard Management Company — asked on social media why colleges did not auction off some proportion of acceptance offers as a more transparent alternative to “a system where wealthy parents have to make shady payments.” These comments, published on Cappucci’s public Linkedin page, come in the midst of the nationwide admissions scandal that has sparked broader conversations about inequities in college admissions. Though this scandal has not affected Harvard as of publication, the University has announced plans to open an investigation into a separate scandal involving the head fencing coach. The investigation comes as a response to his alleged involvement in suspicious real estate and non-profit transactions with the family of current and former team students.
It’s important to note that the comments made by Cappucci, which have since been deleted, were posted on his personal social media page; we fully recognize the distinction between Cappucci’s personal views and those of the HMC. However they remain disturbing in that they shed light on how a middle manager of Harvard’s $39.2 billion endowment perceives the role of merit in admissions.
The fact that Cappucci would suggest such an idea only serves to show how deeply entrenched the systems that exist to help wealthy families subvert the standard application process have become. While the financial health of the University is important, we believe that Harvard must first and foremost commit itself to championing merit as the grounds for admission — a commitment which Cappucci’s proposal directly contravenes. Cappucci’s suggestion that the University further institutionalize wealthy students’ privileges seems to view wealth’s role in college admissions process as intractable, and that a fair admissions system is beyond our grasp. We do not agree with this assessment.
There are concrete steps the University can take to minimize the influence socioeconomic status has on a student’s chance of admission. We have previously opined in favor of abolishing the preference given to legacy students and the children of wealthy donors in the College’s admissions process. This would mark concrete progress towards ensuring that students from advantaged backgrounds do not receive an additional boost from preferential treatment in admissions deliberations.
Even if the University does not believe the proposals outlined above or others like them are feasible, it cannot abandon the search for a fair and financially viable admissions system. The ideological foundations of an educational institution demand that Harvard not give up on the ideal of pursuing merit in admissions simply because an obvious solution has not yet presented itself.
As a research institution, Harvard has established itself as a perennial champion of inquiry and intellectual exploration. If convinced that there is no financially workable model for achieving equity in college admissions right now, Harvard should work to find one, rather than dismiss the ideals of merit-based admissions. It is with this spirit that Harvard teaches its students to approach the problems we find in our studies, and it is this spirit that Harvard must embody in striving to better live up to its own ideals.
In its current admissions practices, we reiterate our praise of Harvard for making a good-faith effort to recognize that an applicant’s merit manifests itself is shaped by opportunity. We also support Harvard’s pursuit of need-blind and race-conscious admissions policies. But these policies, while laudable, constitute only valuable first steps on the path towards true realization of the merit ideal. There remains much work to be done.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.