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Editor's Corner: Admission to Harvard is a privilege that few enjoy

Harvard University did the right thing in rescinding offers of admission to 10 freshmen after discovering the students had participated in a private Facebook group in which offensive images and messages were traded.

The university has a right, even a responsibility to maintain standards of behavior among its students and would-be students.

Most people who apply aren’t admitted, for various reasons. It may be grades; it may be lack of a sufficient curriculum vitae; it may be lack of money or eligibility for a scholarship.

In this particular instance, the university apparently has decided that being an insufferable jerk is reason enough to be denied admission.

Some 27,000 people apply to Harvard each year. The admission rate is about 7.1 percent, on average, making admission to Harvard one of the primary goals of qualified students, particularly given the fact that financial aid is often available for students the university wants to add to its student body.

Some people in other colleges say Harvard is trampling on free speech by showing the offending (and offensive) students the back door, but that simply isn’t true.

One of the things a university education is supposed to provide is tutelage in how to behave as a good citizen. That certainly includes not going out of one’s way to offend others for no good reason except to try to be sophomorically funny, the last bastion of people who aren’t funny in the first place.

Some universities are forgetting how to do that, and that includes one of my alma maters, The Evergreen State College.

The campus in the Washington State Capitol city of Olympia was closed for three days due to protests that were characterized by episodes of extremely bad behavior, which nobody could explain.

One side was calling for white people to be banned from the campus because white people supposedly were the cause of all the nation’s problems. Others said “people of color” should get their heads screwed on straight, or words to that effect.

Evergreen State recently became the focus of a national controversy over how race was being handled in the academic world when a white professor at the school objected to a planned school event day on which only nonwhites would be permitted on campus. As a result, he wound up enduring harassment and threats from student activists on the campus.

It seems to me that protesters whose behavior caused the college to be closed for three days should have been expelled immediately.

Evergreen is the newest of the colleges of Washington State, and it always has been known for being an extremely tolerant and civil place.

Much of the instruction uses the Socratic Method, which features discussions of assigned and unassigned reading material.

When I was sent there, no grades were given. Rather, each student at the end of his or her class would be given an essay by the professor discussing his or her work in class and an honest opinion of whether the student should pursue the subject he or she had just studied.

Of the four colleges I attended, it was the best. Students were held to high standards, and were expected to be good examples of citizenship.

Those days may be over. Evergreen may be getting more like Berkeley.

But back to Harvard: Throwing out those 10 freshmen may teach those students a lesson they wouldn’t learn in a classroom. And it may make room in the nation’s most vaunted university for 10 students who will make the university proud and grow to be of service and value to their families, their college and their nation. What a concept.


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