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Stanford to Investigate Claims It Put Quotas on Jewish Students in 1950s


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The Main of Quad Stanford University in California. Photo Credit: King of Hearts, Wikimedia Commons.

Stanford University announced Tuesday the formation of a panel to investigate claims that it used admissions quotas to discriminate against Jewish student applicants in the 1950s.

Until the publication in August of a blog post by Cornell University postdoctoral fellow Charles Petersen, it was only rumored that Stanford, like Ivy League schools on the east coast, limited the admission of Jewish students in the earlier half of the 20th century through a “Jewish quota.”

“It is important to face our history as an institution and fully understand the impact of past actions,” Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said on Tuesday. “I am grateful to Dean Steinwert and Vice Provost Dunkley for leading this effort, and to those who have agreed to serve on this task force. Their work will help the university make a well-informed, deliberative response, making clear that bias in any form has no place in higher education or at Stanford.”

The 11-member advisory task force, which includes university professors, administrators, alumni, and one undergraduate, will begin working this month and issue a report on its findings this spring.

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“The task force will provide a formal opportunity for the university to address questions and assertions that Stanford once had quotas on the admission of Jewish students,” said Ari Y. Kelman, an associate professor of education and Jewish studies at Stanford who will serve as the panel’s chair. “These serious, heartfelt concerns require an open mind, a vigorous and scholarly approach, and a clear explanation for the conclusions we reach.”

Kelman previously served on an advisory committee that examined the legacy of David Starr Jordan, a eugenicist who was the university’s founding president.

Tiffany Steinwert, the university’s dean for religious and spiritual life, who was asked to help establish the task force’s mission and support its work, said it “will enable us to address pressing concerns and lingering questions about past policies and practices. Everyone in our community should feel a sense of inclusion and belonging, and the recommendations will help reaffirm our commitment to a vibrant and valued Jewish community at Stanford.”

Writing on his blog last summer, Petersen explained that while researching the history of meritocracy in higher education, he discovered a 1953 memo in Stanford’s archives written by Fred Glover, an adviser to President Wallace Sterling. The memo, addressed to Sterling, said that according to head of admissions Rixford “Rix” Snyder, “there will be a high percentage of Jewish boys” among freshmen at the Stanford Village dormitory complex.

“Rix said that he thought that you should know about this problem, since it has very touch implications,” the memo read. “He pointed out that the University of Virginia has become largely a Jewish institution, and that Cornell also has a very heavy Jewish enrollment. Harvard and Yale stick strictly to a quota system. Rix has been following a policy of picking the outstanding Jewish boys while endeavoring to keep a normal balance of Jewish men and women in the class.”

“Rix says that apparently the information as to who is accepting or rejecting Jewish students travels fast though [sic] the underground,” Glover went on, adding that Snyder said “the situation forces him to disregard our stated policy of paying no attention to the race or religion of applicants.”

Petersen described the memo as “probably the closest I’ll come to a historical smoking gun.”

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