Concentration of talent hurts U.S. universities As a...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

May 25, 2002

Concentration of talent hurts U.S. universities

As a university professor who has taught and sat on numerous admission committees over the past decade at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and currently at the University of London, my own experience is in agreement with the central message of Michael Hill's article on college choices: "What makes a difference ... is what you do at whatever college you attend" ("College choices: All that's Ivy is not gold," May 12).

Today, future leaders can and do come from every possible college. Especially in America, graduates of the Ivies and other "elite" institutions have no monopoly on success.

This ensures that the late-blooming genius with poor marks or SAT scores, or the brilliant student unable to afford a brand-name college (or a college dropout) can still rise to the top of his or her profession simply because that person is best for the job.

This is certainly less true in the United Kingdom, where most members of the Royal Society (for example) are from Cambridge, London and Oxford universities, or in Japan, where those who attend Tokyo University have a tremendous advantage.

While many future leaders are "pegged" correctly at the age of 16 or 17 in these systems, it is clearly unfortunate that excellent people have been unable to rise to the top in these countries solely because they didn't get into the "right" school as a teen-ager.

For the same reasons, I find it disturbing that good students in the United States are "going to a smaller and smaller number of schools."

The dramatic concentration of National Merit Scholars at 40 schools instead of 150, for example, and the projection of some that they may soon concentrate at the top 10, indicates that we are reverting to the elitist paradigms of America before the 1950s and of foreign countries.

While this concentration of talent and "perceived excellence" in fewer and fewer institutions will not erode the remarkable breadth of choice in high-quality American higher education overnight, let there be no doubt that is where the road would lead.

Donors like to invest in winners, and as the group of schools perceived to be excellent becomes more select, other schools are likely to be left out in the cold.

Dwindling resources and a less selective student body would also influence where new faculty choose to work.

The strength of American higher education is precisely that there are so many good schools from which to choose. Unfortunately, in following the current obsession with getting into the "right" schools (as defined by the comical U.S. News issue), today's students and parents may unwittingly destroy this unique strength.

Santa Jeremy Ono

London, United Kingdom

The writer is professor of biomedical sciences at the University of London.

A marketing dream -- or nightmare?

Congratulations to the $200,000 consulting firm, the administration and the faculty at the former Western Maryland College for coming up with a brilliant new name: McDaniel College ("By any other name," editorial, May 14). It is a marketing dream.

The college can now be known affectionately as Mickey D's. Better still, the old obsolete arch that defines the entrance to the campus can now be replaced with more appropriate twin golden arches.

Then a traditional Mickey D's can be erected on this site, which will quickly become a popular meeting place for students and will offer them alternatives to disliked college food.

Best of all, the twin arches can be the new college logo, which should catch the eye of prospective students.

The only obstacle I can see is that the parents of prospective students (who will pay most of the bills) may not pay for such nonsense.

Marion Stoffregen Thorpe

Columbia

The writer is a member of Western Maryland College's Class of 1947.

State's abortion rate is truly shameful

The Sun claims that Maryland has the 10th-lowest abortion rate in the nation ("Where Maryland stands," Opinion

Commentary, May 14). But in reality Maryland has one of the highest abortion rates in the country.

The Sun cites the source of its statistics as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But it does not mention that the CDC relies on incomplete data provided by the states.

The CDC admits it undercounts the total number of abortions because reporting laws vary from state to state, and some abortion providers probably do not report or under-report the numbers of abortions they perform.

Maryland has no reporting requirement. In 1997, the year of the cited statistics, only 14 abortion facilities reported any abortion data to the state. According to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Maryland has 47 to 51 abortion providers.

A more accurate picture is provided by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood. According to its latest statistics, Maryland has the country's 11th-highest abortion rate and fifth-highest teen-age abortion rate.

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