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Department of Philosophy pres.

Virtual Talk: Race, Gender and Feminist Philosophy: Ann Cudd (University of Pittsburgh)

Merit in University Admissions

This talk will be presented by video conference on Zoom. For information on how to participate, please contact the event organizers at and

Admissions to elite universities pretends to be a meritocracy that rewards the most talented students with placement and, often, financial aid based on a set of criteria that are purported to measure merit. Indeed, elite universities justify their claim to be serving a public, democratic mission by sorting out and polishing the best students and by providing a means of social mobility for talented young people. However, this sorting often falls along discriminatory lines that reinforce oppressive social structures preventing students from low income and minoritized communities from joining the elite. Worse yet, in today’s knowledge economy, in which college education is increasingly required for achieving a middle-class income, the merit-based awarding of financial aid has created an arms race in financial aid and raised the cost of education, especially for those not awarded aid. Is the solution to this dilemma to do away with elite universities? Is it to eschew the sorting of students by merit for placement or aid? I argue that there is a place for merit, properly conceived, as the only proper way to populate universities with students. But merit criteria have to be correctly tuned to the mission of higher education in general and the specific missions of the universities that make it up for those universities that claim to serve a social mission and are therefore supported with public money.

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