Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Grad School: No Christians Need Apply

A tell-all book exposes bigotries behind elite graduate school admissions

At the Inside Higher Ed site, a review of an eye-opening new book about how academic elites weed out conservative Christians and other undesirables. Excerpt:

Ph.D. programs are one of the few parts of higher education where admissions decisions are made without admissions professionals. Small groups of faculty members meet, department by department, to decide whom to admit. And their decisions effectively determine the future makeup of the faculty in higher education. Politicians, judges, journalists, parents and prospective students subject the admissions policies of undergraduate colleges and professional schools to considerable scrutiny, with much public debate over appropriate criteria. But the question of who gets into Ph.D. programs has by comparison escaped much discussion.

That may change with the publication of Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity and Faculty Gatekeeping, out this month from Harvard University Press. Julie R. Posselt (right), the author and an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Michigan, obtained permission from 6 highly ranked departments at three research universities to watch their reviews of candidates, and she interviewed faculty members at four others. All the departments were ranked as among the top programs in their disciplines. To obtain this kind of access (not to mention institutional review board approval), Posselt had to offer complete anonymity. While her book identifies comments as coming from people in particularly disciplines, she reveals nothing about where the departments are, and she also hides most details about the applicants they reviewed.


In most cases Posselt observed, the committee members used banter and “friendly debate” when they disagreed with one another. They didn’t attack one another or get too pointed in criticizing colleagues. She describes one discussion she observed — in which committee members kept to this approach — that left her wondering about issues of fairness.

The applicant, to a linguistics Ph.D. program, was a student at a small religious college unknown to some committee members but whose values were questioned by others.

“Right-wing religious fundamentalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “supported by the Koch brothers.”

The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant’s GRE scores and background — high GRE scores, homeschooled — than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and, to laughter from committee members asked, “You don’t think she’s a nutcase?”

Other committee members defended her, but didn’t challenge the assumptions made by skeptics. One noted that the college had a good reputation in the humanities. And another said that her personal statement indicated intellectual independence from her college and good critical thinking.

At the end of this discussion, the committee moved the applicant ahead to the next round but rejected her there.

But they care about “diversity”:

When Posselt probed on diversity, she found that many professors said they felt an obligation to diversify their graduate student bodies and thus — eventually — the collective faculty of their fields.

Diversity, of course, is only about race, gender, and sexuality, never about diversity of thought. Whenever you see an academic talk about “diversity,” you should assume that they mean “the homogeneity of people we like.”

Read the whole thing.  Prepare yourself to read in the comments section of this blog post a hundred explanations from liberal readers as to why this is just one instance, and we shouldn’t draw any conclusions from it, blah blah blah. And they’re right: this is one example. Still, it reinforces what the reader who wrote to me earlier said about the increasingly dire situation for dissenting Christians in post-Christian America. Excerpt:

Well, what happens when you pay $$$ for your kid to go to a small religious college (because the secular ones are more and more hostile) and then there’s no work afterward, and no hope of paying back those loans? I already hear stories from people in this sort of position, and it’s just going to get worse.

What happens when your kid can’t get into graduate school because she has attended a Christian college identified by educational elites as a bigot factory? It’s not persecution, of course, but these are the kinds of choices that orthodox Christians are going to face very soon. Will they, and their kids, be strong enough to give up dreams of reaching the top, because it’s not worth compromising their faith?

UPDATE: Additional thoughts on this from Denny Burk, including:

We already knew that this kind of discrimination was going on at elite universities. It is nevertheless jarring to see it described in such candid detail. It is discrimination based on a religious test, and it is the kind of thing that happens all the time without controversy or fanfare.

And the ones doing the discriminating think they are being virtuous.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now