View from Rue Saint-Georges

Selective Lip Service

Attending an elite college is not an entitlement

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | June 19, 2019
Flickrs/Michael Kappel
Flickrs/Michael Kappel

The disclosure on Monday that Harvard College has rescinded its offer of admission to Kyle Kashuv, a conservative student-activist and a survivor of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, reveals a paradox at the heart of much commentary on the right: the tendency for many conservatives to adhere only selectively to their creed of personal responsibility. Two years ago, when he was 16, Kashuv, a top student who became famous as a gun-rights activist, used racial slurs and anti-Semitic language in text messages and shared Google Docs, which were recently made public. In light of this, and on the grounds of questions about his character and maturity, Harvard decided he no longer merited the enormous cultural capital that comes with its degree.

Conservative Twitter has rallied to Kashuv’s defense, with pundits such as Ben Shapiro arguing that “Harvard’s auto-da-fe sets up an insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet.” Kashuv himself, in a series of viral tweets, observed, “In the end, this isn’t about me, it’s about whether we live in a society in which forgiveness is possible or mistakes brand you as irredeemable, as Harvard has decided for me.”

Such arguments deserve scrutiny. Refraining from typing and sharing racial slurs hardly amounts to an insurmountable standard of conduct for a teenager, and being denied admission to a private institution does not preclude society-wide forgiveness or “brand you as irredeemable.” All it means is that Harvard is no longer in the cards.

But this is only the latest in a series of recent controversies over access to elite universities, all of which seem to operate on the same misunderstanding: namely, that a student can be entitled to a slot. No one is, and the sooner we accept this the sooner we may take seriously the notion of responsibility for our actions.

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