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[personal profile] indecisionwins
So in looking at my copies of old Phoenix articles from 1948 and 1949, so I could describe to [livejournal.com profile] baaaaaaaaaah what happened with Jewish admissions quotas at Swarthmore in a little more detail, it turns out that I had remembered part of the story wrong from when I last looked at these articles a couple of years ago. It turns out that the person who was defending having admissions quotas for Jews, with some statements that sound really bad out of context, and not much better in context, was Everett Hunt, the Dean at the time, not the President of the college. (At least, in this article--I still remember seeing some quotes from John Nason about this, but not in the articles I have here.) The problem is, Everett Hunt is also the author of my favorite book about Swarthmore, "Revolt of the College Intellectual." Actually, his book is really the source for a lot of my idealized vision of Swarthmore. Obviously, the fact that he thought having too many Jews would be detrimental to Swarthmore doesn't mean I can't like his book, but it does make me think. Mostly about the fact that it's probably the same tendency for overgeneralization that makes me enjoy his book so much that also leads him to be somewhat prejudiced. (At least, one person who was at his speech where he defended the admissions quotas said that he needs to follow the principle of "respect for the individual as a unique being in his own right," which I think is a more eloquent way of saying that he really overgeneralized.) And, of course, I'm aware that I myself really like to overgeneralize... I don't think that's always a bad thing, and I'm not going to say that I need to stop doing it, because if I did, I wouldn't have much interesting to say. But it is sobering to be reminded how overgeneralization leads to views that really aren't so good.

Oh, and to describe the issue itself, for people who are curious... Basically, there was a pretty significant number of Jews at Swarthmore in 1948, but they made sure to limit it to, at that point, 14% of the population (where it had been 6% at one time), when there were enough qualified Jews that they could have admitted more. The reason, as paraphrased by the Phoenix, is that they have to maintain Swarthmore as a particular type of community, and "he felt that the duty of the admissions committee was to select students in such a manner as would be most beneficial to the life of this community." "He went on to say that any group such as the Jews would, after a long period of being persecuted, acquire certain aggressive characteristics, and that if as many Jews were admitted to Swarthmore as would be proportionate to the number of Jewish applicants, these characteristics would manifest themselves in a manner not only harmful to the Swarthmore community, but also harmful to the Jews themselves. This was the argument used in defending the "restrictive principle" applied by the admissions committee regarding Jewish applicants" --The Phoenix, Dec. 14, 1949. For the record, the Phoenix had an editorial that was strongly against the quotas, and the students were against them also. So I'm guessing they were probably removed at some point not all that long after that...

But yeah... I mean, I would actually say that the basic idea of wanting to keep the community a certain way makes some sense, even if I obviously don't like the generalizations that he makes about Jews. And apparently (according to the short thing about it on Elizabeth Weber's Swarthmore history page, here, which was where I found out that these articles existed in the first place), most private colleges had Jewish admissions quotas at that point. But still...
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Michael

November 2010

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