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robertogreco : utaustin   3

All the Greedy Young Abigail Fishers and Me 
"Years ago, I helped Abigail Fishers get into college in Texas. That was my job: I “tutored” entitled teenagers through the application process. Specifically, and ominously for my later life, I taught them to write a convincing personal essay—a task that generally requires identifying some insight, usually gained over some period of growth. And growth often depends on hardship, a thing that none of these 18-year-olds had experienced in a structural sense over the course of their white young lives. Because of the significant disconnect involved in this premise, I always ended up rewriting their essays in the end.

My students were white, and without exception. Their parents were paying me $450 per session, and this was Houston; of course they were white. The means were the essays, and the end was the assurance that the benefits of whiteness would continue to vest themselves even as Texas demographics and UT admissions practices began to put their lovely families in a bind.

Texas parents—as ability permits, and like parents throughout the country—pay good money to live in good school zones. These schools are “good” in a double and mutually reinforcing sense: they are academically vibrant, supportive, and competitive; they also draw from a wealthy population, which means most of the students are white. As Abigail Fisher’s case, a.k.a. Becky With the Bad Grades v. UT Austin, reminded us: the top 7 percent (formerly 10 percent) at all Texas high schools get admitted to UT’s flagship campus automatically. This means that a second-rate student at a first-rate school, a.k.a. an Abigail Fisher, does not automatically get in. This means that a portion of white kids don’t get the educational success those property taxes were supposed to pay for. The 10 percent policy is implicit discrimination against “good schools,” the party line goes.

Most of the UT student body gets in through the Top 10 rule. The rest—approximately 8 percent, the year Fisher applied—are admitted through a holistic evaluation process, which takes into account things like extracurriculars, leadership, personal essays (thus the $450), and race. This is the part of UT admissions policy that Fisher’s case was challenging. Note that it was easier for her (or the anti-affirmative-action zealot who bankrolled her) to take a margin of UT admissions to the Supreme Court than to envision a version of justice in which she had, along with 92 percent of admitted students, straight-up earned her way in.

Because UT Austin is a terrific place—the rare kind of school that radiates both capaciousness and prestige—it is the top choice for many Texas high school students, and its unique admissions policy carries a lot of weight. It is discussed ad nauseam during application season; however, the reasoning behind this policy—behind the 10 percent rule, behind affirmative action—is not. I figured that part out only after I left the state and saw how much about my previous surroundings had been determined by the fact that rich white people can still game the system simply by living—that they are still reaping the benefits of centuries of preferential access to everything that sets a person up for success.

Today, certain measures have been enacted to level the playing field. But, as the Abigails among us can’t seem to admit, the mere existence of these measures does not mean that the need for them has expired. White people remain uniquely able, in a monetary sense, to game the system. For a summer, at $150 an hour, I was paid to help.

And I did. The kids were sweet, and I knew how to elicit and identify whatever topic would make their voice speed up when they talked about it. We wrote about canoes capsizing at summer camp, about football injuries, about girlfriends freezing us out at youth group. For the most part, they got in where they wanted, and I worked a leisurely three hours a day, helping them cheat.

I’ve had a lot of relatively demeaning jobs in my life. I never thought I deserved better than any of them—first because I didn’t, and second, because a sense of entitlement means nothing without capital to back it up. I’ve waitressed in short shorts and cowboy boots. I’ve street-canvassed for recycling. When I was 16, I was paid minimum wage to participate in a reality TV show in Puerto Rico that included challenges like eating mayonnaise on camera with my hands tied behind my back.

This job—writing college essays for Abigail Fishers—was the only job I have ever been truly ashamed of, and I am so ashamed of it now that it hurts. I did it, too, for a particularly embarrassing reason: because it paid so well that I could keep my earning hours to a minimum, and for four months spend most of my time writing fiction so I could get into an MFA program. Once I did get in, my boyfriend started looking at me reproachfully when he came home from work and saw me sending invoices. “Stop doing this,” he said flatly, in the late afternoon one day."



"It took me until some time later to realize what is so obvious to me now, why my boyfriend hated my job so much, which was that I was the one letting the Abigails get away with everything. That I was feeding and affirming and making possible the entitlement of mediocre white high schoolers, many of whom believed themselves to be facing structural discrimination, and needed to hire a ghostwriter to stay on top. Luckily, they could afford to. Luckily, I liked them when they weren’t talking about affirmative action. Luckily, we all made out just fine in the end.

We were all lucky, weren’t we? In 2005, I applied to college—not in the Philippines or Canada, where my parents had gone, but in America. I was salutatorian at my high school; I had perfect SATs. I was a cheerleader, the editor of our yearbook, cast in every musical, an officer in every club. And still, when I got into colleges, I felt lucky. I never felt like I’d simply gotten what I deserved.

In fact I still don’t know what it would be like to feel automatically deserving of something, to have enough of a claim on advantage to give a fuck about giving it up. I have never had a case for any sort of admission, not even when I was a selfish high schooler, not even when it came to the 10 percent rule, because even when I opened my Texas acceptance letter I knew some Abigail Fisher would think that if anyone was coasting on race here, it was me. How the legacy of inequity took hold of me internally even as I clawed through it with a sunny disposition was not obvious to me then, or in college, or after I graduated, on a hot summer where I needed money and I couldn’t ask my parents and I felt lucky—lucky—to be helping Abigail Fishers cheat."
texas  colleges  universities  admissions  gamingthesystem  privilege  jiatolentino  univeristyoftexas  ut  abigailfisher  utaustin  prestige  inequality  affirmativeaction  race  2016  highered  highereducation 
june 2016 by robertogreco
Teachers Without Students | First Things
"Here’s an arresting statistic that economist Richard Vedder thinks goes a long way to explaining the rapid rise in college tuitions: 80% of faculty at the University of Texas, Austin teach fewer than half the students. In view of the fact that faculty salaries make up the largest expense at the university, one simple change would reduce tuition. Get the 80% back into the classrooms.<br />
<br />
Vedder anticipates the objection that forcing the bulk of professors into the classroom will harm the research mission of the university. His most devastating response is again a simple statistic—20% of faculty account for 99.8% of external research grants and funding. That leaves 60% of faculty who have very low teaching loads whose research—or in many cases lack of research—is financed by the general operating budget of UT. His proposal: have them teach two classes each semester, adds up to 200 hours per year in the classroom. As they say in Texas, that ain’t too bad for a payin’ job."
education  teaching  politics  economics  universities  highereducation  highered  academia  higheredbubble  faculty  via:lukeneff  2011  utaustin  tuition  rankings  usnewsandworldreport  reputation  quality  teachingfaculty  yaledisease 
july 2011 by robertogreco
Guernica / Forgotten but Not Gone
"There was at least one place, I would discover, where that “instant” of Borges persisted, a land where Borges lived on as both Borges and “I,” legend and life. That place is Texas. Starting in 1961, Borges made five visits to the state—first, to teach for a semester in Austin as a visiting professor; then to lecture on Cervantes and Whitman as a literary celebrity. When Borges died on June 14, 1986, the University of Texas’s main campus lowered its flags to half-mast, a rare tribute for a writer and a perplexing honor for one without deep Texas roots. Why had Texas so embraced Borges? And why had Borges continued to return there throughout the final twenty-five years of his life?

In early January, I began to investigate what seemed a long-forgotten romance."
borges  texas  history  ut  literature  childhood  reading  writing  aging  age  meaning  2011  kafka  kierkegaard  blindness  utaustin  carterwheelcock  ercibenson  argentina  waltwhitman  cervantes  ficciones 
july 2011 by robertogreco

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