Some looking back I couldn’t do at age seventeen

Harry Drabik

I was little aware of considerations that got me into the U of M, but no certain that if I failed to keep pace I’d be out. Fortunately I managed wriggling my way to the colorful Egg of graduation, and frankly didn’t inquire beyond keeping track of needed requirements. Years later hoping time spent sliding down life’s razor blade might aid me be a better teacher I reopened my U credential file.  

It was something of a surprise to find some credentials were not allowable. In particular a grade transcript and list of publications were rejected. Looking for an academic position in “English” I thought grades and publication history were relevant. I asked why these were not allowed in a credential file. The answer was and wasn’t a surprise. Grades put applicants on unequal footings. This was unfair discrimination in the same way having been published was an advantage over those who had not. Clear, isn’t it that effort was made to ensure an unbiased and level process?  

I sensed something going on but couldn’t name it because I didn’t want to imagine my gut-hunch had merit. Scrupulously leveled application practices have merit in terms of perceived fairness, but what might the functional result be? If measurable areas (publications and grades) are given less weight then increased value automatically applies to other areas of evaluation that readily turn subjective. Removal of academic performance from an applicant file seems suspicious and questionable, but an admissions official was easily able to defend the practice in glowing and convincing terms that gloss over the way these changes give power to admissions offices.  

When I was seventeen I thought my academic qualifications kept me out of the U of Chicago but admitted me to the U of M. I didn’t see the future possibility of expanding admissions to achieve diversity standards that accepts more students and therefore bring more importance and income to the education industry. In a true level and equal system I should be able to get in a nuclear physics program with a scholarship at Berkley because it’s only fair someone with a miserable math aptitude not face discrimination. Subjective standards benefit institutions.  

It’s difficult to applaud changes in standards that mean an effective weakening that opens the way for special considerations that can include paid inducement. If subjective standards count then why not count the value to the institution of a healthy bribe for a good cause? Such a system is separated from attempts at objectivity to embrace instead an ethic of revealed social truth. When dogma trumps accomplishment education itself leans increasingly toward a party line of approved conclusions. Shifting standards have a political root as lost on most of us as the role of nationalism in bringing down Soviet Communism. Policy based on pre-concluded political positions is surprisingly common. Social political consensus is standard practice in education, business, and government, all of which get power, satisfaction, and reward from manipulating people. Useful power involves people. All systems know this and the way subjectivity works. A student or an employee in a media company are all open to the collective pressure of subjective approval. We think it sad when a manager is appointed based on institution/party loyalty, but it is the same process when subjective categories are justified to make other decisions of equal importance to individuals and society.  

Back to nationalism, a thing now held dangerous, but by people who don’t acknowledge the basic affiliation of Italian Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Each a Socialist offshoot of Marxism. Views of the same ideal system they had significant agreement as well as major areas of conflict. For example after WWII the Soviets wouldn’t stoop to economic cooperation with the capitalist West (Marshall Plan), but early in the war was OK forming a deal with Nazi style socialism. Originally secret, the pact between Germany and the USSR decided the fates of portions of Poland and essentially all of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Notably energetic in the battle to redress loss of their nation was tiny-in-size Estonia. Similar to Finns, Estonians had the SISU to not be quiet. In the mid 80’s through early 90’s nationalistic feelings among the three Baltic nations swallowed by the secret pact pushed for disclosure. It was nationalistic feeling that kept forcing the issue leading to revealing the pact and the Katyn forest massacre where Soviets killed 100,000 Polish solders taken prisoner considered politically unreliable, a soft, subjective standard.  

It is not the case that secret pacts and massacres are rarities. In some ways the pact and massacre were political expressions of the same necessity of having to accomplish through secret or open methods improvements in the larger public sphere. Soviets and Nazis took similar views toward those who didn’t fit the ideal. They differed in what was most objectionable. For Nazis it was ethnic groups. For Communists it was dissenters including ethnic blocs with an identity separate from the approved Fatherland or Motherland model. Tatars communities in Europe were moved (deported) to areas where their difference could be bled and bred away. Three quarters died as a result leaving a remnant too small and powerless to present a challenge. The Soviets also used immigration in attempts to dilute the identities of people in its Baltic holdings. Their goal was that of a nobly diverse and cooperative culture more in line with needs of the state.  

Lucky for us SISU couldn’t be diluted or deported and Estonian nationalism continued calling for justice. In effect Estonia demanded fact not opinion be known. Estonia was right. Systems that weight correctness are badly flawed. Either obvious (the Soviet empire imprisoning citizens for thought (anti state) crime) or its less clear uses of in our culture the party line application of correctness (hate crime) the system is the same. It is crucial to keep in mind that attribution and affiliation are not achievement or accomplishment. Letting critical distinctions be overridden by consensus places bias in the role of presumptive fairness.