Imagine if Yeshiva University and/or a number of Haredi Rabbinical Yeshivot decided to do something about the growing Jewish education gap between Orthodox and non-traditional Jews by copying the Affirmative Action practices of our elite universities.
That means they would skew their admissions policies to accept more under-Jewish educated applicants and spend millions of dollars to encourage those would-be students to apply in the first place.
Needless to say, that kind of a process would be properly deemed as certifiably insane. Not only would such a process thrust those students into an impossibly difficult educational atmosphere, it would also present a culture shock on a number of levels for everyone involved.
And then there’s the logical question of: “Isn’t starting a serious Jewish education at age 18 or 21 much too late?” I mean, it’s never too late for someone who wants to start learning. But why would the educational powers that be deliberately wait to get involved until such a late stage?
This analogy is meant to readjust our focus on the long-running Affirmative Action debate in this country. For too long, the argument has focused on fairness alone. No, it doesn’t seem fair to give admissions preferences to racial minorities. Yes, these practices have created resentment and inferiority complexes among different racial and cultural groups. No, there is no overwhelming evidence that Affirmative Action is solving the economic and educational problems and gaps suffered by certain American communities.
But that’s just it, even if you could make Affirmative Action fairer, you’d still have the problem of an educational disaster hitting African American, Latino, and a few other groups in the U.S. And the best the Harvards, Princetons, Stanfords, and Columbias of this world can do is offer Affirmative Action to a select few 18-year-olds?
All of those schools say they engage in race-influenced admissions to help narrow opportunity gaps in America. Okay, let’s take them at their word on that. So here’s the challenge and the marching orders: Start sooner!
It’s ludicrous to wait until college application time to suddenly hope to fix 17-plus years of educational malpractice. Here’s a better idea: Why not use some of those massive multi-billion endowments at these schools to set up a series of top notch K-12 schools in the poorest and most disadvantaged neighborhoods in America? Heck, why not set them up anywhere and do something to put a real dent in this problem as soon as formal education begins?
Don’t worry, Ivy League administrators, I’ve crunched some of the key numbers for you. Harvard has an endowment of more than $37 billion. Let’s say the university set aside $1 billion to create just 10 K-12 private schools with free tuition for children living within a 5-15 mile radius of the ten most underprivileged neighborhoods in America.
How far would that $1 billion go? Consider that perhaps the most elite and toniest prep school in America, Phillips Exeter Academy, has annual operating costs of $97 million per year. Exeter has 1,100 students, most of them living and boarding in somewhat lavish dormitories and enjoying even more lavish academic and athletic facilities that rival any elite college in the world. Suffice it to say that without dorms and the rest of those amenities, and maybe by paring down total enrollment at each school, Harvard could probably cut down the costs to $20 million or so per year per school. That means it could operate all 10 schools for five years with that $1 billion before it even gets a penny in the many donations such an endeavor would surely attract from Harvard’s rich and powerful alumni.
Even better, those schools would churn out hundreds of qualified college applicants that Harvard or its many peers could more ethically and effectively admit each year.
Speaking of those peers, imagine if just the other top 10 U.S. universities by endowment, (including Harvard, that endowment total was $167 billion), chipped in a couple of billion dollars together to create another 20 schools in other poor and minority areas. Now we’re talking a major impact.
And with people like Jeff Bezos looking to launch a similar program of this on his own, there’s a chance to create hundreds of these kinds of schools with existing funds in the coming years.
Here’s the thing: Lots of those universities don’t want to help disadvantaged kids at an early stage because they have an even bigger allegiance to liberal politics, the public school ideal, and the teachers unions that have ruined too many public schools and too much of liberal politics.
But let’s give America’s elite universities the benefit of the doubt and pitch this pilot schools program to them and the American people at large anyway. Let’s give them the chance to decide whether their main goal is to fix racially and economic-based educational gaps or just to keep a fashionable leftist political agenda alive?
Affirmative Action is such a relatively easy way for our top universities to appear concerned about minority students that it barely beats the “effort” it takes to post your average virtue-signaling post on Facebook.
For those of us who believe in what Affirmative Action is actually supposed to achieve, this alternative is clearly better and long overdue.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.